11 Simple Rules of Excellent Houseguest Etiquette

by Mikey Rox on 27 May 2011 23 comments
Photo: Zach Klein

Last week I provided tips on how to be the best host to overnight guests that you can be. Of course, every great host needs a great houseguest.

Think you have what it takes to get invited back again and again? Perhaps you do — but only if you’re following these nonnegotiable rules of houseguest etiquette.

1. Arrive With a Gift

Your hosts have gone out of their way to prepare for your arrival — cleaning the house, making the beds, hiding their naughtiness — so the least you can do is arrive with a gift to show your gratitude. A bottle of wine is perfectly fine (and probably preferred), but you should know your audience before gifting booze. It’s embarrassing to give a bottle of alcohol to a recovering alcoholic. If you’re unsure of the hosts’ imbibing status, opt for something non-offensive like a basket of pastas and sauces or a sampler of jams. (See also: 5 Classy Gift Ideas for Any Time of Year)

2. Buy Your Own Groceries

When I’m staying with friends or family, I buy my own groceries for two reasons: 1) I’m a picky eater, so it’s unlikely that they’ll have much that I like, and 2) It’s rude to eat your guests out of house and home. Once you’re settled, ask where the nearest market is. Schedule some time to stop by and pick up your favorite foods and fridge essentials, like bacon, eggs, bread, lunchmeat, etc. Not only will you save money because you won’t have to eat out every meal, but your hosts will appreciate the gesture — especially when you’re gone and the leftovers are all theirs.

3. Conserve Linens and Towels

At home, I use only one towel a week. When I’m done drying off after a shower, I hang it on the back of the bathroom door so it can dry properly. When I’m traveling, I do the same. A good host will provide you with a towel or two, which is plenty, so don’t abuse it. If you think you’ll need more towels, plan ahead; pack a towel of your own so you can have what you need. As beach towels go, I always pack one from home. I can’t be sure that my hosts will have the kind of beach towel I like, so it’s best to come prepared.

4. Ask About House Rules

When guests come to my home I have three rules: 1) Don’t get locked up, 2) Don’t get locked out, and 3) Don’t burn the place down. Otherwise, my guests are free to come and go as they please and make themselves at home. However, not every host is as lax as I am. Some don’t want you making a frozen pizza at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night when you’ve just come home from the bar. To avoid offending your hosts, ask about general policies and rules. Should the door be locked when you leave? Is it OK to put silverware in the dishwasher? Would you like me to let the dog out if you’re not home? Most people have certain ways they like and do things, so it’s best to ask before you step on any toes.

5. Give the Host Personal Space

While your hosts are happy to see you (hopefully), they don’t want to spend every minute of every day with you. Respect that. Ask them all about their lovely city, but plan to do most things by yourself or with whom you’re traveling. It’s certainly OK to invite your hosts to join you on your excursions, but don’t expect it. Chances are they have to work and other obligations to tend to during all or part of your stay — you’re on vacation; they’re not — so don’t be bummed out if they’re not available. Personally, I enjoy the time alone to explore a new place — nobody nagging about how much walking they have to do, nobody complaining about how hot it is, and nobody interrupting your afternoon because they MUST find a gym to fit in a midday run. I won’t name the person who’s guilty of that last one, but I might be married to him.

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6. Lend a Hand Where Necessary

Is your host slaving away in the kitchen preparing a delicious feast? Ask if he or she needs a hand. Does the dog need a walk? Volunteer to take the pooch for a stroll. Does somebody need to go on a beer run? Offer your excellent (and sober) driving skills to accomplish the task. Whatever the case, let your guests know that you’re happy to help out where you can. They might say no the first or second time out of politeness, but eventually they’ll want to pawn off some of their chores on you. And you should be happy about it — because you could be spending an arm and a leg for a hotel, but you’re not.

7. Keep Common Areas Clean

My biggest pet peeve when hosting guests is crumbs on the counter. It drives me bonkers. Mind your Ps and Qs when staying with friends and family. Whatever you would do in your own home, don’t do it at your hosts’ home. Put the toilet seat down. Wash your dishes by hand or put them in the dishwasher. Make the bed. Turn out the lights when you leave a room. There’s nothing worse than following guests around the house, picking up after them. Your hosts probably won’t say anything to you regarding your messiness or lack of consideration, but you can be sure that you won’t be invited back because of it.

8. Treat the Hosts to a Nice Meal

If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, prepare your signature dish (and wash the dishes afterward). If you’re not so hot at culinary art, ask your hosts what their favorite restaurant is and treat them to a nice meal. This is a time when you can all be at the same place at the same time to catch up. Conflicting schedules considered, this might be the only chance you have.

