The Ultimate Entertainment Guide for House Guests

By Kalina MacKay

Whether there’s a special occasion or you’re simply inviting over your out-of-town relatives, there’s a science behind hosting guests. Get it right and you’ll love the opportunity to catch up with your friends and family. Get it wrong and you’ll be vowing to never let another guest inside your house again.

There’s a lot of pressure on perfecting arrangements so that you come off as an organized, flawless family. At House Method, we have some experience with entertaining guests, so we put together this guide so that you can spend less time stressing the small stuff and more time enjoying each other’s company.

The perfect dinner party 

One of the most common social gatherings that will happen in your home is the inevitable dinner party. While this can allow you to catch up with old friends and bond over good food, it can also be overwhelming to get everything right.  

The illusion of effortlessness is what sets the table for guests to enjoy the evening—untroubled and inspired. All preparation should be complete long before guests arrive—the table set and candles lit—and you as the host should be prepared to be the evening’s guiding undercurrent. 

Remember these rules as you host dinner guests in your home:

  1. Keep the menu simple, but balanced.
  2. Set the table, forget the decorations.
  3. Know when to step back and enjoy yourself.
  4. Don’t cordon off the kitchen.
  5. Let your guests close the night by not specifying an end time.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, take some advice from Erin Gleeson, California-based photographer, educator, blogger, and author of The Forest Feast cookbooks. She recommends recruiting a friend to help host and split the responsibilities. 

Here are some of her other tips for throwing together a last-minute gathering:

  • Serve champagne! It’s an easy way to make any night feel like an occasion.
  • Go to a gourmet grocery store deli and buy lots of sides to serve alongside pasta, a frozen lasagna, or pizza.
  • Boxed soup is easy and fun with popcorn on top.
  • Creamy polenta or Gnocchi are also quick, delicious vegetarian main course options.
  • Light a candle or two!
  • Music! I usually choose old jazz, like Blossom Dearie, or bluegrass, like Punch Brothers.
  • Serve vanilla ice cream for dessert with peanut butter and honey drizzled on top. So easy but a little different and so delicious. Let guests make their sundaes at the table.

Have drinks on hand 

Offering drinks is often a go-to for welcoming and warming up guests. It can set the tone for the rest of the gathering and encourage conversation from the start. 

You can think about drinks seasonally. For example, if it’s summer, consider serving something with berries or peaches. If it’s a holiday, perhaps something with bubbles. Since not all guests will have the same preferences, you may opt for a cocktail served in a pitcher, then offer beer, wine, and a non-alcoholic option like seltzer, juice and/or water.

If having guests over is something you do on the regular, be sure you’re properly storing your wine bottles between gatherings.

These are the essential tips for home wine storage:

  1. Keep the temperature consistent.
  2. Maintain steady humidity.
  3. Keep your wine in a dark place.
  4. Avoid storing your wine near vibrations.
  5. Store corked bottles on their sides.

Planning for the occasion 

When making preparations, it’s important to note that one size does not fit all. In other words, you should keep in mind the specific occasion and its goals—which are likely different from the last gathering you planned. 

For example, a summer barbeque requires a very different approach than a formal event. For a cookout, there is much less of an expectation to have the event planned out minute-by-minute. You may ask guests to pitch in (think things like a six-pack, a soccer ball, sparkling water, ice, etc.) more than they would for a traditional dinner party. 

Additionally, the menu and decorations should reflect the season and occasion. You must also consider challenges unique to the situation. For example, at an outdoor barbeque, you should have a plan for managing pests. There are a few natural ways to repel summer insects—like citronella, lavender, sage, and rosemary oils, which can be pooled in a small ramekin and placed near foods.

On the other hand, if you’re planning a large scale gathering like a backyard wedding, there are other specific considerations to take into account. Party planners of an event to this magnitude should think about a dress code, parking plan, feasible invite list, and a plan B to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Other things you’ll need to consider while making extensive backyard gathering plans include the size and space of your backyard, season, weather, and neighbors. There can be a lot of uncontrollable factors involved with outdoor gatherings, so do your best to take matters into your own hands. 

Surviving the holidays 

If there’s ever a time of year where people universally are dealing with the frustration of hosting houseguests, it’s the holidays. It’s a great feeling to have your relatives from across the globe all in one place, but it can also pose some real challenges to the host. 

In order to maintain some mental and household peace during the holiday season, take a weekend and get your home in order. This simple prep work will help you reduce stress before all the fun of the holidays begins to bubble up.

