How To Be a Great Guest: 101

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How to be a good guest: 101 | 11 Magnolia Lane

The houseguest from h*ll:

Cindy calls or emails to let you know that she’s planning on visiting for two weeks; she’s already booked her flight and she’ll need you to pick her up at midnight on Monday and drop her off mid-day when she leaves. You have an important meeting that day and have to rearrange that and figure out who will watch your kids while you drive two hours round trip to the airport, but she didn’t consult you ahead of time.

While she’s visiting, she turns your heat up to 80° (or down to 60°) without asking, spreads her stuff all around the house, and complains whenever you turn the news on because her political views are different than yours.  She can’t eat dairy and is sure to mention it at every meal, but she doesn’t offer to help with a favorite dairy-free recipe or two. When you decide to go out to eat, she always sits back and lets you pay for her meal, never offering to treat you or even pay her own share.

When she leaves, she forgets her winter coat, expensive face cream, and cell phone charger behind and asks you to ship them to her, and then doesn’t reimburse you for the $20 postage. You never get a thank you note, and she never extends an invitation for you to visit her and be her guest. You heave a sigh of relief when she leaves, open a bottle of wine, and pray that she’ll grace someone else with her presence next time!


This post has been a long time coming since I wrote its counterpart {How to Be a Great Host or Hostess:  101} almost a year ago!  I actually wrote the outline for this back then, but never sat down to type it up.

Of course, the two go hand in hand, since a well-mannered hostess will do everything within her power to make her guests comfortable, and a well-mannered guest will do everything within her power not to create any extra work or fuss for her hostess.  At least, that’s how it works when Amy and I visit each other and that’s why she’s my favorite houseguest in the history of the world…with pretty much everyone else, there are always a few glitches because that’s how life works!

My husband and I have been married for twenty years now (I was obviously 14 when I got married) and he’s been in the military that entire time, so I have quite a bit of experience hosting guests and entertaining.  These are the things I always do as a guest, and they’re also the things that I deeply appreciate from those who visit our home.  As always, I’d love for you to chime in with your comments!

Most of these tips apply to houseguests although certainly a few apply to dinner or party guests, and I’ll be sure to mention it if they do.  They also work for family as well as friends; after all, shouldn’t you be just as conscious of using good manners (if not more so) with your family?  Chances are you’ll visit family more often than you’ll visit friends, and you’d like to be welcome every time you come.

How to be a good guest: 101 | 11 Magnolia Lane
Before Your Visit:

  • Speak candidly with your host and hostess about your travel plans.  Ask about dates that would be good to visit rather than assuming that the guest room is available.  I know that when we lived in Savannah and Virginia Beach I had to keep a calendar and the guest room was full most weekends!  We even had to block some weeks off so we could have a break.  If you’re expecting a ride to or from the airport, planning ahead is especially important.  Your host’s schedule should take priority over yours; if your dates and times aren’t flexible, then rent a car.


  • In my opinion, three or four days should be the limit for a visit as houseguests, although I’m sure some of you will disagree.  That’s fine if you’re the hostess, but as a guest, you should never assume that you’re welcome to stay longer.  I find this to be especially true for family–and it’s hardest to set limits with family, so be polite and don’t make your hostess have to do it.

 Benjamin Franklin was right:

During Your Visit:

  • Bring a hostess gift.  Whether it’s for a dinner party or a holiday visit, I never arrive empty-handed.  For dinner or a party, I’ll bring something small {homemade jam or mustard, one of our monogrammed jewelry bowls, a candle, a guest book, or wine with these cute plant nannies}.  If I bring flowers, I make sure they’re already cut and in water (a mason jar spray-painted gold is one of my favorite “vases.”) so the hostess doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing to take care of my gift.

How to be a good guest: 101 | 11 Magnolia Lane

    I observe the hostess gift guideline for family members, too, which I learned from my mother, who always brought me a hostess gift when she came to visit.  And since she knew me so well, I always loved what she brought me! Amy’s really good about that, too–I always love opening the bag of love she brings me when she visits because it’s always exactly what I didn’t even know I wanted!



    If I’m visiting for more than a day, I bring a larger gift (or gifts).  I’ll often give a gift card for $50 or $100 to a local grocery store, because I know how expensive it can be to feed guests for days on end, and I so appreciate the effort that goes in to making us comfortable.  And, of course, I bring a bag or two of food to share and take some of the burden off my hostess.

{Download these lovely gift tags here}

{Download these lovely gift tags here}

  • Take your hosts out to dinner one night.  This gives them an evening off from cooking and is always appreciated.  If you’re on a tight budget, it’s certainly fine to bring the fixings to cook a meal or two instead.  A big “don’t” in my book is to let your hosts pick up the check when you go out to eat {tacky!!}–you can certainly split the bill if you can’t afford otherwise, but treating your hosts is preferred and I always try to work that into my budget when we’re visiting. You don’t want your hosts to feel like you’re using them to finance your trip/vacation/retirement. If you weren’t staying with friends or family, you’d be paying for a hotel and meals out every day anyway, right?
  • Try not to make a big deal about your special dietary wants or needs, unless of course, you’re so allergic that you’ll go into anaphylactic shock if you eat something. You can always bring a bag of your “must haves” along with you, and there’s usually enough variety on the table that you can find something that will work.


