How can I be the host with the most?
December 26, 2018 11:16 AM   Subscribe

One thing I'm hoping to do in 2019 is to host more get-togethers with friends. I'm looking for tips/tricks/ideas to make hosting events enjoyable for the guests.

What do you do as host to make people feel welcome (and to make your space feel welcome)? What do you enjoy as a guest when someone else is entertaining? This can be anything from recommending items you wouldn't host without or general guidelines on how to make gatherings fun.

I likely will focus on groups of fewer than 10 people with a mix of adults and kids of various ages. I have a modest-sized house with a finished basement and assume I have a standard set of kitchen supplies (pots/pans/crock pot/Instant Pot). I live in the Midwest so indoor and outdoor tips are appreciated.
posted by Twicketface to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
I like having cheese and olives and bread or something so that people can start nibbling as soon as they get here.

I like giving people simple jobs, like cutting the potatoes or mixing the drinks or deciding on what music to play, so that people can feel involved and not just sitting around waiting for me to take the thing out of the oven.

I like having some type of food focal point: like, a story for people behind why I'm cooking what I'm cooking (oh, i just learned about this buttermilk chicken from samin nosrat, have you heard of her? i really wanted the excuse to try it, hope you like it, etc); a friend would make a big pot of dough and just have people cycle through the kitchen making their own pizzas as the oven lingered on full blast. Something that gives some sort of edible purpose to the gathering.

I like not giving a shit about when we eat, whether we all eat together, where we eat (sitting on the couch? ok by me. floor? whatever), if food is dropped on the floor, or the rug, or if a drink spills, or what happens to the dishes. If people want to help clean up, cool. If we wind up stacking everything in the sink and getting a little drunk, whatever - put it on the credit card, i'll clean it up tomorrow let's just have a good time tonight.

Make plans for the next one that evening.
posted by entropone at 11:27 AM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing my best friend always did was she would ALWAYS have a pitcher of iced tea or something in the fridge and some easy to heat up snacky foodstuffs lying around, so whenever people would end up at her house for whatever reason, she could always offer them something to eat/drink without it seeming like she was going to a whole bunch of trouble. Her house always felt welcoming because of that.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:31 AM on December 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Jackbox games can make a really good social lubricant.

Do you have kids of your own such that there are toys in the house already? If not, have a stock of appropriate stuff - Legos and the like, a stuffed animal or two for little ones, etc.
posted by Candleman at 11:50 AM on December 26, 2018

Believe it or not, I feel most comfortable in a home that looks lived in, a home where you can plop down and relax. I hate going to people's homes where everything is so clean and pristine that you are afraid to breathe lest you drop a molecule of dirt.

Leave out a few plates of easy appetizers and snacks ahead of time wherever you prefer them to hang out so that people can help themselves to food and drinks as they arrive. That leaves you a bit of time to concentrate on important big ticket items that need to be served in a timely matter. That also gives them something to do instead of standing around awkwardly.

Introduce people as they come in so people have something to connect with. Nothing worse than walking into a room full of strangers and not knowing anything about anyone.

Comfy sitting areas. Hard to have a nice conversation when your butt hurts from a creaky folding chair. Also, smaller but intimate sitting areas - much easier to chat when it's a few people and you can hear each other.

Scattered low lights instead of bright overhead lights. A few candles here and there, one or two nice smelling ones but no more than that in case people are sensitive.

And remember to have fun and relax a bit - no one feels comfortable when the host/ess is looking wild-eyed and stressed.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:52 AM on December 26, 2018 [10 favorites]

The key thing for me, both as a host and as a guest, is to have a reason for having people over. Why does the party have to be at your house, instead of at someone else's, or instead of meeting up at a bar? What added value do you provide as a host? And why should it be on this particular occasion? If you can't answer those questions, your party is too bland, nobody will enjoy it, and when it's time for the next one, people will be less enthusiastic about coming back. If you can answer them, though, you're doing something fun and unique, and potentially memorable.

