5.11.2015

Receive Guests Properly



One of the habits that made a big impression on me in Paris was how both Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne loved to entertain guests. They had dinner parties at least once a week. The style of their parties varied- Madame Chic held more formal affairs and Madame Bohemienne's were more casual and spontaneous, but what they held in common were how welcome you felt as a guest. They never apologized for the state of their dress or their home or their cooking. You were always offered a refreshment, or aperitif, immediately upon arrival and were generally made to feel very comfortable. I believe it is because they had people over so often and so regularly that being a hostess was just like second nature for them.

Most people have a story, whether good or bad, about a time they were a guest in someone's home. When we have guests over we want them to feel welcome right away. This week's video shares my basic guidelines for receiving guests properly.

1. Get accustomed to using your best- If you use your best on a daily basis, it won't feel awkward to do so when company comes over.

2. Shed your insecurities and don't apologize- While it's important to get your home ready for guests, don't obsess about the details. Let their knock on the door be a signal for you to drop any insecurities that you may have about the state of your home or whether or not they will like your cooking. Don't apologize for yourself, your skills or your home. Your guests are most likely just happy to have been invited over!

3. Designate a space for their belongings- Let your guests know where they can place their handbag, coat and umbrella, or place their belongings there for them.

4. Always offer a drink to your guests upon their arrival- It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing your friends, but don't forget to offer them something to drink when they arrive. They might be really thirsty or would really appreciate a strong cup of coffee.

5. Provide food if your guests are visiting during a mealtime- If you are inviting people over during a mealtime (noon or 7pm, for example) you must provide them with a meal.

Check out this week's video for a more comprehensive discussion on the subject. If you are unable to see the video above, click here, look in the sidebar of this blog, or visit my channel (and subscribe!) www.youtube.com/TheDailyConnoisseur


News
At Home With Madame Chic is going into its second printing with Simon & Schuster! Thank you readers for embracing this book on how we can live better at home.

Pink Julep is bringing At Home With Madame Chic along with her on a journey.

I will appear on Nippon Television's The Most Useful School in the World, Saturday, May 23rd at 7pm in Japan.

Madame Chic Inspiring Thought
Make connecting with people face to face (rather than screen to screen) a priority again. Invite a neighbor or one of your friends over for a cup of tea this week.

Comment of the Week
Madame Chic reader, Shannon, has tried the ten-item wardrobe and says:

Now in the morning when I slide open the closet door there is a sense of giddiness and excitement instead of dread or stress. What favorite outfit should I wear today? It doesn’t bother me to don the same dress twice or on one occasion three times a week because I love it so much. I have also built up my accessories to the point where I can easily change the look of dress with a belt, scarf or cardigan and it feels new. I’ve narrowed down my colors so that most things coordinate. Thanks again for the inspiration. It’s been a great life change!

Shannon, I am so happy you are reaping the benefits of the ten-item wardrobe. I hope it continues to positively influence your everyday life going forward!


Before we go, I would just like to say Happy Mother's Day to all of the Daily Connoisseur moms out there. I am so fortunate to have such a lovely mother who raised me well. All mothers deserve the highest accolades and respect for doing the best and the hardest job on earth. I hope you had a great weekend.

This week I would love to hear about your stories as a hostess or a guest. Do you have any horror stories to share? Any wonderful experiences that left an impression on you? Let us know in the comments and you could be picked as the comment of the week!


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26 comments:

Lisa H. said...

Great video! Thanks!

I'm wondering what you do when guests arrive unannounced? More specifically, guests who are not close friends, but acquaintances that you do not plan on continuing a lifelong friendship with. A few weeks ago, I had just gotten home from a tiring day. My husband was working late and it was time for me to give my toddler twins a bath and put them to bed. Just then, an old friend (who I am no longer close to) and his wife showed up on the doorstep unannounced. I tried to receive them gracefully, but also tried to drop hints that it was not a good time and that I needed to put my kids to bed. They did not pick up on my hints. I guess my question is: how do I decline guests gracefully?

Polly said...

This is a great and much-needed video. I love hospitality! We frequently have guests--dinner guests, luncheon guests, and 'let's have tea and let the children play' guests. Sometimes they are perfect strangers.

