I approach having house guests like an elaborate play- this means setting the scene, the performance and finally, the curtain.
Any episode of Come Dine with Me will bring to mind guests poking around in every part of the house. It’s your life and tastes that are under inspection.
Prior to the guests’ arrival, give the house a thorough clean, and hide all your secrets. If a guest should mistakenly open the airing cupboard, all they should find are neatly folded linen.
Hosts should plan guest entertainment such as games, walks, pubs or a visit to the neighbouring stately home. Guests need packing instructions for planned activities and the provisions of your house.
The guest bedrooms must meet good B&B standards. Provide crisp, clean sheets, at least two pillows per person , blankets, hangers and towels. The bathroom should be stocked with basic toiletries.
‘Oh, do make yourselves feel at home!’
You should expect to receive a house gift. This may come in the form or sweets, wine, a house plant or a meal during their stay.
Briefly show your guests around the house; limit it to the sitting room, kitchen, bathrooms and guest bedrooms. Now would be a good time to point out the little quirks of the house, for instance, ‘The lock on the bathroom door is broken, so a closed door means occupied.”
Depending on the length of their journey, guests may want to freshen up or rest straight away. Ask if they wish to do so, and have tea ready whenever they would like it. Only after this point can you gently impart the house rules. To avoid your guests feeling like they have entered boot camp, stick to bare minimum you simply cannot abide by.
According to Debrett’s, ‘The unspoken code of hosting is to go slightly out of one’s way in honour of one’s guest.’ Three square meals a day must be provided, plus snacks and tea whenever it’s called for.
Breakfast is a breeze as it pleases even the pickiest eaters. The trickiest part is what time to serve it as some of us are larks and some of us are owls. Let guests know if it is to be taken together or whenever they care for it. Guests must never be harried out of bed.
Your sense of hospitality must be free-flowing, but don’t be a martyr. Accept help around the house when it is offered. Constant company uses up oxygen fast, so know when to take breaks from each other. Guests are a lot like children, they should neither be smothered nor neglected.
Take a bow
Overnight guests usually take the hint after breakfast has been served. You can usually expect weekend guests to leave after lunch. When your guests prepare to depart, look sad to see them go. But if it seems like they might never leave, a quiet word should embarrass them into moving.
Sometimes you will have to cater for unexpected guests—a damsel in distress on the doorstep or someone who overdid it at last night’s party. Hosts should apply a deceasing scale of hospitality here. Be selfless and giving at the start and let it slip once your guests start becoming a nuisance. Once tea and other comforts have been withdrawn, their own homes will seem more appealing.
Those who ‘just pop by’ do not need to be welcomed every time. In fact, since Facebook and mobile phones, it is impolite not to give warning. Unwelcome, unannounced guests should be dealt with directly. If fabricating little white lies (appointments, tradesmen doing work) is beneath you, say instead, ‘I’d ask you in, but now is not the best time.’ Back in her day, Granny used to always answer the door with a hat on; that way, if someone unwelcome is at the door, she could convincingly say, ‘Actually, I’m just on my way out.’