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.


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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.

Rose Duggan

I love those Rifle Co. thank you cards, they’re so gorgeous. Thanks for this post, I hate having that anxious feeling that you weren’t the best host/guest you could have been.


Love this! I always make sure there’s a nice bottled water on the bedside table along with a fun little book about dream interpretations.


I think that this is a brilliant addition to D*S. I have tons of guests every summer here
I think one of the most important things in being good hostess is to be very flexible and zen when guests are staying with you {especially in a foreign country on vacation}. Most of our guests are very easy and helpful and fun, but every year I have one very difficult guest. Last year was not exception. No surprise that this was a young person who probably did not understand the rules above, or perhaps had never been taught the importance of being a good guest by his parents, it was a nightmare he could not have left soon enough. I have found over the years less is more so if a guest asks to stay with you, make sure you limit their stay to 2 nights if a. you don’t know them well. or b. you think that they are going to be difficult. Most of my girlfriends can stay with me for weeks they are so awesome. Over the years I have learned the rules of being a good host is to know your limits.


Thank you for starting this column– I’m excited to see what you have planned for the future :)

One small gesture that I always appreciate is a bottle or pitcher of water by the bedside. It circumvents a midnight trip to an unfamiliar kitchen

Karen E

A much-needed column. When I first got out of college and started living in the real world, I pored over many etiquette books and read from cover to cover everything by Emily Post and Miss Manners. One of the world’s best posts on thank-you notes — exactly how to write them, sentence by sentence — is from The Morning News. It is a classic from 2003 and it’s right here:

Jim Warren

We always place a couple of bottles of nice water in the bathroom for those that may need a sip in the middle of the night. As you mentioned, we keep ample travel size toiletries well organized in a drawer in the bathroom as well, including antacids, aspirin and ALEVE, hand and body lotion, a small manicure set, and some seasonal bulb flowers on the sink counter, just because everyone loves fresh flowers. And if we know our guest and their ‘druthers, we always keep their favorite softdrink/juice, etc. ready for them.


Grace, THANK YOU for this column. Being a Southerner myself, I constantly feel the desire to show other people respect in an etiquette sense, but find our modern situations make it complicated more often than not. Emily Post just can’t quite cover everything for the modern woman ;)

Grace Bonney


aspirin/advil is a great idea. i feel bad asking for that in someone’s home because it always leads to them thinking i’m sick or upset, so it would be nice to be able to take it without causing anyone concern :)



I love this column, Grace! We live in Athens, GA and always have visitors at our house throughout the year, especially during football season. I love all of your tips and agree 100%. I received a written thank you note from a gal pal after a stay last fall, and I thought that was the sweetest thing. People don’t WRITE thank you notes anymore! I am always a fan of snail mail — for me and for others — just to say “thanks.”


great idea! looking forward to seeing this column evolve. i also come from the south(west) and feel that etiquette/graciousness is sometimes lost on new yorkers. i would love to see a post about thank you notes, especially in this digital age.


This has been so helpful, I love this new column and look forward to posts in the future!


Looks like a lot of hard work just paid off! Congrats on the launch! Very happy for you and looking forward to more to come from this column.


I adore this series Grace! Being a Georgia peach myself, this topic is close to my heart. Some other recipes I like to make ahead are banana bread, gazpacho soup and “Georgia caviar” for snacking.

Alice G Patterson

I’m a fairly new first time home owner, so I really appreciated reading this. I particularly like your suggestions of a snack being handy.


Love this column, but I think the level of etiquette depends on the relationship. I have friends who’d feel bad & uncomfortable if I went out of my way to do all of the above (e.g. , giving up my (and my spouse’s) bed, providing lip balm, etc.) and, conversely, I might feel resentment if I felt internal pressure to be such a perfect hostess and have everything lined up. My friends know they’re welcome to crash anytime, and they can help me cook dinner. ;)

On the other hand, for my in-laws, definitely, roll out that red carpet and Uggs guest slippers. :)


I’m from Boston and now live in Memphis. My feathers are a little ruffled that you think southerners are more polite. In my experience they like to think they are. Take the woman in the check-out line who is being all friendly and chatty with the cashier (a stranger) because it would be rude not to chat, right? While the line behind her is getting longer and longer. Just because you say “Yes, Sir”, doesn’t make you better at etiquette. Northerners send thank-you notes too.


Great column. Looking forward to future posts. I also like to leave some type of pre-packaged snack (granola bars, crackers, pretzels) in a basket on my kitchen counter/table so guests can help themselves to snacks.


I love this column! I’m not a southerner, but I have always been obsessed with etiquette books, it’s so fascinating to see the ways manners evolve or stay the same. Plus, there are so many nice stationery items that come with formal etiquette that it ought to make a comeback. I think a great feature would also be comparing the little differences between good etiquette in America versus some other cultures.

Grace Bonney


I never said or implied Southerners are more polite. I mentioned that it was drilled into me growing up there.



this column is a great idea! I feel like we always have guests coming and going at our home, and have had our fair share of good and bad ones.
Our favorite guests have been some friends-of friends that I didn’t know very well, but one thing they did that was so considerate: they took some time on their own, away from us, every day. This gave everyone a little breathing space – something both hosts and guests need on a visit!

Justine Navarro

I LOVE this new column!
Etiquette is something that I think our culture/generation is really lacking these days. I would love to see a similar column on dinners and parties.
I have a friend who, when invited over for dinner, always takes the initiative to start doing the dishes right after dinner (which I would be happy to leave until they’ve gone home). I love that!
On the other end of the spectrum with parties: I would never tell guests it’s time to leave if it’s getting late, but I feel that when I start cleaning up, doing dishes, sweeping, and putting the rooms back the way they were, that’s a very clear sign that it is definitely getting late! I have another set of friends who always ignore these cues and stay until I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to say goodbye.

Joyce M

I love the idea of leaving a book about dream interpretations on the bedside, Kim!
I’ll sure enjoy this column, as I’m really nervous about hosting or being a guest. I’m always unconfortable on both situations!


Love this column! I agree with the notes about meeting up with friends, the worst guest experiences I’ve had were when strangers got invited over to my place, so awkward in a small apartment. I slightly disagree with stripping the bed. For some reason I find it uncomfortable for my guests to see the bare mattress, even though it’s a nice one! The room looks so much prettier with the sheets on the bed, just leave them there and I’ll deal with it after you leave!


This will be a fun column to read. Thanks for adding it to the site. I have a pet peeve about some guests but don’t think it’s polite to mention it to them so I stew about it. Should let it go–there are more important things to do with mental energy–’s guests who keep the guest room a mess when they stay. They don’t make the carefully dressed bed, leave clothes on the floor and clutter the loving styling I’ve done to the desk and nightstands. I guess if it doesn’t bother them I shouldn’t ruminate over it but, ahem, I was trying to create a tranquil place for them.


To be a good guest, ask/observe if the host wears shoes in the house. We don’t, and it drives me nuts when my parents walk across my floors with their outside shoes on. I’d never demand shoe removal though, but it really irks me.


You forgot to mention the most important guest etiquette there is… ask if you can stay (in the first place).


Can’t wait to read the new column. I DO have some etiquette questions for you:
-Leaving weddings early feels disrespectful but I feel like many weddings today run way later than I’d like. Is it horrible to leave early? How early is ok? After the cake?
-I always love posts on what to wear to different occasions.
– I love meal trees for new moms etc. Can you recommend good dishes that travel well and are generally liked when you’re cooking for someone’s family?
-When we leave town our friends are nice enough to dog sit. I always return the favor. What are the acceptable parameters of length and duty to ask of a non-professional (volunteering friend) house sitter and how to thank them appropriately?
-We’re taking an overseas flight with my 8 month old. I plan to make goodie bags for the people around us with a little letter from him, earplugs and candy. I know long flights with babies are horrible for everyone and I want to soften the blow to other passengers. Ideas for proper etiquette when traveling with a baby….or when confronted with a traveling baby?

Linda Briganti

Some light reading material and a good bedside light are a must in my opinion, it is not always easy to get to sleep, on the first night in an unfamiliar space.

Maggie SF

I love having guests in my teeny apartment. I have learned to be upfront at the beginning of the stay — people WANT to be “good guests” and so it helps to be honest and avoid awkwardness. For example, tell them what time you usually wake up and what your schedule is like, or tell them which dishes are for “everyday use” if you care about that stuff. I also make sure to leave my guest alone a little bit so they can have some privacy. My apartment is so small that it’s nice for me to leave for 20-30 minutes on an errand so they can have some peace and quiet, use the bathroom w/o feeling rushed, etc.

