The holidays are fast approaching, and for many, it is time to get ready for company. This is the time of the year that many travel to be with family and friends. From Thanksgiving until New Years the airways and the highways are busy with travelers going near and far. Whether you are the host preparing for guests or guests preparing to visit others, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the time together less stressful and more joyful for all. A recent example of a visit from some of our friends highlights some important points related to being a great guest.
Mike and I recently had three couples friends with us for three days for our annual golf weekend. These friends make being their hosts a joy. If the rest of us only adopt one or two of their behaviors as guests, entertaining would be more pleasurable.
Entertaining several overnight guests must, of course, involve food, and usually lots of it. Planning meals is one of the first priorities when planning for guests. It is important to know the food preferences of others, and to prepare meals accordingly. It is usually sufficient to plan two meals a day instead of three, and the two meals most commonly provided are breakfast/brunch and dinner. You can do the math. Food for eight people (four couples; our three guest couples and Mike and me) for two meals a day for three days could be overwhelming. But not for us, for we are not providing nor preparing all of this food.
Our couples friends insist on providing some of the meals and bringing food for snacks, etc. The first year that we hosted this group of friends I tried to resist this type of help, thinking that we should provide all of the food, for after all, they were our guests! Our friends would not let us do that. They held out, insisting that there are six of them and only two of us, so of course, they should help! The last two years one of the couples has brought the entire dinner for the first night, and the other two couples have provided most of a couple of the other meals, and lots of other food. As I write this, I am wondering, “what did I cook?” But as I said, there are a total of six meals, so we did do our share! And given this division of labor, no one needed to feel overwhelmed.
Now for some qualifiers. Our four couples have been together about three times a year for a long weekend for several years, so by now we know our food preferences. If you are a guest and do not have this experience, do not show up with food assuming it will be used for a meal while you are there. Some hosts prefer to do all of the cooking for their company, and will not appreciate having to offer something that is not in their plan. You can, however, take something that can be frozen for them to use at a later time, such as a cake or a casserole. And you do know to not bring flowers to a host expecting that they have to find the right size of vase as well as decide where to put the flowers while they are busy preparing food.
As a guest, there are some “not to do’s.” Do not ask for what you are not offered, and if you do, and it isn’t available, do not complain! If there is something you know you “have” to have, bring it with you, and bring enough to offer others. This includes soft drinks and condiments. Bring your own adult beverages, for you know what you prefer, and also offer those to others.
As a host, have enough bottled water, several types of soft drinks, and red and white wine. (If you do not offer alcoholic beverages in your home, you, of course, can ignore the points about wine and other “adult” beverages.) The same can apply to soft drinks; if you do not drink them and do not want to provide them, don’t. But do have sufficient bottled water, and “sufficient” means more than you think you need!
Also, let your guests help. This includes let them bring food if they insist, and find a way to include it in your meal planning. Don’t be obsessive about anything. This includes linens matching, dishes matching, or using cloth napkins instead of paper. (The last one I cannot do! While I am glad to use paper napkins elsewhere, I have always used cloth in our home, and I have not changed that for guests.)
Entertaining is fun, and if you have friends like ours, it can be joyful instead of stressful. In addition to being sure that you are a good host, make sure that you are entertaining the right friends!