With the holidays upon us, chances are you’re planning to spend some time in someone else’s home, either for a single evening or multiple days. Being entertained in someone else’s home can be one of our greatest pleasures — or our hosts’ greatest nightmares. No need for extra holiday stress, though, because we’ve got some F.N. Sharp tips for how to be a good guest – and get invited back.
10 Tips for How to Be a Good Guest
We can all probably remember a time when someone showed up for a weekend visit at our home and stayed for a week. Or the dinner guest who nearly bored everyone to tears with endless stories about their health problems – some real, some perceived. Recently, we shared information on how to be a good host, either for a single event or for overnight houseguests <link to post>. Now we’ll some share dos and don’ts for how to be the guest everyone invites back!
Show Up — and Show Up on Time
If you’ve RSVP’d for an event, the rudest thing you can do is not show up. Your host has calculated you in for food, beverages and seating. Unless you truly cannot attend due to a sudden illness or some other valid reason, attend even if you don’t feel like it. You can always stay for a polite amount of time and then leave. And if you can’t make it, be sure to phone — not text, and apologize.
The second rudest thing you can do is show up late. However, for most dinner party situations, showing up on time actually means you should arrive 10 to 15 minutes after the announced start time. This gives your host a few extra minutes of last-minute prep time. Do not arrive early, and if you do, wait in your car or down the street for a few minutes.
For open houses that have people coming and going at various times, you have a little more leeway. In most situations, you should let your host know if you’re going to be more than 20 – 30 minutes late. The same goes for being a houseguest. Let your host know when you expect to arrive so they can plan around your arrival and let them know if you’re running late.
Bring a Thoughtful Gift
Even if your host has told you no need to bring something, you should always bring something. If you know the person well, you can bring something sure to delight them. Think about their hobbies and interests and find a gift that complements that interest.
For example, for the gardener, gardening gloves is a nice gesture, and for the cook, a live herb plant they can use long after the party is over. Flowers and consumables such as wine and fancy chocolates have been the norm forever, but for something different, consider giving seasoned olive or truffle oil, gourmet cheese, farmers market jam, local honey or a snazzy kitchen apron like this one.
For a busy hostess, a mani-pedi gift certificate can make a much-appreciated gift! If you’ve been invited to a friend’s beach house, consider a gift such as a sand-free microfiber beach towel set like this one from Amazon. If you’re headed to someone’s mountain cabin, cozy blankets like this one are perfect for snuggling under on chilly nights. Gift certificates to local coffee shops or a favorite café are also thoughtful gestures.
Keep Your Food Preferences in Check
If you have a legitimate food allergy or intolerance, you should let your host know ahead of time. You should also offer to bring a dish or two you can eat. If you’re avoiding foods because of dietary reasons, e.g., keto, paleo or vegan, try not to obsess too much if a dish contains something you normally avoid. If you’re staying for more than a night, swing by the store and buy some items you can eat — and offer to cook for your host. If you have picky kids, bring some food you know they won’t fuss over — but try not to get in your host’s way or disrupt their meal schedule.
Keep Your Phone Out of Sight
Most phones have a “do not disturb” setting that silences all calls and texts, except for ones you designate to allow through, such as your babysitter. Some also will let a call through if the caller calls more than once within a few minutes. If you know your elderly mother or someone else will become anxious if they can’t reach you right away, let them know ahead of time that you’ll be “offline” for a while.
Also, no texting! You might think no one is noticing that you’re texting under the table — but looking into your lap with your hands out of sight is a dead giveaway. If you must interact with your phone, excuse yourself and move somewhere like the bathroom. If you’re a houseguest, the same goes — try to minimize your phone use when you’re interacting with your host and save it for when you’re alone.
A word about taking photos and posting them online — some hosts will enjoy knowing their perfectly prepared meal is being admired across the globe — but be mindful about posting photos of people. Your host might not have invited someone who will see the images and feel hurt. Or you might inadvertently get someone busted for telling their sister-in-law, neighbor or book club buddy they were out of town that night and couldn’t attend their child’s clarinet recital.
Be Extra Helpful
Offer to help with setting the table or meal prep in the kitchen (here are some tips for kitchen safety). Refill water and wine glasses if appropriate. Clear your plates as well as others. Replenish ice buckets, snack trays and the beer cooler. Load or unload the dishwasher and wipe the counter. Make coffee or breakfast. Run to the store and restock toilet paper, groceries or wine. Offer to take the kids or the dog for a walk to give your host a break. Pick up some fresh bagels or deli sandwiches.
Be observant and look for ways you can help — but don’t overdo it. Some people prefer to handwash their delicate glasses themselves or unload their dishwasher so they can put things where they belong instead of hunting for them.
If you love to cook, then offer to whip up or bring some appetizers or desserts, or maybe even some cocktails. If you need ideas, here are 13 ideas for appetizers, 11 ideas for desserts, and 10 holiday pie-inspired cocktails. This White Christmas punch is also a great recipe for big crowds.
