Miss Manners: If guests are like family, they should like to help

March 7, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have a large, extended circle of friends who are essentially like family. We also have a large, conveniently located home and frequently have overnight guests. It’s not uncommon for a weekend breakfast to include a dozen or more people.

I love cooking for and serving that many guests, but I find the cleanup also winds up falling to me. The results are that instead of spending my day socializing with our guests, I end up in the kitchen, cooking one meal, cleaning up from it, and then beginning preparations for the next.

Short of hiring a maid (simply not a realistic solution for us), or posting a sign-up sheet for KP, is there a polite way to encourage guests to help out? Under the circumstances, is it appropriate to ask for their help? (I would never consider asking invited dinner guests to help me clean up.)

GENTLE READER: A stalwart defender of freely given hospitality, Miss Manners nevertheless recognizes a difference between sometime guests and the like-family sort.

Certainly, dinner guests should never be asked to help. If they want to be helpful, they can answer invitations immediately, refrain from stating their food likes and dislikes, show up on time, socialize cheerfully and leave on time. If they offer to help clear the table or clean up, they may be firmly discouraged, but if such offers are accepted, the work should be kept to a minimum. Overnight guests may volunteer to do more, and should keep their rooms neat.

Like-family is, however, a different category (which, oddly enough, doesn’t always include all relatives — just liked-family, as it were). Friends who qualify have the privilege of proposing their own visits — subject, of course, to the convenience of the hosts — but they also have added responsibility. Miss Manners finds it unconscionable that a dozen such people loll around your house while you labor in the kitchen.

Your excuse for asking for help should be that you want to spend more time with your guests. You could take aside a particularly close friend and confide that the work is getting you down a bit, considering that you miss much of the fun; your apparent helplessness, plus the implied threat that you might be closing down, should lead that person to suggest organizing a rotating system so that no one gets left out all the time.

With any luck, this will produce shame, not only in the organizer but in everyone, and you will be approached to design that sign-up sheet.

The risk you take is that they will all pile into the kitchen, having a wonderful time, while you rest alone in the living room.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What do you call the objects that hold up silverware off the table? I have a set and cannot find any info about them.

GENTLE READER: They are knife rests. When flatware was commonly used for different courses, the knives, and their friends the forks, would plop down, exhausted, when no one was looking. And leave a mess on the tablecloth, which can be avoided through the judicious use of knife rests.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

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