There are a few key etiquette points that should be done within the first 5 minutes of a guest arrival. But in my personal experiences, these things often go undone. Some people may associate manners with starchiness, but it has been gracious manners that has made me feel the most relaxed in other people’s homes and has likewise been my guide to make guests feel comfortable in mine.
Far from overwhelming, these are simple manners that help people to be their most comfortable. Every experience in my history of being a guest and having guests over helped me grow in this understanding.
I love a good story, so here are two from my life archives that taught me how to treat my guests upon arrival to my home!
I had flown across the nation. I felt caked in airport and airplane germs. My nerves were fried from a day full of crowded buses and terminals, the awareness of germs being everywhere, using public bathrooms, carting luggage with me, did I mention the crowds? I had not eaten a meal all day. I had woken up while it was still dark, drove two hours to the airport, flown across the states and then another two-hour drive to their house from the airport. I was dehydrated, hungry, tired, and weak. I needed a few key things: a shower, a hot meal, and a comfortable chair to relax in.
But when I got to the hostess’s house, in her excitement she started prattling on and gave me a nearly full house tour right away. This was complete with opening drawers and cabinets and showing me dishes. There was no food offered. No food anywhere. No drink offered. No seat offered. I followed her around thinking surely she would stop soon and realize how bedraggled I was and that I had been up and traveling for well over 12 hours straight.
When I finally stole away from her, I took a much-needed shower. But when I got out, I had to drive to the grocery store so that I could buy something to eat. There was no meal ready, there were no appetizers offered. I arrived in between lunch and dinner hour and in the hostess’s world this meant, we don’t eat right now. But in weary traveler world, I was going to pass out. I needed food now, no matter what the clock said and regardless of her daily schedule, not to mention that my time zone was hours later than hers.
This was an innocent oversight of this person. This hostess was gracious in many other ways, she just did not have the awareness about the first moments I stepped foot into her home after a long day of travel. I did not always know how to be a hostess either. This is a learned skill and I happened to learn a lot about it by being a guest a lot at other people’s houses.
Welcoming guests into your home means offering basic comforts upon arrival.
Not 30 minutes later. Not hours later. Upon arrival.
If someone drops by and they are not staying, offer them a seat and a drink. These two items are to be offered at the very least, even if the visit is only to be five minutes. This is still a moment for hospitality and for all you know, it will be a refreshment they actually need. I always offer water, but if I have other items available, I offer water along with whatever items I have to give.
If an overnight guest arrives and your plan was to go out to eat in an hour, offer an appetizer at the house. Have a charcuterie board or something of the like and drinks to offer until that outing. Chips, dips, crackers, fruits, nuts, meats and cheese are a great starter to refresh your low blood sugar guest. Getting cleaned up for a dinner outing, driving there, being seated, placing orders, that can take hours! If your guest has been traveling, they most likely need sustenance and water now, not in a couple hours.
This concept applies if you made a dinner, but you will not be serving it right away. Serve appetizers in the meantime.
For Overnight Guests
Show them to their guest quarters right away in case they need to decompress or use the bathroom first before socializing. They would greatly appreciate the invitation to take a shower and freshen up before entering the social gathering. After a day of sweaty and germ-infested traveling, seeing a stack of fresh towels on their bed, or on their bathroom counter and being told “feel free to shower if you need to and there’s refreshments waiting for when you’re ready.”, might be the best thing they could be offered. Make sure to mention the availability of drink and food at the time of showing them to their quarters.
Here is another story. This time, I had been graciously invited for dinner at this person’s home.
But upon arrival, I was not only never offered a seat as the hostess puttered around her kitchen, while I stood at her kitchen bar for well over an hour, I was also never offered a drink. After an hour of being there, standing…I was parched. When I finally asked for a glass of water, she said to “help myself”. There were no drinks out in sight, there were no glasses out in sight. I had to then ask, “Where are the glasses?” She waved her hand in the direction of a cupboard. So, I went over to it, opened it, and it had glassware and plastic cups. “Which cup do you want me to use?” I felt the need to ask. She said it didn’t matter. Once I had the cup, I did not know what water they drank. Not everyone can or should drink their tap water. So, I had to ask again “Do you drink your tap water, or your refrigerator water?” Then she had to tell me to use the fridge water.
I tell this story because it was not an isolated incident. This is a common experience that I have had as a guest in other people’s homes. I think people assume this casual attitude toward a guest creates a more relaxed atmosphere, but it actually does the opposite. A casual attitude toward a guest in the beginning can read like a host is inconvenienced by their presence. It can leave someone feeling physically and emotionally uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment.
It is not enough to tell someone to help themselves. A guest might not know your kitchen, or even know you well enough to be comfortable scrounging around in it. A guest might not want to guess at what you want them to use. A guest does not know what water is safe to drink.
However, we can tell a guest to help themselves if we have directed them to the items to which they could actually help themselves.
It is the hostess’s responsibility to show a guest their options: “Here are the glasses, we have sparkling water, filtered water, wine, sparkling juice, help yourself to the drinks.” You do not have to get everything for your guests, but not only should the drink offer be made right away if you want them to get it themselves, invite them to the options. An invitation is different than sending a guest on a quest without a map.
A hostess is a tour guide of her home. She is responsible to present what opportunities she is comfortable with her guest helping themselves to.
Again, this hostess was gracious to invite me to dinner. Her lack of hostess etiquette did not disqualify her to have people over, rather, it was an opportunity to practice hospitality. She extended herself right where she was at skill wise, and I applaud her for that. It takes courage to invite others into your private home. I do not visit others with a glee for scrutinizing them under my etiquette microscope, but I also do notice deficiencies in manners at times. My aim is to gracefully navigate those circumstances so as to not bring that person embarrassment for their deficiencies as I have had my fair share as a hostess as well.
A guest can and should speak up and ask for what they need, because a hostess cannot read people’s minds. But this article is specifically about what to offer a guest within the first moments of arrival, not anticipating every possible need a person may have.
A guest should not have to wait to be offered a seat and a guest should not have to ask for a drink. If this is a longer-term visit, such as a dinner guest, or an overnight guest, the offer of food is also made. But even if this is a short or an unexpected visit, it would be a wonderful practice to keep some food items in the house that could be offered to any visitor at any time.
Just remember this order so that when you are busy making dinner or distracted with children, you can offer these things before they feel awkward or forgotten.
Have comfortable seating that beckon guests to sit and invite them to do so
Guests might assume certain chairs are not for them, since sometimes people have their personal armchair, so direct guests to sit with a gesture or verbal acknowledgment of what seating is available to them. As I stood at her bar without being invited to sit, I thought perhaps there was a reason she did not want me to sit down! Some people will not make themselves at home unless you direct them to do so.
These are the basic comforts with which a hostess should welcome her guests into her home. These points come out of being sensitive toward others and that is who Jesus is to us, so that is what we are to be toward others.
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