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Our Most Essential Etiquette Tips for Hosting Overnight Guests

Whether you're having company for one night or one month, a little pre-visit prep guarantees a great experience for everyone.

By Dana Meredith, Associate Editor

A welcome tray sitting on a guest bed filled with Chicago themed gifts such as a mug, guide books, welcome letter and soda


Have friends or relatives coming to town? I know the feeling. Between scouting out all the spots you want to visit, making reservations for a restaurant downtown and brainstorming all the tasty homemade meals you'll share, it's easy to forget about getting the house in tiptop shape. Never fear! Follow these four steps to hosting overnight guests, and you'll be ready to roll out the welcome mat in no time.

(Psst...have a last-minute guest? Whip up one of these dinners quick!)


1. Create a comfy guest room

If you're lucky enough to have a spare room for overnight stays, perfect! But even if you have to boot Junior out of his bedroom or turn the living room into a dormitory, it's important to set up a place for your guests to crash. A few small touches go a long way toward helping visitors feel welcome.


  • Refresh the linens

    There's no need for a formal turn-down service, but scope out the bedding situation before visitors arrive. Wash guests' sheets and pillowcases to eliminate any mustiness. (Who remembers the last time they were used?) Set out extra pillows and blankets in case the room gets chilly at night.


  • Don't forget the tech

    It seems everyone travels with a suitcase full of gadgets these days. Help out by plugging in a power strip to accommodate your guests' phone chargers and laptops. Then, go one step further: Place a note card with the Wi-Fi password, TV remote instructions, household phone number and emergency contact info in a pretty frame, and leave it on the nightstand or dresser. Your guest will be impressed.


  • Provide space to unpack

    No one ever really rocks the "living out of a suitcase" look, so leave several empty hangers in the closet. Show guests where they can find the iron and ironing board. A handheld or wall mirror is also a thoughtful touch.


  • Night stand with a framed welcome note and flowers on top and books with assorted tolietries on a lower shelf


  • Set out extra goodies

    Place a small table or nightstand near the bed with an alarm clock (set to the correct time, please!), tissues, a notepad and pen and a bottle of water. A small vase of flowers is always nice, as is a short welcome note. If guests will be sightseeing, provide guides to the city and area attractions, and stack a few magazines or books nearby for downtime. You might also want to pop a flashlight into the drawer or plug in a night-light for unexpected nighttime trips down the hallway.



  • 2. Stock up on bathroom essentials

    Company will feel more comfortable with daily routines if you've anticipated their needs. A separate guest bathroom is ideal, but if that's not an option, set aside designated space for them on the bathroom counter. Low on space? Go college dorm-style by gathering products into a nice basket they can carry between bed and bath. If you've been hoarding little bottles of lotion and shampoo from your hotel stays, now's the time to use them. Some other things to consider:


    • Find that extra towel set

      Freshly washed bath towels, hand towels and washcloths are a must. If possible, try to give each guest a different-colored set so they know whose is whose. Lay the towels out before guests arrive. (Swan sculptures are optional.)


    • Provide the essentials

      Many people don't mind sharing their own shampoo with friends and family. But let's say you have a super expensive conditioner or prescription product you don't want meddled with. Avoid that awkward talk by setting out a special set of toiletries for your guests to use. Think shampoo, conditioner and lotion, as well as toothpaste, unopened toothbrushes, disposable razors and a fresh bar of soap. Extra bottles of contact solution and aspirin, sunscreen, tampons, pads and Q-tips or cotton balls are always appreciated.


    • Point out those semi-embarrassing emergency items

      Make sure guests know where to find extra toilet paper and the garbage can. And to prevent potential embarrassment, don't forget to point out the plunger if it isn't in plain sight. No one wants to have to ask for that.


    • Coordinate bathroom schedules

      When you're winding down for the night, remember to ask who needs to shower when; this will help prevent bathroom pileups. If your hot water heater is the size of a bucket, let guests know, and be respectful of those showering after you.



    • 3. Make the kitchen cozy

      Coordinating meals for company can be a challenge, especially if you have different eating schedules. But time spent together around the table can be the most precious part of a trip. A little advance planning will ensure an awesome meal.


      • Check for allergies

        Ask ahead of time if anyone has food allergies or aversions you should be aware of. While you shouldn't be expected to change your family's eating habits, you'll want to know if someone is lactose intolerant, vegetarian, allergic to peanuts or refuses to eat peas. (Check out these recipes for allergy-free treats.)


      • Make a coffee station

        If you have extra-early risers, help them help themselves in the morning. Set up coffee and tea the night before. Put out mugs and glasses, and make sure you have plenty of water, milk and juice on hand. (Remember to point out where they can find the garbage and recycling bins!) And if someone's heading to the airport at the crack of dawn, leave grab-and-go breakfast goodies on the counter to make the morning less chaotic.


      • Prepare meals in advance

        If you're out all day sightseeing with guests, it can be hard to get dinner on the table. Prepare a few slow cooker or make-ahead dinners, and whip up an overnight breakfast casserole or two in advance so you can pull meals out of the fridge or freezer to pop in the oven when you're pressed for time. Set out some fruit or premade snack mix to tide guests over until dinner is served.


      • Let guests help out

        Most guests want to feel useful. If you hear the phrase, "Can I help with anything?", feel free to put them to work. Have them set the table, chop vegetables or dry dishes. They'll feel more like part of the family, and you'll benefit from the help.



      • 4. Keep calm and communicate

        Your guests and your family will have a good time if everyone's on the same page. There's no need to print out an agenda, but it's helpful to have a quick discussion before guests roll into the driveway. Discuss flight schedules, arrival times and departure dates in advance so you know what to plan for. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:


        • Talk to the kids beforehand

          If you have young children, talk to them about your expectations for the visit ahead of time. Remind them of the need to respect others' belongings and guests' right to privacy.


        • Share schedules

          Let guests know in advance about any prior commitments you have during their stay so you can manage expectations. Discuss children's bedtimes and mealtimes with guests so there's a clear understanding of what works best for everyone.


        • It's OK to let guests be independent

          Don't plan every second of the visit. Guests and family alike can benefit from some downtime and a little space. If it's an extended stay, get extra keys made so guests can come and go as desired, and coordinate transportation needs ahead of time. Lay a few ground rules at the start, and don't forget that your own family needs attention, too.


        • Remember, being a perfect host doesn't mean you have to be perfect. If you're relaxed, your guests will be, too. Taking the time for a little advance prep makes your guests feel special, and makes you feel good about saying, "Come and stay awhile!"