Modern Etiquette: Being a Gracious Host & Guest

Illustration by Anna Emilia

Today I’m absolutely thrilled to be launching a column that has been in the works and kicking around my mind for years now. Growing up in the South, the importance of etiquette was instilled in me pretty early on. What was proper, polite and appropriate varied from family to family, but the general concept seemed to exist in every household. Etiquette often gets a bad rap as some sort of right/wrong, holier-than-thou rulebook that exists to make people feel bad. But for me, etiquette has been just the opposite. I didn’t learn to appreciate this until I was much older, but the guidelines I got growing up gave me a sense of comfort and confidence that allowed me to feel at ease in almost any social situation and taught me how to do the same for others. For me, etiquette is all about learning simple tools and tips for making the people in your life (and your home) feel welcome, loved and comfortable. It is with that spirit that I’m launching Modern Etiquette, where we’ll be sharing ideas and having discussions about what the modern interpretation of any given situation will be. From polite email and blogging techniques to clever and inexpensive ways to host a dinner party, I’ll be delving into these subjects with the goal of making all of us feel more confident about our day-to-day exchanges and our abilities to comfort, welcome and care for the people in our lives.

After polling our editors and readers on Facebook and Twitter, the question that popped up the most revolved around house guests — how to welcome them and how to be a good one. So today I’m tackling this topic by sharing what I’ve learned (and experienced) so far and hoping that you’ll share your tips, too. This column is really about sharing perspectives, so I hope you’ll join me after the jump to offer your feedback. Whether it’s a horrible guest experience or little things you noticed after a particularly welcoming stay at someone’s home, I hope you’ll share your insight so we can all learn from each other. xo, grace

*If you have requests for column topics/quandaries, please leave them in the comment section below and I’ll get to them asap!

Read on for gracious host and house guest ideas (including products to give for hosts + guests) after the jump . . .

Being a Gracious Host & Guest

If there’s one thing I appreciate most and strive for in my traveling life, it’s feeling welcome in a friend’s home. During the D*S Book Tour, when we felt the most run down, it was our friends and family in other states who took care of us and made us feel relaxed and comforted. What they did wasn’t expensive and didn’t take much time, but it made all the difference in the world. The goal was to add small touches that let us know they cared, while striking a balance between alone time and connecting time that made us feel comfortable. Let’s break down the basics:

Being a Gracious Host

The goal is to make your guests feel welcomed and comforted and like they have space to be on their own as well as ways to connect and be involved with your household. Here are go-to’s for welcoming any guest:

  • Pre-visit: Two days before a visit, I like to do a deep clean around the house, do laundry and stock up on essentials like toilet paper, paper towels and tissues. The extra day ahead of their arrival allows time for laundry delays, etc.
  • Basic Information: I always email and text my address, phone number, transportation information and my Wifi network and password two days before someone arrives. That way they have two ways to find their way to your home without getting lost.
  • Key Copies: Having a copy of the keys for your guest is always nice. It allows them to come and go as they please. I like to attach a little card with suggestions for places in the area to get coffee, shop, find transportation and eat.
  • Where to Sleep: I don’t have a guest room in my home, so my rule of thumb is to always let guests have my bedroom. For a night or two, I don’t mind taking the couch, so when in doubt, open up your (cleaned, with fresh linens) bedroom to guests if possible.
  • Bedside: Nothing makes guests feel more welcomed than having a few creature comforts. In addition to freshly changed sheets (which I like to spray with a mild scented linen spray) I like to provide: books/magazines, a carafe/bottle of water, a candle and matches, tissues, a tiny plant or flower arrangement, travel lotion and lip balm, a little snack (I like something location specific like Brooklyn-made chocolates or mints) and an extra blanket.
  • Bathroom: In addition to a freshly cleaned bathroom, I like to provide a stack of clean towels, washcloths and a toothbrush for guests. I put the toothbrush and a travel-sized toothpaste in a clean glass on the counter so they have a little landing space for their toiletries. (Amy’s sister keeps a drawer full of travel-sized beauty products and disposable razors for guests.)
  • Food: As much as I like to cook, I hate having to dirty the kitchen with a ton of dishes when someone’s visiting. So to cut down on cooking/cleaning stress, I like to make some simple recipes ahead of time that keep well in the fridge. Slow cooker chili and pasta salad are my faves. You can easily label and serve them (or let your guests have them when they want) as an easy meal.
  • Saying Goodbye: As polite as it is for them to offer, I always make sure I change the bed sheets and towels after they leave. (Though it’s nice for guests to stack their dirty sheets or towels if they have the time so it makes cleanup easier.)
  • After They’re Gone: I think it’s nice to follow up with an email, letter or text to let your guest know how much you enjoyed having them.


Image above: 1. DIY Key Tassels & Poms | 2. Mint Toothpaste $6.50 | 3. Organic Travel Shampoo $12 | 4. Mast Brothers Chocolate Bars $10 | 5. Fillable Toiletry Bag $12.50 (Fill with your own products to save money) | 6. Air & Linen Spray $16.95 | 7. Catbird Travel Candles $12 | 8. Polka Dot Bath Towel $78 | 9. Cotton Washcloth $8 | 10. Guest Toothbrushes $12.50

Being a Gracious Guest

Being a gracious guest is all about cleaning up after yourself and helping your host whenever possible. While the southerner in me insists on doing everything for a guest, it’s always appreciated when a guest offers to help out when they can. The main thing to remember is to be as tidy as you can and follow up with a thank you.

