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Hostess How-to

Letitia Baldridge, etiquette expert and author of Letitia Baldrige's Guide to New Manners for New Times, shares her secrets on what makes a good host a great host, and why your guests will never want to leave (until you want them to, of course).

In the Bedroom
1. Before your visitors arrive, take control of the temperature in your guest room. In the winter, set out extra blankets on the bed or put a small space heater on the floor. During the summer or warm months, make sure that windows can be opened easily if the room gets stuffy, that screens are secure, and that shades work so early-morning light can be blocked out.

2. On the bedside table, leave an alarm clock and reading lamps. "Many people forget about lighting in the guest rooms," Baldridge says. And what about the guest-room closets that are jam-packed with your out-of-season skirts and old bridesmaid dresses? Clear out enough space for your company's stuff and leave a supply of empty hangers.

3. Have you ever gone on a trip and wished you'd brought something to read? Head off any literary urges with a stack of magazines. Current issues are best, Baldridge says, so you're not offering old news. A best-selling book would be a nice touch too. Just pop in a note that says, "Don't worry if you don't have time to finish. Take me with you when you leave!"

4. Leave a canister of cookies on the bureau. Put out bottled water and/or soft drinks to wash them down (with some glasses too), along with a small chest filled with ice and tongs. For healthier palates, set out a plate of fresh fruit (whole apples, pears, peaches, bananas) and a knife. And don't forget the napkins -- fruit can be juicy! Think of the whole setup as your guest's personal minibar -- sans alcohol and, of course, the exorbitant a la carte fees.

In the Bathroom
5. Make sure the bathroom is clean, especially the tub and shower curtain, which are often neglected in a spare room. We like to leave a can of air-freshener in close reach, since guests might feel self-conscious asking for it after the fact. And don't overlook the need for extra toilet paper. Put the spares in a visible spot (try a basket on the floor) so guests don't need to rummage around looking for a roll.

6. Think like a hotelier. Put bars of scented hand and bath soaps on the counter (the prettier, the better). Set out a few overturned glasses on the sink so guests can rinse after brushing. And lots of fluffy towels -- bath, hand, and face -- are a must. Warming them in the dryer before use will win you extra-credit points.

7. Make a list of all of the toiletries you've ever forgotten on a trip, then run to the drugstore to buy at least one of each. Your guests will feel spoiled, and you'll come off smelling like a rose.

Meals & Activities
8. Let your guests know what you have planned before they arrive. If you're taking them on a hike or bringing them to a dinner party at your neighbor's house, they'll appreciate being able to pack accordingly. Personal touch: Leave a printed itinerary and welcome note -- personal stationery optional -- in the guest room. Include a list of important phone numbers (yes, Chinese takeout counts), bus/train schedules, and local maps.

9. Ask if anyone has dietary restrictions so you can stock up appropriately. If they don't eat meat, be sure to offer other options. Extra points: Go online to find vegetarian recipes and experiment beforehand.

10. If you don't have the time to prepare every meal, go out. Everyone loves to try new restaurants (especially if this is their first visit) -- and escaping from the kitchen for a night will take the pressure off of you.

-- The Nest Editors

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