The answers are unique to each host, but in general, the best hosting experiences are related to the host's particular hobbies and interests. For example, the most memorable parties I've hosted have been an Election Night party, a Corduroy Day (11/11) party, a Pi Day party, and some football game watches. Election Night is because I follow politics a lot more closely than most people, so I was almost like a teacher instead of a host. I printed out cheat sheets about when polls closed in each state and which congressional races to pay attention to - stuff you can't get by watching results at a bar, or even at someone else's party. Football parties are fun because I'm a particularly fanatical fan of my alma mater's football team, so there's a bit of a spectacle watching football at my house (bobbleheads, stuffed animals, things like that). Plus I have a handful of football-oriented recipes (you're a midwesterner; you know about Velveeta and Ro-Tel), and my wife makes football-shaped brownies, so there's something for people to look forward to. Corduroy Day and Pi Day are the culmination of months of inside jokes leading up to the parties. I love corduroy, and I talk about it a lot, which is an unusual thing to talk about, so people talk back to me about it. Friends post screenshots of televised sports games tied at 11-11 to my Facebook wall, for example, and the run-up to the party is filled with stories of shopping exploits to meet the corduroy dress code.

In contrast, the least memorable party I ever hosted was an end-of-season get-together for a company rec sports team. There wasn't really any reason for the party except for the fact that people thought the occasion deserved a party, and I was only chosen to host because I lived in a central location. Predictably, few people showed up, even fewer stayed, and it ended up being one co-worker telling stories about her really bizarre family and high school friends while another co-worker and my wife humored her.

Not all parties have to be so specific, though. Another good party I hosted was a housewarming party when my wife and I moved in together. It's pretty mundane, but it answers the "why is the party at your house?" question in a way that's hard to refuse.

If you're Catholic, an easy reason to host a part is on your namesake saint's feast day.

A note about alcohol: Neither my wife nor I drink, so almost all of our parties are either non-alcoholic or BYOB. I think that's helped our hosting skills tremendously. The "why is the party at our house?" question can never just be answered by saying "because I have a keg" or "because we have a full bar". Even if you're interested in hosting everybody-get-shitfaced types of parties, you should plan the party as if no one will be drinking.

Also assume no one will talk. Have plenty of fun, easy things to do in case it does start going south. This is why everybody in high school always hangs out at the house with the pool table. Pool table, dartboard, cornhole, badminton, etc. I've been to parties organized around a particular movie, for example ("Waitress" on a friend's Pi Day was a good one, "V for Vendetta" on 11/5) that work.

And make sure your bathroom is clean and well-stocked. There's nothing worse than using the bathroom and finding out there's no hand soap.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:09 PM on December 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

If it's cold out, expect people to arrive wearing coats, and to have possibly wet or snowy footwear. Be ready for this with clear spaces to put all this junk, or be ready to take and put it all away somewhere when guests arrive.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:13 PM on December 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a small pet peeve when I arrive at someone's home with a bottle, flowers or, especially, a dish that was requested in my hand, plus my coat and purse and maybe my kid and the host doesn't tell me where to put anything. It doesn't have to be somewhere fancy - in the corner or on the bed is fine, I just like to be acknowledged and not stand around wondering what to do with stuff in my hands. To me, I have noticed that among my circle of friends, some people are good at this (and are generally good hosts overall) and some are not (and are less good hosts overall). It's also ok to deputize a friend to help with this.

Otherwise, I'm pretty good at making due and making conversation with friends and strangers, and a little good cheer means that not everything has to be perfectly in its place.

