Hospitality isn’t only a profession—the art of making guests feel welcome in our homes and at our tables can be incorporated into our everyday lives, too. The best hoteliers make it look effortless, but it takes plenty of thought and planning. That’s true whether guests are checking into a five-star resort or bedding down on the futon in your spare room.
Here are the professionals’ expert tips for making everyone feel like family.
“The number one way to make people feel welcome is to listen. People have needs they like to communicate, and the only way to help them feel comfortable is to listen and make the possible happen (sometimes the impossible too!). When someone arrives at our château, we speak with them and share information about who we are, the property history, the destination, and what they can do that they can’t find in the guidebook. This conversation always helps our guests feel right at home. And, very important, our guests will always find fresh flowers in their room. It’s a lot of work, but it goes a long way!” —Philippe Gombert, president of Relais & Châteaux and co-owner of Château de la Treyne, and Stéphanie Gombert, co-owner of Château de la Treyne, France
“Provide your guests with something reflective of your culture, such as a traditional meal, a locally produced bedside gift like a candle or flowers, or a small homemade guidebook of your favorite restaurants or things to do if they’ll be exploring without you. In our home in Mexico, we like to serve Mexican wines (and of course tequila) and put a locally made dream catcher on the pillow at night with a handwritten note.” — John O’Sullivan, general manager, Four Seasons Punta Mita, Mexico
“Ask about allergies and preferences. If you don’t know, find out from mutual friends what kind of food and drinks they like. Surprise them with the branded goods they prefer (e.g., whiskey, soft drinks). Make sure to prepare a guest’s room from a sensory point of view: Is the temperature right? Does it smell fresh? Does it look clean? Do they have enough closet space and hangers, a bathrobe and a full set of towels, great quality bath salts and amenities? And remember to show your guests any things about the room that could be confusing, such as electronics.” —Nicholas Yarnell, general manager, Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
“The luxury of a real home begins with comfort; there is no luxury without comfort. The lighting, the seats, the table height, and the acoustics are all perhaps immediately imperceptible, but they are very much felt as guests enter, sit, and dine in a room. The decor is important, but of greater importance is the human touch—the way a guest is greeted and served genuinely—not as a standard for all people-en-masse, but individually, as each guest is different. Get to know your guests individually, as you know your friends and yourself. Put yourself in the place of the guest and the rest will follow naturally.” —Charles Masson, restaurateur of Majorelle at the Lowell, New York
“Welcome the children first! Go down on your knees to be at eye level and high-five the toddlers. The parents will love you—rare is the parent who minds their toddler being indulged.” —Taljinder Singh, area director of Mumbai for Taj Hotels and general manager of the Taj Mahal Palace, India
“To be a good host, you have to have everything prepared before your guests arrive. This sounds simple, but nothing should be left to chance. At the Connaught Bar, we pride ourselves on creating a sense of theater. For us to be able to make cocktails in front of our guests, have a conversation, and show them the techniques we use, everything has to be set up so every ingredient is at arm’s length. No one should have to wait for their cocktails.” —Agostino Perrone, director of mixology at the Connaught Bar, London
“Send a personal physical invitation. Nothing is nicer in this digital age than receiving an invitation on lovely stationery. And if you can, have it delivered by hand. It’s a throwback to a different time. Take time with your guest list. Everyone should feel like they are someone in a room full of great people. Nothing is worse than being seated next to a carbon copy of yourself—I want to sit next to someone who tells me stories I haven’t heard before, who does a job that is different from mine and is in their own way making a difference, be it curing cancer, raising a child, or simply being charming and smart. Nothing kills a party quicker than boring guests. Finally, have fun.” —Michael King-Hew, proprietor of Kamalame Cay, Bahamas