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May We All Be This “Bad” At Hospitality

I have lived in a very popular and trendy city since college. I originally came from a neighboring state and because of this I have many friends and relatives that live within easy driving distance.

Over the years I have had many relatives and friends visit and explore the city with me. Everyone visiting is always ecstatic to see the sights. It’s a lot of fun for me to see their joy and it helps remind me how lucky I am to live here.

Most of these visits start with a friend or relative saying, “How is it down there? I’ve always heard a lot about that place. Would love to see it sometime” or me saying “Feel free to come down and visit anytime! Would love to have you!”. In other words, it’s been pretty evenly initiated over the years.

As I’m now in my 30’s, own a home and am much more established, I have struggled with my role as a hostess. When I was in college or a young adult struggling, my friends that visited me were often in the same situation and we would see my city “on the cheap”.

Now that I am more established I wonder if I should be covering all meals consumed inside and outside during the visit.

An example:
This last summer I had 18 relatives come to visit for 4 days. (It was so fun!).

Understand that a HUGE part of the appeal of my city is the cuisine. We have food that you can’t get anywhere else and restaurants that are pretty well known so often the number one thing guests request to do is go out to eat.

Since I was the one that initiated and organized this trip I felt especially obligated to provide meals. If this isn’t already overwhelming enough, I am not a great cook and my skills are pretty limited.

The way I handled this was to provide a buffet breakfast (muffins, cheese biscuits, fruit) and a sandwich spread for lunch. This worked well because I was able to purchase in bulk and use the same food for 4 days. Also, it took a LONG TIME for 18 people to get ready so people could eat as they pleased and it was usually about lunch time that we were finally ready to leave to go sight seeing, with everyone fed and happy. It wasn’t the best food spread ever but I did the best I could.

Many in the group expressed interest in going to these well known restaurants and I obliged. I made a schedule for all 4 days of our activities and planned a dinner at the end at one of the requested restaurants.

It all worked out very well but I felt somewhat guilty about not covering meals when we would go out to eat. I provided the schedule in advance of the trip (in our facebook group) and that I would be providing breakfast and lunch and then gave a range of cost for the places we were going for dinner (most were $10-15 per plate).

In doing this was I a bad hostess? There was no way I could afford to buy dinner for 60 people (us x 3 dinners) but I still wonder if it was in bad taste.

(By the way, my family, being super classy, bought me a nice hostess gift and pitched in to cover the van I rented. They were super gracious of our hospitality, so I got no complaints or comments from them about this).

My question specifically is: in the future when I have guests visit should I be prepared to pay for all meals, eating in or out? 0210-17

I’m so overwhelmed with your level of hospitality that it took me days to get over the shock.    A bad hostess?  More like “Goddess of Hospitality”.  Your guests should be genuflecting before you, saying prayers for your long life, and speaking your name in hushed reverence.

The answer to your question depends on whether your guests take the initiative to request a restaurant dining experience.   If they are staying in your home and will be eating their meals in your home, then , yes, you do have an obligation to feed them at least 2 meals a day.   But if they ask to go to a famous restaurant, thus eschewing your homegrown dining hospitality, the obligation then falls to the guests to pay for their own meals.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • LadyV February 22, 2017, 9:26 am

    How do I get to be friends with this lady so she’ll invite me to visit?

    • ultrapongo February 23, 2017, 12:42 pm

      It seems from the comments that we are quite a few people who would love to visit OP. And I suggest that we pay for her (or his?) meals.
      Which popular and trendy city is this?

      • Nancy Liedel March 13, 2017, 6:31 pm

        I’m not the OP and do not know her, but if she is in the US, it’s New Orleans. I’m almost sure from her description, although Savannah might be the place too.

        • Karen D March 16, 2017, 10:37 am

          I was actually thinking Chicago! Or San Francisco, both have vibrant local cuisine options that aren’t widely available in other parts of the country. Miami too, though the gorgeous deliciousness that is Cuban cuisine has been spreading through Florida. (My sister starts pining for Cuban food about 10 minutes after she gets off the plane from upstate NY.)

