Tips From a Hospitality Pro: When Home for the Holidays is Your House
Everyone is coming to your house this holiday season. Family togetherness, right? That fantasy of everyone under one roof with every bed, couch, and cot occupied, and three family meals a day sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? For most families, it is unrealistic to think that it will all go smoothly and everyone will be singing carols by the fire and getting along. In reality, it could be several days of lines at the bathroom and constant cooking and dishwashing. Give yourself and everyone a break by making advance plans to provide some breathing room for you.
Skip the couch
Are you sure everybody wants to stay at your house? Uncle Ralph might be too cheap to pay for a hotel, but cousins Sue and Jeff might think that they would hurt your feelings by suggesting it. Some relatives might prefer to have their own space. Research local hotels for good rates. If you are not in a city or a tourist destination, your nearby hotels may not sell out during the major holidays and therefore offer great rates that could include breakfast and WiFi. Try an online travel agency (OTA) such as Travelocity to see what’s out there. For any last minute lodging needs, guide those guests to the Hotel Tonight app.
Encourage independence – if most of your guests are flying in, try to encourage at least one of them to rent a car so they are not completely dependent on you and your vehicle. Then they can get out and enjoy the town, shop, or help you with errands. Check your favorite website for car rentals, or try a site that searches for deals for you, such as Kayak.
Sometimes when we have lived somewhere for a long time, we forget all the fun things there are to do in our town. Find out what is happening nearby – there could be holiday markets, light shows, ice-skating, hiking trails, or other local flavored activities, and your guests might love to get out of the house and do something festive. Check your city’s or region’s tourism website or Convention & Visitors Bureau to see what’s going on. Type your city name and “tourism” or “CVB” into your favorite search engine.
If you anticipate having guests for all three meals, keep breakfast and lunch simple, especially on the days surrounding the holiday. For breakfast, most of your guests will be quite satisfied with good coffee, fruit, yogurt, and toast or pastries from the local bakery. They can help themselves and nobody feels as if they must be at the table at a certain time. If you want to provide something hot, prepare a simple egg dish you can chill the night before and place in the oven when you wake up. (recipe below)
For lunch, have cold cuts, breads, and condiments available. Better yet, send them out to lunch. Tell them you have some “work” to catch up on, and while they’re gone, you can chill and enjoy the quiet.
The help-yourself format for breakfast and lunch can lead to crowds of people in your kitchen. Limit the perishable food availability to an hour when you have the biggest crowd. Then return it to the fridge, so the stragglers can help themselves at their convenience. Also, place the cold drinks in coolers outside – back deck, garage, balcony, whatever keeps people from opening and closing your fridge all day. Just watch the temperature if you are in a really cold climate during a cold snap to prevent the bottles and cans from freezing.
Make dinner the star, when the whole gang gets together. When people offer to help (and they will), let them. Have some easy jobs ready to delegate. Almost anyone can peel potatoes, set the table, wash some pots, or stir the sauce. If you have a family member with skills, delegate the hard jobs. If nobody offers to help, ask. Sometimes they want to assist, but don’t want to interfere or hover. Alleviate their angst, and minimize your own. Ask.
Breaking the News
After you have compiled your information, you need to communicate it to your guests. If possible, call everyone individually and explain the lodging options, so there’s less chance of hurt feelings. For a bigger crowd, put it all together in an email but be diplomatic and hospitable. You don’t want your email going viral because it is so bossy and inhospitable. Remember the infamous “The Thanksgiving Letter“? Begin your letter with a sincere message about how excited you are to be hosting the family and/or friends for the holiday. Then get right to it and explain your rationale, in a casual and positive way, such as, “We have a few spare beds if you would like to stay with us, but for those of you who would like to have your own space, several hotels and inns right in town have special rates….”
One of the best ways to make your guests feel welcome is for you to enjoy yourself. Guests can feel like a burden if they see that you are stressed-out and trying to do it all yourself. Accept their help, encourage them to venture out of the house, and don’t expect perfection from you or them. You will all have a better time and fond memories.
Katie Davin is an associate professor in the College of Hospitality Management at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I. She is a Certified Hospitality Educator with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University.