Grace — would love a future etiquette column on eating out with large groups of people!

Tiffany Rooprai

When we moved into our home I had, for the first time, a guest bedroom. How exciting. I thought of all the ways in which a stay at another home would make me feel more comfortable and designed the room around that. I’ve got a bookcase tucked into the corner with some quick-read stories, a few beloved childrens books (we have grandkids), and a design book for Just Looking. The room has a dresser for their things and a full size mirror as well as a place for make-up and good lighting for just that. Most importantly, however, was a light by the bedside that had a dimmer switch. I find that staying in another home, I get disoriented or cannot fall asleep right away. Wanting to be a good guest, I hate the idea of bright lighting spilling under the doorway indicating that I’m up way late into the night. A dimmer light allows me (and now my guests) to read until their heart’s content or keep a low light on to avoid bumps in the night. It’s right by the bedside, so they have enough light to read by or a little light to sleep by.

Zoe Jeanne

As as house guest, I think it’s important to be able to fly solo for a while. The worst house guest I ever had stayed for a week (too long) and whined when my boyfriend and I had to work and couldn’t entertain him all day. He had his own car and we lived in LA, where are a million things to do. I guess my point is, if you are staying with someone, don’t act as if they are on vacation too.


I like sending fun surveys out a few weeks before people visit. I’ll include questions about their favourite breakfast or tipple and also ideas for things we can do during their visit. That way I have a better idea of what they’re interested in and can book things in advance. Sometimes I’ll also include a small present, like a sleeping mask for the plane!


Love the new column idea. As a guest, I appreciate it when the host mentions the morning routine of the household: times the shower(s) are generally available, when breakfast is eaten, etc. That way, I know how to blend my routine in to theirs. I try to pass the same information on to my own guests.


Love this column! A question I have is how to deal with family who aren’t the greatest guests. For instance, I love my cousin and don’t get to see him often, but when he comes to town, we find it difficult to fully enjoy his stay (e.g., his last minute planning for visits, changing up his plans mid-visit on which days he’ll be with us, uncertainty about when we’ll connect, etc). I appreciate that he’s trying to be spontaneous while traveling, but it does feel like a burden when we don’t know what his plans are and accordingly have to be on our toes throughout his visit. I wish I could be more laid back but I also get annoyed feeling like a hotel at times. Any thoughts on this kind of situation and how to preserve relationships even when our friends and relations have different expectations than our own about guest/host protocol? I didn’t offer for my cousin to stay here for his upcoming trip and I’m nervous he’s going to ask to crash anyway last minute.. and feel guilty about the whole thing!


A welcome column!
I appreciate all your comments on guests and hosting.
One thing I would add: the best houseguest just pitches in and helps without asking “how can I help?”.
It is also considerate for a visitor’s arrival and departure times to fit in with our own family’s work/school routine, as much as possible. Late night arrivals, even for a most welcome guest, can be disruptive.
One visitor who stayed with us sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers as a thank you AFTER she had left and I thought that was a lovely hostess present as well as a delightful surprise.

I look forward to reading more of your etiquette columns.


I love reading about etiquette. Everyone has her own opinion, and I enjoy hearing them all!

One question about thank you notes: I always leave a thank you note on the bedside table when I am leaving someone’s house. It’s just something I’ve always done, but now I’m thinking- is this odd? Should I mail my thanks instead? I just like to write the thank you card the night before I leave so I’m able to remember specific things about my trip.

Erin Austen Abbott

This new column is so fantastic!! What a great way to kick off a new year. I look forward to many posts on the subject… My Southern soul is warmed Grace. Thank you. XO!


Most of this should be common sense, but some of it seems a bit overbearing. If someone Texts AND emails the same info, I’d roll my eyes and assume they think I’m a complete flake. A huge amount of “comforts” on the nightstand seems borders on the “look at me, I’m such a good a host”. Personally, my guests are friends whom I don’t need to impress, and who would find several of these gestures a bit awkward.

Grace Bonney


This column (and the suggestions) are merely meant as guidelines, which you can customize as you see fit. For example, I would do different things for my Mom visiting than a friend from college. It’s all about customizing things to suit that particular guest’s need. If your guests don’t want things by the bed, you don’t need to do that. But I would wager that most people don’t mind some water and a magazine.



I will add to the chorus of praise for this new column. Another southerner here, as well.

I really like your idea of a hostess gift being, at the very least, a cooked meal with clean dishes. What a great idea for those who maybe can’t afford a formal gift.

I would like to second Starkville’s comment about shoes in the house. We don’t wear shoes either, but I also don’t feel comfortable asking people to take them off. When I traveled to my husband’s home country I was amazed when we’d go to friends/family’s houses and there would be slippers by the door for guests! I loved that! They weren’t fancy or anything, but it was nice to have the option of walking in slippers instead of my socks.


What a great idea for a column! I was both the worst hostess and had the worst guest last fall. A friend of a friend came to stay for what I thought was a weekend, but it turned into a week.

Right before she arrived, my boyfriend left me and moved out, so I was pretty much a grief puddle with no linens, no amenities, and no patience. I was met with very little understanding, and combined with a language barrier, I eventually snapped and told her to get her own sheets or find a hostel. Ugh. Luckily we eventually got friendly over a few beers, but that was a LONG week.

After that I’m a little put off by the idea of hosting, but since I’ve settled into a new routine I think I can take these tips and try again!

Alison Burtt

I grew up in California and etiquette was a big deal at home. I think it’s wonderful that you’re doing this series!

Grace Bonney


That’s a great idea. I’ve always wanted to do that rule in my house but always feel weird asking people. Maybe inexpensive socks would be a good option for guests? I think having some option is extra nice if that rule is in effect.

Grace :)


One of the things I loved about growing up in New England was that things were very proper in an oddly frugal and down-to-earth way. I miss that, often. When someone goes out of their way to make me feel comfortable, it’s amazing. It helps so much and means so much. It’s so memorable and amazing. But, it’s also such a treat to prepare for a visit from someone…it feels good to do things for other people.

I loved hearing the story behind this new series, and congratulations on bringing your longtime concept into reality! I like the way it fits in with the other series on d*s. It’s always interesting to see new topics and projects emerge, here.

ps. the illustration is super!


I am a New Englander living un Spain. Etiquette was always of great importance in my mother’s home and is in mine as well. This column is a great idea! I like to leave a case of earplugs on the bedside table. Nothing worse then finding out your guest didn’t get a good night’s sleep because of some random sounds in a different country.


I think these tips are great, but disagree with not feeling comfortable asking people to remove their shoes in your home. If it makes you uncomfortable, why not ask politely for people to respect the rules of your home? In Asian cultures, shoes are not typically worn indoors, so, in my home at least, my husband’s relatives automatically remove their shoes without being asked. I usually have to remind others, but once they’ve been to my home a few times they should know the deal :)

Luisa Aldana

We have a guest room and plenty of visitors year round… some of our friends even call us “The Aldana Hostel”. We’ve had great friends who can be the most caring guests ever! (surprising me and my husband with dinner and cleaning after themselves), and we’ve even had the akward uncle who suggests we change the car we let him use, because he rathers SUVs… Sometimes a party of visitors arrives the next day after the other visitors left.
It can be exhausting having one visit after another. How can we “close” the Hostel temporarily to take a break without seeming unfriendly? We think we might seem rude to turn down friends requests to crash.


Love this column! I also love the idea about guest slippers. We don’t wear shoes in our home either and had a recent experience with guests not taking their shoes off. Long story short, our mostly white rug got covered in muddy footprints one night. That may have eliminated the problem.

@Lauren, I love the idea of goody bags for fellow travelers when traveling with an infant. I am dreading taking our new baby to see my husbands family on the west coast.


Oh this is a great column! I am inspired to be a better host!

I haven’t had a terrible guest in a long time but I’m wondering how you would address the situation if a guest is being inconsiderate of your home i.e, clothes on the floor, unmade bed, things all over the bathroom, dishes in the sink etc. I’ve had this situation in the past and felt the the best option was to just get through the visit and remember this in the event of a proposed future visit. It seems a bit ridiculous to have to ask a guest to be considerate of your home but also ridiculous to be a hostage in your own home. How would you recommend handling the situation?

