What Makes a Good Host/hostess and Guest?

Updated on August 16, 2011
L.T. asks from Houston, TX
14 answers

Hi! We went to visit my SIL out of town this past weekend and had a great time. She does not have any children of her own and her husband is working overseas for awhile so it's just her right now in the house. But the meal times were crazy sporadic (i.e. breakfast in morning but lunch not until nearly 4 p.m.). We found snacks and were fine but it's just not on her radar that even if she's not hungry, others may be.

I'm not meaning to be critical at all as we really did have a fun time but it made me start thinking....what makes a good hostess and what makes a good guest? Like how comfortable do you make yourself at someone else's home? How do you (as the guest) help out by tidying up your room/bathroom when your leaving? What do you offer to contribute while you're there (doing dishes after meals, bringing food while your'e there, etc.) Any other thoughts...? Obviously this is not a simple answer as many factors go into it like the depth of the relationship but thought I would ask just for fun!

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone for your replies! I think they all sound like good suggestions and definitely things are different depending on the relationship of the guest to host. I want to clarify again, in no way did I have bad feelings towards my SIL for not serving lunch or other meals on "our" schedule. I know it is totally reasonable that she might be on her own so much it just didn't occur to her (and for whoever suggested it, yes, she IS a night owl too!) We DID get our own snacks until "lunchtime". When my children were younger I always brought food to places where I was unsure what they would have to offer. Thanks again---great tip!

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answers from St. Louis on

As a host:
- I always have snacks ready for when the guests arrive. I have fruit, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, etc laid out pretty much the entire time. And I always tell everyone to help themselves and am constantly asking if people are hungry. I feel like I cook all day when I have guests!

- I always leave snacks and water, in addition to clean towels, fresh soap, etc, in the guest room.

As a guest:
If I am hungry or the kids are hungry, I will ask the host about eating time. If it is a good friend or fam member, I will probably help myself, but I wouldn't cook a big dinner without consulting with the homeowner.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Good guest: Be as unobtrusive as possible. This means keeping your "stuff" orderly and put away...no shoes lying around, jackets on the chairs--use the "home base" the host/hostess has provided as just that--your mini-home. Let them know about any plans already in place for the visit (visits for friends/relatives, touristy activities) so they know when they will have guest-free time. Clean up after yourselves. Ask where to place towels, sheets, etc. when you are done with them. Offer to launder them yourselves.

Host/hostess: Buy and stock snacks, sandwich fixings, soda, water, fruits, etc. and make sure your guests are told to help themselves at any time. Be considerate of the kid's schedules if kids are on the visit (naps, meals, etc.). Provide clean towels, sheets, snacks, small shampoos, soaps, etc in the guest room/guest bathroom in case they forget something.

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answers from St. Louis on

Okay, since they are grownups I don't go out of my way to make meals. I mean come on, you are already giving them a free place to stay. For that matter when I stay at someone's house I offer to cook or go out to eat, again, free hotel?? As a guest you always clean up after yourself, leave everything in basically the same condition as you arrived.

I guess I look at it this way, if I were staying at a hotel would the staff be contacting me to find out if I were hungry. Would they want me rummaging through the kitchen looking for a snack. Granted at a hotel there would be staff cleaning up after me but again I am not paying to stay in someone's home.

Just like a hotel if I am hungry I may ask the front desk where is a good place to eat. If they offer a meal at say 4 okay then I guess I am going to have to find a place to eat before that.

As a guest you are the one being done a favor not the other way around.

I do tend to pamper my guests actually but if I caught wind they expected it I would probably consider that the last time they are invited.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I have been on both ends of this - with little problems.

As the hostess - make sure the guest knows where everything they might need is - towels, food, laundry, etc. - and that the guest knows to help themselves and make themselves at home. And, check at the beginning or every morning what their plans on and what if anything needs to be done about meals. I usually let my guests do their own thing at breakfast & lunch - but I almost always cook a dinner. I find my guests are most comfortable if they can do what they want and not expect me to wait on them for everything. So generally they pitch in with cooking, cleaning, etc.

As the guest - Don't make messes; confine your things to your guest area. Keep the guest room and bath tidy at all times. Bring your favorite drinks, snacks and contribute groceries to the household. Offer to help with meals and cleanup. And communicate what your daily plans are so that the hostess knows whether to expect you for meals. Include your hostess in outings or dining out if possible, or at least offer. Take the hostess out for dinner or cook a meal for them. Before leaving, strip the bed, clean the room and tidy up the bath. Bring a hostess gift when you come or leave a thank you gift when you leave.

