Be My Guest

There are hundreds of books and articles written about the art of hospitality; much less is said about the behavior of guests — especially for an overnight stay. 

Haven’t we all spent the night in someone else’s house and thought, “I really hope this doesn’t utterly destroy our friendship” ?  And haven’t we all hosted someone in our home overnight and thought, “This could be fantastic or a total nightmare” ?

What is the etiquette for those being served?  How can you make yourself a pleasant guest?  What are the cringe-inducing actions that can make your host regret inviting you?  Read on.

It Starts at the Door

Never show up empty-handed to stay overnight.  The host is not only (presumably) making you multiple meals, but she is also doing your laundry after you’ve gone.   The best you can do is show gratitude before any of this has even begun.  A few ideas:

  • Wine — always a solid choice, and if you’re not sure on their preference, bring a red and a white, just to be sure.
  • A decorative candle — one can never have too many candles, and they’re quick and easy for the host to light and display.  Avoid scented ones, as scents are personal, and if a meal is being served you don’t want the smell of the candle to interfere.
  • An unusual kitchen accessory — chances are if your host is having you in her home, she knows her way around the kitchen.  That’s why a killer gadget can hit the spot, such as a stainless steel olive oil can.

A Helping Hand — To a Point

It’s wonderful when guests offer to help set the table or crack the crab, but it’s less appealing when a guest insists on working in the kitchen with the host.  Don’t forget that one of the pleasures of hosting is knowing that your guests are comfortable and happy — if you appear distressed at not helping, you are robbing your host of this privilege.  Sometimes, if you can tell a host is in her element and things are going smoothly, it’s better to simply express your excitement about the coming meal.

Clean Up

This is probably the best chance for you to earn your keep.  Jumping in and helping with the dishes is almost always appreciated, especially when you do so without asking (“can I help with the dishes?” almost always comes across as a I-asked-just-to-confirm-I-don’t-have-to statement).  Of course, if your host is mortified at the thought of you cleaning up, don’t make a bother of yourself by entering into an “I insist, no, I insist” argument for twenty minutes.

The Next Morning

If you are staying multiple nights, make the bed in the morning.  On your final morning, strip your sheets and grab any used bathroom towels and put them in the laundry room.  It’s a harmless chore that spares the host from having to go room-to-room gathering linens.

Going the Extra Mile

When arranged in advance, it can work really well for you to prepare one meal for your hosts.  Let’s say you arrive at 4PM and are staying until noon the following day.  A great idea would be to offer to prepare breakfast as a thank you to your hosts.  By asking a couple of days ahead, you are showing that you’re eager not to be a burden, and you’re being considerate of their shopping preparations (they won’t buy eggs if they know you’re bringing them).  Though it might be tricky getting around your hosts’ unfamiliar kitchen, making eggs and bacon shouldn’t involve too many tools.

If you’re not comfortable with preparing a full meal, offering to make a dessert or a special cocktail for everyone is just as thoughtful. 

The Essential Follow-Up

If someone has had you in their home for 24 hours, a thank you text or email is not going to suffice.  Find a card or stationary and write a thank you note by hand.   When you’ve been in someone’s home for dinner, usually you can return the favor; with overnights, it’s less obvious if you’ll be able to host them in your home for the same purpose.  Therefore, a sincerely written card is most appreciated –“thank you” flowers, even more so.

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