Lydia Kuekes

Grace I LOVE this column idea! And I’m having an overnight guest tomorrow! What perfect timing.


We don’t have kids, but over the last few months have had friends with kids as both dinner and overnight guests. Sometimes there are things a kid does that are totally fine at home, but maybe not at another person’s home.

Example #1: Young children eating or drinking while wandering around the apt. I would prefer they don’t because its way easier to clean up crumbs and spills if they are in one location (which I have learned from experience!). It would be nice if the parent either instructed the child to stay at the table to eat or else asked if it would be ok to wander. If this doesn’t happen (which can especially be the case if adults are walking around minging and eating), I just say someting like, “We saved a spot at the table for your kids!”

Example #2: Jumping off furniture. I understand kids need to play, but please don’t assume it is ok for them to jump off my furniture just because you let them jump off your furniture in your own home. Some of the furniture in my home may not be as kid friendly as what you’ve got in yours. Parents: if you are not sure about furniture and jumping, just ask!

Example #3: Tolerable noise levels (from jumping and shouting, for example) in an apt or condo may be much lower than what is acceptable in a stand-alone home. Remember, your hosts still have to face their neighbors after you and your kids leave.


To GQ: You might consider taking it as a compliment when guests are messy in the guest room (though when the “room” is a public space it should be cleaned up each morning). That probably means they are comfortable with you and not worried you are going to see their room and be seething or find them to be ungrateful!

Re: shoes being removed, as a shoe-non-remover, it really doesn’t cross my mind to remove my shoes unless there is a pile of shoes at the door, and to be totally frank, I find it annoying to remove my shoes (especially if there’s no carpeting!) That said, I would much rather be asked to take off my shoes than have my host be secretly mad that I haven’t taken them off because I hadn’t realized I was supposed to. I think providing slippers or those cushy fuzzy socks is a lovely gesture to acknowledge the slight inconvenience (and gives you a way to say it politely).


This new column is great. I was taught nothing about hostessing or ettiquette. I’m learning by trial and error. Guidance and suggestions totally welcomed here!


I keep an extra alarm clock (and batteries), hair dryer, hand sanitizer, and charging station on/in the nightstand. If guests are coming through town for a purpose other than hanging out (i.e. we may not cross paths a lot), I put sticky notes on the kitchen cabinets so they don’t have to guess where we keep our glasses, plates, silverware, etc. I always let guest know that they don’t need to bring shampoo/conditioner, hair dryers or toothpaste. It saves them space in their suitcase and they don’t feel uncomfortable asking to borrow the item because I’ve already offered it.

And I always try to remember to explain how to work the shower on the “tour” of the apartment. It’s so easy to forget how odd your shower is since you use it everyday. Nothing more awkward than someone in a towel peeking their head out of the bathroom because they can’t figure out the shower (which happens every time I forgot to explain it).

L. R.

This is brilliant! I am a HUGE believer in etiquette as a means to make people feel more comfortable. But I do have a question perhaps you could help me with.

When we have guests in our home, I go to the trouble of doing the kinds of things you’ve listed above, but my husband doesn’t get it. Once, when his sister was coming for a visit, he suggested her friends who were joining her could just sleep on a mattress in our unfinished basement (really), and he’s also expressed that he doesn’t understand why sheets should be changed after someone’s slept on them only once (if we have two different guests coming on two different weekends, say). Help! What can I say to him to get at the root of WHY etiquette is so important? It’s not something I’ve been able to articulate, and I get the feeling that if he doesn’t expect people to do things for him when he’s a guest, he also thinks it’s okay to not do those things for others.

Any suggestions?


My mom always keeps a basket of travel-sized toiletry items/shampoos/aspirin/bandaids with a note attached that people should feel free to help themselves as they need it. I loved that touch–and it’s come in very handy now when I visit and am a guest there myself. :)

Also, as a parent of small children, I love it when my mom offers to stock up on appropriately sized diapers and baby food when we visit, so we’re not stuck trying to haul anything beyond what we need for the journey there.

My parents/in-laws and I also do reciprocal checks with each other for any staple food items that the guest would like to have on hand–a preferred cereal/beverage/sandwich condiment so we can have some of their favorites readily available when they arrive.


I loved this post and am very looking forward to the column, thank you!
I especially love the idea of written thank you notes.
As a Northern European I am not use to the idea of providing travel size beauty/hygiene products to my guests, and find it bit awkward that someone would be travelling without their own personal stuff, I wouldn’t for sure! Good tip tough, should start to stock up for emergencies/american guests… :)


A good idea: Create a guest book for your home. The front of the book should have your tips on local restaurants, sights, etc (you can also tuck in a map). The rest of the book can be filled with entries from your guests over the years with their own suggestions and stories of their time staying with you. My parents have a guest book at their cabin (which gets lots of visitors) and it is so fun to look back at the memories created there.


I’m not sure of a polite way of saying this, but I always like to leave some antacids/diarrhea medicine because I know that traveling can make people sick and it is embarrassing to ask your host for some! I put some travel-size bottles/packages in a nice basket by the bed.


As a non-southerner, I’ve used a lot of these ideas when we’d have guests stay over. I have always tried to make sure the creature comforts are available, especially since our guest stays normally happen when we’ve needed help with something (one friend stayed with us during a move, so the comforts were smaller, but still appreciated), or in an emergency situation (sudden snow storm with highway closings).
I have a set of things just for these times: travel hand lotions, guest towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste, etc (if I have women over, I sneak a few “feminine products” hidden in the bottom of the basket). Or I have some unique items to give these extra personality like our footed glasses and a carafe for water from a garage sale (these are gorgeous!).
Since we live on the main public transit in the area, I always have a $10 bus pass ready for them so they don’t feel stuck at our place, and if it doesn’t get used, I will use it too.


Great idea, Grace! I have a couple of additions to the wonderful array of suggestions already given. Because we are lucky enough to have a real guest room, we keep the door closed so that it is a “pet-free zone” for those guests who might be allergic to our 2 cats and 2 dogs. If we’re expecting guests, we ask if they have any food allergies (or food hatreds) so that meals can be planned accordingly. And a suggestion for those who don’t wear shoes inside: cheap throwaway slippers (like they give in hospitals) can be had in supply stores. Or the Dollar Store. And a realtor friend of mine uses those blue shoe covers (from a hospital supply place, I think). One more thing: both my SO and I like to read in bed, so consider putting a light on EACH side of the bed.


Wow, great column and great comments. I learned lots from both! I live in Western Canada, but I have a southern-raised mother in-law who lives in New England. So there, proof positive that I need all the help I can get from all you. One thing I’ve noticed as a guest in other people’s homes is that try as I might not to disrupt their routine, it’s just a fact of life. So because I know they are taking time from their daily lives to host me, I try try try to do something from their routine: can I walk the dog, fold some laundry, help in the garden, cook dinner? One of my favorite guests ever was someone who saw the mountain of clean, unfolded laundry in my house and, while I cooked dinner, she just folded everything for me while we chatted. Interesting side note: I had never met her before. She was the sister of an old friend. But after she had folded all our underwear, we certainly felt like fast friends!


Love this new column! Lots of good tips and ideas here. My mother is coming to stay with my husband and me for the first time and she is bringing a friend of hers that we don’t know very well. Thanks for the ideas to help my mom’s friend feel welcomed in our home.

Jamila S Tazewell

love it! i look fwd reading your modern approach to this very important and overlooked subject. also – can i just say wow i thought i was a pretty good hostess until i read your list! your guests must feel so special and welcomed… i have to step up my game. inspired… thanks Grace!


If at all possible, I have found that it is important for a guest room to have a bedside lamp as well as a clock!

The lamp can soften the room for them as they ready for sleep, and the clock can help a disoriented traveler discern what time of night it is, as well as when they might want to get up without disturbing their hosts (or to avoid oversleeping in a host’s home).

Great blog post, I look forward to more!


I can’t tell you how timely this is! I regularly host friends who come to town, one of whom is arriving in just a few days! Hosting is something I enjoy but I’m always looking for ideas to go the extra mile. This page has just been bookmarked. Seriously looking forward to more in this column.


Great idea! As another Southerner who has lived around the world and learned how different etiquette norms can be, perhaps you could also give tips for visiting other countries. For instance, in France and Germany you greet people when entering and exiting the elevator and offices… something I’d never done before but was actually quite nice.


