In theory, having guests over at your home seems like a lovely idea. Until the day gets closer and the hour approaches and you find yourself resenting them more and more.
Even though you extended the invite.
Even though you were (before the stress began to get to you) really looking forward to seeing them.
Social media has well and truly ramped up the pressure on hosts, even for the most casual of get-togethers. We think it’s time to push back. We asked two of Australia’s leading etiquette experts, “What is the bare minimum we can get way with when it comes to being a host?”
FRIENDS FOR DINNER
Sometimes it seems like a good idea to host a dinner party at home. Sometimes (you take total leave of your senses) you decide you don't want to go out to another fancy restaurant and a few too many cooking show episodes later, you decide you can whip up dinner at your home and before you know it, you're chopping and stirring and arranging flowers as the time screams towards their arrival time, barely giving you enough time to say, "WTF have I done to the chicken?"
Anna Musson says some friends can be very judgy. "I think with friends it's almost that competition. The mums want to be able to do it all, to have a perfect house and perfect children. I know I feel a lot of pressure to make sure my house looks perfect when my friends come over."
If it's school parents who are passing as friends, Musson says to stick to cleaning the rooms they'll see and close the doors to other rooms, the risk being that they'll ask for a tour of the house. She advises you mislead them a little. "This is not for everybody but you can say, 'Excuse the floor, the cleaners are coming this afternoon', whether you have cleaners or not. Or you could say, 'Pardon the house, we've just had a playdate'."
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Clean only rooms and spaces they will see, have a few lies handy just in case.
FRIENDS SLEEPING OVER
With close friends, when the night has been long and the wine plentiful, it seems natural to ask them to stay the night. What's better than a weekend sleep-in and a delicious breakfast the next day where the conversation continues and the good times roll on, this time in a much more relaxed setting. When it comes to making friends feel welcome during a sleepover it can be easy to make them feel at home, and just as easy to make them want to leave.
Musson says there is a bare minimum all guest rooms should have. "A bedside lamp, a rubbish bin, spare hangers, slippers, a shower cap, towels, and I think a water bottle with a little note around it and some fresh flowers from your garden." Feeding this through our "bare minimum" filter, we're hearing towels and clean sheets.
Susie Wilson says when friends are sleeping over, regardless of anything else you arrange, it's important to agree to a time frame. "Your great-aunt's definition of "a long weekend" might be several days longer than your own. Whether your husband or partner has a big work project coming up or you're planning an out-of-town trip, let your guests know when you'll be ready for them and when you'll need them to leave."
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Make sure they have clean towels and sheets, clean the bathrooms and make sure they know when it's time to go.
FAMILY FOR DINNER
Family who comes for dinner had better bring a drink, a dish, or a helping hand, that's all I can say. When it comes to certain family members you may not feel the need to clean your house from top to toe, unless it's your judgey inlaws. Then you may want to hire cleaners and order dinner, which you will then pretend to have cooked yourself.
When it comes to cleaning, it's all about specifically targeting key areas. "Bare minimum, clean the bathrooms, so empty the bins, clean the toilet and a fresh hand towel, a fresh toilet roll and any public areas that they are going to access such as if they're going to walk through the laundry to get to the bathroom then the laundry should be tidy," says Anna Musson.
"Also in the bathroom make sure there is spray available."
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Focus on cleaning the bathrooms and don't forget the air freshener.
FAMILY SLEEPING OVER
I love having family to say, as long as they don't A) Stay too long and B) Change/fix/improve anything around my home. I'll never forget the time I went away for work only to arrive home to find my mother-in-law had taken it upon herself to fix things up a little, replace appliances I loved with ones she thought were better and then explain it all to me as though I'd be pleased. NOT. PLEASED.
Anna Musson from The Good Manners Company says it's important to make all guests, both family and friends, special and welcome. "I have stayed at my sister's house and she's not really into housework and I've had to share the bathroom with teenagers and I've ended up paying them $50 to clean it. And now my husband and I have agreed we're just not going to stay there again. And I think that sometimes when someone is a close family member or friend we are too relaxed to the point where we can risk offending people because we've obviously made no effort. It doesn't make you feel welcome."
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Make close family members help, for all others stick to clean bathrooms, sheets and towels.
CHILDREN FOR DINNER
Children are normally easy to feed and easy to please. They just want to have fun. They don't care if the house is a mess. Let's face it. To most children a clean house is a blank canvass on which to unleash their ability to make a huge, horrible mess. Let them. Book the cleaners for after they leave.
Musson says she doesn't go to a huge amount of effort for kids because they rarely have any expectations besides having fun and being able to make a mess.
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Stock up on food, snacks and activities. Clean nothing.
CHILDREN SLEEPING OVER
Unless they are regular guests, children don't tend to sleep very much when they come over to a friend or family member's house. To them it's party time, a novelty, a night filled with whispered conversations and mischief. Best not to fight it. As long as they keep the noise level down, just put in some ear plugs and get yourself some shut-eye.
Wilson says for young guests you need to keep them busy and fed. "Loads of activities planned and snacks. "
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Ear plugs.
WORK COLLEAGUES FOR DINNER
Probably the most stressful of hosting duties, when work colleagues come over for dinner it can be tempting to pull out all the stops and try and impress at every turn. While trying to impress may be appreciated by some, looking like you are trying too hard to impress can be disconcerting, as can creating such a rigid, orchestrated atmosphere where nobody can relax.
"I like to put people at ease when they come to my house," says Musson. "I think work colleagues are expecting you to be freakishly on your toes so I like to make things really relaxed and not set the table beautifully, but just have it more relaxed so that they'll be relaxed."
"When we have work colleagues around it's usually for a barbeque outside in the outdoor area and people eat on their laps."
GOOD-ENOUGH HOST ADVICE: Keep it deliberately casual.
WORK COLLEAGUES SLEEPING OVER
Best to avoid this scenario at all costs. No good can come of it. It's incredibly awkward. No matter how much wine has been drunk and brandy sipped, getting them home if possible is the best scenario. Call them an Uber, call them a taxi or drive them yourself. If they do have to sleep over and it isn't planned, you can get away with being a little under-prepared. If it is a planned sleep over (WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?) you may want to make them a little comfortable but not too comfortable. You don't want them making a habit of it.
When all else fails, make sure you don't skimp on the food. Wilson says, "If one is a vegetarian, or allergic to fish or dairy products, be sure your menus include options and that your pantry and refrigerators are appropriately stocked. Show guests where to find snacks, drinking glasses, and utensils, and encourage them to help themselves."
GOOD-ENOUGH ADVICE: Show them where everything is and leave them to it.