By SOPHIE HOTTINGER
Living in the Derby City has many charms in the springtime, one of which is that there’s simply no excuse not to take advantage of the various festivities leading up to the thrilling main event – The Kentucky Derby (or at least an equestrian-themed party on the big day). After all, you’re already here, so why not take part in the fun?
The flip side of that equation, however, is that one’s out-of-town friends and family are often just as aware of Louisville’s appeal during this time of the year, meaning there’s a good chance that you may find yourself not simply participating in the Derby fun, but rather inadvertently hosting it – whether or not you feel prepared to do so. Fortunately, even the most inexperienced host or hostess can take a few basic steps to ensure not only that houseguests feel welcomed and well-taken-care-of, but also that the act of unexpected entertaining doesn’t damper his or her own spirit of celebration.
The best way to keep yourself sane when facing the prospect of overnight guests is to set clear boundaries. Thanks to Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, there are three simple rules already established to help with this. First, recognize that you’re not obligated to extend an invite if you truly do not wish to take in whomever might call from a different area code and say they’d like to visit for Derby weekend. Martin recommends a reply along the lines of, “Oh, let me make a hotel reservation for you, and be sure to keep an evening open for dinner,” or “Oh, dear, that’s a bad time for us.” Practice your refusal ahead of time if necessary. Second, if you do issue an invitation, don’t allow them to be vague about the amount of time they expect to stay. Name specific days of arrival and departure, so you aren’t stuck trying to figure out how to entertain a guest who didn’t realize that you didn’t take off a five-day weekend, too. And third, stick to your guns once the visit reaches its end and it’s time to send them on their way. Miss Manners’ line of choice, “We’ve had such a marvelous time having you. I’m afraid we’re going to need the room by Tuesday,” can be borrowed whether your future plans for the room involve other houseguests, or simply laundry storage.
Once you’ve accounted for your own peace of mind, there are plenty of simple ways you can also make your guests feel relaxed, comfortable and even indulged while they’re staying in your home. As you’re preparing the guest room, consider the last time you stayed in a nice hotel. What extra touches stood out to you? Personalize those ideas with a local or Derby twist – for example, leave a box of Bourbon balls on the bedside table rather than placing chocolates on their pillows. Would your guest enjoy a hotel room’s mini bar? Stop by your local liquor store and pick up a few of your favorite Kentucky Bourbon miniatures or a tiny bottle of mint julep mix and leave them in a small basket on the dresser. And, as with a hotel room, your guests might appreciate a house key so they can feel free to come and go as they please. Dress it up with a whimsical horse-related keychain.
Think about how your guests might keep themselves entertained if they wake before you, or retire to their room in the evening for some privacy. Lay out a favorite book or two, a movie (extra points for titles that fit the theme, like “Seabiscuit”) or even just a note with your Netflix password. If you’ll be escorting your guests to parties or other special events, also take the extra few minutes to write out a brief itinerary so they have plenty of warning about when they should be ready and what kind of event (Black-tie? Casual outdoor?) they’ll be attending. If they simply need a place to stay for the weekend and have made their own plans, set out a city guide or calendar of upcoming local events, just in case they find themselves with free time and you aren’t around to offer suggestions.
As far as sustenance, meals can be as elaborate or effortless as you’d like. Lay out fresh fruit, bagels and cereal for a no-fuss, self-serve, continental-style breakfast, or prepare a time-consuming dish before your guests are in town for a dinner that can be popped in the oven the second they walk in the door. Leave self-sufficient visitors a list of favorite restaurants that deliver, or even a “menu” of different kinds of snacks available in your refrigerator or pantry. Cover the bases with a few sweet, salty and healthy options. If it’s likely your houseguests will partake in Derby libations, bottled water or a covered bedside carafe along with a sample-sized package of mild pain relievers may be a welcome addition to the nightstand.
By taking these small extra steps to welcome your guests into your home, you can ensure their stay in Louisville feels as memorable – and pleasurable – as a visit to the Derby City during this incredible time of year should. And if you happen to do your job a little too well, and a much-too-soon return visit seems imminent, don’t panic – just remember your lines and get the phone number for a great hotel.