Hospitality for a Crowd - Part II--The Basics

A few days before our daughter's wedding, when there were only about 12 of us under one roof, one of our guests said to me, "I know the title of the book you should write?" "Oh?" I queried. "Yes," he said, "How to Throw a Wedding Without Killing Yourself...or Anyone Else." To which my wry reply was, "It's not over yet."

Our guests listening to a park ranger give a talk about the battles of Lexington and Concord adjacent to the Old North Bridge, Concord, MA.
All kidding aside...One of the most important things to me when we have houseguests is that I have time to relax and enjoy them. I want to spend as much time as I can having fun with them, and as little time as possible hurrying about, cooking, or grocery shopping. How can that be accomplished when there are 28 people to care for? The key is to do everything you possibly can as far in advance as possible. This requires some planning. Planning starts with the guests wants and needs.

I always contact our guests and ask them what they would like to do when they are with us. (I also ask them about food allergies and dietary restrictions.) Our guests usually come from some other area of the country, and for many this is the first time they've been to New England. This is a trip they've always dreamed of, and they want to see the places they've only known from the history books and tourist guides. I usually suggest some additional places that I think they might particularly enjoy, or would fit easily with their ideas. Once they give me a list of places they want to go to and I know how long they will be with us, I do up an intinerary.

The intinerary helps the guests. In addition to helping them to know what's going to happen, it helps them know how to pack. And I hope it helps them feel cared for and thought of and loved, even before they arrive. The intinerary I sent to our large crowd of guests contained information such as: locations we were going to, how long it would take to get there, any costs they would incur, whether we would be packing lunches or buying there (so they could budget), how to dress (i.e.: casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes for dirt paths). I also sent along information about: the normal weather at the time of year they were coming, a reminder to pack something in case it rains (jacket, umbrella), our home and cell phone numbers, and any important information about driving laws in our state (seat belt, car seat, cell phone and texting restrictions, etc.)

The intinerary also helps me to plan the menus (hence, do advance cooking) for their trip. I keep a 3-ring binder full of recipes that are good to serve guests. Much more on food in postings to come.

Besides the obvious food that will have to be bought to have a crowd of houseguests, there are a lot of other things that many people will go through in a short amount of time. Here's my list of items I want to be well-stocked in:

--paper towels
--toilet paper
--klennex
--paper goods: napkins, plates (dinner plates and small plates), bowls
--plastic ware: cups (large for water, small for juice), cutlery
--Ziploc bags (gallon for leftovers and sandwich for lunches), wax paper, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil
--trash bags
--dishwasher detergent
--soap (liquid for soap dispensers and bar soap)
--coffee, coffee filters
--water bottles (we stocked a case in a couple of cars every day)

Another small, yet very important detail for those of us who live out in the country, is the septic system. We had our tank pumped a couple of days before guests arrived. Enough said.

Our guests at the Minuteman Statue - Concord, MA.

Feeding, bedding, and touring with a small army is a lot of work. No doubt about it. You should not hesitate to put your guests to work. People need to feel useful (there's a whole lot to be said about raising kids and the elderly on that topic, but that's for an entirely different sort of posting). Your guests will feel more at home if you put them to work. Help comes in many forms. Help with meal prep is essential. When we hosted "the crowd", I put one man in charge of making sure there was always ice in the large ice chest (holding extra food) in the basement. When it needed replenishing, he took himself down to the general store and bought more, and I never had to stress about it. Teenage boys were great for emptying trash, fetching and carrying, sweeping floors, watering the withering garden, etc. Teenage girls helped in the kitchen, set the table, made waffle cones, served desserts, and more. And even though we ate off paper plates, drank from plastic cups, and used plastic cutlery, there was still the meal prep mess to clean up after dinner each night. I always assigned K.P. (kitchen patrol) duty to three or four young people, who got the job done cheerfully and in no time flat, while we women who made the meal sat down with our glasses of wine and our spouses and enjoyed some good conversation.

Advance planning, stocking up on the essentials, and helping hands all make it possible to show hospitality to a crowd and still enjoy them immensely!

Come back tomorrow for tips on making a crowd of houseguests comfortable in Part III--Bedding and Bathing.

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