How to Be a Better Host and Houseguest

See how well you know your p’s and q’s based on stats from one hgtv.com reader poll. HGTV Magazine shares the surprising results and found expert advice for some common sticky situations.
Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

By: Jessica Dickler
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Q: Your houseguest unexpectedly arrives with her pet. Do you ask her to take it to a kennel?

You answered: 84% No. 16% Yes.

The expert says: This all depends on whether you’re allergic to animals or “allergic” to the inconvenience of having a cat or dog underfoot. If you go into legit fits of sneezing and wheezing, then you’re 100% justified to insist on a kennel, says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas. Otherwise grit your teeth and accommodate the furry visitor. Remember that it’s OK to insist Fido or Fluffy be sequestered in a penned-in spot away from the daily bustle—especially if the pet isn’t totally house-trained.

Q: A guest brings a bottle of wine to your dinner party. What do you do next?

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

You answered: 80% serve it with the meal. 20% save it for later.

The expert says: It’s a shocker, but you don’t have to uncork that vino. “The wine is a gift to be enjoyed later,” says Diane Gottsman, of The Protocol School of Texas. Since you planned the meal—and presumably the wine pairings—your guest shouldn’t be offended if you stash away their Cabernet. And don’t feel strong-armed if the bottle arrives chilled. “That implies you’re supposed to serve it with the meal,” Gottsman says. “Ignore that implication.”

Q: Your houseguests are huge sports fans. You’re not. When it comes to TV watching, which would you do?

You answered: 94% let your guests pick what to watch. 6% control the remote.

The expert says: Hosts usually defer to their guests when it comes to controlling the remote, and that’s the right call, says Maggie McAlister, who blogs at Annabel Manners. Too much nonstop ESPN for your taste? You could suggest a Netflix movie night—complete with delish snacks to turn it into more of a shared event—but don’t insist.

Q: Your host is an early riser and serves breakfast at sunrise. How does this affect your mornings?

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

You answered:  82% get up early. 18% sleep late and miss breakfast.

The expert says: Sorry, sleepyhead. As much as you would like to stay snuggled under the comforter, when your host is dishing up an a.m. spread, you need to follow her timetable, says Diane Gottsman, of The Protocol School of Texas. Even if your host is flipping pancakes before the rooster crows, head to breakfast with a smile. “And don’t show up in your PJ’s,” she says. “Put on a robe or your clothes.”

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

Q: Your houseguests announce they’d like to do some day trips while visiting, but they didn’t rent a car. Do you chauffeur them around?

You answered: 78% Yes. 22% No.

The expert says: Although you might feel compelled to act as an on-demand car service, you aren’t required to play chauffeur, says Elaine Swann, author of Let Crazy Be Crazy. She suggests you drive a few times, then let guests know that other trips are up to them. Her go-to tactic: Give guests a welcome basket that includes (hint, hint) transit info, like a train schedule or the how-to for using the Uber app.

Q: Your houseguests have been taking long showers and using up all the hot water. Do you tell them to speed things up?

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

You answered: 77% No. 23% Yes.

The expert says: When your guests’ actions are inconveniencing everyone in the household, it’s perfectly acceptable to say something, advises blogger Maggie McAlister, from Annabel Manners. The key to clueing them in without embarrassing them: Be polite and maybe fib—a little. “Say, ‘We’re having some challenges with our hot water heater. We probably all need to stagger our showers or take shorter ones,’ ” McAlister suggests. “They should get the drift.”

Q: You’re an overnight guest at a friend’s. What do you do with the bedding at the end of your stay?

You answered: 52% strip the bed. 46% make the bed. 2% leave the bed unmade.

The expert says: “The traditional answer is that you would strip the sheets and leave them loosely folded at the end of the bed,” says Daniel Post Senning, from the Emily Post Institute. Since etiquette rules are more relaxed now, he suggests simply asking the host her preference and following through. But whatever you do, don’t leave the bed unmade. 

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

Q: You’ve been hosting houseguests for a week, and you all go out to dinner on the last night of their stay. What about the bill?

You answered: 40% pick up the tab. 34% split the check. 26% expect the guests to pay.

The expert says: While this kind of confusion is better settled when the reservation is made rather than when the bill arrives, “don’t expect the guests to pay,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York. That said, thoughtful guests will treat their host to dinner at least one night during their stay or pick up a grocery tab and offer to cook dinner.

Q: Your host uses the same cutting board for raw meat and veggies without cleaning it in between. Do you say something? 

You answered: 57% Yes. 43% No.

The expert says: “Safety trumps etiquette,” says Daniel Post Senning, spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, who advises stepping in if something harmful or unhealthy is happening. Be aware that things could get uncomfortable, but it’s an absolute necessity if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system.

Q: Your houseguest doesn’t make her bed, and you like a tidy house. What do you do?

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

You answered: 62% leave it unmade. 37% make it for her. 1% ask her to make it.

The expert says: Close the bedroom door and stay out, advises Elaine Swann, author of Let Crazy Be Crazy. You’re not her parent—or her personal maid—so you shouldn’t be going in and tidying. While it may pain you to see a rumpled bed, clothes strewn about, or water glasses on the nightstand, graciously practice willful blindness. “Once you give a guest a room, that becomes their private space,” Swann says. “Leave it—and your guest—alone.”

Q: Your dinner guest announces she’s now a vegetarian –– and you’re serving chicken. Do you quickly prepare her a separate meatless meal?

You answered: 52% Yes. 48% No.

The expert says: Since you’re not a short-order cook, there’s no obligation for you to whip up another entrée, says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, from The Etiquette School of New York. Still, you don’t want a guest to go hungry, so you could pull together a fast, no-fuss vegetarian side dish if one isn’t already on the menu. As a guest, “let your host know well ahead of time if you have food restrictions or allergies,” she says, preferably when you RSVP, not at the dinner table minutes before the meal.

Q: You bring a dish to a potluck dinner party. How do you handle the leftovers?

You answered: 92% leave the leftovers for your host. 8% ask to take the leftovers home with you

The expert says: Always leave the leftovers—and consider leaving the serving dish, too, says blogger Maggie McAlister, from Annabel Manners. Transport your food in a cheapie dish you don’t want returned or go high-end and gift the dish to the host. Otherwise label the bottom of the serving dish with your contact info, then follow up about retrieval the week after.

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Host and Houseguest Etiquette

Photo by: Lab Partners

Lab Partners

Q: You write a thank-you to your host after a visit. In what form does it come?

You answered: 72% a handwritten note. 15% a text. 13% an email

The expert says: While any thank-you is appreciated, the medium is part of the message, according to Daniel Post Senning, from the Emily Post Institute. “A text might be more immediate and personal, but a handwritten note will lend your gratitude the weight it deserves,” he says. His suggestion: Shoot a thank-you text right after the visit, followed by a handwritten note within three days.

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