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What Not to Do When Entertaining

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When we think about hosting guests for a party or a weekend, we usually concentrate on the things we need to do to make the get together turn out the way we pictured it. However, we don’t always think about the things we shouldn’t do if we want our guests to look forward to another invitation in the future. We all do things that may seem perfectly appropriate when we’re with our immediate family. But what’s comfortable for you and your family, may not make your guests feel comfortable at all. That’s why I’ve put together this list of “don’ts” for hosts and hostesses.

1. Do not cook something for yourself without offering to share.

Woman hosting a dinner party
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While no one expects you to cook a gourmet meal three times a day when you entertain houseguests, you shouldn’t prepare something special just for yourself, and tell the guests to fend for themselves. Imagine watching your hostess prepare a lovely breakfast omelet for herself, and then have her turn to you and point out the cereal in the cabinet to which you should feel free to help yourself.

2. Don’t invite guests to run your errands or babysit your kids.

It’s one thing to ask a guest to pick up something for you when they’re heading out to the store for their own needs. But your guests aren’t your on-call errand runners. And if you do ask them to pick up something when they’re out, give them the money to pay for it before they go. Similarly, if they suggest you go out for a fun evening with your husband because they’d love to spend time with the kids - by all means go have fun. Otherwise, don’t make the suggestion yourself.

3. Don’t forget your guests’ special dietary needs or preferences.

Nobody should expect you to cook a special Atkins diet recipe for them. But if you know your guest is vegetarian, don’t only serve hamburgers for dinner. Or if you know your guest loves to eat oatmeal everyday for breakfast, it’s thoughtful to have it on hand to offer whenever she stays over.

4. Don’t assume your guests will be comfortable foraging for what they need.

Not everyone feels comfortable opening cabinets to look for essentials when they visit you. For overnight guests, while you aren’t required to put chocolates on their pillows, you should put bath towels in their room. When guests arrive at your home, offer them a drink. Ask any guest if there’s anything that they need. Many people, surprisingly, are too shy to speak up for themselves.

5. Don’t scold your guests for not following house rules.

You may scold your child for forgetting to put a coaster under his glass in the living room, but don’t scold your guests. If house policy is to remove your shoes when you enter the house, and your guests are still wearing their shoes, you’ll have to overlook it. There may be a reason why they’re uncomfortable removing their shoes (hole-y socks, smelly feet?) Clean later, and chalk it up to the price we pay for having friends that want to spend time with us.

6. Don’t let your guests go to bed without giving them directions for the morning.

Before you turn in for the evening inform your guests about your morning plans. Do you expect to go out for a run with the dog before they get up? Will you be sleeping in until noon? It’s just common courtesy so that houseguests know what they should do and expect when they wake up hungry in the morning.

7. Don’t leave out things that guests really don’t want to see.

Your bathroom and powder room are good places to start. Look around for potentially embarrassing items, and put them away. Your desk and countertops are other good places to look. Do you really want your guests to see pay stubs or debt collection notices?

8. Don’t leave your guests wondering when they will eat.

You invite your guests to a party at 4:00, but you’re not planning to serve dinner until 8:00. Either be prepared to serve snacks and appetizers when guests arrive, or warn them with your invitation that you’d like to spend a few hours relaxing before dinner is served. That way they can catch their own snack on the way over, without feeling the impulse to snitch kibble from Fido’s bowl.

9. Don’t forget to clean enough to make your guests comfortable.

You may not lift your toilet seat when you go to the powder room, but your male guests probably will, and you won’t want them to meet any alien creatures on the under side of it. Or, is the pet hair so thick on your couch that a guest wearing black pants will walk out wearing white, fuzzy ones? And although the sound of crunchy crumbs under your feet in the kitchen is relaxing to you, it may send chills up the spine of your guests.

10. Don’t follow the “5 second rule” in front of guests.

Julia Child is falsely rumored to have told viewers that it was okay to use a chicken that had fallen on the floor, since "you’re alone in the kitchen." But most of our kitchen layouts are open enough that chefs are constantly on display. Remember to follow especially good hygiene, including frequent hand washing, when cooking in front of guests - not that you shouldn’t do that at all times, anyway.

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