The Happy Houseguest

Expecting an overnight guest or two? Let the party begin! Our ace of entertaining offers a few ways to show them the love

We buried my beloved stepfather Charlie, age 95, last month. He was an old-school gentleman, and, on the countless occasions we visited him and my mom in St. Louis, a thoughtful and gracious host—but for one bedeviling idiosyncrasy: his fondness for hard-soled house shoes. Do you know this type of slipper? The top looks like a harmless scuff, but the bottom has a heel that, when met with a hardwood floor, clacks as loudly as gunfire. Charlie, a high-energy guy, was a very early riser. He leapt out of bed as though shot from a cannon, stepped into his house shoes, and went about his morning, unaware that no one could sleep from the racket.

My six siblings and I would commiserate about the house shoes. Several times, one of us gave him moccasin-style slippers for Christmas, which went promptly into the donate bin. Hint not taken. So I give you this hint, in honor of Jazzie Chazzie: when you have houseguests, wear soft-soled slippers.

Here are some other hints for being a good host to your houseguests—and for being a good houseguest to your hosts.

Comfort before beauty

It’s awesome to have a chic, stunning-looking guest room like the ones you see in this magazine. But it’s far more important your guest room be comfortable and thoughtfully appointed. All the chicness in the world is not going to matter to the guest who is tossing and turning on your lumpy (but high-style) mattress at 2 a.m., is cold and can’t find an extra blanket, or wants to read himself to sleep but doesn’t have pillows to prop under his head, or sufficient light to see by.

Spend the night in your guest room every year or so to make sure it is comfortable, because most people are too polite to tell you when things don’t measure up. I never used to do this and it took me years to learn our guest-bed mattress was miserably uneven; my sister finally informed me. I felt terrible because I remember every single time I’ve been someone’s houseguest and not slept well. Little things matter.

OMG, I love your guest room!

Make sure your guest room is meticulously clean and that it smells good.  Always have fresh flowers, a bowl of fruit, plenty of bottled water or a pretty pitcher and glass, writing implements and some current books and magazines. You should have reading lamps with strong light bulbs, a nightlight, a discreet little trash basket, extra pillows and blanket, an empty drawer or two and some closet space. It’s also a much-appreciated touch to provide wireless access and the passcode to get to it, as well as an outlet where guests can charge their tablets and cellphones.

A friend was telling me about a pal of hers in Dallas who is a wonderfully thoughtful hostess; she takes great care to select books and magazines to suit each guest’s particular taste, and even switches out the photos in the frames in her guest room, so that they feature shots of good times with the current guest. This hostess also finds out what snacks her guests like, and lays in a supply in the guest room. I would never want to leave.

Your guest’s bathroom should have fresh hand soaps, extra rolls of TP, a nightlight, a box of tissues, a shower cap and air freshener. Collect those miniature toiletries you get from hotels when you travel, and put them in a little basket or drawer in your guest bathroom.

I’m not a big fan of those fancy, thick guest towels—they look luxe but really are not that absorbent. I like the thin, “shabby chic” towels that actually soak up the water when you dry off from your shower. So that’s what I give my guests.

The bestest guest

A good houseguest adds a little tone to the joint. He’s brought a box of decadent chocolates to share, or some bottles of lovely wine. Suddenly your host’s everyday routine is a little enhanced because you are there with your own special joie de vivre, polished manners and social dexterity. And because you pitch in to help and you pick things up—like the check at dinner.

Neither guests nor hosts should feel the need to spend every waking moment with each other. Schedule some joint activities together, as well as plenty of breaks from the action. Just make sure you convey your planned activities in advance. The miracle of email and text communication makes this easy to do.

A written thank-you note from houseguest to host is a must. It doesn’t need to be long or formal. It just needs to be sincere and in the mail no more than a couple of days after the visit.

Throw ‘em a party

If you’re of a mind to entertain, your houseguests will remember you forever if you have some sort of little party in their honor. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Expectations will be low because, after all, you have houseguests. Invite a few people for cocktails, then all go out for dinner. Or if you and your guests like to cook, invite four or six people for a simple dinner you’ve prepared together.  Or invite people for Champagne and dessert to liven things up after dinner. Having such a gathering will bring focus to your houseguests’ visit, and will give everyone something to look forward to. And you’ll have a fun, shared experience to talk about later.

Classic cheese and cracker pairings

Greet road-hungry houseguests with wine and a delicious li’l snack of cheese and crackers. Here are some trusted combinations, guaranteed to disappear quickly.

•        Triple creme brie and Wasa crackers

•        Goat cheese and sliced baguette

•        Sharp cheddar and Triscuits (back off, food snobs)

•        Cambozola and Carr’s Water Crackers

•        Roquefort and oatcakes

•        Extra-aged gouda and multigrain crackers

Questions about entertaining?

Merrily would love to answer them. Email them to her at: essentialentertaining@spaceskc.com. Follow Merrily on Twitter @MerrilyJackson.