How to Be a Great Host or Hostess: 101

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How to Be a Great Host or Hostess | 11 Magnolia Lane
If you’re hosting family and friends this Thanksgiving, then you’re probably in the middle of some last-minute preparations that involve cooking and cleaning.  Me, too!

We host LOTS of house guests and it seems like we always have. We seem to be a bit busier when we are living somewhere fun–like here in Savannah or back when we were in Virginia Beach–but even when we’re living at “armpit” locations, we still get a lot of business in our guest room. (I will never say out loud what those “armpit” locations are!!)

How to Be a Great Host or Hostess | 11 Magnolia Lane

| Headboard/footboard  |  Sheets and pillows: HomeGoods  |

I’ve been working on a few tweaks in our guest room, and I’ll be back soon to show you the entire room.  Usually the guest room is a bit of an afterthought for me because it’s not used as much as the other rooms in the house, but I also want to be sure that it’s a comfortable and relaxing space.

When you know guests are coming, here are few things to do ahead of time:

  • Send them directions to your house well ahead of time so they can plan their route.  We live on a military post and it’s a bit complicated to get to us, so I have directions to our house in a .pdf that I email to visitors ahead of time.
  • Check on any food restrictions or allergies and try to plan meals accordingly (I’ll be writing a post soon on how to be a good guest, because they go hand in hand, and while a good hostess should try to accommodate special needs, a good guest should also be flexible and consider bringing some items along to make this part easier).
  • Along the same lines, if you know that your guest prefers a particular type of coffee or adult beverage, stock up ahead of time.  If they’re bringing kids, then have juice and Goldfish in the pantry–it’s those easy little touches that make them feel welcome.

While you’re preparing the guest room and bathroom:

  • Stock the bathroom with extra tissues and toilet paper, basic medications (Tums, Pepto, Tylenol, ibuprofen), toothbrushes, contact lens solution, a hair dryer, extra washcloths (I like dark gray ones because they don’t get dingy after being used to remove eye makeup), towels, and feminine products.  I also put a plunger in the guest bathroom because nothing is more embarrassing than having to come out and ask the host for the plunger–not that this has EVER happened to me! 🙂
  • Make sure that your guest bed is as comfortable as it can be.  Maybe it’s only a blow-up air mattress or a sleep sofa, but if you use a memory foam topper and high quality sheets, it will still be cozy.  I also keep down pillows and hypo-allergenic pillows in the house so guests can use whichever they prefer.  A throw blanket helps for nights that might get chilly, although I always tell my guests that they are in control of the upstairs thermostat while they’re in residence.  I also use {this} laundry detergent to wash all my guest linens; it’s pretty pricey but it smells amazing.  I cut it with unscented detergent to make it last a bit longer–it’s worth every penny!
  • An alarm clock next to the bed isn’t as essential as it used to be since most people use their phones these days, but ours also is a sound machine so that sleeping babies can listen to the ocean instead of the raucous adults downstairs!
  • I have reading lights and a night stand or table on both sides of the bed, too.  I hate not having a place to put my glass of water at bedtime and figure my guests are the same way!  If you don’t have two nightstands, a fun pouf doubles as seating or a “table” of sorts.

Gray chevron pouf from West Elm

  • Since everyone seems to have multiple electronic devices these days, I usually add a 3-prong extension cord to the guest room so they can charge as many devices as they need to.  And whenever we get new phones or e-readers, I throw the old chargers into a drawer in the guest room in case a guest forgets their charger at home.
  • Speaking of electronics, everyone will be asking for your wireless password.  I’ve framed ours and put it on the nightstand in the guest room:

Frame the wireless password and put it in the guest room | 11 Magnolia Lane

  • You can see in the picture above that I also like to put fresh flowers in the guest room, too.  They always brighten up the room.
  • I keep local information in the guest room, too.  Maps, coupons, and brochures for local attractions help guests plan their visit.
  • A little welcome gift can be placed on the bed.  Last year it was a bag of travel-sized toiletries from our local Savannah Bee store; this year it’s a Savannah cookbook.


  • If you have tiny visitors coming, be sure that there’s room in the guest room for a pack and play or travel crib.  I used to keep one on hand, but it seems like we have very few babies visit anymore.  Sigh.  We also keep a few toy bins for the younger set in the closet so that we can pull them out when we need a few cars, trains, or dolls, to get through the day.  And this is just a small thing, but I always put a bunch of plastic bags in the guest room if we have guests coming who have babies in diapers; they almost always ask for them to wrap them up for the trash, anyway.
  • I also keep a stack of Little Golden Books in the guest room, in case a bedtime story is needed.
  •  Of course, the grownups need reading material, too, so I always include a few novels for the adults, a devotional book or two, and a stack of magazines.  Since we’re in Savannah, I have to have a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil up there, as well as back issues of Savannah Magazine.

How to Be a Great Host or Hostess | 11 Magnolia Lane

  • While I feel like storage room is lacking in our current home, I try to leave closet space and drawer space in the guest room.  A bench is also helpful for holding suitcases and duffel bags.
  • I love having a television in the guest room, but we don’t have one in ours!  We might change that in the future, because we already have a TV just sitting in the garage, unused, but it just doesn’t make sense in this house.