9. Strip Your Bed Upon Departure

Do your hosts a favor and strip the linens and place everything — including your dirty towels — in a pile. It’ll save them a few minutes of work when they have to spend an hour or so washing, drying, and remaking the bed. However, I would ask the hosts if they’d like you to do this first. Some hosts don’t want you removing the linens because they don’t want you to see the completely normal and acceptable stains (sweat, urine, etc.) on the mattress and pillows. Because, even though these stains and normal and acceptable (are you going to buy a new mattress every time your dog pees on it? I don’t think so.), it may cause the host unnecessary embarrassment — and you definitely don’t want to do that.

10. Leave a Parting Gift

During your stay you should’ve gotten a good sense of what your hosts want, like, or need. Use this information to purchase a small parting gift that shows your gratitude and decency as a human being. The last time I stayed with friends, I left a half-dozen freshly baked cookies from a great restaurant in the area. Whether they liked them or not, I don’t know — but it’s the thought that counts in this case.

11. Send a Thank-You Note

Once you’ve returned home, make it a point to reach out one more time to let your hosts know how much you appreciate their hospitality. They didn’t have to host you. They could have made up a million and one excuses why they didn’t have room for you. That they opened their home to you says something — they wanted to host you, and you should make one lasting impression to ensure that they view you the way they should, as a thankful and appreciative guest. A quick note that expresses your gratitude will suffice — if only so you have someplace to call home next time you’re in town.

Have tips on how to be a great houseguest? Let me know in the comments below.

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23 discussions

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Kentin Waits's picture

Excellent article -- good to see some of the finer points of etiquette discussed. It's a lost art!

Guest's picture

Great points here to consider when being a house guest. I make it a point to be as courteous as possible when staying somewhere even in a hotel room.

Guest's picture

Good tips, but they don't always apply when the house guests are family. When my mother visits she prefers to sleep on the pull out couch in the living/family room, rather than the guest room because she likes to be in the middle of it all. Then she has her suitcases, pills, clothes all over the place and to top it off, likes to sleep until 10:00am. It's hard to keep two kids quiet and out of the main play area while she sleeps. This is my favorite houseguest that I like to have visit, but I also like to see her go, especially now that she travels with her boyfriend.

Guest's picture

I am a bit freaked out by the idea that urine stains on a mattress, or worse yet, a pillow, are considered normal and acceptable to offer guests. I have two dogs and the thought of them peeing in my bed is a mind-blower.

I don't care if I'm staying there free or not, that's disgusting.

Mikey Rox's picture

Dogs have accidents. People sweat.

Guest's picture

And they both vomit. Would you sleep in that?

Mikey Rox's picture

Of course not. I'm not suggesting that people sleep in urine, sweat or vomit. I am saying, however, that these things happen from time to time - and even though they're properly cleaned, stains still persist... and that's perfectly normal. People don't buy new mattresses every time life happens. At least nobody I know.

Guest's picture

Good article and i agree with the information. On number 10 though, a parting gift should be more substantial than 6 cookies. If I just saved you $200.00 a night in hotel costs and you are in my home for a few days eating my food, using my vehicle, electricity etc., the gift should have a little more impact. For instance on my last stay with friends, we treated them to a broadway show and a nice dinner on the town. Guaranteed we will be welcomed back, and have been. For 6 cookies, I will let you know what hotels are nice to stay at next time you come to town. People often underestimate what a host goes through to put up someone for a few days to a week. Its a lot of time, money, energy and hopefully joy!

Guest's picture

I agree with you. I have someone that is my significants other's son who for the last four years shows up for weeks of a time and won't even buy a 12 pack of beer when he stays at my house not hers.... Its always when mom has opening day baseball tickets or play off tickets. We always argue about this to no avail. My daughter visits less often and she always treats us to a home cooked meal and a night out. At least I raised my daughter the right way.

Guest's picture

Well i don't want any cookie..The best gift they can do give is to just leave. But this Article was truly helpful.Since I feel uncomfortable talking about such issues i would definitely take some pointers from this to share with her..If this doesn't work..Well I guess bags have to be packed.

Guest's picture

both of your posts on this topic appear to be related to your feeling as though your guests are staying with you to save money on a hotel and you are doing them a favor by allowing them to stay in your home. A guest is a person who is invited. This should be because you want them in your home. Otherwise, they are a visitor. This article is about welcomed guests, not visitors who are looking to use your home as a place to stay.

Guest's picture

i think if you have arrive with a gift, make the hosts a meal, clean up after yourself, leave a departing gift, and follow up with a thnk you, you have truly showed gratitude and politeness. We just moved to Europe 7 months ago, and i have yet to have one guest do even three of those five things.

Guest's picture

I have someone that visits my house often. They will not even buy a bottle of wine but stay a week....