  • jen a. February 22, 2017, 9:41 am

    This is a really good read for me, as I was wondering about this. A few years ago I stayed at a friend’s place for the weekend (at their invitation). They showed me around the city and their favourite locations. We ended up going out for meals at every. single. meal. Including breakfast. I even suggested staying home for a meal, saying I was too full from the last meal. Nope. I paid for a meal (breakfast) to show my gratitude for their hospitality, but we went dutch for all the other meals. It costed a fortune. I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was with that, and I didn’t want to make them cook for me or anything. I would have been happy with some cereal at breakfast and sandwiches that I made myself….

    • Ajay February 22, 2017, 9:09 pm

      Whenever we go to stay with friends overseas (especially when they are more my husbands friends than mine) if we are staying quite a few days, I ensure that I have breakfast supplies as husband is a bit of a picky eater, (honestly, who passes up bacon and eggs?) and I insist (I’m such a rude guest) on making my current specialty for dinner as a thanks for the free accommodation (and once was asked to make more of the dinner for them to put in their freezer, they liked it so much! so happy with that compliment as I’m not the best cook ever).

      My friends get individual gifts and stocking up on their favourite foods from home as well as a dinner by me, but I know them so well, so it is far easier.

    • NostalgicGal February 23, 2017, 6:23 am

      I might have had a few words before I went about how the food was going to be done, so at least I was prepared if it was ‘go out EVERY meal’. Now days I have diet restrictions so eating out is pretty much over; so I must have a home base to prepare stuff. Drag me out all weekend to eat and I will watch ice melt and starve, which is no way to be either. If you ever go again, do broach it first in the planning stages, gently, that you really don’t MIND a bowl of cereal before heading out, or putting a few sandwiches together and sticking them in a small cooler for lunch. (that allows you to say stop at a cart vendor in the park and get a few things, and eat out which can also be a nice thing). It could be that because you were there, they thought it was worth the going out for all the meals-something they normally don’t do-they did it because you were there and it’s a special thing to do and share.

      • Jen A. February 23, 2017, 7:49 am

        You’re both absolutely right. I think it was also just s reflection of their lifestyle (they really enjoy going out for meals and dislike cooking). I think if I ever did go again I’d have to be pretty clear about not going out, as I did subtly hint at staying in but was shot down….

        • livvy17 February 27, 2017, 4:48 pm

          As you said, they may have thought of food as part of the tourism experience in their city…. probably the only thing you could do would be to either sit out with a beverage (I’m still so full from lunch!) or to offer to cook them a meal, or to be very honest up front, and tell them you can’t afford to eat out all the time. (from either a caloric or financial perspective!)

  • DGS February 22, 2017, 9:56 am

    You are a fantastic and very gracious hostess! You ought to very proud of yourself.

  • CaffeineKatie February 22, 2017, 10:01 am

    I agree with Admin–you’re a star! And when we visit relatives and stay with them, my DH and I always pay for the host’s dinner when we eat out, not the other way round. It seems like the very least we can do when they are giving us a bed and often transportation, too. Considering what your guests are getting, I’d think they should pay for you when you hit the fancy local restaurants to try the local food.

  • sam February 22, 2017, 10:27 am

    If anything, I would say that the eighteen (!) guests staying in your house free of charge should be buying you dinner every night in return for your, frankly, overwhelming hospitality.

    • Pam February 22, 2017, 8:06 pm

      I agree – in my family when you go to stay at someone’s house for more than a night, the “hostess gift” is taking them out to dinner. I don’t know if everyone does this or not, but it works well for my family.

  • clairedelune February 22, 2017, 10:53 am

    My goodness…why on earth would etiquette obligate you to fully subsidize your relatives’ vacations? You’re already giving them a place to stay and driving them around everywhere; you’re not their mother! I would even disagree with Admin about your obligation to give them two meals a day. They wake up in your home, so breakfast food should be available. But there’s no reason you should also have to prepare lunch for 18 people every day. If for whatever reason you’re not out sightseeing at lunch, then it can be a collaborative meal. (Ideally one that is funded by your guests, as a way of thanking you for providing them free lodging and chauffeur services and a fully-coordinated itinerary of activities.)