Your tip on not apologizing is essential. I once was invited to a playdate at an acquaintance's house and she said "please don't judge me! I'm not a good housekeeper!" Her house, as it turns out, appeared beautifully-decorated and spotless. My conclusion was that she must be very insecure! This is not the impression that most people want to give.

We have entertained overnight strangers (friends' parents!) during a major home renovation. That was humbling, but the house was neat and clean, and the construction and the port-a-potty in the yard did not inhibit our hospitality.

One tip I have is to keep the guest room ready-ish (even if it is shared with a child--mine is-and turned into a guest room when the need arises). I *just* learned that we will have an overnight houseguest tomorrow. Keeping things fairly tidy and clean mean that this is not a big deal.

The tip on using your best is also so important. We always use cloth napkins and I have had people *reject* these b/c they aren't used to them and are afraid they will stain. Of course they will get dirty--they're napkins! We use them anyhow. And oxiclean deals with the consequences. If you are used to pulling out a tablecloth and keeping fresh flowers on the table every day, this means it's not 'fussing' over guests to do it when they come. It's just how we live, and they are invited into it!

Considering a guest's comfort is so important. I've been a guest before when I had to sort of 'suffer through' and as a result our guest room typically comes equipped with an extra blanket, towels, little shampoo/conditioners, chocolates, water bottles, etc. It's nice to anticipate what they might need (is there an easily-located soap in the bathroom, extra toilet tissue, extra washcloths, etc?) and try to set those in eyesight just in case.

As a guest I love staying with my sister-in-law. She's English, and she creates such a welcoming atmosphere. Everything is squeaky clean, the linens are nice, and it just feels luxurious to stay with her. Very inspiring!

Amaya Rodriguez said...

This was really lovely. I think something else that goes into receiving guests properly is having a good attitude even before they arrive. I know that sometimes I put up a fight when I even hear that someone is coming over. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?", "But I wanted to stay in my pajamas all day!", etc.
Changing that tone from the beginning would help make the whole process easier for me. I'm playing this video again next time I have someone coming over!

Casey said...

So where do you stand on the issue of asking your guests to remove their shoes when they come over? I tend to find it rude.

Veronica said...

Hello Jennifer! I think this topic is so important these days. Many people do not have guests over at their homes, so they do not know how to behave or what to do when they have people over. Growing up, my parents hosted all the family functions and holidays, so my sister and I were taught very early on how to take coats and offer something to drink to our guests. My husband grew up much more informally, and he never learned these social graces. Over the years, I have tried to coach him before people come over on what to say, do and offer. He has finally started getting the hang of it, but I still give him a little pep talk before everyone comes over.

I do have one horror story on this topic. We had just had our baby, and my husband's parents, and grandmother decided to drop by with very little warning. I was upstairs with the baby, and I didn't realize that my husband failed to take their coats and to offer them a refreshment. He also greeted them very informally. Needless to say, his parents didn't think anything of it, but his grandmother sure did. I was mortified when my husband told me that his grandmother complained about this to his father, who then relayed the message to my husband. Now, when she comes over, I personally greet and attend to her!

Unknown said...

I once had a dog-centric party in my small home. I'm a bit more like Madame Bohemienne - I'm a creative type with eclectic interests living in a funky area surrounded by millionaires.

I had this party because I was involved in some intense dog rescue work at the time and so many friends had questions. Having a party was a way for us in rescue to educate the curious while having fun. I had three big dogs at the time and a few friends brought theirs, so it was a crowded, light-hearted vibe.

I provided delicious food, an open bar and was a welcoming hostess. Unbeknownst to me, a newer friend invited another friend and neglected to tell her the party's theme. Turns out this friend of a friend was scared of dogs. I felt resentful when she told me and asked me to put the dogs away. But I kept my cool and explained the theme. Once we both realized our mutual friend had blown it by not telling her what the party was about, we teased him. I put a couple of my dogs away but told her that I couldn't kick out guests with dogs. She received a crash course in being around dogs, animal lovers and professional dog handlers. I went out of my way to ensure that she had plenty of food - and champagne - and that she felt comfortable.

The party was a success and my friends still talk about it. Even the police officers who stopped by for coffee and beignets still talk about it!