A few things that are nice:
- clean hand towels in the bathroom
- scattered lower lighting rather than bright overheads or glare coming from outside
- eating approximately when expected to (particularly with kids)
- a host that isn't so occupied in the kitchen that they aren't able to join their own party (however, I do like to help in the kitchen, so feel free to put me to work)
- non disposable stuff is a nice touch particularly for smaller groups - real cups, glasses, silverware, napkins; doesn't have to be fancy
posted by vunder at 12:24 PM on December 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think it's important to be done with cooking before guests arrive, unless the kitchen's open-concept so everyone is hanging out together during the last of it. Waiting in a living room while someone is cooking is just... ugh, why are we there? So awkward. And a frazzled host makes everyone nervous. Better to serve simpler food and be present for the socializing.

I have nibbles out and wine open when people get there. And started, not just "out." If it's cheese, it's got a chunk already cut, etc. I have my own wine glass poured. I want folks to dig in.

If serving olives or anything with pits or wrappers as the nibble, there has to be somewhere obvious and sanitary to dispose of waste. Little plates are good; napkins, at least, are necessary.

Lighting matters. Music is nice!

If there is a dog, for the love of God crate it. Being barked at is no fun, and even good dogs lick and jump when they're excited and curious.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:23 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like to arrange a little drinks area where the glasses are out, wine and beer there, and a little sign saying what's available in the fridge - it makes it easy for people to feel free to help themselves and I am not running back and forth getting drinks for people. Also making sure that every seat has somewhere nearby to put down a drink prevents spills.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:39 PM on December 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a little “kid box” full of random toys geared toward various ages. I toss it in the second bedroom and put the TV on, before everyone gets there. Parent friends really love it!
posted by functionequalsform at 1:58 PM on December 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Think about what type of night you want people to have when they come over -- do you want them to dance up a storm? To enjoy pleasant chitchat? To delve into a deep and complex board game?
Then, figure out how you can make that night happen.

When I'm hosting small groups, I generally want them to unwind and have a relaxed, but fun time. For that mood, I think flexibility/go-with-the-flow/c'est la vie-ness is the key. Someone spills something? It happens. You planned to start eating at 6:17, but it's 6:20 and people are still talking and not eating? It happens. You thought you'd have everyone play Game X but someone suggested Game Y? Go with it. The mood of the host is infectious -- if you're relaxed and having fun, everyone else will too.

Also: If you're cooking, be aware of/ask about dietary restrictions. I eat anything, but it sucks when someone with restrictions can't eat anything the host made. Especially if dinner was promised.
posted by matrixclown at 2:31 PM on December 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

As a guest to larger dinner parties/parties, I absolutely hate being stuck in one large group having a single conversation, so, so painful! Make sure to arrange the seating and/or direct conversations in ways so that doesn't happen more than when guests might all sit down together at the table to eat. And after the main course get people away from the table for dessert into the living room or wherever. Smaller conversations are way more fun and will lead to a much more convivial atmosphere. Don't hesitate to grab someone to show them something in another room so you can break things up or ask someone to help you with something.

If you are doing something after dark, intimate pools of light are your friend rather than evenly lit spaces (argh). Get a drink into people's hand as soon as possible. Unless your pet is a menace, let them wander through if they want so people can pet them. People love that.

If you do enough entertaining, you can start doing things your particular way. People know if they come over to my place they will always get a decadent dessert and plenty of decaf, that never changes. You can have a particular drink you serve, or a signature appetizer. It makes entertaining easier when you have a plan, and people then start looking forward to that specific thing.
posted by nanook at 2:37 PM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

If there's a focal point of the get-together (like the dinner of a dinner party), I prefer it when it's scheduled earlier in the expected time block rather than at the end. Sometimes people just don't mesh and then we're all bored waiting. If everything goes well, people can stay longer and chit-chat; but if not, there's a natural point where people can politely excuse themselves.
posted by meowzilla at 2:40 PM on December 26, 2018

Hello! I am here w 2 easy tips to put you in 90th percentile of hosts:

1) in every bathroom, visibly set out an extra roll or 2 of toilet paper

2) have music playing in the background. Doesn’t have to be loud or hip - just any noise helps people feel more at ease.