A last few ideas:

  • If your guests are staying more than a few days, offer to let them use your washer and dryer, especially if they have children!
  • If it’s convenient to give them a house key, then have an extra one made up and kept on a “guest” key ring.
  • Be sure to have them sign your guest book–that way you’ll always be able to look back and remember the fun of their visit!

Guest book | 11 Magnolia Lane

What are your favorite ideas that help welcome guests?  I’m sure I missed a few!

Guest room | 11 Magnolia Lane

Just as important as being a good host is being a good guest.  Read my post with tips for houseguests {here}.

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  1. Love your idea of gifting a cookbook for a guest gift! And the wireless code in a frame…brilliant. I’m with the Junior League of Savannah – shameless plug if you need cookbooks for future guests – we have a new book coming out in April that will highlight the Savannah squares with lovely photos and history. You can pre-order online for 20% off to stock up. Plus, proceeds go back into the community to support local projects with a focus on women and children.

    • Jessica–
      That is a great idea and I would love to use the Junior League cookbook next! I know a few of the sustaining members (guess that means I’m getting old). So glad you stopped by!

  2. i have totally borrowed your wifi password in a frame idea and my guests have loved it! Additionally I have a basket full of random goodies. Travel sized toiletries and items people sometimes forget such as disposable razors, small toothbrush/paste kits, travel deodorants and even mouth wash. The guests so far have been floored and told me they felt like they were visiting the Evans Hotel. :). YOU my dear are the best host, thanks for sharing your ideas win the rest of us! XO

    • Great idea on the basket of goodies–and our guys certainly get enough hotel-sized toiletries with all of their travels, don’t they?!

      I hope to see you in my guest room again in the new year!

  3. Christy,

    Thanks so much for this article, a valuable reference. Remember me? I’m the creatively impaired one! Would love to hear suggestions about housing guests when no extra rooms, i.e. bumping kids out of their rooms! Love ya bunches, JC

    • Janet–
      We have faced that before in other houses. I try to put the queen bed in my daughter’s room and the twin beds in my son’s room when there’s no guest room. Then we “bump” her to her brother’s room when we have guests. Even a sleep sofa or air mattress works in a pinch–after all, friends and family are coming to see you, not to be lavishly entertained in your guest room!

  4. Marianna Bailey says

    Just wanted to add a couple things I have in my guest room. I have a small cabinet that holds bottles of water and a 2 cup coffee pot, in case they need something and don’t want to go downstairs. I put the coffee, creamer, sugar sweetener and creamer in there right before they come. Mugs and individually wrapped snacks.
    I love the password idea too… Love your information and inspiration!! Keep them coming!!
    Marianna in Tennessee

  5. Great ideas. Love the wifi password in a frame and will be using that at home. I have a cloth laundry bag on the back of the door of the guest room and if guests want to do laundry they have something to carry it in, and finally, I have a nice bottle with filtered water in the fridge (the ones I have have an old fashioned cork and bale style stopper) that the guests can take up with them at night rather than just a glass. Having the water with a stopper stops it from spilling and means if we’ve over indulged they can drink more than just the one glass.

    • Those are wonderful ideas, Fiona! I especially love the laundry bag, because my guests often do laundry if they’re with us for more than 2-3 days or have small children. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Elizabeth Rishel says

    I love this post!! I also love your guest book. Do you happen to know where you bought it? I am wanting one for my new home. 🙂

  7. Thanks so much, Elizabeth! I bought the guestbook from a seller on Etsy; however, I can’t find the name of the exact store. It’s actually a wedding guestbook and I asked her to customize it so that I could use it for entertaining instead. I’m guessing that if you search Etsy, you’ll find a couple of dozen that you love!

    • Do you know the manufacturer of the patterned throw pillows or the manufacturer of the fabric? I absolutely love them & haven’t been able to find anything close. Thank you!

      • I just checked to see if there’s a tag on them, but I cut them off (they were huge if I remember correctly). I bought them at HomeGoods last fall, though.
        So sorry I can’t be more help!

  8. The plunger idea is GENIUS!! Our guest rooms are in the basement, so that bathroom isn’t used on a daily basis. You are amazing. We are retired Air Force – wish I’d had these ideas then! Interestingly, I did have a notebook with maps, day trips, currency conversion charts, etc for guests and newcomers when we lived in Germany. No Euro and no smart phones or computers back then!

    • Great idea with all the local stuff when you’re stationed overseas–I’ll bet you got a fair amount of visitors when you were there! We were always busy in the guest room in Savannah and VA Beach.

  9. Great ideas, Christy! I feel sure anyone would be more than comfortable in your home. I like the idea someone posted about having cold, filtered water in the fridge for guests to use overnight. I always have ice water on my bedside table when I retire. Just something about having refreshing water before sleep and if I wake up…which usually do! 🙂

    Love the guest book idea!

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