A Tale of Two Marthas: Being a Better Hostess

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By Kimberly Schulterman

A couple weeks ago, I experienced another one of those “I’m grown up now” moments when my husband and I hosted the official Thanksgiving dinner for my side of the family. I was solely focused on ensuring my houseguests were comfortable. I’m probably more obsessive over hospitality than I should be – for a while I even wanted to run my own inn. I want my home to feel like a really friendly, loving hotel.
My mom taught me hospitality etiquette, but just to make sure I didn’t overlook something, I perused the Internet too. I have encapsulated what I found and what I already knew into a neat little alliteration: Plan, prepare and practice.

Plan your menu, plan where your guests will sleep, plan for activities, and plan for whatever logistical arrangements are necessary. Prepare for all these things by shopping in advance; making sure your linens are clean; making sure there are enough plates, glasses, eating utensils and chairs; and checking to see if any of your guests need unique accommodations, such as a special foods due to allergies or dye-free laundered linens for sensitive skin. Finally, if you’re making something you’ve never cooked before, you might consider a practice run with the menu. I practiced on a couple Cornish hens before making the big turkey. Smaller scale, roughly the same process to cook. If your activities require technology, such as playing video games or watching family pictures on a DVD, check to make sure everything works properly before your guests arrive.

It goes without say that your home should be clean prior to guests arriving. Obviously, the level of cleanliness will vary depending on who your guests are. For example, I beg my mom not to stress about cleaning the house before we come. I grew up in that house; I’ve seen it messy. I’d rather see my mom when she’s refreshed and relaxed, than when she’s exhausted from having cleaned a big house by herself. But when she comes to my new home, you’d better believe I try to make it pristine.

Other ways to let your guests know you’ve been thinking of them far in advance of the door bell ringing are:

• Provide each houseguest with clean sheets and pillow cases on the bed. I don’t wanna sleep in someone else’s cooties; do you?

• Clean the shower. Just as I don’t want to sleep in someone else’s cooties, I don’t want to shower in their soap scum and hair.

• Provide each houseguest with a clean towel and wash cloth. One of the nice things about staying in a hotel is the abundance of clean linens that later, you don’t have to wash. I want my houseguests to enjoy that convenience too.

• Clean the hand towels. Make sure they pass the smell test! They should be fresh and neatly-folded on the towel rack. Folding it pretty is an easy thing to do that goes a long way toward presentation.

• Clean up after your pets. Many people don’t care for animals. I personally think they’re crazy, but that’s beside the point. If your house normally smells like dog or cat, it shouldn’t by the time your company arrives. Vacuum everything, including the furniture. Wash curtains if necessary. Mop floors. Shampoo the carpet if necessary. Some people are not only uncomfortable around animals, they literally break out in hives! I have a sweet kitty that I adore, but I’d hate for her to be the reason my houseguests aren’t comfortable. Cat owners, make sure the litter box is scooped at least once a day, too.

• Take out the trash, and remember the cans in guest rooms and bathrooms.

Martha Stewart has captured many of these items in a neat, printable checklist. Download it here.Most importantly, remember which Martha to emulate. Martha Stewart’s hostessing skills are terrific; Martha, or Mary and Martha fame, not so much (Luke 10:38-42). Martha had the most important houseguest of all time and all she could do was to clean and cook. At the end of the day, it’s almost guaranteed that despite careful implementation of the 3 P’s above, something will go wrong. When it does, remain calm and collected. If you end up two spoons short, it’ll be alright. A gracious guest will be perfectly happy with a fork or plastic spoon. (Although in that instance, obviously the guest should get the good spoon and you should use the plastic.) You’re not allowed to talk incessantly about how the soup is too salty, the toast is burned, or the house isn’t clean enough. You’ve done your best and it is what it is. Take the time to enjoy your important company. If your guests don’t feel genuinely appreciated, for what good will all the effort have been?

Get a good start on being the perfect hostess for your next house guests with these other helpful sites.
Etiquette Rules for a Happy Hostess
Hostess Dos and Don’ts

Remember what the Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” As much as energy as you put into entertaining your family around the holidays, always remember to be a gracious hostess to anyone who enters your home! If your home is a place of Christlike love and peace, then all who enter it will be blessed.

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