Our article on how to be a good host offers you some great tips on how to make your guests feel comfortable and ensure they have a good time. But how about when you’re the guest? To ensure your hosts will be glad they invited you, follow these handy tips:
The #1 Rule
In our other article, we mentioned that the key to being a great host is to make your guests feel at home. To ensure a repeat invitation, however, a good guest never, ever forgets that he or she is not at home. Behave too freely in your hosts’ home and, instead of asking you back, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief as they close the door behind you!
Here are some good points of etiquette to remember when visiting someone’s home:
Don't arrive empty-handed.
It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, but to enter a home bearing gifts is a great way to show your appreciation for your host’s willingness to take you into her home. If you’re only attending a day or evening event, some homemade or store-bought goody that can be shared with your host’s family and other guests right away is a good choice, like a bottle of wine, or a side dish or dessert. Another good option is a bouquet of flowers or a plant, preferably one that comes in its own container (that way your host won’t have to stop what she’s doing in order to find a vase).
Home décor items, particularly those with a holiday theme, also make excellent host gifts. Unique centerpieces, ornaments or serve ware are all items that will be greatly appreciated. Or bring along a game that can accommodate the number of people and the ages of those who will be present during your visit so you can provide instant entertainment.
Keep and eye on the kids.
It can be tempting for parents of young children to take a break from refereeing the youngsters in order to catch up with the adults. Your brother may not have kids of his own, or your aunt’s kids may have been out of the nest for so long she’s no longer used to having children. Bring toys, games, books, or videos with which to entertain your children so they won’t be bored if your hosts didn’t think of providing any entertainment for them. Encourage your older kids to bring along their favorite portable pastimes. If your children are small, take a quick look around for anything dangerous that your childless hosts might not have thought of putting away or barricading. Older kids should be warned before you arrive not to go “exploring” – bedrooms other than the one designated as theirs are off-limits, and closed doors need to be respected (this is for their own safety as well as courtesy to your hosts). Kids of all ages need to keep to the rooms and floors in which your hosts make it clear they are welcome.
During the holidays, hosts and guests alike tend to congregate in the kitchen while meals are being prepared, and so children subsequently tend to wander in and out of that area. Discourage this, or at least keep an eye on them – hot dishes being passed around can prove hazardous. And remember, your hosts aren’t built-in babysitters. Even at a doting Grandma’s house, your kids are still your responsibility.
Show a healthy respect for property.
Take it with a grain of salt when your host says, “My home is your home,” or “help yourself.” She may really mean it, but it’s always better to be safe. Poking into cabinets, closets or dressers without asking is bad enough – using what you find is even worse! Hopefully your host will have thought of providing what you need, but if she hasn’t, ask to borrow an extra blanket or hair dryer. Ask also before taking a closer look at something that interests you (e.g. “I see you have a copy of War And Peace on your bookshelf…would it be all right if I took a look at it?”). Same goes for food – if your host tells you to help yourself to “whatever’s in the fridge,” be cognizant if you see a homemade pie that hasn’t been cut into yet – your host may have forgotten it was there, but was planning on serving it at dinner the next day!
Treat your host’s belongings as though they’re the most valuable items in the world, even if they appear to have no value. That tattered old afghan may have been stitched by your host’s great-aunt Martha (so don’t leave it on the floor); that battered old book may be a first edition (so use a bookmark to save your place). And always put whatever you use back where you found it. Your hosts will appreciate your handling their things respectfully.
Respect the rules of the house.
When in Rome, it’s always a good idea to do as the Romans do. The way you run your household may be light years away from how your hosts run theirs, and you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes – be observant of how they do things, and if you’re not sure, ask. Here are some good tips to keep in mind from the start:
Don’t leave a footprint. Some homeowners make a point of not wearing shoes inside the house – if you’re not sure, ask. You may even want to bring along a pair of your favorite (clean) slippers; that way, your hosts will see that you’re making yourself comfortable and you won’t have to worry about tracking dirt onto their carpets.
Eat and drink in designated areas. Where the food and drinks are being served is generally where they should stay – there and the areas where the socializing is taking place. Don’t take food into other rooms or areas without a go-ahead from your hosts; make sure the kids do the same.
Pick up after yourself. Your hosts likely went to some trouble to make sure you were welcomed into a clean, neat home – help them keep it that way by straightening up after yourself. Keep your things in your room when you’re not using them, and put your hosts’ things (like the TV remote or the newspaper) back where you found them when you’re finished them, both to maintain a tidy appearance and so they’re easy to find again.
Make the bed. Many guests strip their beds on their last morning, thinking (correctly) that their hosts will want to change them and that by stripping the bed for them they’re saving their hosts an extra step. This is a good thought, and you should certainly do it if your hosts ask, but a better idea is simply to make it up – that way the room will look neat and presentable in case there’s some reason your hosts can’t get to the bed right away.
Say thank you.
Heartfelt thanks on your way out the door is a must, but don’t forget to send a thank you note. Just a short note in your own handwriting, reiterating how much you appreciated the invitation and the effort your hosts made to make you comfortable will go far toward making them feel happy they invited you, and eager to ask you back at a later time.
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