House guests

We often have guests staying with us. While we love the company, it can feel as if we're running a hotel. How can I set down some guidelines?

It’s best to set out the terms of the visit upfront—before your guests are in your pantry/spare bedroom/life.

Staying power

Unless you’re dealing with Jerry Springer-level dysfunction, your parents have carte blanche. If they’re coming to town and you’ve got space, it’s your filial duty to put them up and put up with them. With other family members and friends, ask yourself if you’ll genuinely enjoy taking on hosting duties. If you’re not up to it, Toronto hairstylist and frequent host Robert Gage suggests looking into reasonably priced accommodations nearby. Then you can launch a pre-emptive strike on unwanted overnighters by saying, “This really isn’t a good time for us, but lots of our friends have enjoyed this fantastic B&B. Let me find you the number.”

Hostly obligations

Once you’ve invited people into your home, you are obliged to make them comfortable. Your guests deserve fresh linens, clean towels and a key so they’re not left standing on your porch while you’re out.

Still, Sylvia Main, who runs the Fairholme Manor Historic Inn in Victoria, warns against over-enthusiastic hosting. “Guests need their space, too,” she says. Suggest things to do on their own, such as visiting an art exhibit or going to a local market. “This helps take the pressure off of you.”

When it’s time to be together, plan special outings. Sightseeing means you can play tourist in your own town, and dining out has the added bonus of relieving you of cooking duties for an evening. (Sensitive guests will pick up the tab.)

“Help” as a four-letter word

Post-house-guest resentment often centres on who did and didn’t make meals, buy groceries or drink appropriately. Sometimes guests don’t know how to pitch in. Give them a nudge by asking if they have a signature dish they’d like to make. If they’re too boorish or clueless to make salad or wash the dishes, there really is no polite way of compelling them to do so. Enjoy them for who they are and order pizza.

A little goes a long way

If you are hosting visitors in close quarters, bear in mind the Benjamin Franklin saying about house guests and fish starting to smell after three days. Don’t be afraid to suggest they spend the weekend at your home and stay somewhere else during the week.

Etiquette Expert Alison Bruce wrote, produced and directed the Women’s Television Network’s Modern Manners.