12/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hospitality Checklist for Holiday Hosts

Once again, America is staring at that big window of the calendar known
as "Holiday Travel Season." In the weeks to come, homeowners all over the
country will be opening their front doors and welcoming legions of visitors
who will take up temporary residence in the household.

What I find most compelling about this seasonal population shift is
that, statistically, many such visits will be happening for the very first
time. Maybe one of the kids is bringing home a friend from college. Or
perhaps those nice folks you met on vacation five years ago actually took up
your impulsive-but-not-totally-serious offer to "just hop on a plane and
head our way whenever you get a chance."

Whatever the case, one of the true landmark moments in life comes when
you debut in the role of gracious innkeeper. Based on extensive personal
experience, my advice is to remain calm and patient at all times. Realize
that, in addition to their luggage, guests may also bring along a wide
assortment of lifestyle habits and personal preferences that will lodge in
your memory forever.

Here are some questions you want to ruminate on ahead of time:

1) Is anyone going to want the thermostat set for 100 degrees and all the
windows tightly closed?

2) Will anyone prefer the house to be 34 degrees and all windows open?

3) Is anyone going to wake up at 6 A.M. needing a five-course breakfast?

4) Is there someone who declines to eat anything but cheese sandwiches?

5) Will anybody need absolute silence so you can hear a pin drop anywhere in
the house in order to sleep comfortably?

6) Will some people ask for a place to string up a long wire antenna so they
can stay awake all night listening to Radio Madagascar on a portable
shortwave receiver?

7) Will anyone bring along a metal detector to search for Civil War
artifacts and other buried treasure in your backyard?

8) Is anyone going to seize control of the TV set in order not to miss any
episodes of Perfect Strangers or whatever show they are obsessed with?

The first 24-hour period of any visit is a discovery process. Guests
reveal quirks about themselves while deciding what they like and dislike in
the new surroundings. The water pressure in the shower may be too high, or
too low. Definitely keep a can of WD-40 handy in case someone complains
about squeaky door hinges.

Ongoing infrastructure inspection is advisable. Turn on bathroom
faucets periodically to make certain no one has clogged any of the drains.

Be sure to have a variety of artificial sweeteners available. The
intense brand loyalty consumers devote to those pink, blue or yellow packets
is astounding.

Be prepared for small mysteries that may never be solved, such as why
that mass of soaking wet towels appeared next to the washing machine, or how
a 5-pound jar of pistachios sitting in the garage vanished without a trace?

All of these factors will test your hospitality skills during the
holidays. Perhaps more important, they also affect the level of enthusiasm
and sincerity in your voice on the day of departure as you wave a hearty
good-bye and call out, "Great having you here! Come back anytime!"