Other things I do as a frequent host: mentally do a walkthrough as if I were a guest to double check if all my needs would be met; try hard to match make conversations (very hard); if it’s a larger gathering, be extra careful about singleton friends (people who only know me among all the guests) - either commit to place them in good conversations or don’t invite them; mentally debrief after every party to see what could’ve gone better.

I think people really like when you “own” a holiday (eg always do a big Halloween or July 4th or something party). Also, anything can be a party - no excuse too small. Also, I admire my friend’s brunches. She’s mastered making eggs and bacon and French toast effortlessly and can then chat and cook without looking strained and making her guests feel like a burden.
posted by estlin at 4:17 PM on December 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Things I always have on hand for guests:

* Special non-alcoholic drinks, like la Croix
* A bowl of mixed nuts
* the wifi password
* Supplies to make Champagne Cocktail, including fancy sugar cubes
* Nice butter and bread (alternatively, hummus)

Tell people your house shoe policy (on or off) right away.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:37 PM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh and the thing that most bothers me when I'm a guest is not knowing how much food will be provided. If it's not explicit that a full dinner will be served (or enough snacks to count!), then I have to decide between eating dinner in advance and possibly standing around while other people eat at the party or not eating and possibly going hungry all night.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:40 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nice that you are willing to be a ready host! It’s more than ok to do a potluck (but don’t assign apps to that friend who is always late!). That way, the load on you is reduced, and people don’t bring random gifts that you don’t need. Consider buying cheap dishes and cutlery, to avoid disposables. At least paper plates are compostable (vs foam ones). Have fun!
posted by leslievictoria at 5:38 PM on December 26, 2018

Random note: I used to keep a six-pack of Mexican coke in the bottle in the fridge. When people came over, I'd ask if they wanted "an ice cold Coca-Cola." They were usually delighted by the offer and the bottle format and took me up on it about 75% of the time, and even if they didn't they thought it was kind of special.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on December 26, 2018

Make sure that your bathroom doors have working locks. Also, if you have one of those scary bathrooms with two doors, make sure they both lock from the inside. Nothing like doing your business, being afraid someone is going to barge into the *other* door.

Also, when you are inviting your friends to the get-together, try not to just send out one blanket Facebook invite and call it good. It helps to individually contact people as well, to create the feeling that their presence is important. Ask the people you trust most to bring the most important things (food, drink, dessert).

If people bring gifts or food, assign someone to take a photo of the people with it, so you can thank them later for their generosity. I'm still wondering who gave me this cute little fox pocket knife a few weeks ago.
posted by oxisos at 5:59 PM on December 26, 2018

I have a family member who is an excellent host, and one thing that she strives for is to have finished her food preparations about an hour before guests arrive so that she and her partner can sit for a while and enjoy a glass of wine. If the host seems relaxed, then the guests are more likely to also feel a relaxed and welcome.
posted by pingzing at 6:17 PM on December 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I can think of two memorable hosts for people who had regular get togethers. One was a "Wednesday Barbecue" event where they'd be home every Wednesday between X and Y o'clock and they would have a few side dishes, condiments, basic drinks, a basic dessert and basic buns. You brought meat, any other side dish and a willingness to meet other people. One host would mostly staff the grill (or chat with whoever was cooking their own stuff) the other one was in and out of the kitchen, taking people's coats, and mingling. It worked because it was super casual, my friends were super casual and the party might be five people or it might be thirty. You never knew what you were going to find and so ti attracted people for whom that might be fun. It was on a weeknight so it never got too rowdy. The other was "Porch cocktails" I don't even remember what day it was but basically nibbles on the porch and BYO drinks and let's all hang out. 4-6 pm. So before dinner or you can fill up on nibbles. It was outside (except you were welcome inside to use the bathroom). It was sort of great because it was outside on a huge porch in a walkable neighborhood so other people would see people hanging out and wander over. You could usually find someone to have dinner with if you wanted to. People were friendly and the hosts would wander around introducing people "Oh we know Jessamyn through Metafilter which is...." and that was helpful.