  • Pre-arrival: Sending your host your arrival information is always helpful. That way they can track your train/plane if you’re delayed and can’t update them. It also gives them a good idea of when to prepare for your arrival.
  • To Bring with You: I think a host/hostess gift of some sort is a must. It can be something as simple as flowers, a small house plant or a bottle of wine or, if you don’t want to carry something, an offer to take them out for a meal or activity. If these are too costly, simply cooking a meal at home and doing the dishes is a good option.
  • Around the House: Tidying up after yourself is a must. Doing your own dishes, making your bed and wiping down the counter or mirror after using the shower is always helpful.
  • Can’t Find It? This is the easiest way to avoid awkwardness. If you can’t find something or need something, just ASK. Poking around someone’s home looking for something can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable situations, so when in doubt, just ask your host.
  • Visitors: I personally don’t love having a ton of people at my home if I already have one guest there (my space is TEENY). But if you plan on having people join you — even for a bit — give your guest a head’s up to see if it’s ok. I think it’s most polite to meet others outside of your host’s home when possible, especially if they’re not a mutual friend.
  • Making Plans: If you have a schedule while you’re in town, let your host know. It helps them plan around your needs and know if they need to cook/provide for you or others.
  • When You Leave: When possible, it’s always a huge help when a guest starts the cleanup process. Stripping your bed sheets, stacking dirty towels and consolidating them in one space (or dropping them in a hamper or washer) is great. Just ask your host what’s most helpful for them.
  • Once You’re Home: A thank you note, call or email is a must. Letting someone know you appreciate their hospitality always goes far in being welcomed back again and again.


Image above: 1. Succulent Garden $19.99 | 2. Brooklyn Wines $29 | 3. Rifle Co. Thank You Card $4.50

These are the tips I’ve always followed, but what are your favorite musts, do’s and don’ts? I’m dying to hear both ends of the spectrum: nightmare visits and trips where you felt as welcomed as family.

  1. Lucille says:

    I have invited a college friend to visit at Christmas. Our family and extended family get together for dinner and share gifts on Christmas Day. I don’t want my friend to feel left out. What should I do?

  2. Betsy Bowers says:

    One thing you can do is let your friend/and family members know this tradition so they aren’t caught of guard. Put yourselves in their shoes. That always helps me in situations like that.

  3. Julie says:

    When a former resident comes in from out of town with less than a month’s warning, who should shoulder the burden of driving further, compromising on meal/drink meets?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      What do you mean by former resident? A friend? I’m not sure I understand the situation- could you explain who this is and what these meetings are?


  4. Angie says:

    I often stay at my sisters home when I travel. I usually buy groceries and necessities that we use to replace what we are using because I know money is tight for them, but she gets upset because she says I’m not your charity case! What is the proper etiquette? I don’t want them to feel that but I know they don’t have the extra money?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I think perhaps instead of re-buying these things, maybe you could treat them to a meal when you’re there? That’s a very common ‘thank you’ and perhaps won’t feel as much like a “charity chase” situation to your sister? I would honestly sit down and talk with her, thank her for being such a gracious host, and ask what is the best way for you to repay their kindness? Perhaps they’d appreciate help in another area/way.


      1. Angie says:

        I actually have been cooking and baking while I have been here. I told her that I know how hard it can be with 5 mouths to feed and adding 2 more can stretch you pretty thin. She said when they visit us they never have to want for anything, so it should be the same there. But I know financially we are in a better place. But I don’t want to verbalize something she already knows. I don’t know what to say.

        1. Grace Bonney says:


          I wouldn’t say anything that sounds demeaning or makes assumptions about her finances. It sounds like she made it clear that they’re fine. I would still offer to take them out or make a meal when you’re in town, but I don’t think you should say anything that would feel offensive to her.


  5. Love this post! It was very useful for me during the holidays, because I had a lot of guests this time. All the tips and ideas for being a good host were very helpful and gave me great ideas for cleaning and preparing the house for my guests. Thank you for sharing all this great stuff! Greets, Diana

  6. Alex says:

    Loved this post. As I lay in my bed when I should be sleeping… I am writing a list of everything I need to get taken of before my boyfriend’s 3 best friends from college get here in the morning. We have a guestroom and an air mattress Any other suggestions for this is a first type of guest I will be hosting to this weekend!

  7. Dana says:

    If guests don’t make their bed, is it polite of me to make their bed while they’re out? Or would that seem like nudging them to be neater?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Are they b&b guests or home/friend guests? In the case of the former, I think it’s ok (and would be seen as room service). In the case of the latter, it may seem like nudging, so I would let them leave it as-is (you can definitely request they strip the bed when they leave).


  8. Mel says:

    What is proper etiquette in this situation?
    We have stayed with a sibling before and her guest bed was awful! (I almost slept on a rug on the concrete floor because it was that bad!). Now she has invited us to stay with her again. How do we ask if she’s gotten a new bed without sounding rude? Or decline her offer and stay with another sibling without offending her?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I think you nailed it with your last sentence. I would just stay with another sibling and leave it at that. If they press you why, you can mention that that particular bed hurts your back, but if there’s another place to stay, I’d just go with that option.


  9. Norma Leigh says:

    I’m having my long distance beau of three years over for two weeks. He travels constantly and this will be by far the longest we’ve spent together consecutively. . I’m thrilled and terrified at the same time. I want to make everything perfect. But I’ve never exactly been Suzie Homemaker.. Please help!


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