  • If you have small children who eat only chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese, then bring those things along.  We’ve all been there!  I do make my (older) kids eat whatever they’re served with a smile, though.  That’s just being polite.


  • Be considerate.  Your hosts have their usual routines–times they rise and go to bed, preferred noise level, TV channels, chairs they like to sit in, the temperature they keep the thermostat set at, etc.  I try to pay attention to all of that and just fit in with the household, rather than expecting it to conform to me.  I also try to keep our stuff corralled in the guest room, instead of spread all over the house.  As a bonus, that makes it less likely that we’ll leave things behind when we leave.
  • Be helpful.  There’s always work to do around the house; I just pitch in and do it (and most hostesses will tell you there isn’t anything they need you to do if you ask).  Do the dishes, take the trash out, walk the dog, or whatever else needs doing.
  • Take a break.  If you’re staying for more than a few days, give your hosts a few hours alone every day or so.  While you might be on vacation, they probably still are on their normal schedule.  They might have work to do, phone calls to catch up on, or just need some down time.  A little absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.

How to be a good guest: 101 | 11 Magnolia Lane

When you leave:

  • When it’s time to depart, leave things better than you found them.  I empty the trash, strip the sheets and towels, and wipe down the bathroom and shower when I “check out”.  I try really hard not to leave anything behind because that’s one of my pet peeves as a hostess.  But, if we do, it belongs to my hostess until the next time we see them, unless it’s something time-sensitive like a library book, and then I immediately mail a check to cover the return postage.  My goal is to be considerate of my hostess’s time, money, effort, and home, and leave her thinking about how enjoyable my visit was rather than thanking heaven that we’re gone!


    • Fix/repair/replace anything you or your family damage or break (I know, it sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised).  Anyone who has kids know that sometimes they break things, and sometimes pretty precious things.  Whether they smash the Waterford crystal to smithereens or spill smoothie on the white carpet, my children are my responsibility, and I clean up after them and/or replace anything they break.  That goes for adults, too, of course.  If I back into my host’s mailbox or worse yet, his car, I make it right.


    • Reciprocate.  As a guest, I try to make sure that I strike a balance between how much I visit someone as a guest and how often I invite them to my home.  In the “olden days” invitations needed to be returned and people really kept track of such things.  We’re a bit more relaxed these days, but your host will notice if you never return the favor.


  • Last, but most definitely not least, I send a thank you note after my visit.  I do this whenever I’m a guest in someone’s home, even for a meal or party.  A thoughtful, heartfelt note is always appreciated.  My mother set the example on this, too, by always sending me a thank you note after she visited, and I still have many of them.


In the end, whether you’re the host or the guest, good manners boil down to being considerate and following the golden rule.  If you do that, all the rest will fall into place!

Did I miss anything?  Please leave it in the comments below, and visit my “How to Be a Great Host or Hostess” post for the other side of the story.

Our posts contain affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking on these links, we will earn a small commission, which helps to keep our content free.  You don’t pay a cent more than you would otherwise, since that would be tacky!

Thanks for stopping by–

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  1. Perfect, couldn’t say it better.

  2. I love the idea of bringing a gift, it’s honestly something I’ve never thought about and I’ll definitely start doing that now!

  3. Great tips!!

  4. Christy, we must have been thinking along the same lines. Your suggestions are spot on. I posted about Hostess and Guest etiquette a few days ago. I guess this time of year, it’s on everyone’s minds.

  5. Excellent!! I’m in agreement with everything you’ve said + you’re welcome to visit here anytime! 🙂 We lived in Amarillo 10 years (Texas Panhandle). It’s a “convenient” stopover for those traveling from the DFW area on their way to Colorado or beyond. During most of those years, both of my kids were a newborn/2yrs or a bit older. You know that entails a lot of work & planning on its own. 🙂 During the summers I truly felt as if I was running a Hilton or Hyatt! Could barely get the sheets changed, bathroom cleaned and floors vacuumed before another crew arrived. One time, a couple just “appeared” on the doorstep! I’ll never forget that…really, really bad! This time in my life led me to one of my grandmother’s sayings, “Suitcase” company ~ and I totally agree with Ben Franklin!

    Thanks for sharing and for the tags!

  6. We have a book about how to be a good host or a good guest. We wrote a similar post last year. It’s sad that people don’t know these things.

  7. Sherry Hawkins says


    This is a charming and much needed post! Thank you for conveying the manners and graciousness that
    makes a difference. We have to make an effort to carry that on in this frenzied, social media society.
    I wish I had an opportunity to know your mother better…we must have had the same

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