Guest's picture

The first thing I would add to this list is to ask them to leave their computer or cell phone in their car or then the bedroom!!!!! We have hundreds of guests a year in our home. One can't even visit with some of them since they are either texting, or then playing computer games, etc. RUDE_RUDE_RUDE!!!!

Guest's picture

I don't agree with making the bed, especially since it's in the guest room. The host shouldn't even go in there at all. The guest should have absolute privacy. Apart from that, it's a good article. You can't expect other people to live the way you do but you should expect them to respect you and your home! If you explain all the rules straight up, there shouldn't be any issues. :)

Guest's picture

Hmmm.. not all of these apply for every host. For example, it would kind of tick me off if a house guest bought their own food and made their own meals. I view meals as communal, and I pride myself on my cooking.

Same with the personal space. If you are coming to visit, you're coming to visit. Don't just use my house as a hotel and then see the sights without me. I would feel very used.

It's best to know each other and what to expect.

Guest's picture
tsk tsk

No one should have to be forced to eat what you cook, if you are really curteous and polite, you would respect their wishes.

This depends on the relationship, I feel sorry for those who visit your home. :(

Guest's picture

Great article! Now is it RUDE if I make a copy and set it on the bed of the room some REALLY rude guests will be staying this week? I have no choice but to put them up and its usually a nightmare- how do you tell people they suck politely?- lol!!!

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

There's no polite way to tell anybody they suck. But I've been known to pack up someone's things and put them outside. They usually get the point. :)

Guest's picture

It would be nice to include "At least offer to pay for gas".
I am currently hosting someone from abroad, staying for close to a month. She didn't bother to bring a gift, which I don't really mind. What I really do mind is she doesn't offer to pay for anything, gas, food, groceries etc. She would only pay for her own snacks/food. I live in California where currently the gas prices is $4.19/gal. I had to refill gas every 2-3days to bring her to places she wants to go, yet she doesn't bother to offer to pay even 50%. She has only been here for 1 week and my patience is running really thin. One week, I already spent 1 month's worth of gas money. I had to take a month off work so that I could bring her around. She's not appreciative at all, kept saying not interested in this, that etc. Geez, she's really making me regret agreeing to host her and I'm almost ready to tell her to pack up and live in a hotel.

Guest's picture

We are currently hosting my wfe's brother's family (5 people) from overseas. They have been here now for almost three weeks and I am going spare. They have completely taken over the house to the point where I and the children feel like the guests. And we pay for EVERYTHING. I should have guessed what was going to happen when I saw a charge of $600 on my credit card for theme park tickets. My wife has taken them out for dinner multiple times, always her (or rather me) paying. They have not bought any groceries or petrol. They have taken over the kitchen and only cook (with our food) what they want to eat. They treat us as taxis and want to be taken here and there. My children were originally excited to see their cousins but were disappointed to find that they had evolved into moody teenagers who ignore my children and spend all their time on their iphones and my computer. They never express any gratitude but are instead critical of everything. When we picked them up at the airport - 2 cars, 100 km roundtrip, my brother-in-law's only comment was that my wife's car could have been cleaner - and to prove his point he did clean it, making her feel guilty. They stayed in our new house and my brother-in-law went around and pointed out every "defect" to my wife, again making her feel guilty. I was doing some concreting work and he proceeded to take it over because he believed I did not know what I was doing. He then stuffed it up badly, blaming the cement because it is different overseas. We are getting our old house ready to be rented out and he took great pains to point out what a lousy job I had done with the painting. Over Christmas, my elderly mother hosted a party. They did not interact with any members of my family but instead spent time commenting on the condition of my mother's house. I arced up and now he completely ignores me. They leave tomorrow. I have refused to take them out anymore. My wife is caught in the middle as she said that in her culture, the hosts always pay for everything. However, I have made it clear that I do not want them back in my house.

Guest's picture

I see your point, but in my experience, I always pay a lump sum at the end of the visit to cover the host's expenses. I feel like it is a good way to end the visit. But I guess that might make the host feel the way you do, like I am not going to pay for anything during the stay. It's just that I feel it is over-doing it by offering to pay every time money is being spent during the visit ... that could be hundreds of offers and the hosts I stay with always politely say that it is not necessary and refuse to accept money! So I don't want to just go out an say "Oh ok but I will pay you before I leave." I just like to save it as a surprise at the departure. Is that wrong? What's a better way to do it??

Guest's picture

Do not ask the host to lend you their car. The last time I did, the car ended up totaled.

Also, when we are the guests, we always leave a few hundred dollars behind in a place the hosts will later discover it. It just makes me feel better to do so. After all, we have been using their gas, electricity, water, sewage, etc.