    • Kathryn February 22, 2017, 7:58 pm

      I agree. Often people hire a holiday home, buy their own cereal and sandwiches and dinners for a holiday to a new location. Or pay for a hotel and 3 meals out. You’ve saved them heaps of money on accommodation and providing for 2 meals. If they weren’t already, they should have been returning your generosity by covering your dinners out, or offering to cook dinner.

      There’s no way I could afford to feed 18 family members for half a week. I would probably expect that we’d all take turns providing lunch and dinners. I’d be happy to provide cereal and toast options for breakfast.

  • bern821 February 22, 2017, 11:06 am

    “Your guests should be genuflecting before you, saying prayers for your long life, and speaking your name in hushed reverence.”
    Admin – you are hilarious (and so right)!!
    And OP, you are an amazing hostess – I wish I was visiting you! 🙂

    • Anonymous February 23, 2017, 2:55 pm

      I know that’s meant to be funny, but this thread actually did kind of remind me of the story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes miracle–Jesus multiplied, I think, one loaf of bread and five fish, so it’d feed hundreds of people, and the OP made do with her basic cooking skills to provide breakfast and lunch for 18 people for four days.

  • BellyJean February 22, 2017, 11:07 am

    Agreed with the Maven. The OP is phenomenal! 18 people over 4 days… wow. My jaw softly dropped while reading this. 🙂

  • Anon February 22, 2017, 11:09 am

    Totally agree with admin.

    Moreover, I would hope that your relatives covered the cost of your meals at these restaurants. A hostess gift is nice, but I think covering your meals would be a nice way to repay your hospitality given that you are providing a huge spread of food for a ton of people over the course of many days, at a not-inconsiderable expense.

  • lakey February 22, 2017, 12:12 pm

    Not only do I think that you are handling your hostess duties very well, but it sounds like your friends and relatives are being good guests by paying for the van, paying for their restaurant meals, and giving hostess gifts.

  • ultrapongo February 22, 2017, 12:14 pm

    If your guests are anyway near as nice and generous as you seem to be, THEY should pay for YOUR meals at restaurants. That is, if you are doing about eqally well, if they are students, out of work or something, you could pay for them if you can and want. But otherwise you should at least not have to pay for them.

  • Dee February 22, 2017, 12:25 pm

    Why not just be honest about what you can and cannot afford, and make suggestions about things that are interesting to do, all dependent on what your guests and you can each afford? It seems like a lot of overthinking is happening, when the answer is quite simple.

    • Anonymous February 23, 2017, 3:03 pm

      Yeah, I agree. This seems like a bit of an Assertiveness Heck problem, which can be solved with simple communication. It’d be so easy to say, “We’d love to have you all over for a few days, but a restaurant meal for eighteen people is out of our budget, so would it work for you to have breakfast and lunch at home and go Dutch at Famous Local Place for dinner?” Then the OP could proceed from there. If the answer is yes, no problem. If the answer is no, then it’d be easy to restate what is feasible–“Oh, that’s okay; I know Famous Local Place is expensive. We can have dinner at home too, and having everyone over will be the perfect excuse for me to make a batch of my famous [whatever].” Without that communication, you run into problems with guests thinking the hosts can afford to take them all out to Famous Local Place and pay their way, and hosts thinking that the guests are being greedy for “making” them do that.

      • Anonymous February 23, 2017, 3:07 pm

        Oh, wait, OP said she isn’t good at cooking, so “perfect excuse to make my famous [whatever],” could be amended to something within her abilities, like say, “do-it-yourself tacos.”

  • Calli Arcale February 22, 2017, 12:32 pm

    OP, you are an amazing hostess! And it sounds like you come from a family of amazingly classy people. You are awesome!

