How to Make House Guests Feel Special
Once in Madrid, we stayed in a hotel where the bars of soap where the size of razor blades and the sheets were so threadbare that I put my foot through one. The street we were on wasn’t named “Skid Row”, but it should have been. Immediately outside our window was a blinking, neon sign that blinked Hotel – Hotel – Hotel. It did this dance all night long, lighting up our room like a 1970’s disco. To make matters worse, at around 1 am every evening, the driver of a garbage truck parked directly under our window while he went to a nearby bar. In his absence, the truck’s grinder chewed on its cargo like a dragon eating metal parts and killing cats in heat. In hindsight, we should have just gotten out of bed and joined the derelict driver.
Yet, this wasn’t the worst place we have stayed in our travels. We have stayed with friends who were so ill-prepared for guests that we almost thought of Hotel Monaco in Madrid lovingly.
When you host out-of-town guests in your home, it is an adventure, a treat, and a responsibility. There’s an art to it.
A neighbor recently said to me, “You guys have a lot of out-of-town company.” She had a quizzical expression on her face, and for a moment, I wondered if she thought we were doing something illegal in our home. I told her, that’s because our friends call our house, Casa Mericas B&B.
It’s true. Many friends have visited us over the years. Many — multiple times. When we lived in the Bay Area, so many came, so often, that I started putting them on a Grey Line Tour bus, telling them, you see something you want to go back to, I’ll take you… just not everyplace. They visited us in Seattle, San Francisco, Baton Rouge, Las Vegas, DC, Ann Arbor and now here in Austin, although I always say, don’t come here in the summer. Some ignore us, and still come. They live in the pool and on Sunday afternoon, we take them to play Chicken Shit Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, simply because people just like going back to work and bragging about how they stood around a bingo board with money on a number and prayed a bird would crap on it.
I believe our house guests come, not just because they enjoy our company or the entertainment, but because they know we have invested time in their visit.
The way I look at it is they are giving a lot to come see us. They are taking vacation time from work, enduring a long car trip or sitting in an airplane seat the width of a Gideon’s Bible. They are paying someone to dog sit or a kid in their neighborhood to water their plants.
Making them feel special starts before they arrive. It starts with their guest room. Fresh linens on the bed. Two pairs of bed pillows, one pair soft, the other hard. Bottles of water on the night stands, along with a working alarm clock. A basket of travel books on Austin & surrounding area is helpful. In our guest bedroom , there’s a luggage rack and other hard surfaces to place bags and suitcases, as well as a full length mirror and a spare quilt that has Casa Mericas embroidered on it. There’s even an ironing board and iron in the closet, along with plenty of hangers and space for their clothing. (OK. I admit it. There was no other place to store the ironing board.) There’s a dresser with two empty drawers.
I make sure there is counter space for their toiletries, Kleenex and plenty of bathroom tissue. Drawers have over-the-counter meds for headaches, allergies, and heartburn, cough drops, cotton balls, scissors, Q-tips, bath salts, and magazines.
I leave real towels for them, not those fancy, lacy things that everyone is afraid to touch, and I make sure they have plenty of them. There’s shampoo and conditioner. In one drawer, our guests will find a hair dryer, curling iron, flat iron, and a magnifying, lighted mirror. I tell them to open any of the drawers – they might find something they need. Additionally, I leave a small card where they can see it that has the password to our wireless.
If you don’t have a dedicated guest bath, and your guests are sharing the bathroom with you or your kids, make space for them before they arrive. Put away non-essentials or have the kids put their stuff in baskets.
If our guests are flying, I send them an email before they come to our house, telling them all the things that are available to them, so maybe they’ll have more room in their carry on and can avoid fees for checking a suitcase (usually $25-50).
I also ask what they usually eat for breakfast. People have morning routines, and, if they get up too early or too late, they can at least fix their favorite cereal or frozen waffle. Also, I inquire about any food allergies or dislikes.
If all this just sounds a little too much like Martha Stewart, then do this one simple thing. Stand in the guest room. Think like a weary traveler walking into a nice hotel room. What are your expectations? Your needs for comfort? What are things you’ve encountered in your travels that were annoying (a cramped closet with only 3 clothes hangers) or no extra toilet paper, stale smelling (or worse) dusty towels in a guest bathroom that hasn’t been used in ages.
These are all thoughtful things to make guests stay more comfortable, but I do other things that make them know that their visit is special to us. On their first night, I sneak away to their room, turn their bed down and, instead of a chocolate mint, I place on their pillow the weather forecast for the time period of their visit.
Later, when they enter their room, usually after way too much wine and hours of catching up, they find my note, and they are reminded why they are in our home.
On the back of their bathroom door is a framed list of House Rules. At first glance, it is reminiscent of what you find on the back of a door in a hotel room….except for one thing:our sign is a little twisted.