Both of these were nice because they were basically standing invites. Come on over, we'll be here. Didn't have to RSVP. You knew the ground rules. And if you came to one, you sort of knew how they would generally work. There was a slightly different crowd each time and the hosts had taken care of all the basic stuff like clean restrooms, good music and making sure there was a place for coats.
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on December 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

I like when I’m able to take care of myself a little in a space. A kitchen where I feel comfortable to grab myself a glass of water and it’s apparent where the glasses are (either because you set them out or because I know you well and I know where the glasses are kept), the trash and recycling is in a obvious location, the bathroom is clearly marked (and has a good lock! Particularly those little hook ones where you can obviously tell it’s locked and don’t have to worry about someone busting in), etc
posted by raccoon409 at 7:51 PM on December 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am a socially anxious guest arriving at your house. I'm on the doorstep. Can I actually get inside, and should I? I remember vividly once arriving at someone's house in the rain, seeing polished clean wood floors and stepping carefully sideways onto a mat to preserve those floors. It was the dog's sleeping mat. She yelled. I felt bad.

My last guest was repeatedly apologetic for wearing her shoes. It was kinda a no win, as my floors were not totally clean and her shoes were complicated to take off but they were also wet, so I kept assuring her no prob, wear your shoes, and she kept producing puddles from melting snow and apologizing for them. I kept drying the puddles with my slippers. It helps to have a chair near the door for people to sit down on to remove their boots, and a place to stash their stuff so they won't stash them on that particular chair. I've noticed at our worst we have ended up with three chairs, two with jackets and bags dumped on them and the last free one to sit on, sufficiently far across the room what with the two closer chairs, so that no decent guest would walk that far trailing slush, and they end up hopping up and down on one foot in their socks on a soggy slusshy-cold mat trying to remove their shoes.

I'm going to buy a couple of pairs of $6 slippers and leave them by the door so guests who fear borrowed footwear that carries foot rot and fungus can awkwardly refuse to borrow them, but in order to keep them from being worried about getting thick yellow toenails, I am initially going to leave the tags on them and subsequently run them through the laundry on the hot cycles and say so.

So you need enough room for five guests to arrive at once and still be able to get into the house while standing with wet boots on a mat that is meant for guests to stand on. I suggest a carpet runner. And then you need places to sit while they struggle with wet bootlaces, plus an obvious place to put things down, and a place to hang coats. To make this more awkward, for absolute best results you want everyone to have a place to put their coats and hats where they will not be in contact with anyone else's coats and hats. Back in the fifties the rule "Never put a coat on a bed or a hat on a table" went by the board because of large parties where the host's bed got piled with coats. But in some places lice are back and people can be nervous about that, so for optimum, optimum hostfullness, you want a coat rack where nothing touches anyone else's hat or coat.

Once inside you need an obvious place to go with comfortable places to sit down, and this area needs to have both warm enough areas and cold enough areas, for people who are dressed in wool sweaters and have long winter underwear on underneath, and for people who are wearing one layer of thin cotton spandex and are unaware that in the winter many people do not keep their house at 80* or higher. Your probably live in California so all this stuff about boots and warm enough areas is making no sense at all, but where I live the room temperature of different people's houses in winter time can vary between 52* and 85*. The people who keep their houses at 52* have a wood stove or space heaters for use in the congregating areas so it's more like 72* there, but you never know what you are going to get when you go visiting. Spare lap rugs and sweaters can be useful. The throws are more essential than the sweaters because people don't feel they have to ask to use them, if they miss your cheery, "grab a sweater if you get cold". The sweaters should be large men's cardigans for best results, not pullovers.

Make sure that people do not have to worry about hurting the family pet. Stepping on the cat, or making the dog yelp will ruin the visit.

As well as asking, "Anyone want something hot to drink...?" and "Anyone want something to nibble on...?" As if "Anyone cold and need to be nearer to the heater?' and "Everyone comfortable? or would anyone be more comfortable with a firmer seat or a softer seat or a cushion?" Lately my guests have been coming for music practice and I find that they need both hard seats for playing, and soft seats for sagging into.

