Holiday Hosting ““ The Proper Care and Feeding of Overnight Guests

In a slight departure from last’s week’s party-centric post, today I’m addressing overnight guests. I figured this was a good topic because I’ve heard some grumbling about it in the last few weeks among friends and coworkers. So, whether or not you’re throwing a holiday party, you may be hosting your loved ones for a night, a weekend or even longer. Let’s try to make this as painless as possible.

Think of guests as tourists. Guests who are at your place for a few hours (for a party) are like tourists who go to a city for a weekend trip: they get a quick, slightly idealized picture of what the place is like. It’s exciting! They don’t want to leave! People who sleep over, on the other hand, are more like those who have an extended stay in a city, such as working or studying abroad: they get to see what it’s actually like to live there. In other words, it’s much harder to keep up the illusion that you have a perfect house or apartment when someone stays over. So don’t even try!

Now, overnight guests mean something different depending upon whether your home has a guest room or other private room (such as a den) where guests can sleep. If, like me, you have a tiny one-bedroom apartment with a living room too small for a full-sized couch, you have a few challenges that you have to address. If this is the case, however, the odds are low that you’ve got several people staying with you for days on end. They’re probably at your older, more successful brother’s larger, nicer house. (You know, theoretically.)

The space ““ Again, if you have a guest room or den, great! Contrary to what aspirational mags like Better Homes and Gardens will tell you, there’s no need to go all-out in making your nearest and dearest feel like they’re in a fancy hotel. A clean room, clean sheets and a place to plop their stuff is more than enough for most people.  If your guests are going to be sleeping in a living room or other non-private area, you’ve got a little more work to do, particularly if that room is going to be used later on.  The most you can do is have a closet or other out-of-the-way spot where you can stash the blankets, pillows, and perhaps the suitcase to open up the room during the day. If possible, give your guest a little room to hang up a few things in a closet, and offer your bedroom as a changing area after they shower.

The morning after ““ OK, time to address the elephant in the room: the very worst thing about overnight guests is the morning. Never before have the people you know well, and care deeply about, seemed more alien to you than when you realize how they spend their mornings. You have to shower before you eat breakfast? You’re going to go running now? What do you mean you’re not a coffee person!? Also, unless there is an agreed-upon wakeup time, there’s often a disconnect in the morning when not everyone is awake and people aren’t sure how to proceed.

As host, the worst thing you can do is sleep in; unless they are super comfortable at your house your guests are probably just going to hang around awkwardly until you get up. If your guests have their own room, all you have to do is try to be awake first, so that when they do stumble into the kitchen, the coffee’s on and there’s something to eat (more on that later). If your guests are in the main room, though, this is a little harder to navigate. You don’t want to make too much noise in the kitchen and give them a rude awakening, but you also don’t want you or your other guests to be tiptoeing around all morning. If you’re worried about this, try to mention the night before when you think you’ll serve breakfast. That way, if you end up waking up your guest, they can’t say you didn’t warn “˜em.

The food ““ You knew I was going to have to talk about food. Again, don’t go overboard on this, but do your best to be obliging. It goes without saying that allergies, religious restrictions, or personal choices should be accommodated within reason. Beyond that, just try to make your kitchen as welcoming as possible, especially if people are staying for multiple nights. When they’re in someone else’s house, guests lose a lot of autonomy over their own eating schedule; you should try to give them the chance to have a snack or a drink when they want it. One way to handle this is to give a mini-tour of the kitchen when they first arrive, pointing out where the snacks and drinks are. Or, have an area in the kitchen with some fruit, crackers, or chips for people to munch on if they get hungry between your planned meals.

Being a good host isn’t about having the perfect home or serving the perfect meal; it’s about making sure your guests feel comfortable and at home. Just like party hosting, there’s something nice about filling your home up with people during the holidays. No matter how annoying you think they are while they’re there, the first thing you’ll notice when they finally leave is how quiet it is. So, enjoy the chaos while it lasts!

Photos: Getty

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