29th Jun, 2022

The 14 etiquette rules house guests and hosts need to follow

Coventry Editorial 21st Dec, 2021

Feeling a bit rusty when it comes to making guests – or hosts – feel comfortable around you at Christmas and New Year? You’re not alone.

But often, it can be the smallest of gestures that can make visitors feel thought about, from popping a hot water bottle in their bed, to filling a storage box with blankets so they can get cosy, suggests Nadia McCowan Hill, resident style advisor at home products retailer Wayfair (wayfair.co.uk).

And Lucy Hume, head of content at Debrett’s (debretts.com), the authority on British etiquette and behaviour, which has published a Guide to Hosting & Entertaining, stresses:

“If you’re hosting guests, it sounds obvious, but it’s always worth factoring in their comfort as well as your own – make sure they’re really well catered for.”

Here, Hume and McCowan Hill give their tips for making sure your home is welcoming to guests, and they have a lovely stay…

1. Timing

For weekend stays, Hume says Debrett’s recommends warning guests about any competing events or deadlines in advance.

“If you’ve got work on Monday morning, or a meeting you need to prepare for, you might want to let them know, so they don’t hang around too long,” she suggests. “And equally, as the guest, we recommend leaving relatively soon after lunch, so you’re not messing up your host’s afternoon, when they might want to tidy up and get ready for the week.”

2. Make your home feel like a hotel

Recreate the experience of staying at a boutique hotel at home, by wrapping some mini toiletries in a stocking for your guests to find on their pillow, and having some slippers and fluffy bathrobes for guests to enjoy, suggests McCowan Hill. However, Hume points out:

“Leaving robes and slippers out for guests is going the extra mile, if you’re going for the gold star as a host – I’m not sure many people would be outraged if a robe and slippers weren’t provided! Obviously it’s a nice touch, but only if you can.”

3. Make sure the guest room is well-prepared

As well as the guest bedroom being clean and tidy, with fresh bed linen, it’s nice to have a hairdryer available for guests, enough room in the wardrobe for them to hang up their clothes, and maybe an empty drawer for them to use, says Hume. Make sure there’s not too much clutter of your own lying around, and if you’re using a child’s room as an ad-hoc spare bedroom, make sure it’s not too full of toys and children’s stuff. In addition, ensure the windows open easily and aren’t too fiddly.

“Just make guests feel at home, and that they’ve got their own space to retreat to,” she advises. “Staying for a weekend is quite a lot of time to spend in one another’s company, so it’s always worth making sure your guests have somewhere they can spend a bit of downtime, and just be on their own for a bit if they want.”

4. Put festive decorations in the guest bedroom

“Decorating the guest bedroom is the perfect way to spread festive cheer, giving visiting loved ones the warmest of welcomes,” suggests McCowan Hill.

5. Put clean towels out

Put clean towels out for each guest.

“I don’t think many people would necessarily bring their own towels if they were going to stay with friends,” says Hume, ”so put clean, fresh ones out for them.”

6. Providing a phone charger

Hume says providing a phone charger isn’t necessarily fundamental to good hosting, but it’s a lovely touch if you have a spare charger.

7. Wi-fi passwords

Hume says:

“It can feel a little bit rude if the first thing a guest asks for is the wi-fi code – it implies you’ve got your mind on other things. So, as a host it’s nice to offer that up.”

8. Make sure guests are always well-catered-for

Show guests how they can help themselves to tea and coffee, and even breakfast, in case they’re early risers. Hume says:

“They may not feel able to ask for something to eat if they’re hungry, or something to drink, so it’s worth checking in with them quite frequently, to see if they want a snack or a cup of tea.”

9. Add a drinks trolley

Creating a drinks trolley is certain to raise the bar for festivities, says McCowan Hill. Include a selection of your guests’ favourite refreshments and snacks, if you know what they are, to personalise their very own mini-bar.

10. Taking shoes off in the house

“It’s becoming more common to expect guests to take their shoes off,” says Hume. “I think hosts are well within their rights to politely ask guests if they mind taking their shoes off. Obviously hosts have to do the same themselves.

“As a guest entering somebody’s house, observe what they’re doing, and if they’re in their socks, you should at least offer to take your shoes off.”

11. Light Christmas candles

One of the simplest ways to invite Christmas into your home for guests is the addition of scented candles or diffusers, says McCowan Hill.

“Cinnamon spice, clove and orange will create a classic festive feel and add to the overall ambience,” she says. “Fresh pine or gingerbread will offset Scandi décor perfectly, conjuring up some Christmas magic.”

12. Be mindful of people’s differing Christmas traditions

Hume points out that every family has their own traditions at Christmas and New Year, and some can be quite emotive, so it’s important to try to incorporate your guests’ if they’re staying on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

“Your family might have always opened stockings first thing, gone to church and then had presents after lunch, and somebody else’s family might do things completely differently,” she says, “so as the host, you have to be aware of that, and maybe ask your guests to share their traditions, so you can try to incorporate them into your day – it’s definitely worth trying to make everybody feel included.”

13. Guests should bring a gift

Hume says guests should generally bring a gift for an overnight stay, or any kind of hospitality, unless it’s just a very casual cup of tea. “

The more hospitality you’re receiving, generally the more generous a gift you should give – maybe a couple of bottles of wine, or something for the home, like a cushion or a pot plant,” she suggests.

14. Guests should send a thank you letter

“We do recommend writing a thank you letter promptly, within a couple of days,” says Hume. “The thing to remember about staying with somebody is that it requires an extra level of preparation by the host, so expressing your gratitude while the memories are still fresh in your mind is worth getting down on paper, and sending as a thank you letter.

“The etiquette conundrum of the WhatsApp era is that we automatically tend to send a thank you WhatsApp a few hours after leaving somebody, but we recommend that you also send a thank you letter, because it’s an extra level of effort that you’ve gone to, to show your gratitude – and it’s a nice memento for your host to have as well. So, we still recommend physical thank you letters, even though it’s possibly a dying art.”

The Debrett’s Guide to Hosting & Entertaining is priced £25. Available now.

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