The 12 Essential Qualities for Great Hosting

By Kathy Bertone

A great host is like a great cocktail: shaken or stirred both will come out fine, but only if quality ingredients are used in the mix. When hosting friends and family this summer season, for the weekend or a week, keep these 12 qualities in mind and your visits will be happier, healthier, and more successful for both you and your guests.

A Great Host is…

1. Welcoming: How you prepare the house is important, but what’s more important is how you actually greet your guests. On the phone, dirty dishtowel in hand, anxious and disheveled will not set the right tone. And no, your Golden Retriever is no substitute while you attend to that last-minute-something. What a host does at the moment of arrival sets the stage for the entire visit. Soft music, some food and drink, and a put-together home and host will start the visit off perfectly.

2. Gracious: Think Audrey Hepburn in white flowing gown, moving effortlessly among her guests plate of home-made canapés in hand, and you have the mental picture of ideal host conduct. Now back to reality. Here are a few of the “Visit Wizard’s Ten Commandments of Gracious Hosting”:

Thou Shall Put a Nervous Guest at Ease
Thou Shalt Not Ask Unreasonable Requests of Guests
Thou Shall Hold Thy Tongue

3. A Master Planner: Like Noah before the flood, a great host must think in advance when it comes to planning: where will everyone sleep? What meals will be served? Taking the time to e-comm your guests a few questions in advance of the visit will ease any doubts about who is allergic to what, or who may have suddenly turned vegan.

4. The Picture of Restraint: Yes, your lifestyle rocks but keep in mind that your mother-in-law or your partner’s parent is on their way for the weekend. They might not understand or appreciate the college frat party mentality so chill. Love to argue about sex, religion, and politics? Maybe this is not the right visit. Respect yourself, but also who is coming.

5. Self-Caring: During the course of the visit you must take time for yourself. Take an adult “time out”, go for a walk alone or a soak in the tub. Tell the adults where you are going and why, but don’t tell the children, they will only come looking for you!

6. A Great Communicator: Let your guests know what is expected, and the house rules, if any. No matter how initially painful for you, or how petty sounding, you must speak up. Biting your tongue for days is just not comfortable. In expressing concerns, a message delivered with a smile or a short, logical explanation is better received.

7. In the Moment: Of course you have a thousand things to do throughout the length of the visit but you also have to be in the moment, that is, accessible to your guests and enjoying them. Does your father want to play cards, or the kids a video game? The dishes can wait. Go join the fun.

8. A Skilled Ringleader: It’s literally raining on the parade, children want to go to the zoo and Uncle Henry wants to go to the neighborhood bar but there is only one car and someone caught a cold, no doubt, from the airplane flight to your home. It’s a Three-Ring-Circus and it’s only noon. Time to take proverbial whip in hand and get everything running smoothly.

9. Flexible: When the aforementioned whip doesn’t work, embrace this quality, necessary when that event so diligently planned has been cancelled; someone decides at the last minute they don’t want to do “X”; steaks are on the grill and someone forgot to mention they are vegetarian. Stay flexible and adjust as necessary.

10. Cool Under Pressure: For whatever reason your guests are wound tighter than a pair of Spandex shorts on a sumo wrestler. Not only do they hold you personally responsible for the terrible weather but they have gone and insulted your decorating prowess. Smile. An uptight host makes the guests even more so.

11. A Diplomat: a great host must jump into the middle of things when and as necessary to smooth feathers. A family member has brought up a past incident that no one really wants to talk about. You must have the ability to let people know what is and is not allowed or acceptable (it is your home so you rule) in a way that is not offensive or offending. Think Henry Kissinger or Hillary Clinton, depending.

12. Able to Ensure a Happy Departure: How your guests feel when they depart is as important as how you made them feel when they arrived. Now is the time for big hugs and happy faces, even if you have been counting the minutes. You want this, weeks or months or years from now, to be remembered as a wonderful visit and a cherished family memory, as it should be.

Kathy Bertone is the co-founder and former managing partner of a merger and acquisition firm located outside Washington, DC. For years, she and her husband have enjoyed entertaining friends and family in their three homes. She currently lives in Naples, FL where she continues to perfect her hosting expertise. Kathy is the author of the new book, The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest. For more information, please visit:

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