What a great column! We live in a great city (NYC!) and are from Europe which means quite a lot of visitors. Our last horrible experience was when my 15 year-old cousin stayed with us for 2.5 weeks. We have a small apartment (and have 3 young children) and she was sleeping on the pull-out couch in the living room. She would never put the mattress back, spent the day in her T-shirt and underwear (my husband had to tell her to please wear shorts!), would whine when I did not act as a daily travel guide, never helped with any chores/tasks (laundry, cooking, clean-up, nothing!) and would leave the table without bringing anything to the dishwasher or putting it back in the fridge. We got no thank you from her or her family and while she did bring some gifts for the children, she expected us to take her out and pay for her activities and restaurant bills continuously. This was 1 year ago and I am still definitely irked about it!!!
On the other hand my parents-in-law were just staying with us for 3 weeks and I am having difficulty finding my footing again without their amazing thoughtfulness and help! :-)


I think that’s a really kind idea of Lauren’s but I would feel a bit uncomfortable being presented with such a goody bag on a plane – it’s inviting a rapport that’s not really required, some people can be difficult and might refuse the gift which would be awkward for Lauren. I recently flew from London to Cape Town and was directly behind a couple with an 8 month old and a toddler. Unfortunately both children cried for quite a while as they were trying to get to sleep and even more unfortunately the entertainment/headsets function and the reading lights were out of action in our part for the aircraft for the first couple of hours! However, I think everyone understands children can cry, the main thing was that the parents were incredibly diligent in trying everything they could to soothe the children, that’s as much as can be expected. International flights have headphones and the back of seat tv so Lauren shouldn’t worry about ear plugs. And, the noise of a crying child can carry beyond your immediate neighbours so you can’t worry about everyone! Plus, there will be so much baby stuff to carry on board there won’t be room to bring extras for other travellers!


I love reading these ideas. One change I make though is this: Since I do have a guest room for my visitors, I DO NOT want them to strip the bed for me. I like to do this at my leisure, maybe even a week later. I don’t want to have a pile of sheets etc. lumped on the floor. I don’t think all guests should automatically do this, but should ask the host first.


Great idea…I would add the simple addition of a few plug-in nightlights that go on as it gets dark in the bedroom, hall, and/or bathroom. It is easy to be disoriented in the middle of the night in a new house.
As a more mature person who happens to be engaged, I would be very interested in modern etiquette in planning a 2nd, very casual wedding. Specifically- it seems presumptive to “register” for gifts, but some guests might find it helpful- what is the status quo? Secondly- there are many young couples that invite us to their weddings, but we do not hang out with them at other times, so what is the best way to construct the guest list???


I can tell this column will be a regular read for me. Thanks!

One question I have is about whether or not it’s okay etiquette for guests to leave their toiletries on the counter in a shared bathroom (assuming a dedicated drawer or shelf space in the bathroom for guests is not possible). It’s awkward to tote stuff back and forth, but it seems just as awkward to leave personal stuff lying around.


Love this column! We’re Southerners by way of Charleston and Savannah, so we LOVE hospitality and making people feel welcome and special in our home.

I second all of your suggestions and would add:
1. I’m on the hunt for a couple bathrobes for guests. They take up too much suitcase space for guests to pack, but nice to give guests an option for covering up PJs quickly to come right in the kitchen in the morning.
2. For hosts, even if you don’t usually drink coffee or tea, figure out your guests’ caffeine of choice in the morning and stock it. Nothing fancy, but as a guest who likes coffee, it’s been awkward when my husband has had to wander out in a strange city for coffee for us (obviously if we were in NYC it wouldn’t be a big deal, but suburbs are tough).
3. Both parties: tune in. Guest – If you are visiting during the week and your host has a hectic work schedule, don’t jump in the only shower when you can tell your host is itching to get ready and get out the door (but is trying to be polite). If you’re on vacation, you can wait 15 minutes. Host – If you live in a real vacation city, recognize that your guests probably want to do their own thing/ have places they want to see that you’ve been 20 times. Let them! Conversely, if you live in a small town without a lot of tourist attractions, your guests are probably there for YOU more than the city. Suggest a movie, plan to go to a park, or something similar. Just sitting around the house for 3 days can get a little old!


I love having guest slippers at the door, but also think that in the event of a dinner or cocktail party either A) they should not be required or B) event guests should be told they will be required to remove their footwear. I recently went to a dinner party where everyone was told to remove their shoes… and rest assured, I would not have worn stockings and a skirt if I had known that was the case.

Thank you for starting this column. It is really extraordinary how we (as a culture) have forgotten basic civility. I look forward to reading more!

Ashley Johnson

Grace I think I would truly LOVE to be a guest at your house. You are so thoughtful and think of all of the wonderful little details (which I do myself but have never had anyone else do for me).

I would like to request part of a column dedicated to email etiquette. I seriously do not believe people have a clue. I am a person who loves hand written cards, notes and letters and have a real problem with the lack of thought people put into an email. I also get confused when to take offense by something or not when it is sent via email, as so much can get lost in that form of communication. Plus I have a father who is the WORST emailer in history and is constantly cc-ing everyone all the time.

Thanks Grace. You are precious.

Breanna Goodrow


I noticed the place setting in your article illustration was improper. Both fork and napkin are on the right instead of left, with knife not being blade inward and closest to the plate on the right. Though, perhaps I am unaware of a widely accepted modern place setting etiquette.

To explain- when I was very young, raised in Massachusetts, my mother made me take an etiquette class at the art museum and I’ve retained a few things. Though as a twenty-something in Portland, OR my interactions with others are entirely casual and my knowledge seems trivial… I bring this up because I am interested in etiquette in a modern context, seeing as place setting etiquette is often neglected at most resturaunts and homes of friends, and seems most prevalent as a nostalgic idea from my childhoods.

Or perhaps this note is too fussy and not casual enough for a modern etiquette column, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,
Breanna Goodrow


Lovely reminder, thank you.

I agree with the above, with some additions in my current almost guest-house role for people living in the country and passing through my town for work or transit:
1. Leave the sheets and towels attached to the guest room in the cupboard there, along with new toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap and point them out so that they can manage themselves if needed.
2. Show how washing machine works and note rules of appt building for hanging laundry.
3. They get keys and my schedule so they can be independent and we discuss a common time for a shared meal if that isn’t obvious (or indeed, to note that it won’t be possible)…I LOVE it when they say when they are planning to be in or out so that I can plan for it (make sure I’m appropriately dressed or have treats I know they like for a chat and a nibble)
4. Breakfast and other goods are shown and the not-for-now wine is kept in a less visible place than the daily stuff.
5. I have a book for the loaning of books. I know that I won’t get all back but it is a reminder and it seems to work for some.

I am renovating an old house in France, SLOWLY, and canvassed friends about their wishes for the guest rooms. They said:
– dark curtains so they can sleep regardless of the time of day
– a stock of classics, things they may have read before and may wish to dip into, in both primary languages
– a place to be able to write or sit and read away from the general throng (big house, so not too much to ask)
– maps and suggestions for restaurants. I will leave a house GPS with main restaurants, shops and tourist sites already saved, as well as HOME very clearly.

My parents and now friends instituted a scheme of a tree for the garden as a gift for those who use the house as a holiday destination. This is for people who would otherwise pay for a hotel. These can be small or large but they means that they feel OK about electricity and etc, as it is the rule of the house.

Friends also give the name of a cleaning lady for those who stay for a while when the house is normally empty, so that all can be put to rights. I VERY much appreciated knowing that I could go for an early flight without worrying about putting things back into perfect shape in the dark.

There is a trick to knowing how to make people feel comfortable. Somehow I think that giving the rules up front makes that easier. Finding a perfect house and not knowing about the shoe policy can be uncomfortable. Be clear, with a smile, and it works…or I prefer it, at least.

One of my more common guests used to leave me with a supply of smoked salmon and a bottle of champagne in the fridge after longer stays….he is sadly missed.

