I find myself thinking this week of the many hotels in which I’ve stayed and it might come as no surprise that a few have been notable for reasons that would give pause to any but the grittiest and most optimistic of publicity teams. I’m remembering especially a place I stayed in Chicago years ago. We’ll call it the Bismarck Hotel since, basically, that was its name. My friend and I were there for the weekend, for a swanky formal wedding which was taking place in the hotel on Saturday night. The Art Deco splendor of the lobby and the banquet hall was rivaled only by the utter weirdness of the guest rooms. You might remember Twin Peaks from when it premiered on television in 1990, or you may be one of the people who discovered the series after the DVD’s appeared on the market in 2007. For those of you who don’t know the show, Twin Peaks was auteur director David Lynch’s serial drama which, along with its quirky dialogue and incredibly convoluted plot, remains notable chiefly for its unrelenting, almost sledge-hammer-like, hallucinatory quality. Our room at the Bismarck was like that. Like that show. Each corner of the room seemed to exist inside its own dimension of time and space. Looking at each of the four walls gave you the unsettling sensation that you could walk toward it and never reach it. It didn’t help that each wall was covered with a different wallpaper and that the wall closest to the bathroom boasted a painted portrait of a Holstein cow in profile. When people who have stayed in my guest room declare, as they have on occasion, that the experience is “Just like staying in a hotel!” all I can think is “Not like the Bismarck, I hope.”
The actual reason that I’ve been thinking about hotels and hospitality is that I will have houseguests this week. I actually quite enjoy having people come to stay with me, although perhaps not on the same scale as that known to hosts during the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras when guests often stayed for a fortnight (i.e. 14 days) or longer and needed to be provided with meals and entertainment and private rooms until their departure. While I don’t possess a billiards room and I can’t promise guests a fox hunt, I certainly do what I can. Some of the entertaining advice one encounters on lifestyle websites and in magazines are a bit over the top in my opinion (“Have the maid put fresh flowers in each guest’s room along with a tiny silver bell to summon the butler!” “Tie up guest towels with twill ribbons to make a pretty package but first make sure that you’ve had each towel custom monogrammed with your guest’s initials!”) while some guidelines for guests are… basic (“Don’t stay too long.” “Don’t steal.”) For me, the rules for hosting remain fairly simple – make sure the guest’s room is clean and comfortable, find out ahead of time about any food allergies or strong food preferences, participate willingly in conversation and other group activities. Most of all, I want my guests to feel comfortable and cared for – just as they would in a good hotel except maybe even more so.
If you feel like you could use some help with your own entertaining, or if you simply find the topic as fascinating as I do, let me recommend the following resources from DCPL.
Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for Modern Times by Letitia Baldrige
The New Basic Black: home training for modern times by Karen Grigsby Bates and Karen Elyse Hudson
Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin
Emily Post’s Etiquette (17th edition) by Peggy Post
What about you? What do you like to do with and for your guests? As a guest, how do you like to be treated?