    And I love your idea of putting out a breakfast/lunch spread for people! That’s positively brilliant, and I think I will steal it for the next time I have a lot of house guests over. Very practical and accommodating to everyone’s needs, while being frugal and low-stress. Probably healthier for everyone than cooking a big breakfast every day, too, especially since it sounds like the plan is usually to go out to dinner afterwards.

    When you host people in this manner, it is certainly not your obligation to provide every meal, and personally I think it’s good taste for the guests to insist on taking the host out to dinner at least once during the trip, as some small show of gratitude, in addition to the hostess gift.

  • Kat February 22, 2017, 1:11 pm

    Gotta admit, if I was your guest I’d be feeling kind of guilty for enjoying such wonderful hospitality without reciprocating…I’d be inclined to get you a fabulous hostess gift! Sounds like your family felt the same way 🙂

  • livvy17 February 22, 2017, 2:51 pm

    I definitely think you did all you needed, and more. I am curious about the reciprocation side of things, OP…..you said that these kinds of visits have been going on for many years, so I wondered, are people good about hosting you in their towns, or in some way returning your hospitality? It’s not quite directly related to your question, but I’m just wondering if there’s any reason that you’d feel that it’s expected?

  • JD February 22, 2017, 4:04 pm

    OP, you and your visiting family all sound great. What admin said!

  • AS February 22, 2017, 4:58 pm

    I nearly had a panic attack at the thought of hosting 18 people, all at once! Admin is right- you are a goddess of hospitality!

    Answering your question- I don’t think that you have any obligation to feed a small-wedding sized guest list just because they are visiting you. Having something arranged for breakfast/lunch was great. But you don’t need to buy everyone gourmet meals everytime.
    Also, if I were a guest at your house , I’d feel guilty about imposing the on hosts, and if they keep insisting that they will pay, I’d be less likely to try a really good place that is more expensive.

  • Cat February 22, 2017, 7:30 pm

    If I were one of eighteen guests, I would not allow my hostess to provide more than cereal for breakfast for me. Each of the eighteen should, in my opinion, pay for the hostess’ meal in turn when they go out to eat to ease the burden on her. Individual family groups (mom and dad or grandpa and granny) may want to pay with one check, but I would pay for my own food.
    I don’t have friends who could afford to feed that many people for four days or a house large enough to provide beds and bathrooms for eighteen guests. I am astounded that you live alone and have a home that large.

  • Amanda February 22, 2017, 7:56 pm

    Your guests should be buying you lunch and dinner. Have some English muffins and fruit available for breakfast.

  • BagLady February 23, 2017, 12:40 am

    Add me to the list of those who are all kinds of impressed that you are willing to (a) host 18 people and (b) feed them breakfast and lunch for four days! Inquiring minds want to know where you put them all — do you live in a mansion? Or a Holiday Inn?

    It is Houseguest 101 for guests to take their host(s) out to ll dinner at least once during their stay. If your guest(s) didn’t get that memo, it is perfectly acceptable for you to set some ground rules before they come:

    “I will provide a modest breakfast spread and sandwich makings for lunch. Dinner is on your own.” Then provide a list of restaurants in various price ranges. If they offer to treat you, great. If not, you can go home and eat while they indulge at Chez FancySchmancy.

  • NostalgicGal February 23, 2017, 6:25 am

    Unless you specifically invited them to do dinner at restaurant X, no, they can pay for their own. And they should pay for yours, with the food you were providing at home.

    I think you were well above and beyond the call of hostessing on this one, OP.

  • Liz February 23, 2017, 8:46 am

    I think you went more than above and beyond! And were under no obligation to pay for anyone’s dinner. And if I had been one of your 18 visiting relatives, i wouldn’t have expected it either.

  • Jen February 23, 2017, 10:17 am

    Can I come visit u!!! LOL

  • THE OP February 23, 2017, 1:35 pm

    Thank you admin and everyone else for your kind words. My mother impressed upon me that etiquette is next to godliness, so I guess that’s why I take it so much to heart. I honestly love hosting though and because I’m an event planner by trade, I’m used to organizing large groups of people.

