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Top Ten Tips For Hosting Holiday Guests

Originally Posted: December 11, 2012

Mar Jennings

If you are hosting holiday guests follow these tips. (Photo:LeggNet/istock.com)

Growing up in Connecticut and having a house in Westport I'm no stranger to having friends and family visit. While everyone wants to venture out to Connecticut for a traditional New England holiday, I personally prefer to pack my bags and head off to Long Island.

To most, the Hamptons are associated with style, luxury, fabulous parties and summer! The height of the season is certainly the summer months, but any avid Hamptonite knows that high season is just the beginning of what makes life here so spectacular. Filling my house with the special people I love makes the "off season Hamptons" alive and full of fun and joy.

Whether you have a second home or a primary residence in the Hamptons or decide to rent, the protocol for inviting guests to your home is always the same: who makes for the best house guests and what can I do to best prepare? What do I mean by "best" house guests? I live by one simple rule: I'm inviting people I care for. That means my biggest obligation is that everyone have a great time, including the host.

Now that you know who you want to invite, here are my Holiday Hosting top ten smart tips:

1. Only extend an invitation if you really mean it. You might be surprised (or perhaps you have been!) by how someone will remember your vague offer from 5 years ago, especially an invitation to the Hamptons. Invitations should be well thought out and planned. Extend an invitation for a specific weekend and mention the time frame, i.e. Friday night to Sunday afternoon. Be sure you want to be with these guests. Inviting out of a sense of obligation can create a stressful situation if you end up disliking each other. Don't invite business clients unless you really adore them. Use your intuition as to whom you want to spend the holidays with.

2. Be prepared. Have the guest area picture-perfect hours before your guests arrive. Spruce up the house with flowers and other elegant touches such as candles and fresh flowers. Make sure you have a well-stocked refrigerator, a full bar, plenty of wine and other beverages along with lots of hors d'oeuvres and cheeses. Recently I discovered I was allergic to nitrates so now I always ask in advance about allergies and dietary limitations of my guests—today it is considered polite and caring to do so.

3. Don't get exhausted. Your guests want to have fun with you! Should a Saturday night dinner approach and you just don't feel like cooking, then go out to a wonderful restaurant that perhaps was impossible to get in over the summer. Most of my polite guests in the past have offered to treat me to a dinner as thanks for the weekend. Don't be shy and do take advantage of their terrific offer. Remember, you'll be making brunch the next morning no doubt.

4. Freshen the guest bathroom. Here is a list of things I like to include and have in full view: fresh flowers, clean towels, tissues, Q- tips in a glass container, room spray (don't forget this one!), hand soap, a water tumbler, and a candle and matches. A super touch: an "as needed" basket with travel toiletries your guests might have forgotten: toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, disposable razor, hairspray, and the like.

5. Wrapped and ready bath bars. Don't confront arriving guests with a communal bar of bath soap! There is nothing worse than recycling soap guest after guest. I strongly recommend leaving it in plain sight in the bathroom, or—if multiple guests will share a guest bathroom— on each guest's towel. Include a small zip lock bag on which is written, "Please enjoy this special soap at home, too." My favorite soap is organic and natural and I love to share it with my guests.

6. Make the guest bedroom inviting. Start with a beautifully made bed. Include at least two plump down pillows. I also like to keep a few down-alternative pillows available. I put an extra blanket in the closet along with two one-size-fits-all fluffy terry robes plus slippers to match. On the nightstand is bottled water or a pitcher with tumblers. There is at least one chair in the room and a wooden luggage rack, which I store in the closet when the guests leave. A beautiful bouquet of flowers can be found on the dresser or night table along with a candle and matches. Reading lamps are easily accessible.

7. Plan activities to suggest. One of the most challenging aspects of having guests is what to do all day. Will they want to go antiquing or shopping? Will they want to play sports or go to the gym? Are they card players? Do they love movies and want to see one with you? Just ask them in advance. Ostensibly, they've come to spend time with you, but be flexible. Offer your guests as many options as possible and go with the democratic consensus, but state any firm plans in advance. For example, "On Saturday we will get a tree and decorate it—you in?"

8. Assign reasonable ground rules. It's my firm belief that the guest should never "strip the bed" or be obligated to revert your home to its non-guest state. If people do it of their own accord it's fine, and you must say, "You shouldn't have." And if they offer the only polite answer is a firm "No, thank you. You are my guest." So what should you expect them to do? Be responsible for their rooms while they are there, attend to their own laundry needs, and help provide for their own dietary needs you weren't aware of. Keep common areas tidy— shopping bags of loot are great until you've "showed and told" but then put them in your room. Create a common area near the door for keys, sunglasses, etc. And don't be afraid to assign duties; if a guest will not be helping cook he can help with dishes or the trash!

9. Provide access to the outside world. Most people travel with cell phones, so it is not usually necessary to have a phone in the guest room. I like to leave my WiFi password on the refrigerator and it is your decision to let guests use your home computer. Another great smart tip is to leave a breakfast tray in the guest room. It is quite functional as it offers a workspace for a computer when a desk is not available.

10. Provide reading material. When I visit someone's house, I love to look through his or her collection of books and magazines, and see what's going on in their community. Fill a bookcase in your guest room with unique and fascinating books.

Feeling ready? With these extra personal touches, you and your guests will have forged a more solid friendship and you will be recognized as the host or hostess with the most-ess!

Mar is an Emmy Nominated TV Host, Lifestyle Expert and best-selling author of "Life On Mar's, A Four Season Garden," that chronicles the evolution of his Westport, Connecticut garden. www.marjennings.com MarJennings

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