For those who suffer from overstimulation, make sure the damn TV is off and if there is music, make sure it is low and peaceful. You don't want people raising their voices to be heard over the music, or staying silent because otherwise they would have to yell. It is helpful to have a secondary area for people to move into, should the dominant conversation not be appealing, so they they can withdraw from it without sneaking into your bedroom where they freeze, or shutting themselves into your washroom and standing there for ten minutes before exploring your medicine chest out of boredom. An assortment of books for those who retreat into books is pleasing, as are things like partially-coloured colouring books that have clearly been coloured by different people with varying levels of skill. A friendly pet who wants to be played with is also very helpful for people who get overwhelmed. Stuffed animals may also find themselves being cherished, if they are available. Not just kids, but adults like to hug something warm.

If there is any kitchen prep going on, it is helpful to be able to handle it all yourself in case nobody volunteers, but often people enjoy having something to do, so having somethings for them to do if they volunteer is also good. In this case make sure there is a clear sink with obvious soap for them to wash their hands, if they have that habit but assume they do not and don't assign them anything where it will make you squeamish if their hands have just come from public transit and not been washed.

When you put out the snacks the sweet stuff is usually by far the most popular, but put the sweet stuff in the awkward location and the diabetic friendly stuff in the convenient location, for the sake of people who will prefer not to be tempted too hard.

For that matter when you issue the invite to anyone you do not know extremely well ask them, "Any allergies I should know about? Cats? Fish? Nuts?" Many people have these allergies and will not speak up about them, because we've all been polite to the person who insists on knowing if there will be any peanuts at the event, and while they are absolutely right and we know it, it still comes across as pushy, which means that most people will risk anaphylactic shock over sounding fussy and self-entitled. So be proactive and ask cheerfully, and then ask again later at the third visit or so, to be sure that the person whose allergy just means tingling lips and a rash lets you know about it now that they understand you are looking out for their comfort, not just their life.

Victorians used to invite guests specifically because they had interesting stories to tell - heroes of the latest war, explorers, wicked gossips, etc. You are unlikely to be inviting guests so they can meet the latest celebrity, but you might want to do a little advance prep in case the conversation flags or the subject desperately needs changing and be prepared to get the conversation going in an appropriate direction. Simple biographical questions are often good, as in "Where did you go to school?" or "Do you collect anything?" or "Have you ever been in a serious car accident?" Make it clear it's a round robin so everyone gets to volunteer as much as they like and no more, but everyone gets a chance to tell about their unique experience. You can also prepare current event topics, but that is less likely to get a good multi-person conversation going, if no one present except you is actually following the Mars mission, or if different political opinions can lead to contempt and disgust.

Card games, other games or joint creative projects are another way to give the guests something to do other than comment that we have been having weather lately, but if you decide upon this let your guests know in advance, as nobody likes to be the only one who doesn't know how to play poker in a high stakes game, or be expected to draw an easily recognizable Mona Lisa when they gave up on art in Grade Two when somebody laughed at their attempt at Snoopy on his doghouse.

It is imperative that you let people know if there will be drinking or not, let alone other drug use, or making out, as many people will not go to a party if there is drinking, and many other people will not go if there is not.

Trail alongs, such as parents of your guests, kids of your guests, or guests of your guests, should be given special welcomes and comfort, rather than just expected quietly to feel part of the gang. For parents and other adult strangers guests make a special effort to include them by asking leading questions to find out what they are interested in and who they are and then maintain those topics. Do NOT spend the visit talking about people that other people don't know. My in laws are wonderful, kind, friendly, clever people but they only ever talk about people they went to high school with, none of whom I have ever met, or ever expect to meet.