Grace Bonney


ha- i can’t believe i missed that! i hired a finnish artist to do this, so perhaps it was a change made based on european tradition? either way, i’ll try to have her update it ;)



This is a great idea! I have several regrets in the past about being a less-than-ideal house guest, mainly just because I was a traveling and broke 20-something and didn’t think I could afford to bring or leave a gift (I still did the dishes and cleaned up after myself at least!). I should have bought them a bottle of wine or something! I’d like to know, in that situation, if thank-you gifts, even years later, are appropriate? And what kind of gift? What if they live in a different city or country? For example, I would love to get something for family in London but have no clue what an appropriate gift would be.


Wow, what an amazing column and commentary! Love Amanda’s note to leave earplugs…

But I’m surprised no one has mentioned smoking. Whether host or guest, it’s very important to be clear about whether or not you or anyone will be smoking indoors, outdoors, nowhere in sight, etc. A friend of mine had plans for us to stay overnight with an old school chum and was told they didn’t smoke, but we arrived on a very late flight and this friend had taken up smoking…like a chimney. I couldn’t sleep all night and it was too late to find a hotel.

Likewise, let smokers know if they can’t smoke indoors, where they can. Too many smokers think an open door or window or the front step is okay, when often that smoke comes right in, but they just don’t know where to go, and might really crave a smoke after a stressful flight.


This is great. I’m especially intrigued by the comments re: shoe removal. I feel SO weird when someone asks me to take my shoes off at their house, as though they’re asking me to undress. (Once I’d put some foot powder on just before, and I felt so awkward being barefoot! A friend once told me she felt weird about mismatched socks.) And offering me your slippers, which I seriously doubt are washed between every wear? No thanks!

I think the only gracious way to handle this is to remove your shoes, and if the guest is comfortable doing so, they’ll follow your lead. Anything else feels really uncomfortable to me.

Anna H

What a wonderful idea! I love reading your tips as well as all the other comments! I was raised with a certain amount of knowing how to be a good guest but we rarely hosted so these tips are great to put in my arsenal.

I recently joined a Tea Society and I would like to know what the protocol is for giving hostess gifts, mainly, what makes good hostess gifts, when do you present them, etc. Also, I can’t always stay afterwards to help clean-up. Is there something else I can do to let the hostess know I appreciated the time and effort that went into the tea? We have a tea every month so I will be getting to know these ladies quite well. Is sending a thank you note every time overkill?

I’m also interested in the e-mail etiquette. I e-mail on a daily basis for work and I hate when I receive communications that are too informal or worse, in all CAPS. Oh how annoying that is because I feel like the person is yelling at me :)

I so look forward to reading this column. Thanks again!


@Angela I think if the host is opening their home up to guests, it’s important that people respect the rules of the house as long as they’re reasonable. It may be “awkward” for some guests, however, the host may have her own reasons for not wearing shoes in the house (allergies, cleanliness, new floors) and would ask people to respect that, much like a non-smoker would ask smokers to take it outside.


Living in Australia, we have the pleasure of entertaining plenty of house guests coming down under for a holiday. For me, culture plays a big role in my hostessing. American guests are often comfortable helping themselves to things from the refrigerator, or making their own plans and informing me of them. Our Dutch family, however, is much more formal and as a hostess I have to work much harder to make sure they feel taken care of. For them, it would be rude to initiate any eating or activities without my invitation. Over the years I have learned how to entertain both sides of our family by clearly stating how our household runs, and what can be expected. Culture is a huge component!


Before going to bed each night I get out the breakfast things and put them on the counter. That way if guests are up earlier than me they can help themselves (and I don’t feel compelled to get up at the crack of dawn just in case they can’t find the cornflakes!)


This column is a wonderful idea! Here’s a topic for future consideration–we recently moved into our first house, and I have no idea how to get to know my neighbors! They did not come knock on my door to say hello and welcome us, and now it’s been a few months and it feels quite awkward to go knocking on their doors. Is there something I can do–some little note or gift to introduce ourselves and open the lines of communication? I don’t need to be best friends with everyone around us, but it would be nice to be able to greet them by name. Any suggestions on neighborliness would be appreciated!


Along with so many others, I’m eagerly awaiting more posts in this column. The comment I relate to most is @Annette. Way up top–“know your limits.” Over the years I have hosted lots and lots of guests in my home, and they have ranged from lovely to horrible. These days I rarely agree to it. (Meaning only 2-3 times a year.) It’s so much work changing linens and accomodating folks. Don’t get me wrong; it can be very rewarding as well. It’s just good to know your limits. I would add for guests–it’s good to get out of the host’s space a bit on your own to give them some breathing space.

I would love advice on how to handle awkward conversations. For instance, how do you finesse those inappropriate personal questions? I seem to think of the perfect answer two days later.

Elle Falconer

This is a wonderful idea for a column, and so informative! Everything was right on point, and some things I never even considered like the copy of the keys? Amazing!


Great column! I second the request for a column about hostess gifts- what situations, when to give them, etc.

A tip that my dad told me about guest rooms, that I think is super smart: always spend the night in your own guest room! If you actually try out your own guest room, you will quickly find out what it’s like. I’ve stayed in guest rooms that have no counter space for toiletries because the hostess has decided to decorate within an inch of it’s life. The bathroom looks fabulous when no one is in there, but then there is no where to put my things that I travel with. She clearly didn’t think about it, because she hasn’t used it. Another thing, you find out very quickly that there isn’t any freaking light to do makeup in- a huge annoyance for me, because then I have to hog the bathroom so that I can see to do makeup, instead of doing it in my room. If you try out your own room, you will know if your guest bed needs a new mattress, or if your air vents rattle, or any of a million other annoyances.
So give your room a test run!


This is a great piece and I am excited to read more. I live in TN and also have a guest room, which is such a treat after years in a city apartment. I have two boxes with lids that I keep in the guest room. One has snacks, waters, chips, granola bars, etc for midnight munchies. One has a full variety of travel toiletries, toothbrush, sewing kit, mini hair dryer, antacid, advil, etc, q-tips, razors, lotion, etc. The whole shebang… basically anything that anybody might forget to bring. I just say, “Snacks and drinks are in this box, and a million toiletries are in this one, so just find whatever you need.” I do have to restock these boxes, so I know they get used.
I also don’t like it when guests strip the sheets. Just tidy up the bed a little and leave it at that. You are a guest, not a worker.
I don’t mind it at all when people ask me to remove my shoes, however I actually prefer to know ahead of time. I’d prefer to hear, “just a heads-up that we take our outdoor shoes off in the house, in case you want to bring your own slippers. We all have slippers/wear socks/whatever.”
Lastly, as someone who has many friends and family members who have allergies, I recommend that you not spray your sheets or burn incense or other scented candles when your guests are visiting. It can put them in the awkward position of having to ask you to either put the candles out, for example, or suffer through a night of sneezing and wheezing.
I also let folks know that I am a sound sleeper. I’ll say something like, “Feel free to stay up late or get up early, futz around the in kitchen or talk on your phone. It doesn’t bother me one bit and in fact only makes me feel cozy.” This always gets a smile and makes people feel at home.
Definitely have a set of keys for your guests… no need to hold them hostage to your schedule or make them root around under dirty bricks and flowerpots for your hidden spare.
I keep a local map and lists of my favorite stores/restaurants/parks on my computer and print out whenever I have guests. I also leave books, paper and pens, and plenty of surface area.
When I am a guest I find it uncomfortable when people have loads of family pictures and figurines or other fragile stuff on every surface. It makes me anxious that I will break something or not know where to put it back if I have to move it.
Enjoy your stay, y’all!

Amanda Brown @ Spruce

I absolutely love this column! I’ve been watching too many hours of Downton Abbey this weekend to admit publicly. I’ve been wondering how to infuse a little Crawley etiquette into my everyday, and here it is on Design*Sponge. Thanks for getting me started!


Wow, advance notice of having to remove your shoes at someone’s house? That seems a tad bit uptight and presumptuous to me. Guess I’ll be avoiding house guests in the future :)

Paper Friday

Such a lovely idea, and it is refreshing to know that you can still be a wonderful hostess even if you don’t have a spare bedroom! Loving all your suggestions xx


This is fantastic! Love it and your rules of etiquette are so spot on – perfect! As someone who hosts a lot of out-of-town guests, and has a young baby to boot, I would like to make a suggestion for the guest etiquette list if I may: Please also let your host know when you plan on leaving either before you arrive or, at the very least, when you arrive. It’s amazing how often we have guests (usually family) who don’t let you know how long they’ll be staying! As a hostess, I try to be gracious, of course, and roll with the punches, but it’s still stressful and a bit annoying to not know how long you’ll be making meals for/cleaning up after and just generally putting life on hold for your guests :) Thanks for the fantastic column!