Also, when staying multiple days, keep your things in your room instead of leaving them around the house. Be mindful of using up all the hot water or dawdling in a shared bathroom. Offer to strip the beds or run a load of towels through the laundry. Some hosts will appreciate this kind of help, but others might have reasons for leaving things until you’re gone, so best to ask. At the very least, wipe the bathroom counter and remove your hair from the drains.
Ask about House Rules and Preferences
Ask ahead of time about any house rules or preferences such as wearing shoes in the house. If you know ahead of time you’ll be expected to take your shoes off, you can bring some house slippers or flip flops (let your host know they’ve never been worn outside). Do they like to keep all doors locked or only open certain windows? Are the cats allowed outside? If there is an alarm, be sure to understand how it works or if it will be set during certain hours.
Also, you absolutely must ask before assuming it’s OK to bring your pet, significant other, exchange student or visiting cousin. It’s also helpful to have some idea of your hosts’ typical schedule — are they early risers or like to sleep in on weekends? Will they be working while you’re there? If you need access to a Wi-Fi or computer, will you be able to use theirs?
Don’t Bore or Make Others Uncomfortable
Your host nor the other guests need to hear about your latest dermatology procedure, your child’s grade-point average, your battles with your garden weeds or how unfair your boss is. You may have heard that sex, politics and religion are also taboo dinner party topics — and nothing has changed. In this current time of excessively virulent political differences, it is even truer.
Even if all the guests, and we mean all, share similar political beliefs, we get bombarded enough with political news. Don’t ruin an opportunity to talk about something fresh and uplifting instead. If you see the conversation heading that way, try to introduce a new topic. Safe topics can be something like asking if anyone has been to a new restaurant or vacation spot recently. Your host will silently thank you.
You also don’t want to wake up the next morning, cringing over the memory of something you did or said because you had a few too many glasses of wine. Relax and imbibe but keep it under control, especially with people you don’t know well. And remember our earlier point about keeping your phone put away — avoid the temptation to whip out your phone and show people the 462 photos you have of your pets, kids, latest vacation or home remodeling project.
This tip goes hand-in-hand with our earlier tips about being helpful and understanding house rules, but it goes beyond that. Don’t expect your host to be your cruise director, plan your daily itinerary and make all the arrangements.
If you want to do some sightseeing, ask your host ahead of time if they would be interested in joining you. They might welcome a chance to play tourist in their hometown, but they also might prefer a root canal over a 17th visit to a popular attraction. If that’s the case, plan to see it on your own — but also understand if they will be expecting you back at certain times, such as dinner.
On the other hand, if your hosts cleared their calendar to spend every minute with you and created a schedule of activities, embrace the opportunity and try to go with the flow. Of course, if you have a physical limitation, health ailment, work obligation or young child that might require limits, you should discuss it before you arrive.
On a side note, being self-sufficient also means bring your own toiletries. Don’t automatically assume your host will provide you with haircare and body products, hair dryers and personal care items such as toothpaste and floss. If they do provide some, replenish them or buy something fancier to leave as a small thank you gift.
Give Your Host (and Yourself) Some Breathing Room
Again, this advice piggybacks onto some of our earlier tips, but having — and being a houseguest can be draining for both parties. Your host will welcome some time to check their email, make phone calls or simply relax with a book. Make yourself scarce for a little while each day, whether it’s taking a walk, running an errand or spending time in your room. You can also retire to your room a little early in the evening to give them some downtime.
Know When It’s Time to Leave and Follow Up with a Thank You
You might be thinking your hosts are enjoying your company so much, they want you to stay longer, but we all have our limits, even with people we enjoy being around. If it’s a party, look around and see who is still there. If you notice you’re one of the last ones, it’s probably time to go. If your host is yawning, repeatedly glancing at their watch or turning lights off (or on if they were dimmed earlier), express your gratitude at being invited and leave.
If you’re a houseguest, you should let your host know before you arrive about how long you are planning to stay and make sure that works for them. Unless you’re staying with close friends or family, you probably shouldn’t stay for more than a few nights.
You also will want to follow up with a thank you note and possibly a gift. A written note or cute thank you card is usually the best option, but for more casual encounters, an email is generally acceptable. Mention something specific that you enjoyed, either about the food, something special your host did or how they made you feel. If you learned more about what your host likes — a favorite bakery, coffee shop, food, wine or activity, use your new knowledge to find a thoughtful gift. Buy it before you leave and present it to them if you can. To show your appreciation, you should also reciprocate by inviting them to your home.
It’s not difficult to be the guest who gets invited back! One last tip is to remember to be gracious, considerate and cheerful. Your host invested time and money into entertaining you for one evening or multiple ones. Even if you didn’t have the best time or the host isn’t going to become your new best friend, you don’t want to be remembered as that annoying guest. You never know when your paths will cross again — that host could become your boss, neighbor, in-law or travel in the same social circles as you.