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Some dinner parties require a more formal protocol. For example, a military dinner will have strict guidelines as to where personnel will sit. If you are hosting a client dinner, you might also prefer a more formal arrangement. Even in a casual setting, you can choose to follow protocol to honor a special guest. The below description is based on a social party (vs. business), a rectangular table, and includes both men and women:

When hosting a dinner party, where you place your guests around the table is a crucial element for the success of your event. You presumably put thought into who you invited to the gathering. Do not stop there. The placement of each person around the table is something that should not be thrown together at the last minute.

I love entertaining friends and family in my home, especially during the holidays. But I must admit, it can be a bit overwhelming hosting a dinner party in the stage of life with little ones running around. The cooperation I receive from my toddlers is a significant factor in how efficient I am on a daily basis. Add in hosting a party, and it can be overwhelming. If you find yourself wanting to gather friends for a festive evening, here are my tried-and-true tips for entertaining with young children:

Planning a party can be fun, but do you know the best way to ensure everything runs smoothly? Have a rehearsal for your party. Yes, you heard correctly. You have spent a great deal of time planning your theme, creating your guestlist, and delivering your invitations. Now is the time to do a mock rehearsal which will allow you to create an action list of outstanding items around your home that might need attention. It also helps solidify any last-minute details.

These thirteen tips will get your through any dinner party. Here is a quick refresher. 

1. Leave The Cocktail Glass Behind:

If you are attending a dinner party, there may be cocktails offered before the meal begins. When the hostess signals it is time to head to the dining room, leave your drink behind. Why? The dining table has been pre-set with the glasses you will need and adding another to your place setting will only clutter the minimal real estate in front of you. Your palate is another reason to leave the cocktail behind. Many hostesses go to great lengths to pare wine with the food being served. Once seated at the table it is time to switch to wine or water.

You just received an invitation to a party, and the attire says: Shabby Chic; Razzle Dazzle; Cowboy Couture. What??? Word to hostesses: when listing the attire on the invitation for a party, make it clear. We do not want our guests to solve a riddle to understand what is expected of them. There is a phrase I like to quote, “To be unclear is to be unkind.”

Table manners are the area in which I receive the most questions, but it is introductions that have people the most baffled. After I explain the correct way to conduct an introduction, I often get that starry-eyed stare that tells me, “I really don’t understand what you just said.” To help all of us, I have broken down the process into a simple format. Before I proceed, let me say this. Do not let a lack of confidence in managing an introduction keep you from DOING an introduction. Even if you are unsure, most people do not care.

When attending a party, there are certain expectations we have of our hostess. We appreciate everything she has done, but we do assume there will be food, drinks, a clean bathroom, and a home that does not smell like the local pet store. What some people forget is there are also expectations of the guest. When a hostess plans a party, a great deal of time is spent deciding who she will invite. What group of friends go well together?

Have you ever seen someone walk into a party looking scared, so unsure of themselves, and then watched them slink off to an obscure corner? Their body language screamed, “I wish I was anywhere but here!”

You are invited!!! There is something special we feel when we receive an invitation. It is the anticipation of a celebration, the excitement of choosing what to wear, but more importantly, it is the affirmation that tells us, “I was chosen!” We know a hostess has responsibilities to ensure her party is a success, but did you know there are expectations of the guests? And your first job begins when you receive an invitation that says RSVP. Follow the six steps below and the hostess will be singing your praises!

  • Lisa Lou

Making Overnight Guests Feel Welcome


It is summer in Houston, and last night our bedroom A/C went kaput! My first reaction was to grumble, but then I reminded myself to “choose happiness!” I was thankful we had a guestroom to sleep in that had cool air and a fan. As we crawled into an unfamiliar bed, I was quickly reminded of the times I preached to others: “Every good hostess should sleep in her own guestroom for one full night. You will immediately see what is missing!” As my husband and I kept rolling to the middle of the mattress and shivering under a comforter that was too thin, I made a new list for myself: new mattress that does not sink; more blankets for the bed.

With the arrival of summer and overnight guests making weekend trips, I thought we could all use a refresher on the best way to make friends and family feel welcome the moment they show up at your front door.


In General:

The most important action is clear the house of clutter. This does not mean the entire home needs organizing, but specifically focus on areas where you know your guests will see. Grab a big laundry basket and go room by room picking up the junk. Store the basket in a closet and bring it back out after guests have departed.


Next, “live” in the area for a little while. This is most important where your guests will be sleeping. As mentioned above, before overnight visitors arrive, I encourage you to sleep in the room. Almost instantaneously, you will become aware of issues. Not just what is missing, but maybe repairs that need to be made or nighttime noises that need to be fixed (a rickety fan or knocking heater). Ask yourself if you have everything you need when getting ready in the guest bathroom. By doing a simple walk through, most things that are missing will jump out.


Below are the three areas I focus on when I have house guests. You may need to include other areas, but I hope this will be a starting point to help you make your home bed and breakfast worthy!


GUEST BEDROOM:

Wash Sheets

Extra blanket on the bed: Body temperatures vary greatly. What is cold to one is hot to another.

Catch-all tray: Some place to put jewelry, keys, and money.

Bowl of fruit and snacks: It can be hard being a guest in someone else’s home. It is a nice gesture to provide for their gastric needs in the privacy of their bedroom. I stick with protein items like nuts and satiating fruit in the way of bananas and apples.

Breath mints: Always a hit. The bowl is usually empty when the guests depart.