-Maureen

Virginia Ruth said...

Your practical tips on hosting are well received. As a child I loved reading Emily Post and her chapters on entertaining house guests, etc. Some of the information may be dated but the essence is the same: treat guests as you would want to be treated and that you are truly glad that they are in your home.

We have a dear friend who entertains beautifully. Every person who visits is treated with such thoughtfulness and care. She is so glad that you are visiting that when you leave you feel much loved and better for having spent time with her. Thanks for raising awareness to a forgotten and necessary behavior- hospitality. wellofencouragement.blogspot.com

Natasha Orr said...

Love the topic Jennifer! One thing that bothers me with invitations to dinner or party's is that the host will then ask you to make or bring something that they need. Whilst I would never turn up empty handed and don't really like being told what to make/bring. In my view if you are the host you should have all the main components of the meal/party yourself and if a guest brings something it should be additional. For example, I once went to a birthday dinner where I was asked to bring the salad. I did and at the dinner I realised that all of the food had been made by the guests! The host only contributed a store bought roast chicken. To add to my frustration, the dinner was to celebrate the hosts' daughters birthday and so, in addition to the food we made, the guests also all brought presents. I thought this was rude. If you are going to be a host then you should take on the responsibility of it and not delegate too much.

Katarina Rosberg said...

Dear Jennifer-

You have helped me so much in becoming the person I want to be and I am very thankful for everything you have thought me. I have become more comfortable in my own skin and I feel happy with who I am.

I wear my head higher and now I look good every single day thanks to your Le No Makeup-look.

After reading At Home With Madame Chic I became very aware of my surroundings. I started purging, organizing and now my home is very clean - which I love. This is of course not the case for everyone else. A few weeks ago I went to my friends boyfriend's house and I was warmly recieved but the house was a total mess. The bathroom floors were wet and the walls brown, it stank and my hands started itching when I saw the state of the toilet. Was I supposed to sit down on THAT? The chaos continued; mismatched bedding, clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink and... they didn't even have matching tableware! My mother is very much like Madame Chic and our house is always clean and we dine on Villeroy & Boch's Palermo every night - a homecooked meal!

I was supposed to sleep over at his house for the night and I almost started crying (for real!) when I saw where I was supposed to spend those eight hours. The bed was not made and we had to search for a pillowcase for about half an hour. It was a nightmare. Oh, and the boyfriend puked... the whole night...

I felt really awful, but I took the train back home as soon as I woke up. This little sleep over made me realize just how blessed I am and now I feel much more thankful for my family, our home and my clean toilets. BUT! They were very kind - I just had some issues with the... messy state.

THANK YOU for being who you are and inspiring me every single day.

Loads of love,
Katarina

Hillary DeJong said...

Hospitality is one of my favorite topics! You're spot on as you note how it's all but disappeared from American culture.

I've learned so much from my uncle, especially when I lived with him for a summer. His hospitality is simple, elegant, and seemingly effortless.

On the flip side, I've visited family and they've had me sleep in a garage (!!!), left to fend for my own food without information, and don't even greet me upon arrival.

It's not a matter necessarily of formal v. informal, or pretentious v. casual, it's more of making your guests feel comfortable and special. To know that someone spent even a little time in anticipation of your arrival strikes just the right note of love and appreciation. After all, we all like to feel special!

Jessica Schneidereit said...

I had a cat pee in our suitcase once while staying somewhere overnight.

Stephanie said...

I really enjoyed this video, Jennifer. My family really had guests over when I was growing up, and I always feel a little stiff as an adult when someone comes over to my house.
Something that I have begun doing that is making it easier and more comfortable for me to have guests over is working on my signature cookbook, like you suggested doing in Madame Chic. I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time someone comes over, or hunt through my many cookbooks for what might be good. On my dinner pages I have the entire meal time typed on one page. That way I'm not juggling three different cookbooks on the counter, I only have to glance at one page to see if I have all the ingredients, and I already thought through in advance whether the different dishes would work well together, eliminating ideas that were overly complicated.

Relyn Lawson said...

