Being invited to stay in someone’s home, and likewise offering such an invitation, can be nerve-wracking for all parties involved. With the minefield of etiquette to navigate, in this guide, we’re going to discuss how to be both a good houseguest and a great host.
“Manners are a way of showing other people we care about them.” – Perry Como
The entire concept of etiquette, manners, and politeness is to make those around us feel comfortable. As both a host and a houseguest, the primary objective is to make the people we’re temporarily residing with feel comfortable and at ease.
The pre-arrival stage is leading up to the actual stay. It begins when the host invites the guest to stay at their home temporarily. In the event your invitation wasn’t accepted, don’t take it personally; not everyone feels comfortable staying in another person’s home, and there may be other factors such as pet allergies or dietary issues After accepting the invitation with appreciation, there are some steps worth doing to make the stay as comfortable for both parties as possible.
As the host, it becomes your role to facilitate the stay and prep for the arrival. Once your invitation has been accepted by the guest, you will want to begin planning a week or so in advance.
Start by calling or sending an email to the guest to let them know how happy you are that they’ve decided to stay with you. In it, request information from them such as any scheduled meetings or places they need to go. By doing this, you can help to ensure your plans don’t inhibit their stay and you can help to work around their schedule. This is especially useful if they are staying with you while traveling for a job or an event such as a wedding or funeral.
Pre-Arrival DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO ask if they have any allergies you should be aware of
- DO request a list of some of their favorite foods or beverages
- DO ask for their arrival information and coordinate travel from the arrival point to your home
- DO share your schedule and availability, so that guests can be prepared to occupy themselves if needed
- DO share the plan for meals, such as timing, cooking and eating out
- DON’T overwhelm them with information; keep details high level
- DON’T provide a long list of rules or expectations; if you are unable to be flexible with guests about many things in your home, then hosting might not be for you.
Remember, the only purpose of communicating pre-arrival is to make sure you can be as prepared as possible for their stay.
A few days before their arrival, you’ll want to complete the following tasks:
- Plan meals and go grocery shopping and ensure you pick up any food or beverages they mentioned they enjoy. Also, get as many groceries as you can for any meals you’ll make during their stay. By doing this, you’re ensuring they don’t have to be burdened with a mid-stay grocery shop where they may feel obligated to help pay for the groceries.
- Clean and sanitize the room they will be staying in. Be sure to put fresh sheets on the bed, clean towels for them to use, and any other sleeping or toiletries they may require.
- It is a very good idea to place a small guest book or welcome note that contains relevant information such as the wifi password, nearby shops and restaurants, the phone number to a taxi company, your mobile contact information, and any other items such as an alarm code for their use.
- Consider placing a small welcome basket in their room. It can contain a variety of items such as bottled water, a new toothbrush, travel sized toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner. Other items could include some snacks, a map of the area, or fresh fruit.
- Be sure to restock any items in the bathroom they will use. Ensure there are a few rolls of toilet paper, a box or two of tissues, and the hand soap.
- Clean the entire house; your guest will be seeing all of it!
On the day of arrival:
- Before their arrival, confirm that their plane isn’t late and remind them of where you’ll be to pick them up.
- Get a car wash and detail
- Get dinner started if you plan to cook that evening;
As the guest, your role is to be polite and always to remember that you have been graciously invited to stay at someone else’s home. Therefore, even if you have your scheduled agenda, it becomes your duty not to interfere with your host’s lifestyle and their schedule.
If you will be staying with the host because you are in town for meetings, a conference, or an event, it is a good idea to provide your host with a copy of your itinerary so they can plan to accommodate your schedule. Another good idea is to purchase a host gift for your host before you leave home. This way you can make the gift more meaningful by getting them something they may not be able to find in their region, or something that is personal and representative of you or the place you live.
When your guest arrives, ask if they would like something to drink and provide them with a tour of your home if they haven’t been there before. Show them the room they will stay in, where the bathroom is, and any information they need such as the fridge with an offer to help themselves, how to operate the alarm keypad and where the keys are if you will be lending them a car during their stay.
Following the tour, invite them to sit and relax. Offer them a drink and bring out a platter of appetizers or snacks if it’s between meals. If you will be having dinner upon their arrival, let them know and ask if they need some time to change before dinner.
One big tip is to avoid making plans with other friends during the duration of their stay if it’s short-term (one week or less). On the day of their arrival, be sure that your schedule is clear so you can welcome them into your home and they won’t feel like they are in your way.
