Expert Tips for Hosting Out-of-town Guests
If it’s your turn to host friends and family over the holidays this year, consider it an honor. The coming season takes on special meaning after so many of us were separated from our loved ones last year. Given the opportunity that this year presents, we thought it would be helpful to offer a refresher course in hosting out-of-town guests for the holidays.
We’ve all probably had a stay at a friend’s or family member’s home that left a lasting impression in the best possible ways. Whether a whole week or just an overnighter, you felt completely relaxed and welcomed with open arms. Your host was such a natural at their hosting abilities that you could both just kick back and enjoy your time together.
Looking back, we realize those seemingly effortless moments didn’t happen spontaneously or with the wave of a magic wand. They were mostly all planned with precision and thoughtful attention to even the smallest detail. See where we’re going with this? Making things appear effortless takes some effort. And making your guests feel at home requires anticipating the comforts and rituals they experience in their own homes.
Prepping and planning isn’t just for the benefit of your guests though. It will be hugely advantageous to you once they arrive. The majority of the work will be checked off your list and out of the way so that you can be fully present and part of the action the minute your guests arrive.
To get your hosting duties off to a winning start, we’ve compiled some clever ideas for properly equipping your space and setting a welcoming vibe that will be noticed and appreciated by all. We’ve organized our tips by room to make planning and shopping even easier. Let’s start with the all-important kitchen where guests will likely be congregating and passing through at various times throughout the day.
Coffee and Tea Station
Photo credit: Athena Calderone
Appreciating that your guests are on different schedules and possibly different time zones is key. They may get up earlier or need their afternoon caffeine fix later than you, so put the emphasis on self-service wherever you can. Preparing a coffee and tea station on your kitchen counter and inviting guests to help themselves any time is a simple way of saying “our home is your home.”
In addition to keeping a fresh brewed pot in a thermal carafe, we like filling a second carafe with hot water for tea drinkers. Place a variety of tea bags cannisters plus a cream and sugar service on a tray nearby. If you’re planning cold weather activities or have kids visiting, consider including your favorite cocoa mix or hot chocolate packets with fun toppings like dark chocolate shavings, flavored marshmallows and candy cane crumbles for a gourmet treat.
Don’t forget to keep cups, mugs, napkins and spoons for stirring on the counter next to the station so guests don’t need to rummage through cabinets or come ask you for help. Creating opportunities like this for guests to satisfy their own needs and rituals will make them feel instantly more at home.
Dining Area Bar Cart
Photo credit: Studio Munroe for Elle Decor
In your dining or living room space, equip a bar cart, console or banquet table with a good variety of spirits and mixers ready to amalgamate. This is another self-serve opportunity that will set a welcoming vibe. Glassware ( for simplicity, we like limiting it to two options like stemless wine glasses and lowballs that work for a range of drinks), cocktail napkins and a filled ice bucket should be within reach as well.
Taking a quick poll ahead of time to find out everyone’s go-to drink is a great way to narrow your shopping list. If herbal-infused cocktails are on the menu, we love putting out fresh herbs like basil, rosemary and mint set out in miniature pots with a pair of herb snippers set out so guests can enjoy a fresh-from-the-garden aromatic experience. Limes and lemons on a small cutting board should also be included.
For a festive touch, add a signature holiday drink with all the ingredients needed to make it. To keep the emphasis on self-service, put the directions on a recipe card or small chalkboard propped up on your cart. Of course, you can play bartender whenever your hands are free but giving your guests cart blanche bar access will only add to the fun.
Common Area Cozy Basket
Photo credit: Studio McGee
Leaving out a big basket filled with cozy fleece and wool blankets in your communal or go-to seating area (where guests will invariably gather) is an open invitation to take a seat, sink in and get down to the business of getting comfortable. It’s instant Hygge, the Danish concept of finding warmth and comfort in the simple things.
Placing the basket in a highly visible spot close to your sofa or sectional will make it obvious you want guests to help themselves. Make sure you have plenty of oversized pillows in plush fabrics either scattered about your sofa or stacked on the floor to accommodate floor sitters. We also like putting out puzzles, backgammon and other games that will keep guests engaged and keep the vibe festive and fun.
Bedroom Necessities Tray
Photo credit: Meyer Davis for Architectural Digest
In your guest bedroom or sleeping area, consider creating a necessities tray for housing personal effects such as wallets, key fobs, smart devices and the like. We always include a few small bowls or a leather catchall inside the tray for placing small, easy-to-lose items like rings and earrings.
Creating a dedicated spot where guests can keep tabs on their valuables and keep everything centralized in one spot can lend peace of mind when living out of a suitcase. We like adding a few thoughtful touches like a single fresh flower in a pretty bud vase and a glass pitcher set or bedside carafe filled with filtered water for taking any vitamins or medicines (or that last attempt at hydration) before tucking in.
Bathroom Spa Caddy
Photo credit: MyDomaine
Weather it’s a teak tray or pretty rattan basket, creating a toiletries carryall filled with thoughtful items that people don’t typically travel with sets a welcoming vibe. For starters, think about what you might find on the bathroom counter in a luxury hotel room. A nice bar of soap, exfoliating bath sponge, mouthwash and a neutrally scented body lotion are good basics to start with. Also consider a fresh nail file, shaving cream and dental floss. Think about the things that you tend to forget or don’t have space for in your luggage when you travel.
We like including a second empty basket that guests can use for the items they’ve brought with them so they don’t have to tote everything back and forth from their guest room. Make sure to have a stack or two of fresh bath sheets, hand towels and washcloths…enough to cover a shower a day for the duration of their stay.
Photo credit: Apartment Therapy
A thoughtful menu with consideration to dietary restrictions and personal preferences is one of the hallmarks of good hosting. If you love to cook, this is your opportunity to show off your culinary skills and create a dining experience your guests will be talking about for years to come. If you’re putting out a big holiday spread in the evening, we like to keep the other meals of the day as simple and low on dish use as possible. Consider laying out fresh-from-the-bakery treats and a bowl of fresh fruit in the morning. For lunch, while you might already be taking over the kitchen to prep dinner, leave out a tray of sandwich fixings and a slow cooker filled with a pre-made yummy soup.
One of our favorite meal planning tips is to list out your menu on a small blackboard (like a restaurant would display their specials) somewhere in the kitchen where everyone will see it. Put it out first thing in the morning to get everyone excited and looking forward to an epic meal. It’s a great conversation starter that invariably gets everyone talking about their personal cooking techniques and favorite cuisines. It may even lead to a fun recipe swap and a new tradition you and your guests can look forward to every year.
A Preview Itinerary
Photo credit: Lonny
Think of this as a sneak peek a week or so before your guests arrive, letting them in on all you have planned for their visit. It can be typed up on pretty stationary or just a word doc that you email. The point is to get everyone excited about all the fun you have planned and to help them figure out what to pack and bring along. Will you be making a day trip to the coast or going on a little ice-skating excursion? By letting your guests know what to expect, they can pack appropriately and know to reach out to you with any questions.
The itinerary is a great opportunity to share your holiday menu(s) and to ask guests to respond with any dietary restrictions and beverage preferences. It’s a nice touch that doesn’t have to take up much of your time but that your guests will really appreciate in the long run. It’s the little touches that really go a long way. We wish you a wonderful, safe and joyous holiday with the ones you love!