SHOE REMOVAL: Please let people know ahead of time if you don’t allow shoes. As someone with bad feet, I HATE being asked to remove my shoes. I need the support, and I even wear special toe spacers (which would be impossible to wear outside shoes, and I can’t remove them when wearing tights in the winter). I have never been back to a house where I was required to remove my shoes.


@Lauren I guess you will never be visiting anyone who observes traditional Asian cultural practices because many do not allow outside shoes to be worn in the home.


Very excited to see the next edition of this column! Much needed and who better to kick it off than D*S? I would love to see more Modern Etiquette do’s and don’ts regarding social media sites and situations. I think this is an area that sadly most people are completely lost in. Thank you!


Gosh. You’ve received so many comments, it seems silly to leave another. Especially one not very original. Just want to add that I too really love the content of this new column. I think it’s what makes D*S great. Very pithy, useful articles


Towels. Always let guests know where spare towels are or put spares out for them. Also if it’s a shared bathroom, let guests know if your household hangs towels up for repeated use, and where they can hang theirs (or give them something to do this on in their sleeping area), or if towels go straight for laundering after one use.

I grew up in a family who had lots of guests, and I figured out early on that guests who never do anything to help, especially if they are there more than a couple of days and aren’t using your place as mainly for sleeping, is a pain. For my family, it was rude, given my mum had 4 kids and a billion things to do everyday. Try not to be a ‘drain’ on the energy of your hosts and give them some space.

With hosts/guests from different cultures, I think if a host or guest is unfamiliar with the culture, it’s useful to find out about etiquette of that culture beforehand, so you at least have a general idea of what they’re used to at home. It can help avoid big social faux pas, like wearing outdoor shoes inside or turning down food (it’s considered rude in many cultures – unless you’re allergic, just eat a little if you are not hungry).


What a great idea for a column! One thing that I would like to add – I always like it if there is a digital clock in the guest room, it means that if I wake up in the night I can check the time without having to fumble around for my phone/watch/iPod/whatever. I can’t wait to see what else you write about, really looking forward to it! :)

Marji @ Ashbee Design

This is an excellent column idea Grace and I love all of the comments that add value to it. What an informative read! I have several suggestions to add –
1. Power Strip with surge suppression. I have put one the the guest spaces in our home because everyone comes with a bizillion things needing charging. I don’t want them on my kitchen counters! I also pack one in my bag because even hotel rooms don’t seem to have enough convenient plugs for both my husband and me.
2. Soup! When entertaining overnight guests I always make a big pot of savory soup and have it available in the fridge. I tell the guests that it is their for them to help themselves whenever they are hungry. We generally eat around 8 PM and that is too late for many. They might have a bowl of soup at 5:30, or for lunch, or a late night snack. some have even chosen it as their breakfast. Here is a link to my post on one soup for company (with recipe!).

And weighing in on the changing of sheets – My opinion is based entirely on who the company is. I was visiting the ski home of my son-in-law’s family. Clearly, during the ski season this beautiful home is filled with revolving guests. The hostess put the next change of sheets in every bedroom and on your last day it was the guests’ responsibility to change the bed and bring the dirty linens to the laundry room. Such a smart solution for providing a way for everyone to help. Now, in my house, when the kids come home, I do the same thing. When they leave, there are clean sheets on the beds. It depends on each guest as to weather they get the sheets or not. As with all good rules, they are applied with consideration!


The other thing I like to do as a host is to give my guests a little snack bag as they leave. Not many people like airport food, or fast food if they are driving. So, if they are on a road trip, I send them off with scones, fruit, maybe some cheese & crackers if they have a little cooler. For people heading to the airport — some nuts, dried fruit, and maybe a fancy PB&J to hold them through the flight.


I really enjoyed this column. I hope some day you compile a book.

Modern Country Lady

I wish you column was read by one of my boyfriend’s cousins from New Zealand.She stayed with a friend , at my boyfriend’s mum’s house for more than 2 weeks, and as it was around Christmas, and sort of my turn that year, I cooked the Christmas dinner and had my boyfriend’s parents around, I invited the girls to the Christmas dinner as well ( AND bought them a present).
This is two years ago- and neither my boyfriend’s mum or me have ever heard from them again!! Not even to say they are still alive ( we know they are !! ).So just a note with thank you and we are OK and back home would just be nice… and they weren’t even teenagers but girls in their twenties..O boy! This column should be required reading, hahaha!


Everyone loves it when people get together and share ideas.
Great blog, stick with it!

Jennifer Navarro

I have a question about family coming over and bringing someone who is on their in law side. However, I know this person very little. Is it wrong to feel uncomfortable to have this other guest in my home alone if they decide not to partake in the family outside activities?

GA Peachy

No one ever discusses this, but bathroom situations can and have been nightmarish. Nothing is worse than realizing too late that there is no more toilet tissue around. It’s always nice to have some extra rolls and some air freshener in plain sight.

I have also been to houses with what I call “trick toilets.” Ones that require a handle jiggle or a slow flushing one that takes a certain amount of time to hold down the handle. I don’t care how friendly you are with the host or hostess, you do not want to have to ask for a plunger during your visit.

I’d say the #1 rule (and usually implied rule) is make sure your bathroom is in shipshape before guests arrive! :) If I wouldn’t want to be in a certain situation, I don’t put my guests in that situation.


Should a guest who stays in your house for multiple days offer to buy you dinner. Or should they just pay for their own expenses equally. For example, groceries for a cookout where the guest goes to the grocery store with you. Should you expect a guest to at least buy you a drink as a show of appreciation. Or should you expect no monetary show of appreciation on a verbal one?


I don’t care if he is my husband; I really don’t like the phrase dieting to lose fat.


I love this web site and it helped to settle a few issues in our home. I do have a question….is it polite for a guest to leave $$ on your kitchen counter and then follow it up with an e-mail that says it is for groceries or perhaps a new yard game? The guest was a relative.


Do you have any creative gift ideas for a cousin i stayed with in California for 9 weeks? He took 2 weeks off work and toured around with me along with several other days. It was the first time i had met him and we got along extremely well. I just wanted to thank him and his family with meaningful but grand gifts to let them know how much i appreciated their hospitality. I wanted to give the family something like a beach getaway weekend with his wife and 2 kids. I was also looking for other creative ideas. They are just starting to spend time together as husband and wife, and as a family so i thought of sending staggered gifts in the mail like a picnic basket, then candles for date night etc..


This is such a great post! Thank you! Love etiquette tips, keep them coming!


You actually make it appear so easy together with your presentation but
I find this topic to be actually one thing that I think I’d by
no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely
vast for me. I am taking a look forward to your next submit, I will attempt to
get the dangle of it!

LeAnn Davidson

I was recently a guest at my brother and sister in law home, along with my 83 years old mother and her 87 year old friend. My brother and husband went golfing, and the other 4 of us went to the casino. We had an early breakfast of scrambled eggs and a piece of toast, and when we arrived home from the casino, it had been over 5 hours since we had eaten. The boys were not back from playing golf. My sister in law wanted to wait to have lunch when the they arrived home, at least another hour, but I was hungry (so was my mother). My sister in law believes I was a rude house guests because we did not wait for the boys to eat a sit down meal together. I believe a hostess should feed her guests when they are hungry – Can you tell me what the proper etiquette is in this situation?

Grace Bonney


I agree- I think it’s best to feed your guests when they are hungry. That said, if she was planning a larger meal in only an hour, she could have provided a small snack to tide you over until the main meal, too.



I’d like to offer an idea for Cheryl who’s cousin indeed showed himself to be a very gracious host who has also recently married. This might take some extra effort to find but to my mind a thoughtful and unique offering. A compass. Not just any compass found at any sporting shop. A compass that is of art and workmanship. I found a beautiful one at a boutique that offered a selection of nautical type items. I gave one to my husband on our 24th anniversary as my gift to him as our family has traveled though out our beautiful country. If you find this to be unsuitable to your idea…maybe a small collectable globe. This will show your travels with your cousin will forever be a memorable time for all. Many thanks, Vanessa


I was recently a houseguest. She mentioned at breakfast that they were having some
friends in for lunch. I offered to come down early and help. However, I was told I wasn’t
invited, and it was suggested that I go out for a walk – hardly comfortable for me with two
bone on bone knees – very painful to walk – which was why I was there in the first place
prior to surgery. Am I right to feel offended?


