How to survive a cottage weekend with guests


Inviting friends to the cottage seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, as you think about beds, meals, and laundry, you’re not so sure. Relax. We’ve gathered the very best ideas, advice, and shortcuts to help you enjoy your company and your weekend.

I like company but I wish people would just make themselves at home. It’s hard to remember to ask all day long, “Are you hungry? Thirsty? Want to go for a walk?” Please help yourself. It’s my weekend too! —Terri Nelson, via Facebook

My main concern is managing expectations. People need to understand when they are coming to my place that they are basically camping indoors, as I’ve got no amenities or luxuries to speak of. So I only invite the most rugged people I know. —Adam van Koeverden, Olympic kayaker, South Tea Lake

Show them how to flush the toilet. Gather everyone for a septic instructional talk. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that only toilet paper (and Numbers One and Two) should go in.—Mag Dusia, via Facebook

Discuss the next day’s activities (or lack thereof) the night before.—Marg Richards, via Facebook

Guests love to have a job. A word of caution, though: Always make sure that the job of manning the grill is assigned to someone trustworthy so you don’t end up with a platter of burnt steaks! Sometimes the most enthusiastic volunteer isn’t the best choice. —Chef Jo Lusted, co-host of Compete to Eat, on the Cottage Life channel


New guests: We supply the meals. They bring the booze. Repeat guests: Meals and booze are divvied up.—Randy Craig,Kahshe Lake

Buy some cheap flashlights for kids to use, and they get to take them home at the end of the weekend. —Penny Caldwell

We put steel-cut oats in a slow cooker overnight and set out a variety of add-ins. No matter what time people get up they can help themselves without disturbing the others.—Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, The Fabulous Beekman Boys 

A bread machine and a coffee maker, both on timers. You get fresh bread and fresh coffee and everyone sleeps in. —Vicki Hornsby, Maple Leaf

Game For dishes? The worst thing about hosting a horde? Washing up after meals! So, rather than relegate one poor sap to the sink for hours, we play A-Hole for Dishes. (Basically, it’s just Asshole, a.k.a. President or Donkey, where players try to get rid of their cards before others do, and are assigned ranks accordingly.) Whoever winds up as the Asshole on the first hand starts on dishes. Then we play another round, starting fresh, rather than giving the President of the last round an advantage. The next Asshole either replaces the dishwasher or joins in, depending on how many people there are. After that, each new Asshole earns a turn washing or drying. But the best part is that even when you have to go wash up, you know it’s going to end soon. And you get to listen to your pals playing cards, so you still feel like part of the fun. It’s a great way to share the load. My family honestly looks forward to it, and my friend’s mom told me it changed her life.—Braden Alexander, Malachi Lake


Cut down on meals. We often have brunch, an afternoon snack to tide everyone over, and a late dinner. Eating around 8 p.m. allows guests to enjoy the warm outdoors and means you are not cooking in the heat of the day.—Beth Stockton

Have DIY lunch. We stock the fridge for self-serve with cheese, sausage, tuna salad, buns, and fresh fruit.—Karen Dempsey, High River 

Avoid high-wire acts. I have a core list of go-to dishes each season that becomes faster and easier with each repetition. No worries about timing or taste. Less stress.—Ann Vanderhoof, founding editor of Cottage Life 

Fuggedaboutit. I like to make a no-brainer like a pork shoulder confit that you can toss in the oven, forget about all day while you’re doing something else fun, and then have amazing food for guests when they arrive, which, from my experience, isn’t on time when any cottage is involved.—Kevin Kossowan, host of From the Wild

Find a perfect ending. Sunset, sitting on the rocks with a glass of wine and a chocolate chip cookie.—Trish Magwood

 It doesn’t have to be fancy. You’re feeding people in bathing suits.—Trish Magwood, cookbook author, television host, cottager on Georgian Bay, and mother of three

Great Caesar’s potluck. When hosting recently, I asked each of my friends to bring their favourite garnish for the classic cocktail: pickled beans, horseradish, pepperette sticks, even homemade celery salt rimmer. The group effort made it easy for me!—Gracie Goad, The Drake Hotel, Toronto

Leave it. If you’re invited, bring only the food that the host or hostess has suggested. (Not all the leftovers in your fridge!)—Ines Davis


Feed the masses with fun food for a crowd. Call it a redneck theme if you want: Pulled pork, rotisserie chickens, planked salmon, barbecue beef sandwiches. Crab boil! Lobster boil! With the corn and taters all
in the same pot.—David Zimmer, columnist, Cottage Life

Dear host, A thoughtful step for anxious, uptight guests like me is a host who assigns meals. (That way, you know when you’re not on, it’s okay to be passed out on the dock.) Conversely, if you want to cook every meal, let us know in advance, so we don’t lug up a bunch of wasted food from the city.—Corey Mintz, Toronto Star food writer

If you shop before you come up, transfer foods into Tupperware containers, and leave all the packaging at home.—Randy Craig

Gas for one day of fun in our powerboat is $250. Everyone could chip in for a few gallons.—Mag Dusia, via Facebook

At the end of the weekend, build in time for cleanup if you want guests to help, with enough time after for one more swim, or a snack on the dock or something, so that everyone leaves on a positive note.—Heidi Braun, Hudson Lake

Never run out of bacon.—Brian Misko, House of Q, an award-winning competition barbecue team in BC

At the end of the weekend, build in time for cleanup if you want guests to help, with enough time after for one more swim, or a snack on the dock or something, so that everyone leaves on a positive note.—Heidi Braun, Hudson Lake

