As the summer unfolds, you may be planning to host houseguests for a weekend getaway. Of course you’re looking forward to spending time with friends and/or family. But you may also be just a bit concerned about how to have fun while taking care of the hundred-and-one details of entertaining others in your home. It can be difficult to maintain the balance between being a gracious host and feeling like an indentured servant.
I understand! My husband, Barry, and I enjoy entertaining guests in the summer at our home in Southampton. It’s important to both of us that our guests feel welcome, at home, and well taken care of. Personally, I tend to be very particular about each visit, giving much attention to detail; but there is a fine line between taking care of all the details and running yourself ragged.
And, of course, entertaining isn’t for everyone (and that’s okay!). If you don’t get genuine enjoyment out of opening your home to others, preparing for their visits, and entertaining guests, remember that you’re under no obligation to do so. There are plenty of other ways to make summertime memories with friends. (One important caveat: If you do choose to entertain, don’t do so with the expectation that others should reciprocate—doing so only sets you up for disappointment and resentment if your friends don’t share your love of entertaining.)
For those of you who are expecting guests this summer, I’d like to share a few strategies I’ve developed that will keep you from burning out, whether you’re having overnight guests or a simple luncheon or dinner party.
Consider your guest list. If you’re planning to invite several individuals at the same time, take time to consider how they might get along with each other. The last thing you want to do is invite people who have a negative history together. Individuals who have completely different (and clashing) personalities or viewpoints might not make for an enjoyable visit, either. (But don’t overthink this—you know your friends and loved ones and how they tend to behave in groups. If instinct tells you that certain people won’t work well together, follow your intuition and invite them on separate occasions.)
When Barry and I are planning on hosting multiple guests, our top priority is simply to invite people who will enjoy each other’s company. And since these are special “getaway” weekends for Barry and me as well, we don’t invite clients from business unless they also happen to be personal friends of ours. These weekends are for our enjoyment, too!
Plan your meals ahead of time. While this may seem like common sense, I can’t emphasize enough how vital planning can be in having a smooth, hiccup-free weekend. I like to check off as many things as I can before my guests arrive. For example, I typically check with guests to see if there is anything they are allergic to or don’t eat before heading out to the grocery store.
I usually make out the menu for the entire weekend about a week in advance, so I’ll know what to shop for and won’t be scrambling for meal ideas at the last minute. I typically place my order for fresh fish, chicken, or meat a few days before and schedule a pick-up for Friday morning. At this point, I’ll also pick up any last-minute items. Oh, and one more tip: I’ve found that I save a lot of time and money by growing a nice variety of herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, which ensures that we have fresh, flavorful seasonings for our salads and main dishes.
Freshen up your guest room(s). Over the course of daily life, most of us don’t spend much time in our guest bedroom(s). You may even keep the doors closed! That’s why it’s a good idea to air them out a day or two before your guests arrive. Make sure that everything is in order and that the linens are fresh. You might also want to plug in an air freshener or light an aromatic candle before your guests arrive. Personally, I’ll often put a fresh flower from our garden in my guests’ bathroom or bedroom to welcome them. I think this adds a nice touch!
Cook their first meal (and stick with what you know). If your guests have been traveling, it’s likely that they’d prefer to relax at your house, rather than get dressed up to run out shortly after arriving. That’s why Barry and I usually cook at home on Friday nights. We try out new recipes on weekends when we don’t have guests (so we don’t have any surprises!), then serve the “winners” to our friends. Barry handles the grill while I put the finishing touches on the rest of the dinner. If guests offer to help, I often ask them to set the table, put out hors d’oeuvres, or help serve drinks so that we can talk and enjoy each other’s company.
Make breakfast easy. After a good night’s sleep, you don’t want your guests to feel like they need to rush in the morning. Unless you’ve all agreed on an early morning activity ahead of time, let them know that they’re free to wake up when they want and come down for breakfast when they feel ready. For breakfast, Barry and I put out cereals, English muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, etc. and let everyone eat what they want.
Ask your guests what they want to do. As a host, you’re the expert on your area, so you’ll probably need to take the lead in suggesting activities. But before you make any firm plans, offer several options to your guests and ask them what they want to do. Try to make the weekend about them. For instance, Barry and I usually ask our guests if they want to visit one of the special small villages like Sag Harbor or Southampton, shop and walk around, go to the beach, play tennis, or just relax and take a nap by our pool. The most important thing is that our guests feel comfortable and enjoy the weekend.
Spend a night on the town. If your guests will be with you for several days, you’ll probably want them to see all that your town has to offer. Saturday night is a great time for this. We usually take our guests out to dinner, allowing them to choose between a few favorite restaurants we like. Afterward, we might stop for an ice cream cone and walk around one of the villages. It’s such a fun way to end the evening!
Ultimately, the most important thing is that you and your guests enjoy their time at your home. The more you plan ahead and take into account individual preferences, the more likely that will be. I hope you all enjoy your summer visits, whenever and with whomever they may be!