Water bottles: These do not need to be iced. Just put 2-4 on a table next to the snacks.

Docking station by the bed

Fresh flowers: Place these by the snacks, water bottles, and catch-all tray. It makes a very welcoming display.

Luggage rack: You can order these online or find very inexpensive ones at resale shops. This shows guests you thought about every need.

Magazines or a visitor’s guide: I created a tour guidebook that I place on the bed. Even if there is no time for sight-seeing, it is good reading material before falling asleep and helps educate guests on all your town has to offer.

TV remote with instructions/Wi-fi passcode: Having these typed and laminated next to the TV is a nice touch. It will be one of the first things guests ask you for, so cut out this step and provide it ahead of time.


House shoes and robe: We have a lot of overnight guests, and these items are often left at home. I keep two washable guest robes hanging in the closet along with disposable house shoes that I buy in bulk.

Coffee station in room: If you have the space, guests love this! For the coffee lovers among us, we would prefer to have a sip of that first cup before our feet hit the floor. Guests love when they can enjoy this ritual without having to dress and join the others in the kitchen.

Spray with fabric freshener: Once I set up the guestroom, I spray all upholstery and the bed. I usually go with a non-scent version.

Overhead lights off and lamps turned on: I do not like overhead lights. Unless I can dim them. They are usually too harsh and can raise the temperature of the room. The ambiance will be more welcoming if they remain off and bedside lamps are turned on when guests arrive.

Candle lit: The sight of fire is welcoming. Another reason I use a non-scented fabric freshener is so the candle can do its work. Stick with something mild. Not everyone likes strong scents.

Music playing: Soft music playing in the background is the added cherry on top. With this final act you have now touched all 5 senses in the room.


BATHROOM READY:

Bathroom travel size toiletries: Place a tray in the guest bathroom with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, and a disposable razor.

Fresh towels placed on bed or bathroom counter: For each guest I provide two large towels, a hand towel, and a washcloth. If you normally store these in the cabinets, pull them out. Guests are often hesitant to rummage through private areas.

Hair dryer/curling iron: Another big bonus! Hotels carry these in most rooms, so make your guests feel they are in a beautiful boutique with all the trimmings. If you do not provide it, they will be asking to borrow yours!

Extra toilet paper: Do I need to explain? Another nice touch: fold the tips into an arrow shape on the roll so guests know they are the first to use the loo upon arrival.

KITCHEN READY:

Set up coffee bar: Although you may or may not set one up in the guest room, it is a must to have one in the kitchen. We all have preferences when it comes to preparing our coffee, so provide the basic ingredients and let guests make their own: cream, sweetener, cinnamon, spoons, cups, saucers, coffee ready and piping hot.

Set up breakfast bar: Unless you are preparing a big breakfast, make it easy for your guests to grab items for themselves: individual cereal packages; carafe of milk, orange juice and water; coffee bar; breakfast bars; yogurt cups; bagels; cream cheese; toaster; plates; utensils that are needed.


ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES WITH GUESTS:

Whenever I encounter hostesses that have not had a good experience with guests, it often revolves around a lack of boundaries. People tend to shy away from telling friends what they can and cannot do in their home, but not doing so is a recipe for disaster. The motto you hear me repeatedly say, “To be unclear is to be unkind,” is extra important when sharing space with others. Your guests want to be informed, too, because most are trying to be on their best behavior. How can they live up to your expectations if they do not know what you want? Here are a few tips for setting boundaries:


Breakfast: If guests are on their own for breakfast, show them where everything will be stationed and tell them to help themselves when they wake up.

Pets: If you have animals and do not feed them human food, let your guests know. Otherwise Fido may be enjoying scraps from the table.

Set limit on length of visit: Before guests arrive, set a time limit on how long they may visit.

What they can expect from you: Let them know before they arrive if you can entertain them, or not. It might be a work week for you, and you are unable to hit the town and stay up until 3a.m. Manage their expectations.

Should they provide their own food? If you do not want to flip the bill, then discuss how meals are divided before they arrive. Maybe grocery shop together and split the bill. In whatever way you decide to handle this, do it before they arrive.

No smoking: Self-explanatory if you have a no smoking rule.

Bedtime: As the host, if you cannot stay up all hours of the night, explain to your house guests that you usually turn in around 10p.m. (or whatever time it is). If guests stay during the week, setting this boundary is particularly important because you might have work the next day.

Sleeping arrangements: Explain to guests where they will stay before they arrive. If you only have a couch to offer, make sure they know. They might choose to stay in a hotel.

Do not touch the A/C: You might not care if guests adjust the air, but you might. Maybe you are on a budget with your electric bill and only run the unit certain hours of the day. Whatever the reason if you have house rules regarding the A/C let the guests know.

What food are they allowed to eat: Unless you want guests eating you out of house and home, designate an area in your kitchen with snacks where they can feel free to partake. I also set aside one shelf in my refrigerator. I tell them anything on that shelf they are welcome to have.

Recycle bin: If you have one, show your guests so they can help you recycle.

Upon departing: Ask your guests to strip the beds and leave the sheets and towels in the washroom.

Miscellaneous requests: Every family has their own guidelines. Your guests want to know. When we are in the mountains of North Carolina, one of our guest guidelines is: No Food Left Outside—Bears!

Most guests want to respect your boundaries, but if they do not know what those are, how will they know if they have been crossed? This leaves everyone unhappy. Manage expectations upfront, and your friends will leave with great memories, and hopefully an invitation to return.


Together with you,

Lisa Lou