Running off the dock

Limit guests to three days or less. Two days if they’re related to you, LOL!—Terry Hartwick, via Facebook

Manage your own expectations. Buy enough food for twice the people coming, don’t expect them to bring anything, clean anything, or entertain themselves…then be happy with anything they do.—Mary Ellen, via Facebook 

Ask to borrow or rent a neighbour’s cottage for overflow space. Or consider renting an RV or houseboat. You could throw a whole family into a trailer or floating digs with mod cons such as a TV and flushing toilets.—Holly Carney, owner of Holly Matrimony Weddings

We give up the cottage to families with young children and escape to the bunkie.—Penny Caldwell

 I turned an old workshop into a kids’ zone. When it rains, they go there and leave the adults alone.—Karen Larche, via Facebook

Ask guests to take their empties and leftovers with them when they go. (And maybe a bag of garbage too.)—Susan JustBrooks, via Facebook 

Forget wine charms. Write on glasses with grease pencil—it comes off when you wash them.—Holly Carney

I typically choose a familiar comfort food for Friday night (such as lasagna and salad), when people are arriving at various times. Usually some-thing I’ve made in the city and brought up to avoid extra mess. Saturday is a more special meal. I choose something I can take to the grill and I keep the veggie dishes simple, using farmers’ markets as my inspiration. Sunday is empty-the-fridge day. —Amy Stoddart, of Say-She-Ate cooking studio and classes, Balsam Lake cottager

Set up a well-organized recycling and garbage area. Empty wine, beer, and pop bottles take up a lot of space and, depending on the garbage management at the cottage, can be a big thing to deal with after guests leave.—Beth Stockton


My absolute favourite thing to do with a group of friends at the lake is to have a sunset picnic on the boat. It sounds simple enough, but it’s so different from anything you can do in the city that it always makes a big impact on guests. We pack some snacks and then head out about an hour before sunset. We cruise around the lake, telling the stories of our neighbours as we pass their cabins, and wave to people on the dock. Then we get to a calm point in the middle of the lake, near a tiny island, and we just sit, sometimes throwing in an anchor. I bring out my music player and we play old favourites and sing along or sometimes just sit and listen to slow songs, getting lost in the mood. Just as the sun’s about to set, we head to the island and go for a swim in the fading light. To me, it’s exactly the type of thing people want to do when they’re at the lake, and they want you to organize it for them. —Braden Alexander

Put someone in charge of recycling.—Randy Craig

We set up a weekend-long tournament of an all-ages game such as bagatelle or crokinole, with a chalkboard for keeping score, to occupy guests while we are prepping hors d’oeuvres or setting things up. It entertains everyone from small kids to adults.—Rena Bennett, Go Home Lake 

Enjoy your salad days. We make lots of things that are room temperature, such as substantial salads, so we don’t have to fire up the stove, and they don’t take up room in the fridge.—Trish Magwood

Have couscous. A convenient but gourmet meal extender, it stores forever in the pantry, and is dead easy: equal parts dried couscous and boiling water or stock, in a covered bowl, for five minutes. Add anything, plus butter or olive oil. Use for a tabbouleh-like salad or to add body to soup. People are remarkably impressed by it.—Martin Zibauer, food editor of Cottage Life

ESP is not required. Don’t assume people can read your mind. Ask them to bring sheets or towels, or a meal, or ask them to take home leftovers if you don’t have the space.—Lynda Burnett Johnston, via Facebook

We have a sign on the way in to the cottage that works for us: Bed and breakfast. You make both. —Lesley Traviss-Curtis, via Facebook

Bacon and eggs

“Oops! I forgot my…” So no one has to waste time running back to the closest town, keep on hand extras of the basics such as hats, blankets, toiletries, insect repellent, sun screen, towels, and paperback novels.—Danielle “Diva Q” Dimovski, host of BBQ Crawl , on the Cottage Life channel

Cook once, eat twice. Plan one meal with the next meal in mind. Roast beef, sliced up the next day, makes for great sandwiches or steak salad. Extra grilled veggies can be chopped up and tossed into a pasta, or even a morning frittata. Grilled new potatoes become a breakfast hash. Saturday night’s barbecued chicken gets sliced up into a Sunday salad. Cut your cooking time in half by making extra and using the leftovers to your advantage.—Amy Stoddart

Plan something for little guests. Some sort of arts and crafts, beading, or something that you can pull out when the kids need to come in out
of the sun and the adults want to have conversations.—Beth Stockton

First drink is offered, after that, help yourself!—Randy Craig

People want to bring stuff. You have to tell them to bring stuff that is helpful. Like toilet paper. Or consumables. Stuff like booze. People should bring more booze. No more cute cottage decorations. Fridge space is always tight too, so they should bring things that don’t need a fridge.—Ryan Kennedy, Cameron Lake

I like having the beds made ahead, but the best guests bring their own bedding.—Penny Caldwell 

Prepare as much as you can at home. Marinate steaks or chops in freezer bags, make and freeze burger patties, and pre-make your salad dressings, sauces, and dips. When your guests arrive you’ll be able to spend more time socializing and less time prepping for dinner.—Rockin’ Ronnie Shewchuk, international barbecue champion

Invite overachievers. As guests, my husband and I always bring and prepare a nice meal (with wine), clean up, and send my sister and her husband down to the dock before and after dinner to relax.—Wendy Moore, via Facebook


Find this article and more great entertaining advice in the Summer 2014 issue of Cottage Life magazine, available on newsstands and online.