@Barbara Wow, I would be completely offended. That was incredibly rude and insensitive. Regarding sheets and towels, I don’t like when guests take it upon themselves to strip the sheets or gather the (usually still wet) towels. I say leave them be. Chances are that I’m a little tired after hosting and may not feel like starting a bunch of laundry. I would much rather do it at my own pace.


Any etiquette rules on time zone changes/people being on different internal clocks? I live on the west coast and pretty much all of my guests are at least two hours ahead of me (central or eastern time zones). On top of that, I wake at arund 8 AM, while they might wake as early as 5 AM (their time). So I have guests going to bed at 6 PM my time, and waking at 3:30 AM my time. I feel badly, like they are waiting around, bored, while I sleep for hours. Then, when I wake up, they ate showers, ate breakfast, and are more than ready to go and I’m still in PJs and feel I need to wake earlier or hurry way up. And they are typically hungry for dinner mid afternoon. It’s steady, like I have to change schedules and have double the meals to make (ones for those of us west coasters, and those for visitors). What is the best way to handle this? I live in a vacation friendly area with year round nice weather, but live too far from attractions to walk or do much of anyrhing. I have frequent guests but this time zone thing is killing me and I have a toddler, who is difficult to keep quiet while guests are turning in at 6 PM ( and guests wake the baby and dog when they get up). What’s the best way to handle this? I being made to feel “lazy.”

Grace Bonney

hi mary

i think guests have the obligation to entertain themselves if they’re not on their host’s time. that said, it is incredibly kind and good host etiquette to think ahead and provide them with options like:

1. if you have an auto coffee machine, either show them how to use it the night before or set it’s timer so it’s ready for them at 5am when they’re up. the same with breakfast- either show them where to find food in the pantry to make or leave out things that are easy for them to eat, like a basket of muffins, bread, etc.

2. the attractions in your area are in your time zone, too- so they shouldn’t expect to enter those earlier or later than normal. i think it’s nice to not, say, sleep in until 10am when you have guests waking up at 5am, but it’s not too much to expect them to wait until 10am to leave and drive to whatever attractions they have planned.

in summary- just leave out things to make it easier for them to entertain themselves a bit. newspapers, magazines and books to read (or just explain how to turn the tv on, etc.) and leave food and coffee accessible for the morning.


game previews

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So many great comments and love the column! I am stymied on this issue though and could use some advice. My cousin is stopping by for a few days from overseas. Normally I would put everything on hold but we just saw him over New Year’s at his house. My husband and I have tickets to a Broadway play one of the three nights he is visiting. The show is sold out and we are going with another couple. Do we give up our tickets to be good hosts or leave him at home with the kids? Do I tell him in advance so he can make alternate plans? I am afraid it will make him feel unwelcome… help!

Grace Bonney

hi marina!

did you buy the tickets before knowing your cousin was visiting? if so, i think you’re fine to attend the show. but perhaps invite your cousin to meet up for dinner or drinks after the show? if not, it might be nice to gift (or sell) the tickets to someone else.

grace :)


I have a situation with my boyfriend. I usually spen the weekends with him and I showed up while his best friend wad there as they both did some clean up at my bf’s home. They were proud of themselves and showed me all that they accomplished.
However, my bf and I had plans to go get pizza and come back and relax. On our way out, his friend who is btw very high strung was having problems with his headlights going out on his truck. My bf looked for a possible cause and couldn’t find any. We decided to go get the puzza and come back since the pizza pave was getting ready to close.
Long story short, we came back and my bf offered his friend some pizza and we were all talking. However his friend is a talker and I was being polite and engaging in the conversation. I noticed my bf left the conversation and got on the computer, then went and took a shower. When he came back to us he asked his friend about looking at tge headlights and his friend asked for a ride home which my bf obliged.
Niw after droppung his friend off and I asked if we coud go to my house to let the dogs out, he mentioned it was already after midnight (I haf an oblugation at 7:00am) and he says ” well if you hadn’t talked to Les for 2 1/2 hours, we could have spent a few extra hours together. Needless to say, I am livid with him as I thought I was being polite as a guest and my argument is this is your housr, your friend, you should have interrupted us and suggest something.
He doesn’t see it tht way. He continues to blame me. This is Sunday as I write this and haven’tseen him since after midnight on Friday because I was offended and went home.
My question here is who is at fault here and whose responsibility is it to say something when its getting late?
Please advise.

Grace Bonney


I think if you visit him every weekend and this happened once, I would let it go. It sounds like the friend was helpful to him, although it would have been nice for your bf to acknowledge the experience wasn’t what either of you expected.



I have a situation. We had guests stay with us this weekend and when I went to “close-up” the house I noticed a HUGE stain on the coverlet of the bed they slept in. It went through all the way to the sheets and then they covered it up with the comforter so I wouldn’t notice. I want to ask my friend what the stain is so that I can get it cleaned but I think this may not be proper etiquette. What are your thoughts on this?

Grace Bonney


That is indeed unfortunate. I think I would let it ride though. It might cause embarrassment and if you can get the stain out, it may be best to just let this go. But if it’s a sign of other poor treatment of your house during their stay, perhaps the invite doesn’t get extended again.


Linda Magistro

Great article. I have a question. Do you know the term used when hosts and their family consciously eat less to make sure there is enough good for the guests? This usually occurs when it seems there is not enough food.

Amy Azzarito

Hi Linda –
I think you’re talking about FHB – Family Hold Back. The idea is that the family holds back so that the guests can eat their fill or have the choicest pieces of food. -Amy


I was very happy to have stumbled across this blog on the Internet. I hoping to get some feed back that will help both my sister and myself.

We are in our sixties. We live about 600 miles from our brother. He and his wife have been invited year after year to either my home or my sister’s home for Thanksgiving. We spend a lot of time preparing for the dinner that many of our friends and family attend. We prepare a special area for our brother and his wife to stay while visiting. The problem is, they show up the night before Thanksgiving and either leave the evening of Thanksgiving or early the next morning.

We always look forward to their visit, but are hurt that they don’t stay long enough to visit with us. After dinner and dishes we now have the time to spend quality time with them, but they are packing up preparing to leave.

This year we have tried to discuss this with them, only to be met with excuses and they have told us now a week before Thanksgiving that they will not becoming at all.

Two very hurt and sad sisters in Florida

Grace Bonney


I’m so sorry that you and your sisters feel hurt and that you’re dealing with a situation that can be sticky to handle. Especially around the holidays, that is hard to handle.

The bottom line is that you have every right to express your desire to see more of your brother and his family. I hope you’ve had a had chance to do that clearly.

If he is not able to stay longer, unfortunately I think you’ll need to respect his choice and make the most of the time they do have. I know it’s not ideal, but we’re not always able to understand why people make the decisions they do. If he’s traveling 600 miles just to see your family for one day, I do think that expresses a lot of effort on his part to visit, too. (I know a lot of people would wouldn’t travel that far if they could only stay a day and that would be their excuse not to come at all).

If you would like to spend more time with your brother and his family, perhaps you could discuss other times to visit or plan a trip during another time of the year? Has your side of the family gone to visit them for the holidays? It could be that perhaps he feels he is always expected to travel when they would like to stay and have time for their family at their home. I hope there’s a way you can find time to visit each other so that perhaps not as much pressure is placed on this one particular holiday. Maybe a summer visit or every other holiday?




You are so kind to have responded to my post. You are correct, I do need to respect their decision. It does pain me that they are not coming at all this year as a result of my expressing my feelings. I feel I have trapped them into admitting they have come in the past out of feelings of obligation when they actually didn’t want to come at all.

I was just at their place a week ago for my nephew’s wedding. I stayed in a hotel. I was invited to stay at their home but was encouraged to stay in the hotel that my brother and his wife paid for. Their home is large enough to accommodate my sister and I. But I believe it is my sister-in-law that may not want us to intrude in their space.

She may also be the reason their visits are cut short.

I would give anything if they would invite me to share a holiday at their place. I don’t see that happening.

Again, you are correct, I need to simply respect their decision and quit trying to figure out why and not take it personal.



