The arrival of summer marks the beginning of houseguest season.
Whether you have a private bedroom and bath or you’re sharing a wobbly futon with a cat, being a gracious guest is the key to a good experience for all.
Some of the best summer memories I’ve had recently have been sitting on a friend’s screened porch, eating crab dip and watching the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay with other weekend guests. As someone lucky enough to be part-owner of a family beach cottage, I’ve been on both sides of the host-guest equation.
My feeling is: Good hosts make good guests. Take Nick Voulgaris III, an author who also owns a Long Island farm. He recently published “The Seaside House: Living on the Water,” which chronicles vacation homes from Provincetown, Mass., to Malibu, Calif. Voulgaris is a frequent houseguest and often hosts friends overnight in his places in New York’s West Village, Huntington and Shelter Island, where home is a sailboat.
“To me, the perfect houseguest is someone that just starts to pitch in and help without asking,” Voulgaris says. “Because I feel most hosts will decline the offer when asked if anything can be done.”
If you’re invited to share a VRBO on the Northern Neck or a yurt in Shepherdstown, W.Va., make an effort to be your best self. Don’t make comments about the thinness of your mattress or the weird smell in the closet. If you spilled nail polish remover on the rug, fess up. Try to be cheerful and accommodating.
Here are more ideas on the art of being a good guest.
Bring a nice gift. The best things to buy are food, entertaining supplies, flowers or wine. Voulgaris suggests fresh baked goods, such as a pie. A luxurious scented candle (he likes Diptyque) is also one of his go-to gift choices. I try to spot something the house could need, whether steak knives or a new toaster, so next year when I come back, I can bring that as a present. One of our friends noticed we needed a nice tray at our beach house and, after visiting our place in August, sent a woven rattan tray from Williams Sonoma for Christmas.
Keep the bathroom clean and cleared. Many weekend houses have shared baths. Voulgaris says it’s appreciated if you hang the bathmat over the shower or tub after you use it, wipe off any water you’ve splashed on the floor and clean out the sink so the next guest can have a pleasant experience. Remove any soap scum or hair from the shower drain. Ask your host where you should hang your wet towels. Don’t leave your dopp kit or grooming products scattered around the bathroom; keep them in your bedroom.
Step up to help with chores. Don’t sit there and expect to be served like at a restaurant. Hosts appreciate your clearing plates from the table, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and stripping the bed when you leave. Set up the coffee for the next day. Or go a bit further. My husband meticulously cleaned a large outdoor grill for friends who had invited us to the Eastern Shore; I used my decluttering skills, working together with my hostess to help reorganize the kitchen counters. Last Thanksgiving in the Hudson Valley, I offered to clean out my friends’ spice cabinet, tossing expired jars, wiping the shelves clean and alphabetizing the rest.
Don’t sneer at the microwave bacon. When you’re a guest, you get to know your hosts on a different level. They may not buy the same kinds of foods as you do. So if they stock only skim milk for coffee and you want half-and-half, just go with it or bring your own. If they use bottled salad dressing and you make yours from scratch, don’t comment. So what if they zap their Oscar Mayer instead of frying it; just be grateful you’re getting a home-cooked breakfast.
Don’t leave anything behind. No host wants to run a lost-and-found. Guests should do a final inspection of their bedroom and bath to search for stray items. Check outlets for phone chargers, the back of the bathroom door for bathrobes, and the shower stall for shampoos and conditioners. Get your bathing suit off the clothesline. Peek under the bed, should some piece of clothing have ended up there.
Give thanks. Often. Say thank you after every single meal. When you leave, be enthusiastic about all the effort your host has put forth to create a wonderful time. Voulgaris says a group text is often formed before a weekend away to share information among hosts and guests. On the evening you depart, send another quick text of thanks to the group, mentioning how much you appreciated the hospitality, and maybe include a photo you took that weekend. Within the next few days, a handwritten note is a beautiful gesture that just might put you on the A-list for the next gathering.