My kids have been trained well. At 19, my daughter & 4 college friends went out of state (twice) to stay with other college friends and their families. My daughter always offered to help with meals and always helped cleanup. She also stripped the beds and put them in the wash, deflated blow up mattresses and put them away, cleaned up their guest room and guest bath. She did all this while the other guests did nothing. She was floored at their rude behavior!!! I told her they probably just didn't know any better LOL

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answers from Richmond on

Good hostess for guests staying overnight: Keep meals scheduled pretty regularly. Be sensitive to your guests schedules; like don't plan an outting at baby's naptime. Be aware of any food allergies, and make sure guests have choices for beverages and snacks.

Good guest: Well, we're house sitting right now, and although this is our BFFs house and we're here all the time anyway, I didn't understand what it's like to be a good guest until now. Rule number one- show up early to set up, or stay late to clean up. Always clean up after yourselves, and offer, in exchange for being fed, to clean up after meals. If you're staying longer than a few days, do laundry. Keep your clutter to a minimum. Respect the house rules.

Since we're house sitting, as mentioned, before our friends return I fully plan on windexing every surface covered in baby fingerprints, running the dishwasher and putting everything away, putting everything back to where we found it, running the vacuum, doing a quick sweep, and making sure the pool is balanced so they can come home and relax, rather than coming home and rushing around to unpack and clean up!! I'm also going to try to make and freeze a meal so they don't have to worry about that their first night home :)

I'm also VERY open when people are at MY house. Of course, I make sure I have an array of choices in regards to food and beverage, but I like my guests to want to help themselves... not because I'm uncaring, I just want them to feel at home and not feel like they have to ask every time they want a refill!! (The kids still have to ask, but they know they have free range of the t.v. and toys!)

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answers from Albany on

Well, households with no kids, or even just older kids are different than households with young kids. My house's meal schedules/plans have become very lax now my kids are all teenagers, but when they were younger it was a bigger/more important issue, you know?

Since she doesn't have kids it wouldn't occur to her the importance of meal/snack schedules.

Since you had a really nice visit, maybe next time just ask? Or tell her the kids get cranky/antsy whatever when they're hungry. People with younger kids Need A Plan.

All of your specific questions would depend on how well I knew the host, or how well I knew the guest. I'd be more aware of a guest with younger kid's needs since I've been there.


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answers from Los Angeles on

I am always up front with my guests when they get there. Our kitchen is open at all times. If you are thirsty and I am not around - please go get it yourself. If you want me to get you something - please open your mouth and ask. This way they know I am not a mind reader and they know to be comfortable to ask or get themselves.

I never expect a guest to clean up after themselves. I make sure they have fresh towels morning and at night and I go into the bathrooms and pull all dirty towels out daily. I don't keep a spotless house while they are there - b/c honestly.. they are there to visit, not watch me clean. :) I keep it tidy, just don't make cleaning my priority while they are there.

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answers from Killeen on

I grew up on the poor side, and have been a military wife most of my adult life, so I'm a pro at being a guest and hostess =)
As a hostess, I always provide basic bedding, one towel and one washcloth, and then make sure the guest knows where to find more if it's needed (like an extra blanket, pillow, or towel). I ask if they would like to borrow any soap, shampoo, etc., or if they forgot something that they might need replaced. I always provide a fan (would be a space heater if I lived somewhere cold LOL), and ask if an extra blanket over the window is needed to make the room darker. (I'm super sensitive to light, sound, and temperature, so I know how hard it can be to sleep somewhere you are uncomfortable...and if you can't sleep, you can't enjoy your visit!) As far as food, I show them where the cups are, show them what drinks I have to offer and tell them to help themselves. Food I provide depends on who's staying with me and how long they're staying. In general, I try to make sure I have a variety of sandwich-making stuff (different meats, cheese, etc.), and fruits and veges, and also canned soups, cereal, oatmeal, frozen waffles, etc. That way my guests can help themselves to breakfast and has access to anything needed for a quick snack. (As a guest, I know how hard it can be when you're jet-lagged 3 hrs and you really can't wait until dinner!) I also make sure there is Kleenex and extra toilet paper for my guests.
As a guest, I ask where things are instead of rummaging around in drawers or cabinets. Even if I'm told to help myself in the kitchen, if I want to eat/drink something that isn't a common thing or in ample supply, I always ask if it's ok! (something other than fruit, veges, sandwich, a drink that there's only a few of left, etc.) I use the microwave without asking, but not the stove/oven. I ask where to put dirty laundry, make my bed every day (even though I never do at home), keep my belongings neat and tidy, put my own dirty laundry in a plastic bag in my suitcase, buy any groceries that I use up when I'm there (or anything special I want while I'm there, like a certain kind of soda). I always offer to help prepare meals and clean up after them. If I'm staying more than a few days, I offer to vacuum, sweep, or clean the bathroom. If I make a mess, I clean it up. If I use dishes, I wash them or rinse them and put them in the sink. I basically try to make as little extra work for the host as possible!