I am in a sticky situation and don’t know what to do!!
I have been with my partner for 7 years and have hosted every holiday meal for his family during that time. I put a lot of work into my dinner parties – even more so for Christmas. I have been planning and preparing for my Christmas party for 3 weeks already to make it a fun and memorable night. My sticky situation…my partners brother has told me he is planning on proposing at my Christmas party to someone he has known for only 2 months!! Aside from holidays just being a bad time to propose I feel this will make things uncomfortable and awkward. What if the answer is no? It’s only been 2 months! I feel like my Christmas party is being hijacked and turned into his engagement party – am I being selfish or unreasonable in thinking he should do this on his own time?
thanks in advance for any insight that can be offered, I feel horrible and don’t know what to do!

Grace Bonney


First, that’s so kind and generous of you to host the holidays at your home every year. I hope everyone is appreciative of all you put into that.

As for proposals, those are the prerogative of the person doing the proposing, so I don’t think it’s kind to request they do it somewhere else. It’s entirely possible it won’t go well, but no one can know that for sure. If it does go poorly, then perhaps being with family is actually the best place for him. Your family can surround him with love and support and help him through a tough time. I think that type of bonding is exactly what the holidays are about. Sometimes it’s not our family’s job to prevent us from mistakes we (may) make, but instead to help us rebuild after them.



Wow! Thanks for the quick response…i’M impressed!

Not surprised by your response either : ( thank you, I appreciate your feedback


Walking right back towards the place on a freezing December morning, I start
vaping the shisha, preventing eye connection with passersby.


My son and his girlfriend ( 24 and 21 years old and been dating for 3 years) visit twice a year for 2 weeks. She does little to help and he says she is a guest so should not have to help.

When they left now the bathroom was dirty and had not been cleaned in the 2 weeks they stayed. She verbally thanked me and had said the night before they left that she would clean the bathroom. I said that would be nice but I think she left it to make her point that she is a guest.

My son helps a lot and cooks etc…she plays on her computer or watches TV but she does help out with drying up or laying the table when she is asked to but leaves a lot to my husband and myself by leaving the jobs half done. By the time they leave we are on our knees with tiredness.

I do all her washing and drying and usually fold it for her too and the last time I gave her the basket to fold it herself and she jokingly asked why it wasn’t folded and then was too lazy to take the basket upstairs so she left it in the lounge until I started to take it up and then she took over from me.

Am I expecting too much from her? Any suggestions as I don’t want her to visit any more as I cannot put up with her holidaying at our expense and treating us as a guest house when she doesn’t even respect our home…..but I don’t want to cause family problems.

The girlfriend walks into our bedroom without being invited and treats the whole house as communal space. I was brought up and raised my children to treat the master bedroom as totally private and by invitation only. I found her looking in the drawers of my chest of drawers for my hair-dryer. I was appalled and my husband was furious but won’t say anything for fear of problems.

One night she took the phone upstairs to call her mother and I overheard her saying that she could’t do anything right. The conversation went on for ages but when she heard me coming up the stairs she closed the door and I could hear from the tone she was still discussing the issue. That was the only call where she went to their room and closed the door. It was on a day that I was frantically doing things to get ready to go out and after doing everything she came and asked what she could do before we went out (in 5 minutes time!). I said it was all done. My tone was incredulous as she had sat and did nothing until it was all done…she does that a lot and her timing is spot on to get out of most things. So I end up feeling stressed and she feels she is being picked on.

I feel very upset about this and cannot approach my son as he gets angry with me, I feel taken for granted and unappreciated. I do hope you have some advice. Incidentally when they arrive their room is all set up for them and cosy and the most she does is vaccuum the carpet ( or my son does sometimes if she passes the job to him) and this is when I am doing the rest of the house.

I really hope you can help. Many thanks.

Grace Bonney


I’m so sorry this issue is causing you so much stress. Relationships are tough because 1/2 of the equation is your own flesh and blood, so they “get a pass” for a lot of this behavior and some similar behavior may be overlooked because they’re you’re children.

I think the first thing to do is sit down with your son and discuss the issue. First and foremost, a guest is a guest. If they are genuinely guests in your home, expecting them to tidy up after themselves is fine, but expecting them to scour the bathroom is not. It doesn’t sound like your son is following up to clean up after her, so she’s not the only one on the hook here.

I would sit down with him and explain the issues you have clearly and without emotion. Just explain that you’d greatly appreciate if they would be tidier about their areas (ie: cleaning up the bathroom, doing their own laundry and folding.) and then explain your request for private spaces to remain private.

If he cannot communicate this to his girlfriend in a way that leads to changes, you have every right to politely sit down and express some concerns with his girlfriend. But if she can already sense your displeasure with her behavior (hence, her phone call home), you may be coming across as passive aggressive. I would suggest stopping her in the moment and addressing things, rather than giving her a laundry list (no pun intended) of problems.

Perhaps if she doesn’t fold her laundry or makes jokes about you not folding it, you can stop and say, “X, can we talk for a moment? I’m so glad to have you and [your son] visiting us, we love spending time with you both. I’m happy to help out with laundry, but comments like that make me feel like you don’t appreciate this help, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t say things like that.” If she doesn’t improve, stop doing her laundry.

I think your son should be able to discuss all of this with you though. Chances are he understands and knows the rules you raised him with and just needs to express that to his girlfriend. She wasn’t raised with the same house rules, so there’s going to be a learning curve for her, and giving her the rules, rather than expecting her to know them already, allows her to have a fair understanding of what’s expected of her behavior.

Keep in mind though that different people were raised with different ideas about space. I was raised to be able to knock and walk in and out of my mom’s bedroom to get her hair dryer, but that’s not how every household runs. It’s a very intimidating thing to try to adjust and fit into someone else’s family, so it might be helpful to keep her feelings and fears in mind (and her age, she’s still very young) and lead with compassion. If this relationship becomes permanent for your son, finding a balance between your needs and her comfort will need to happen anyway, so starting now with a clear list of ground rules and giving her some time to digest them all will be helpful in the long run.



Dear Grace

Thank you so much for your wonderful and very balanced response. I will take your advice seriously and the next time they visit I will try to have the right response to address the issues. I will say it kindly so that she doesn’t take offence but of course there will always be upset associated with any discussion we have.

I guess mothers of sons hope they will chose a partner who compliments them and so, seeing my son doing the majority of the cooking and other jobs while his girlfriend does very little is very frustrating. She is young though and I hope in time she will mature and become less wrapped up in herself. I don’t see them as guests but rather as family visiting. We don’t invite them as such but we have an open door policy and my son tells us when he’s able to get leave to come and visit us…of course the girlfriend comes too as has happened with previous girlfriends. My sons girlfriends are always welcome and I have never had these problems in the past with the girlfriends of either of my sons.

I’m unsure about speaking to my son about this as he is not open to any criticism of his girlfriend and no matter how I say it he will take offence. I’ll see if the opportunity arises as I may be going over to visit them. My son may be more open to discussion on his own turf.

Thank you again for your very balanced advice. Fingers crossed the next visit is less fraught. I’ll keep you posted.

Grace Bonney


Navigating these issues is tough, no matter how you slice it. But I would tread lightly around the idea of your son not being complimented by his girlfriend. Their relationship may be built on different roles and responsibilities that are unlike yours and those roles may manifest themselves in different ways that you don’t necessarily see. We all love our family members to the moon and back, but everyone (all sons and daughters) has their quirks and issues and it’s possible that she is able to compliment your son in areas he struggles with. I’m sure both mothers here love their children and would want nothing more than for each family to give the other the benefit of the doubt and the chance to learn, grow and understand each other better.



Dear Grace

Thank you…you have made another very good point. I have overlooked the ways that she does compliment him as I am so upset about the way the Christmas and New Year visit went. I will try and deal with the issues and see the positives at the same time.

Thank you!


While have a birthday party for my husband with 11 friends, the following occured, shortly after cutting the cake, one of my friends began talking about his porche. Another friend that has helped him work on it suggested they go see it. Three of the guests left, and never said a word. As the others noticed they were gone, my husband mentioned they had left to see the car. My husband drove his brother in law to the same home and then they started listening to the turntable. Finally, I suggested that we all go over since they had been gone a while and then the wife and I prepared homemade pizzas and we all stayed and ate. I felt offended, and had hoped that us showing up would have sent a message to go back to my home. I had originally just wanted to have cake and hang out and when she suggested that we make pizza I was surprised. I took it all in stride but woke up the next day feeling badly about the situation.