Katherine Kapnick on Hosting
Hosting a group can be a stressful experience – everyone wants to relax and have a good time, but there are a lot of logistics involved in coordinating, feeding and cleaning up after friends who don’t necessarily realize what’s going on behind the scenes. As a host, it’s important to be organized and gracious without coming across as a tyrant or running yourself ragged. As a guest, it’s your job to be attuned to the needs of your host and minimize any extra work for them, without acting like you’re treading on eggshells. For both parties, the most important goal is to make happy new memories and enjoy the stay.
Having hosted some very rowdy friends in some very delicate houses (and ridden the guest carousel a time-or-two myself), I feel I’ve gathered some wisdom on how both parties can ensure the visit runs smoothly. Those tips below…
Most important guest traits? Make an effort to be tidy, helpful and thoughtful.
Best hostess gifts? I always try to bring (or send) something personal. For example, the last time I stayed with a friend and his parents, his mother mentioned that she was excited to start planting flowering cactuses - so I Googled a local nursery and arranged for one to be delivered.
If a big group dinner has been planned during your stay, consider bringing a small gift or “Christmas Cracker” for everyone, and set them out on the table. If your host loves making margaritas, bring a nice bottle of tequila. If she’s in to skincare, bring a new moisturizer you’re loving lately. When in doubt, I usually go for wine or coasters (Zara Home has adorable ones). And, of course, a personalized Briar Mini with your host’s street name, zip code or last name is a lovely, personal touch.
As a side note, if you’re sending something after the fact, make sure it won’t be a burden for your host to receive it. For example, if they’ve invited you to stay at a remote summer cabin they visit 8 weekends a year, consider sending a gift to their permanent address instead…
Little things you can do during your stay? As a guest, a little effort goes a long way - spend 30 seconds straightening up your bed in the morning. Whenever you use a dish or a pan, wash it immediately (before your host has a chance to get to it). Keep track of your cups and reuse them. Don’t leave your shoes/ books/ hats lying around in common areas, and never abandon a half-drunk water bottle or other drink.
On the helpfulness front – stack and clear dishes from the table when you notice people are finished with a meal. Offer to pick up coffees in the morning. If you’re going to the beach, bring enough sunscreen for everyone. If your host or another guest need to grab supplies from the car/ upstairs/ garage/ wherever else, volunteer. Ask to set the table or chop the vegetables. Your host needs to focus on keeping everyone happy (particularly if she/he is hosting a larger group), so these little acts of helpfulness are always appreciated.
On the subject of meals – if you have a serious dietary restriction, say so in advance. If it’s a mere preference, consider keeping it to yourself.
What to do if you break something/ spill? You have to own up to it – there’s nothing worse than sitting down to relax after a weekend of hosting, only to notice a large red wine stain where there wasn’t one before. If you break something, apologize and offer to replace it. Then follow up! Ask for the details on the broken item, and actually order a replacement. If you spill something, tell your host immediately and ask where the cleaning supplies are. If in doubt on whether a certain surface can handle whatever you plan to clean with, just ask!
One thing to do before you leave a house you’re staying at? Strip your bed and bring linens and towels to the laundry room. Make sure you have all of your belongings, and that all of your garbage is in the trash (offer to take it out, if appropriate). If there’s a guest book, write a short note expressing your gratitude, or draw a little picture. Always send a thank you note, always within two weeks.
Most important host traits? Be relaxed, gracious and yourself – treat it as a privilege that your guests have opted to stay with you, and focus on making them feel welcomed and taken care of.
Hosting tips for large groups? I find that the easiest way to be a relaxed host, particularly when hosting a large group, is to plan ahead as much as possible. If I’m hosting people for a weekend, I take care to plan the daily schedule (and meals!) in as much detail as I can. Even scheduling “Saturday, 1pm-4pm: hang by the pool” gives people an idea of what to expect. You shouldn’t plan to follow the schedule exactly, but if you create one and email it to your guests, it reduces the possibility that someone will opt to go on a run 15 minutes before you planned to leave for dinner.
Another key to hosting for me is to be transparent with your guests about little things that you know will stress you out. Terrified of water marks on your brand new wooden dining table? Leave a stack of coasters nearby and make sure people know to use them. In my experience, guests genuinely want to be courteous and helpful… but sometimes require a bit of direction.
What about meals? For meals – plan to serve dishes where most of the prep can be front-loaded, and pick up all supplies before your guests arrive. Set alarms to remind yourself when you need to handle the necessary preparation: for example, I like to serve simple grilled chicken or steak, and set reminders for myself to de-thaw and marinate the night before. Clean and chop fruit/vegetables and make the salad dressing as soon as you buy your supplies.
For breakfast, leave chopped onions, peppers and other vegetables in the fridge, and let your guests know that they can make their own omelets whenever they wake up. Make sure you have snack food.
And cleaning? The key to cleaning up after a big group, for me, is to do it as you go… but be discreet about it. If you see a random glass or a dirty dish, pop it in the dishwasher. If someone has abandoned a wet beach towel, put it in the dryer. Ask a guest to take out the garbage. Don’t make a production about cleaning, or your guests will start to feel like a burden.
How to politely ask your guest to do something? This is a tough one, but I find that leading by example and/or trying to make a little joke out of it are effective tactics. If I need my guests to help me clean up, I will shamelessly announce “alright, clean up time!”, and put on some upbeat music – it goes much faster and feels less chore-like if the entire group is contributing.
Another example – my mother cannot stand when people use more than one beach towel during a weekend, so if I’m hosting guests at her house I will personally assign each person a towel with a pattern that “fits their personality”, and make sure they understand the idea behind the exercise: you only get one.
How to politely allocate sleeping arrangements? I find that it’s best to arbitrarily assign sleeping arrangements up front and with authority – don’t leave it to your guests to decide upon arrival. If some bedrooms are better than others or people are going to have to share, say up front: “Jack, you and Jill are in the guest room; Wilson – you have an air-mattress in the broom closet.” Then apologize privately to the guests who drew the short straw, if necessary, and let them know how much you appreciate their flexibility.
And when it’s time to go? Make sure your guests have all of the information they need to ensure a smooth departure. If they’re driving, suggest the best time to leave and make them aware of any tips for their route (down to “we always stop at x for lunch”). If they’re headed to the airport, give them all of the necessary information regarding taxis and Ubers (for example, when leaving my parent’s house, Ubers can require 25 minutes notice).