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'The Art of the Visit:' Author shares tips on being a good host

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:14 PM

Maybe it's a phone call, maybe a Facebook friend request from a guy you knew in high school.

After the small talk comes the question every Floridian has come to expect: "So, uh, how close do you live to Disney World?"

Like it or not (and we mostly do), we live in primo vacation land. A free place to stay is just too tempting for those already shelling out big bucks for their trip of a lifetime.

How you handle visitors from the distant past is your choice, but author Kathy Bertone knows that hosting even close friends and family is a task fraught both with joy and the potential for disaster.

"Sometimes we expect more from our friends and family than we do from an acquaintance, but it's critical that we muster as much patience and understanding as we can when they visit," she says. "I recommend being on better behavior with family and friends than with business associates or acquaintances."

Bertone, who now lives full time in Naples, at one time had three homes, all located in ideal vacation spots. The former managing partner of a merger and acquisition firm realized from her own hosting/guesting successes – and a few mistakes – that a guidebook would be as welcome as your best friend on the doorstep with a bottle of fine wine.

"The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest" (Running Press, $16) is chock-full of tips and advice. Some are specific and easy: Drape a clean bathrobe on the freshly made bed, along with a wrapped chocolate on clean pillows. An assortment of pillows with different levels of firmness – nice touch. Nightlights and an alarm clock (sans noisy tick-tocks) are a plus.

Some tips call for careful preparation and flexibility.

"A host needs to be cool under pressure, a skilled ringleader, a traffic cop and a diplomat, all rolled into one," she says.

For both hosts and guests, planning is key. She recommends that hosts send guests an email a week in advance, asking for diet restrictions and information on children's needs (or those of elderly people or pets, if they're visiting, too). A proposed agenda is a good idea, too, but let them know you are willing to ditch your plans.

"Do they want to do some Gulf fishing? Do they play tennis? You need to be respectful in this economy of those who can't afford much."

Guests should reciprocate with honesty. Telling your host in advance that your child is allergic to peanuts or you became a vegan last year is going to save everyone both embarrassment and money, she says. So does admitting that you may have to skip the pricy charter boat this time.

But if your host offers to pay your way, it's OK to accept.

Bertone recalls buying a fridge full of soft drinks for children whose parents then forbade them.

"Trust me, the host wants to know!" she says.

As a guest, you owe a few things to your host, as well, Bertone says. First of all, keep your sleeping space tidy! And no kicking off your flip-flops in the dining area. Even if you're staying with a close relative, this isn't your home.

A present given to your host at the beginning of the trip is a must, Bertone says. And please, no cut flowers. That only creates more work for a host who already might be neck deep in dinner preparations. Better are potted plants that allow you and the host to find a perfect spot for planting later in your trip. If your hosts drink, quality liquor or a bottle of good wine – more bottles if your stay is over several days – is recommended.

Another possible gift is a book on a subject of interest to your host.

"But not 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' " she laughs, referencing the best-selling sexy-hot novel.

Guests also should make their beds, or at least shut the bedroom door. Wipe off the sink after use. Offer to clean the kitchen or volunteer for other light chores.

Treating your host's family to a meal is highly recommended, even if it's just making a trip to the supermarket to buy ingredients to grill hamburgers.

Grandchildren should keep their noses out of their cell phones and hand-held video games, Bertone says.

"Turn off the gadgets," she says. "There's a limited amount of time in which children and grandparents can connect. A family vacation is all about reconnecting."

When you get back home, send a handwritten thank-you note, and have your children do the same.

All those rules have a purpose, she says, and kids need to learn them.

As a host, your goal is the best time possible for the highest percentage of your visitors – and yourself.

"Your guests will remember what was cooked and the events for weeks or maybe months, but they will remember the personal time spent together for much longer – if you're lucky, for their whole lives," she says.


dkoehn@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8264

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