If they have traveled from another time zone, it is likely they may be jet lagged. If this is the case, invite them to go to bed at their leisure or take a nap if it’s too early to retire for the night.
When you arrive and meet your host, put your bags away immediately and neatly in the room you’ll be staying in. If they are preparing a meal, offer assistance, but don’t push if they say no. You can always help later in such ways as clearing dishes off the table or contribute by load the dishwasher.
Whenever possible, try to abide by their schedule on the first day unless you have prior commitments you can’t get out of it. If that is the case, be sure to let them know in advance so they can make plans and aren’t left in the dust.
Before bed, ask them about any routines and what time they usually wake up so you can set an alarm.
By the end of the first evening, present them with a host gift.
The Host Gift
Traditionally, a host gift is a way of saying thank you. In many cases, it may be in the form of flowers, candy or offering to take them for dinner. However, we argue that the best gifts are the most personal ones. If you are from out of town, try to source items they can’t get locally or a product that is exclusive or popular in your city. If you need something slightly more generic, consider a coffee table book or a bottle of wine or their favorite digestif.
“The distinction between gentleman and boor is more clearly noted at the table than anywhere else.” – W.R. Houghton
Etiquette is quite simply the act of being polite and using manners. Here are some tips:
As the host, it is important to make your guest feel welcomed. Continually remind them to treat your home as their own and help themselves to anything they like such as snacks or beverages. A good house guest will still avoid opening your cupboards or the fridge, so it’s a good plan to continually offer them food or a drink if you think they might be famished or parched.
Here are some tips on making your guest feel comfortable:
- Avoid going into the room they will be residing in. For the time being, that is their room. Knock if you need something.
- Prepare meals according to their liking. Ask before cooking if they enjoy the dish you plan to make and be sure to let them rest, even if they offer to help.
- Avoid any family, personal or professional discord in their presence. Nothing will make someone more uncomfortable than having to witness or overhear conflict.
- When leaving home either for work or to go to a store, ask if they need anything and offer to pick it up. If you are gone for an extended period (more than one hour), show them how to work the television or ask if they want anything to entertain them or – when possible – if they care to join you or want a ride somewhere.
- While in the presence of your guest, minimize your screen time. Don’t leave the TV on as ambient noise in the background, since it’s a visual distraction. The focus should be on the guest, and you will have plenty of time when they’re not around to check email or respond to texts and Facebook messages.
- Be sure never to post anything unflattering about your guest to social media.
Etiquette is exceptionally important for house guests. This is not your home, so it’s a good plan always to think from your host’s perspective.
Here are some tips:
- Don’t expect your host to cater to you, entertain you, or change their lifestyle for you. Adapt to their routine as much as possible,
- Be respectful of their property. Remove shoes if they don’t wear them in the house; don’t open cupboards or drawers without prior invitation; don’t snoop or eavesdrop on private conversations; don’t help yourself to anything besides water or a morning coffee without asking first, even if they told you to make yourself at home.
- Be sure to keep your room neat and tidy. Make the bed each morning; put away any dirty or clean laundry, and keep your personal belongings confined.
- If you are sleeping on a makeshift bed such as a futon or hide-a-bed, be sure to fold it up every morning into a sitting position if it’s in the way.
- Be sure to clean the washroom after each use. Rinse the shower or tub after use, wipe off wet counters, and keep your toiletries in your room if you are sharing a bathroom.
- Whenever meals are being prepared, dishes are being cleaned, or the house is being given a once-over, ask if you can help. Even if the host says no, you can still take your dishes to the counter and help clear away dinner items. Make sure to check out our guide on table manners and our video on dining etiquette.
- Remember that your host has a life of their own, so if they appear to be busy, pick up a magazine or take a walk.
- To appease a host, unless there is a reason to stay up such as a party or event, be sure to retire to your room no later than 11:00 pm or when they go to bed, whichever comes first. Even if you don’t go to sleep, you can watch some Netflix on your phone with headphones or read quietly. This way you don’t disturb your host should they need some time alone.