  • Purge the pantry and fridge 
  • Organize your closets 
  • Prep the guest rooms 
  • Stock up on key items (like coffee, carpet cleaner, paper towels, toilet paper, and other toiletries) 
  • Stock your bar to your future guests’ liking 
  • Childproof your home 
  • Test your key appliances (like the smoke detector, generator, heater or furnace, and vacuum cleaner) 

Once your preparations are in order and your guests arrive, figure out how you’ll entertain them. With so many events to attend, events can blend together and inspiration can run dry. Luckily, there are endless resources on the internet to keep your ideas fresh. 

Here are some of our favorite blogs for holiday entertainment:

  • The Forest Feast—for a vegetarian gathering / best for hosting ideas
  • Drizzle & Dip—best for cocktails
  • Stuck in the Kitchen—for the discerning sweet tooth
  • Julie Blanner—best for holiday decor
  • Sunday Suppers—for updated classics
  • Sugar and Charm—for the DIYers
  • Sugar & Cloth—for a colorful gathering

Finally, it’s easy to forget about yourself over the holidays. Prioritizing your own health and wellness during some of the most hectic months is key to making sure you survive the holidays intact.

Lindsey Toth, MS, RD, of Swanson Health recommends holidays travelers pack their own snacks while traveling to make healthful eating easy.

Stock up on healthy, protein-rich snacks that are easy to grab and go, like nuts, seeds, energy bars, and cheese sticks so you’ll have healthy options on hand if you’re delayed or missing meals. Having healthy options at your fingertips can help you stay on track with your goals instead of making a beeline for the closest airport fast food.

You can also stay on top of yourself by mitigating stress as early as possible. Prepare, plan ahead, find a healthy distraction, and don’t forget to breathe every once in a while. At the end of the day, let yourself enjoy the holiday season so you don’t look back at it with regret.

The A-Z on housewarming gifts 

If you’re on the other side of social gatherings, you may want to bring a housewarming gift as a token of appreciation for their efforts. But what should you bring for your host or hostess who promises they don’t need anything? Skip the bottle of wine or a candle, and show up to the party with something unique, practical, and thoughtful.

Here are 10 of our favorite housewarming gifts for the next gathering you’re invited to: 

  1. Fizzics—Perfect for the avid beer drinker, the Fizzics Waytap beer tap uses patented technology to create uniformly dense and compact carbonation that increases the flavor and aroma of canned and bottled beer to craft-brew standards.
  2. Hedley & Bennett handcrafted aprons—Hedley & Bennett aprons are made of high-quality materials like Japanese denim, American canvas, and brass hardware and are designed with real kitchen use in mind, making them a tasteful and practical housewarming gift. 
  3. FRESHPAPER—Low-cost, compostable, and easy to use, FRESHPAPER sheets keep your food fresh and limit the number of trips to the grocery store. They’re infused with organic botanicals that naturally extend the shelf life of produce in and out of the fridge.
  4. Lorena Canals basket—We love this artisan-style basket that doubles as a chic decoration and functional item that holds and organizes everything from fabrics and bags of beads to files and office supplies.
  5. Personalized glassware—What better housewarming gift than personal glassware engraved with intricately designed city maps. Pay homage to your host or hostess’ favorite city with uniquely crafted rocks, pints, wine glasses, coffee mugs, and carafes by Uncommon Green.
  6. A small bamboo tree—According to Chinese lore, bamboo brings good luck to a home. Visit your local nursery and look for bamboo plants that are 12–16 inches tall and won’t overpower the new space.
  7. Mom Bombs—Because a nice, long bubblebath is a must after a well-planned house gathering. Mom Bombs are luxurious bath bombs that are made with an indulgent combination of organic Argan Oil and essential oils, providing relief to the recipient.
  8. Coffee table books—According to The Style Bouquet blogger, Beth Shankle Anderson, a housewarming gift that has always been well-received by friends and family are coffee table books. We suggest Saladish for food lovers, Ali: A Life for the history buffs, and This Is Not Fashion: Streetwear Past, Present and Future, for the fashionistas.
  9. Eternal Roses New York by Prêt-à-Fleur—This collection of real roses doesn’t require watering or maintenance and stays fresh and radiant for three years. The roses can be used as a table centerpiece or placed on an entryway table to charm guests.
  10. Hangomatic hanging tool—If you know your host or hostess loves pictures, or more importantly, hanging pictures, give them the Hangomatic All-In-One picture hanging tool that measures, levels, and marks the wall at the same time. They’ll never risk ruining their walls ever again.

No matter what gathering you end up planning, the most important part is the genuine time you get to spend with one another. Don’t sweat the small stuff—your guests are sure to appreciate your efforts.

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