My husband and I have people over regularly, but we have been amazed at how few people do so here in Missouri. We are from Tennessee, and in the South, it seems to be much more common to "play hostess". I was wondering if you would tell me about that wonderful pillow to your right in the video? I am swooning over it!

Joy said...

Excellent video, excellent topic!! I wish we entertained more, but my husband and eldest daughter (age 15) feel like everything has to be perfect to have guests in our house. With four, soon-to-be-five kids, perfection is pretty... elusive. ;-)

I was raised to have people over any time, and to be welcoming no matter what, like you say. I was born and spent most of the first decade of my life in Bangladesh. I am so humbled still as I think of the graciousness of our hosts, even those who lived in extreme poverty. They were so glad to have us, and so very welcoming. In turn, we had people over to our house all the time -- all kinds of people. And there were customs, like tea and "biscuits" (cookies) that you *just did*. Always. No matter what.

As far as nightmare experiences go... I think the most important thing as a host/ hostess is how you act. The most uncomfortable moments for me as a guest were when spouses or significant others fought in front of me or similar. For instance, (though not the only time) last fall a dear friend of mine invited my family to stay with hers for the weekend. These are people we've known for ages -- we've been what I would call "close friends" for 15+ years. But the whole weekend, she criticized her husband in front of us or made degrading comments about him to us while he stood close by. It made us so ill-at-ease. We didn't know if it would be more rude to go stay elsewhere or to continue staying there (as we ultimately chose to) even though we felt like we were only adding to the strain their marriage was obviously under.

Also, the apologizing you talk about: same trip, same friend kept apologizing for their state of their home. They were in the middle of refurbishing it, but for me, it was exciting to see because with my husband's work being what it is right now and us moving frequently, I can only "refurbish" vicariously. She had literally begged us to stay with them, but she kept apologizing saying things like, "Oh, I bet your house is so perfect." As I said earlier, I've known her for 15 years!!! I kept saying, "Come on, you KNOW me!!!" It made me feel like she was falsely flattering me -- or, again, that she didn't really want me there, though she had said otherwise.

Anyway, it's sad that this is the example I use because before, I loved going to her house. I felt blessed just to sit at her kitchen counter and talk and laugh for hours. So this -- thinking about your actions and words not just to your guest but to your family -- is most important.

Andrea W said...

This is a great topic, inspiring many thoughts in me!

The story I will share is about a time I was invited to the home of one of my Grandmother's friends. (I was visiting her in upstate New York from California). I was young, perhaps only 12 or 13 years of age at the time. What I will never forget is being served a glass of pink lemonade in an incredibly elegant stemmed goblet of etched glass, that had a wide decoration in gold on its rim. As a child, I had never held such a fragile and beautiful glass. I felt that I was being treated as an honored guest, instead of a "tag along" child who might have been given a plastic cup instead of glass like the adults. Since then I have gone on to hold annual dinner parties and I love to use my best as you encourage. It is my way of showing my guests they are special to me, and I love to "indulge" them. You are right, it does get easier with practice, and it is a good idea to "fake it until you make it!"
Thanks Jennifer!

Unknown said...

I have noticed this potluck-masquerading-as-dinner party trend and I don't like it. If it's a potluck, please let me know up front that it's a communal effort.

How tacky that your hosts actually used a potluck as a party for their child without you knowing ahead of time.

Honestly, I LIKE not having to contribute to a dinner party. That's the intention - treat people to a meal in someone else's home. Hopefully they reciprocate. Maybe they'll even bring a hostess gift!

Gosh, but I do love selecting hostess gifts. Macarons or a bottle of local olive oil? An orchid or something exotic and edible that the hosts can enjoy later? Treats for their beloved pet or some music that the hosts will enjoy?

Is your life such that you can't reciprocate by gusting at home? How about taking them to dinner? We are adults so we can do these things!

-Maureen

Liz said...

My pet peeve is being invited for a meal and there not being any desert. Now that I think about it, I think it only bothers me when I'm really uncomfortable, like when I'm only invited because I'm my husband's wife or any time I don't have a close relationship with anyone in the room. I can get through my awkwardness knowing I will be rewarded :) I'm really happy I found your blog. This post makes me feel like I can stop wishing I was better at entertaining and just start by doing it for myself and my little family and when that feels natural I can just add one or two special people and go from there :) I also loved your Ted talk which led me here and also made me feel chic because I have a very small wardrobe :)

Nana said...