- Always wear appropriate pajamas in public areas of the house. If you don’t wear appropriate sleepwear during your stay, pack a robe to throw over what you have. Anytime you leave your room – even in the middle of the night to use the bathroom – cover yourself with a suitable dressing gown if you brought one. Wear socks or slippers instead of going barefoot
- Even if your host said to make yourself feel at home, they likely don’t mean taking a nap in their bed or wearing their bathrobe. What it means is “feel free to pour yourself a glass of water or use the bathroom if you have to.” This means not helping yourself to anything. Don’t take a cigar, don’t light a cigarette, and don’t go into other rooms you’re not invited in. It also means not pouring a drink from their bar, cooking without permission, putting your feet up on the furniture or taking a nap on the living room couch.
- Always remember to keep your cell phone on vibrate or silent when in someone else’s home.
- Be sure to never post anything unflattering about your host, their home, or anything about your stay with them to social media. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Don’t invite people to the home of your host. If you want to meet up with an old friend, do so in a public place or visit their home.
- Be sure always to abide by scheduled plans. If you told your host you would be home by a certain time or be back for a meal, don’t leave them waiting. Remember; 15-minutes is early, 5-minutes is on time and on time is late.
Outside the Home
If you have to leave the house to go to work, show your guest where to find items such as food, drinks, the remote control, etc. Give them your cell or work number to contact you if they need anything and ask if they want you to pick up anything on your way home. If you’re traveling outside the home for a non-work related purpose, ask your guest if they would like to join you, but don’t make them feel obligated to.
The best plan is to limit any other social activity or non-essential activity while you’re hosting a guest. Whenever possible, you want to make the guest feel important, and it may cause your guest to feel unwelcome if you leave them at home to see other friends without including them.
One tip is to ask your guest each morning if there is anywhere they want to go. Offer to show them around, provide some ideas for activities you can do together, or give them a ride if needed.
As a guest, you want to make your host feel like you are honored to be in their home. Indeed some affairs may occur where you need to leave by yourself for a meeting, a funeral, wedding, or event you’re in town for. However, you don’t want to treat your host like a hotel by leaving for hours on end, going out on your own, and only spending a small fraction of your time with them to sleep. If you are attending an event that will command your attention, it may be best to stay at a hotel instead.
When you do go out on your own, be sure to provide the details to your host. Plan to return at a reasonable hour. If you are going to explore or shop, invite your host to join you, but don’t make them feel obligated.
When going out with your host for meals, offer to pay. Regardless of what they say, it’s important to offer, because hosting you requires time and money, and furthermore it saves you money as the guest. If they do let you pay, follow through. Don’t offer with the expectation of them saying no. Offer with the expectation of actually paying.
One tip is to ask them to join you for dinner and insist on taking them out as a thank you for hosting you in their home.
On the final day of the visit, the host should ask if there is anything the guest needs such as a ride to the airport, help packing, or a snack for the trip home.
As the guest, you want to spend some significant time ensuring everything is left the way you found it. Make the bed, clean up any of your mess, and leave the room you stayed in as neat as possible. If you have towels and linens that you used during your stay, even if they aren’t clean fold them neatly in a pile.
If the host does offer to help you depart, tell them you are more than happy to arrange your return transportation if it is an inconvenience to them. Before leaving, be sure to thank everyone in the family for allowing you to stay with them, including any children and house staff.
If your host does drive you to the airport or train station, thank them again before leaving.
The Follow Up
If you’re a house guest, the follow-up is all on you.
Once you arrive home, handwrite a thank you card that expresses your gratitude. It doesn’t have to be a long letter, but even just a card. Email, Facebook, and texting are great for many things, but not thank you cards. Be sure to send it off as quickly as possible, so there is minimal delay in them receiving it.
For an immediate thank you, contact a florist and have a bouquet delivered to your host with a thank you card.
There are a few great books worthy of reading before hosting or being a guest in someone else’s home. Here are a few we recommend to give you the information you need to be the best host or guest possible. Note that some of these can be quite old-fashioned, and while they are interesting reads many tips should be taken with a grain of salt.
The following are classic etiquette books filled with useful information including sections dedicated to visiting:
Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette
The following are other books that offer specific information:
Written for butlers, this book provides valuable content for any host to ensure that their home is stylish and well put together.
If you will be visiting a formal residence, this book walks you through everything you need to know about table etiquette.
A perfect book for hosts, if you are new to entertaining or adept at it, you will be sure to find useful information for all types of scenarios.
We hope this primer on how to be a good host and house guest will help you on your next visit. What tips do you have for hosting a guest or visiting someone’s home?