For kids who are long for the visit, but not old enough or integrated into the group to expect them to be able to participate in the adult conversation, have several things for them to do. Books are good, especially graphic novels or cartoon collections which will work for anyone from about eight years old and up. Active play, such as ring toss, or creative play, such as paper dolls will probably not be as popular as gluing themselves to a screen with a game on it, but are still a very good idea. Minecraft is not a bad game for most ages, if they must do screens as it can be set to a difficulty level suitable for any kid except the extremely young. Spend some time with your child guests making them comfortable too, don't just banish them to the kid's corner. In some cases giving an older kid work to do will make them feel very much a participant but don't make it something they aren't eager to do, or something they can't do their own way. My eldest was generously given the task of babysitting the younger kids at church gatherings when she was in her early teens, and while she was offered the task nothing else was provided for her to do, so she was in too awkward a position to refuse it. The kindly elders though this would make her feel grown up and valuable, but of course she stopped attending church instead. Therefore, you can ask the kid, "Would you enjoy prepping things in the kitchen? What would you like to prep?" but if you get a sullen adolescent "No," don't, don't, don't coerce the kid. At the last potluck I attended one of the teenaged boys was assigned the job of carrying food items from the kitchen out to the buffet table and he was so offended by this that he flung something that I had prepared onto the table and the contents of the dish all came out and hit the floor. Neither I nor the boy enjoyed that gathering quite as much as we could have. However, I maintain that the boy was entirely not at fault, as teenagers are strongly instinctively driven to avoid being exploited and his embarrassment at the mess made things twice as bad for him.

It is good to have an eyeglasses repair kit, menstrual pads, benedryl, a manicure kit, and a first aid kit in the house, convenient for people to find, or be brought. A stack of hand-towels that don't match in the bathrooms is helpful along with a hamper where a crumpled towel has been dropped. If there is nothing but neatly stacked and folded colour coordinated towels your guests won't know if the towels are designated for specific family members, and some of them will dry their hands on their pants. Similarly put out a couple of boxes of kleenex and a couple of visible wastebaskets, or one of your guests will keep reusing the same squishy kleenex and replacing it in their pocket.

Remember to make eye contact and then smile at the sight of them to all your guests, and do it more than once during the visit, but especially when you greet them. Many people are short of opportunities for eye contact and not used to seeing people smile at the sight of them, so if you can do this, it will go a surprisingly long way to making them comfortable. It may even be difficult as often people are so used to nobody actually looking at them that they will look away before you can make the eye contact. We spend so much time looking at screens and at what we are supposed to be doing, that you can find numerous encounters between people where nobody actually looks at anyone's face. You don't want to be pushy about getting this eye contact, as there are people who avoid it, but the majority of people like it and have given up trying to get it.

Give people guidance as to how formal you want things to be. "Feel free to kick the cat and spit on the floor' says a great deal different than, "We'll take forty-five minutes for cocktails and then dinner will be served." or "Just run inside and use the bathroom - it's on the left of the kitchen." The last guideline for most people indicates that they should stay out of the house except if they need a bathroom and is very different from, "Just run inside if you want to get into the air conditioning."

A good host has the means to allow a sick guest to crash, or to send their guests home if their planned transportation becomes non viable. This includes if there is absolutely no reason why your guests should become incapacitated at your home. Migraines and stomach flu can hit, at which point if you can't drive your guest it would be nice for you to be able to help them into a taxi. And of course, a drunk guest should always be prevented from driving by whatever means it takes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:39 AM on December 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you have parents of kids who are young enough that they need to be supervised, take some time to be the supervisor so that the parent can actually talk to someone instead of spending their party time on the bottom step in the basement watching their child inspect dryer lint. Assume, despite your best efforts that your house has not been sufficiently child proofed. Often having a door closed to restrict the toddler's roaming, or a baby gate can be helpful. Have a consultation with the parents shortly after they arrive about what you can do to make them and their kid welcome. Something as simple as closing a few doors or moving a clock can make a huge difference. If they are repeat guests and the child is small enough they might want to bring a play pen. If there is no play pen and the child is amenable, take a few turns holding the little so that the parents can hit the bathroom, eat something without sharing it with the child and actually gesture by spreading both arms.