Great e very needed post. I love the tips.
Kisses and God bless you.
Nana
http://procurandoamigosvirtuais.blogspot.com.br

Ruth Carter said...

I agree that feeding and watering your guests is essential. My father tells a tale of going to someone's house and the host saying, "Oh, you'll have eaten won't you?" At this my grandfather replied, "No," and awkwardness ensued.

I have a friend who thinks that unless her house is absolutely perfect she can't possibly host an event. She's always going to do so once her house is in the proper condition. To me, it seems like life is passing by without its full quota of enjoyment.

Grab life with both hands!

Summer Smith said...

Thank you for this post. I needed it greatly.

Renaissance Teacher said...

I'm a vegetarian, and my worst experience was being invited over for dinner (by someone who knew I'm a vegetarian) where every single dish had meat in it! She had macaroni and cheese with ham mixed in, green beans with bacon, and some sort of corn casserole with ham in it. She didn't even have bread on the table so that I could at least have that. So there I was having to sit at a dinner table just watching everyone else eat. Now this wasn't someone who doesn't know me well and may have forgotten. (If I think someone may not know or may not remember, I mention it and offer to bring a dish.) This person was well aware.

Frieda said...

The hint about not apologizing is wonderful. Apologizing is 'thinking about me' but welcoming is 'thinking about you.'

I married a Brazilian and have lived in that warm culture for 45 years. Here are some tips I've learned there:

1-It's perfectly legal, if you truly don't have time for company, not to answer the door. Often that's more polite than making excuses about 'not being a good time right now.'

2 -If you do answer the door, even when the visit is inconvenient, always greet with a smile (and if appropriate a handshake or hug.) Don't bustle or fidget; immediately SIT DOWN graciously with the guest to talk for a few minutes before getting to the object of the visit, offering a drink, or explaining that you have to leave in 20 minutes. Pretend you have plenty of time, even if you don't.

3 - (This is a biggie in Brazil and Americans often fail miserably:) Always greet each and every person, adult or child, who is in the room. Acknowledge each one. Teach your own children that they don't have to make small talk, but that they must learn to shake hands, look in the eye, and say hello politely to every single guest. Practice at home before the guests arrive, and then refrain from obvious coaching during the visit.

4 - A personal pet peeve is trying to visit while the TV is on in the room, or the cell phone is being used. Excuse yourself and go elsewhere if you must take a call.

5 - When the visit should be over, if the guests don't show signs of leaving, the key is to get the guest up on his feet. STAND UP, and say enthusiastically, "Oh, this has been lovely. Thanks for making time to visit. I'll get your coat. Do come again!"

6 - Be sure to take leave politely from each individual. Also it's a kind gesture to walk out on the porch to smile and wave until the guests go out of sight. Brazilians are shocked when in American films, the hosts disappear and the front door shuts on the guest's back before he's down the front steps!

Maureen said...

Thank you for this timely post. It just so happens that my husband's law school graduation party in our home will be beginning in just about an hour. I appreciate these great reminders!

The Bron said...

Oh yes, a horror story!

I went along to an acquaintance's house with a friend at 10am. We were going to help her plan out a career change, as my friend and I had both gone through a similar process.

I bought along worksheets and references for all of us, along with a small gift for her, and lead a work group. After 4 hours, we had been assaulted by her small and aggressive dog and only been offered a taste of wine (when I pointed out something she had on the counter. I turned it down); No food, no water or tea.

Jennifer, I would love to see your take on politely getting guests to leave, (thanks Frieda, I will try standing up when I announce the end of the evening) The same lady, and her husband are well known to stay over an hour after the party has ended, just sitting and chatting. One time we had them on the porch for 20 minutes (we invited them back in but they said, "oh no, we're leaving"... but kept talking). We are very social people and love having guests but I hate those to hang around when you just want to tidy up and go to bed.

CAM said...

Great video! Our family hosts around 8 to 12 weeks of guest per year! We try very hard to make each guest feel both honored and special and right at home! Even with all those guests, I still found your books very helpful to improving my hostessing!

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