8 Apr 2024

A Warm Welcome

When somebody comes to your home or office, it is a basic tenet of hospitality to offer them a drink (tea, coffee, glass of water etc). This is a fundamental social transaction, which has very long antecedents. The obligation to offer hospitality to travellers and strangers was a simple act of humanity at a time when journeys were long and hazardous and facilities for travellers were severely limited or non-existent. It was seen as a moral obligation, and it went without saying that visitors would be paid the same compliment.

It may seem an obvious gesture, when someone comes to your house, to offer them a cup of tea or a glass of water as soon as they arrive – it signals that they are welcome in your home in the clearest possible way – but it is all too often forgotten. In the flurry of arrivals, especially if the visitor is unexpected, some of us overlook this gesture, creating an awkward hiatus, which may make visitors feel as if they are imposing on hosts. Make it a rule to always do the following when visitors, whether they are expected or unexpected, comes to your home:

•Open the door wide to indicate they are welcome – no peeping defensively around a barely open door.

•Usher them over the threshold and take their coats – this signals that you are expecting them to stay, and you are not going to hustle them away.

•Make sure that they are comfortably seated – all too often, hosts and visitors stand awkwardly in the hallway, creating an uncomfortable feeling of transitoriness. Guests will interpret this limbo as a signal that the host does not really want them to stay.

•Once they are seated, offer them drinks – in the UK the offer of a cup of tea is a universal failsafe, and these days it is the norm to also offer an alternative of coffee. If guests have turned up in the late afternoon/early evening an alcoholic beverage (eg a glass of wine) is a suitable alternative.

Guests should also seal the deal by accepting offers of drinks if possible. Even if they have no interest in tea or coffee, just asking for a glass of water will reassure the host and give them something to proffer.


Some people are inveterate fans of the “pop-in”, when they ring on your doorbell on the off-chance that you’re in. This is often the way in which neighbours interact, especially if there is a pressing issue (rubbish collections, tree surgery, fallen fences etc) that needs to be addressed.

If you are just popping in, decide whether your visit is a brief and business-like transaction or an actual social visit. If it is the former, announce it at the outset: “I won’t come in, I just wanted to ask you about the recycling bins”. Stick to your agenda and don’t loiter awkwardly on the doorstep.

If it is the latter, react positively when you are invited in, but check first: “are you sure now is a good time? I’m not inconveniencing you?” etc. Be alert to any signs of hesitation on the part of your host and downgrade your visit (“I’ll just come in for five minutes”) accordingly. Politely refuse offers of drinks and stick to your promise – keep an eye on the clock and don’t outstay your welcome.


Many people will come to your home who are not friends or neighbours: builders, gardeners, broadband engineers, electricians, plumbers. Make it a simple rule that, if their visit is going to last longer than five or ten minutes, you politely offer them a drink. In many cases they will refuse, but they will certainly appreciate the offer.

If you have builders in the house for the long haul, you may feel that you are on permanent tea duty. Try and grin and bear it, as your hospitality may well reap rewards; the builders will be better disposed towards you and might go the extra mile.


These simple rules of welcome hospitality apply to offices as well as homes. If somebody comes to your office, whether they are an important client, a colleague or an interview candidate, it is always a good idea to offer them a drink on arrival, show them to a seat and take their coat. This social transaction will make visitors feel welcome, will break the ice and may well build trust.

Some offices formalise these hospitality arrangements. For example, they make drink-offering part of the reception teams’ duties, or they request that PAs and office juniors are responsible for hospitality. However, offering and making drinks doesn’t need to be about asserting an office hierarchy: in more democratic environments, colleagues are cooperative and will offer to make drinks when one of their co-workers is “hosting”, allowing them to focus on the visitor, rather than the kettle.


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