If there will be kids let your guests know beforehand. Some people will need to avoid kids, either from anxiety, or the fact that they need to get drunk to socialize, or because of a court restriction.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:47 AM on December 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can I actually get inside

Oh that sparked a non-intuitive tip about hosting. Make sure your place is easy to find and enter. GPS notwithstanding, I still find myself doing more slow cruising up and down streets looking for a visible house number to verify I'm in the right place. Have a big bold house number on the front (or your mailbox or whatever) with a light on it if necessary to see it at night.

Also, make it obvious what is your front door - so people aren't waffling about trying to tell the garage door from the side door from the actual front door that you use, or whatever door you want them to use. Make it clear that's the one - have a porch light over it, some decorations, whatever to indicate that it's the active entry. If you have a doorbell, make sure it works, so people don't stand there dumbly pushing it in awkwardness. If you can't make it work, put a little "please knock!" sign and/or have a decent door knocker.

When you invite people over, give them any entry instructions or disambiguation needed about navigating front halls, shared entry halls, foyers, outer/inner doors, etc. Maybe have a nameplate on your door, if you're in a multi-unit.

All this helps a lot in having people arrived not flustered and anxious, feeling that they're in good hands.
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on December 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

This has been mentioned once or twice, but non-alcoholic drinks that aren’t just flat water are much appreciated.

More than that, though, a lack of pressure to drink is appreciated. When you ask someone what they want to drink and they ask for something without a proof, encountering a lack of surprise is always refreshing. Not requiring alcohol to participate in activities is even better - one reason I still feel welcome with my friends is that I play Kings and Truth or Dare with fizzy water or Diet Coke and no one cares. Other gatherings where the drinking feels a lot more welcoming (I’m looking at you, academic conferences with bad coffee, no La Croix, and everyone trashed) feel much less welcoming.
posted by joycehealy at 9:16 AM on December 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

My cardinal rules of hosting:

* Never ask "Can I get you anything?" and instead ask "Would you like cranberry soda, Diet Dr Pepper, or wine?" (Or if I know the person well, "Want a [your favorite drink]?") The general human psychology phenomenon that people prefer having limited, concrete choices applies to hosting, and both open-ended questions and questions with long lists of things discourage people from making a choice or accepting your offer.

* Do everything within your power to make sure guests don't have to ask awkward questions: As soon as guests walk in, make the household shoe policy clear and tell them where to put their coats and bags. Make sure there's a fresh roll of TP and that it's clear where the extras are. Keep the plunger next to the toilet (get a decorative holder if you don't like the look). Put the tampons/pads in a place where they'll be obvious as soon as you open the under-sink cabinet.

* Always have Equally-Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages on hand, and never bat an eye when someone refuses an alcoholic beverage.

* If someone asks if they can help, let them help. Give them something specific to do.

* Provide overly-detailed directions all the way to your doorstep, even if you think it's easy to find. This includes transit stops and parking options, if you live in a city. Indicate if there are hills or stairs or anything else that might limit accessibility for some.

* If you have a preferred end time for the event, include that on the invite.

* Be clear in the invite who else is welcome. For my holiday open house this usually looks like, "Partners, family, and friends welcome. The apartment isn't kid-safe, so bring them at your own risk. Please leave the pets at home." [Yes I have to specify that last part where I currently live, or people will bring their dogs. Learned that one the hard way after 1 year of being so baffled that anyone would do it without asking that I didn't say anything, and a second year of assuming the first year was a fluke and being wrong.] Another friend's big annual party invite usually says something like, "Please let us know if you're bringing someone new."

Speaking of pets, I always appreciate that my friends with pets specify that as well: "We have two cats, so please medicate accordingly if necessary. The dog will be staying with a friend."
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:44 PM on December 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

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