    To those asking about hosting 18 people …well, lol…we got creative! We have a 5 bedroom house and were able to tuck away 10 into bedrooms. We had air mattresses in 2 dining rooms and 2 living rooms, which took care of everyone else. It was a squeeze but we did it. One of the reasons I wanted a big house was to host big family get togethers!

    Thanks again everyone! You have put my mind at ease!

  • Emmy February 23, 2017, 2:08 pm

    Agreeing to have that many people in your home is super gracious, let alone doing activity planning and 2 meals a day for everybody. Nobody in their right mind would think you would be obligated to spend hundreds each night for their dinners out or have you fully rent their transportation to be a polite hostess. It is good the guests did pitch in with the rental van – I do feel that when guests visit family for a vacation, they can at least cover some of the extra cost of their visit.

  • Maria February 23, 2017, 3:04 pm

    Can we nominate this woman for hostess of the century? She is kind and generous. I’m curious about the hostess gift for such lovely hospitality.

  • Kay February 23, 2017, 9:04 pm

    We stayed in our friends home in Hawaii for a week. As a thank you, we bought him dinner every night we stayed with him. He saved us a fortune and took us to many sights we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. He made us a few small meals here and there. As a final thank you we went for a super fancy meal in downtown Honolulu the night before we went home. I would never arrive at someone’s home expecting them to provide all my meals!

  • AJ February 24, 2017, 3:00 am

    I live in a very expensive tourist destination and over the years my patience for people who expect a free holiday out of me has worn very thin. I say you went above and beyond.

    • NostalgicGal February 27, 2017, 10:04 am

      I lived in a tourist trap area for a few decades. I got very good at tourguide for cheap or free, at one attraction kept open by volunteers, I gave a better tour than the docents after about five passes and they tried to recruit me (some items in there I knew history about from tours of OTHER places in other states-I wrote down the info for them). I no longer live there. Which is good.

  • Mary-Anne February 24, 2017, 4:41 am

    My only brother lives in Australia and I live in South Africa. My daughter and I have stayed with him and his family about 7 times, each visit lasting on average, 6 weeks. He has never allowed me to pay for anything while staying with him, and yes, we’ve had quite a few arguments about it.

    His wife has just been to stay with me for 2 weeks and without making a fuss about it, I did not allow her to contribute in any way to any meals out, supermarket shopping trips, theatre tickets, etc. I quietly paid for absolutely everything, and willingly. My sister in law has always had us as house guests for prolonged periods with the utmost charm, generosity and good grace, I felt it was the least I could do. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    • livvy17 February 27, 2017, 4:56 pm

      6 weeks? And he’d pay for everything? Wow. That’s amazing. Glad to hear you’re reciprocating in the same generous manner.

      • Mary-Anne February 28, 2017, 3:19 am

        Yes, livvy17, on average our visits were about 6 weeks, and yes, my brother paid for everything, including our air tickets to travel there. As I said in my original post, I often argued with him about it because I thought this went beyond generosity, but have had to accept that this is just how he is.

        I was very pleased though, to hear from other family and friends in Sydney that my sister in law hasn’t stopped raving about what a fabulous time she had with me in Cape Town and that it was by far the best part of her trip.

        So my attempt at reciprocating worked; she had the time of her life. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.

  • Toni March 13, 2017, 11:24 am

    I was born, raised, and still live in a city that is on just about everyone’s bucket list, is very expensive…and I’m a Concierge. Trust me when I say your hospitality is above and beyond. I honestly think you shouldn’t pay for any of the meals out, surely it adds up to a very small amount for each person if they all chip in. You sound a lot like me, I always try to treat everyone all the time but I also understand that people like to give back too..and show their appreciation. Buying you one meal a day is surely a small price to pay for all you do. Plus can I come visit you? Unless you live here or course then let’s just hang out. And go Dutch! 🙂