By Neve Wallace
It’s summer and the pandemic is waning: the beach, countryside and lake are calling … everyone out of the woodwork. After more than a year of social distancing we are finally dusting off the guest rooms. But just as important as being a “hostess with the mostess” is guest etiquette.
The Escape Home talked to longtime second homeowners and a guest etiquette expert to write The Rules to Being a Good Houseguest This Summer. (Those of you with vacation homes: Feel free to send this list or link to your upcoming visitors. Houseguests: Read closely.)
1. Have a good time.
The most important part of the experience between a guest’s trip to a friend’s home is “ensuring the memories are merry,” says Julie Blais-Comeau, chief etiquette officer at etiquettejulie.com. While that’s usually the case when friends hang out, it requires a little extra effort from the guest to be “appreciative and respectful” in order to balance out the host’s hospitality.
So remember how last summer your host had to run in and out of the house to maintain social distancing while you all drank rosé outside? Let’s move past those bad behaviors of 2020.
Let’s start with the basics. Blais-Comeau offers a baseline checklist of items to be a great guest, and we’ll expand on some of these below:
Respect the rules
Bring your stuff
When in doubt, ask
Offer to help
Clean up after yourself
Bring, send or offer a gift
3. Know before you go.
Before visiting your friend’s home, Blais-Comeau suggests using the tone of the invite as a guideline. Ed Wallace, co-chair of the New York office of Greenberg Traurig, one of the world’s largest law firms, a previous representative on the NYC Council and a longtime renter and owner of vacation homes in Long Island, agrees and said the host should be very precise about their invitation — this is where they set expectations for the trip.
If it comes as a letter in the mail with fancy font, a guest should prepare for a formal event; respond before the RSVP deadline and pack according to the dress code.
Even if it isn’t formal, make sure to prepare for any activities the host warns you about: bring a bathing suit and sunscreen if they say you might swim, or layers if they say it gets cold at night.
4. Not everyone loves your dogs and kids.
If you are still not sure based on the invite if your pets or children are allowed, Blais-Comeau said it is best to ask. Her suggested wording goes something like, “Is Fido welcome this weekend or should I make dog-sitting arrangements?” or “Is this an adults-only weekend?”
5. Don’t show up empty-handed.
Whether you bring pets or children or neither, Wallace insists that you present either a bottle of wine or flowers upon arrival — and the choice between the two is important. Only bring wine if you are sure the host will enjoy the specific bottle, otherwise, default to flowers. (Note: You might ask if there’s something they need; one host warmly recalls a guest who brought luxury king-size sheets and beach towels.)
There are several things guests can do to make sure the host is as appreciated as possible. If there is ever an opportunity, Mary Marshall, longtime owner of a second home in the Berkshires, said she finds it a very nice gesture when a guest offers to pay for a dinner out or to pay for dinner groceries at the market. While she made sure to say that she would not hold it against a guest if they did not offer, she always takes note when they do.
6. Be neat, be flexible, be inquisitive.
On the other hand, smaller tasks are necessary. Don’t leave your things around, clean up after yourself and if you spill or break something, clean it up, tell the host and offer to pay if there is damage done. Lastly, keep in mind that not all households function the same. Blais-Comeau notes that guests should adjust to hosts’ schedules and customs. She said a guest is remembered most fondly when “their flexibility in adapting to the home and lifestyle of the hosts” is as seamless as possible.
This is not to say that you are to suppress your needs as a guest. Blais-Comeau was enthusiastic when she said, “when in doubt, find out.” If you need something or are confused about something, find the host.
As Marshall insisted, she just wants “everyone to have a good time and not to worry.” She expects that her guests won’t know exactly how everything works, or that she won’t be completely aware of everyone’s dietary restrictions or their ability to swim, and she is there to help and accommodate.
But it is important to recognize that some issues could go beyond the guests’ ability to pay and the host’s power to fix. Mr. Wallace recalls a Memorial Day Barbecue in a house he owned in Southampton in which the toilets backed up. He said the plumber noted, pointedly, that “NYC high-rise residents think you can flush anything.” Mary Marshall also touched on the topic of plumbing.
“It stuns me that anyone now thinks that you can put anything other than human natural waste in the toilet,” she said. “I would be really annoyed if someone flushed feminine products or anything like that.”
The lesson learned here is simple: following general protocols and assuming everything is delicate can prevent massive headaches for the host.
7. Leave no trace. Say thank you.
The most important part of being a guest comes at the end. Wallace, Marshall and Blais-Comeau, upon being asked what guests should do to wrap up the trip, all immediately said they must strip the bed. Marshall suggested that if clean sheets are made visible, guests should make the bed, even if they are not specifically asked to. Otherise, clean the space you occupied “as good or better than you found it,” said Blais-Comeau.
Once the bed is made, both Wallace and Blais-Cameau suggested that a hand-written thank-you note should be left on top alongside a gift if you have one. Marshall said she would expect a follow-up note.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, leave on time. Both Wallace and Marshall agreed: “Two things smell after three days: fish and guests.”