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answers from Austin on

As you already know, it is totally up to each individual. The best host and guest are the ones who can accept the other as who they are and are willing to adapt. If the guest thinks that the host would appreciate help with the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, etc. then they will help. If they know the hostess will be offended as if she is incapable or not good enough, then the guest will back off. Asking if there is something that can be brought or can be assisted with is best. You can tell by their answer if doing it all themselves is extremely important and/or if they really want to pamper you. Some don't mind either way. Just be open to what the other person's needs are.

The best hosts and guests enjoy the time spent and don't worry about the rest.



answers from Los Angeles on

I've been there before. It could be because she doesn't have kids or is a night owl.
I used to get headaches and get grumpy if I didn't eat my 3 meals a day on time. Plus I worked out hard so I would sometimes need a snack of fruit.
So I learned to bring a tiny cooler w/1 water bottle I could re-fill, perishable snacks, non-perishables went in my bag so I could nosh on those I was starving for a meal.
I would sometimes suggest, "Hey want to go out for breakfast or want to go grab lunch somewhere.....my treat?". Sometimes that helped.
But what really helped was bringing my own snacks to have on hand.
I've stayed w/many friends when I was younger that were night owls that didn't eat regular meals and I would be starving.
I would always pick up after myself, make the bed, straighten the room, tidy the bathroom after myself.
I always helped with dishes, kitchen clean up (when we finally did eat lol) etc.
Now that I'm older, I always bring a small hostess gift: bottle of wine, flowers, some fancy cheese, crackers, small candle in a glass jar for the bathroom etc.



answers from Miami on

When we were on vacation at my aunt & uncles for 2 weeks we tried to not leave our stuff lying around even though they didn't really care if we did or not. :-) I also helped with meal prep and clearing up after and helped with the laundry. My dd used to set the table for meals, helped in the garden and also took great care of their 4 cats, feeding and cleaning up the litter trays (she is 8 and they have a very hygenic system in place). She loved it!! (Guess who wants a cat) :-) It was a really relaxing holiday but I wouldn't expect them to run around after us, if we were hungry or thirsty we helped ourselves as we split all grocery costs. When we left we got them a nice card, flowers, chocolates and a case of beer for my uncle. :-)


answers from Beaumont on

I have low blood sugar and get nervous if I am unsure about meals being regular. I will ask what is planned and if I can help or go get something. I could not sit there until 4 pm without lunch without falling out. If we are staying for a while I will offer to cook a dinner and get whatever I need to do that, especially if we are staying with someone who does not enjoy cooking. I may bring what I need for breakfast, my particular tea and cereal or some fruit and a bottle of wine. I try to be helpful and do whatever needs to be done. Cleaning up the dishes or whatever. I do not just sit there and mooch.



answers from College Station on

It depends on where we are as to the "rules". If I am at my Dad's house, we are a little more comfortable. I know he doesn't like the mess the kids make so I am always having them clean up after themselves. They also stick to their normal chore routines at Grandpas house.

If it is a friends house, I am a little more vigilant, especially if they do not have kids. The homes are not usually kids friendly.

I always ask how I can help with food, dishes, clean-up, etc.

As for being the hostess, my house is open to anyone! You are welcome to anything in the house :)

But, for you, people with kids have not idea that they eat all the time. You should have spoken up for yourself that you and your kids needed to eat. Something as simple as where are we going to eat lunch, or what are you feeling like for lunch, kind of thing. It is not being rude.



answers from San Antonio on

I know of more than one family who is like that when they have houseguests around lunchtime. We've learned to adapt. One thing you can do is, when your kids get hungry, offer to pick up a pizza and bring it back or something like that. Or, you could use the excuse that your kids are picky eaters (even if they're not) and stop at the store on the way there and bring lunch stuff for the kids and just get it out and serve it around lunch time. One family who only sometimes serves lunch often does that when they visit others. After knowing them for years, it seems that they expect us to be comfortable and to get what we want whenever we want it when we're at their house.

Other things we do when we're houseguests--try to help with dishes and meal prep if they let me in the kitchen. Take the sheets off the bed if they're OK with that. Clean up any messes that we make. If you are there for several meals, run to the grocery store for them so you can contribute to meals too, etc.

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