Etiquette Rules in Handling Overnight Guests

Families and friends today often live on opposite sides of the country or at least several hours away from each other. With travel so easy by car, plane, and bus, most of us have spent more than one weekend visiting with loved ones. These overnight visits can be wonderful times to catch up and with each other and share old times while creating new memories. If you are not aware of the etiquette of being a thoughtful houseguest, it can also lead to hurt feelings and overstaying your welcome. Knowing how to be a thoughtful host and houseguest are both key to making overnight visits enjoyable for everyone.

Preparing for Overnight Visitors

Overnight guests should always be made to feel at home when they are visiting. As the host or hostess, you will need to do some preparation in advance to make sure the guest room they will be staying in is as comfortable as possible. If you do not have a guest room and the person will be sleeping on your sofa or fold-out couch at night, you can do your best to see that you have as many amenities as possible available for them when they go to sleep each night.

You also will need to see that you have prepared for the appropriate foods, activities, and other amenities for the duration of your guests' visit, whether it is overnight, a weekend, a week, or more.

Planning for Your Guests

· Make a shopping list of foods and beverages you will need to have for the visit, taking into consideration the likes and dislikes of your guests. Keep in mind that you should have some snack foods available for your guests in case they get hungry between meals.

· Stock your bar with any mixers and alcohol, wines, and beer you will need for the visit.

· Check with your guests well in advance to see if anyone has food allergies or sensitivities. You do not want to serve a meal or dessert containing peanuts if one of your guests has a nut allergy.

· Make plans for dinner out at least one evening to entertain your guests with a relaxing evening at a restaurant. If your guests are familiar with the area, ask them if there are any places in particular they would like to dine.

· Plan activities for your guests that they will enjoy while they are visiting but allow time to rest and relax and simply spend time catching up as well.

· If you have moral objections to unmarried couples sharing a room, let your guests know in advance that you will be putting them in separate bedrooms if they are an unmarried couple. It is your home and guests should follow your standards. However, if you have no objection, ask a couple who have been dating long-term if they want to share a room. If they both express a desire to share a room and you want to accommodate them, this is fine. If either one of them hesitates or expresses discomfort, give them separate rooms.

· If you will have guests sleeping on the sofa or a fold-out couch, be sure you have plenty of extra pillows for them, as well as sheets and blankets. Before you turn in at night, make sure that they have everything they need to be comfortable in your living room, including a way to keep the sun from coming in early in the morning and waking them, a clear path to the bathroom, and a bottle of water near the sofa. Guests should also have a light within reach. A lamp on an end table is a good choice, but if you do not have one, find a temporary remedy.

Prepping Your Guest Room and Bathroom

Most overnight visitors will stay in a guest room in your home, and all of them will use at least one of your bathrooms during their stay. Be sure you have thought of everything your guests will need by giving both rooms a thorough review through the eyes of a guest. Test out the bed and imagine yourself going through a weekend in your guest bedroom while you are in it. Picture yourself unpacking a suitcase in the room. Is there someplace convenient for setting a suitcase? Are there hangers in the closet? Is there a trash can in the room?

Some things every guest bedroom should have include:

· Hangers in the closet and a place to put a suitcase. You can find folding suitcase racks for less than $25 at most bedding stores. You can stash these in any closet when they are not being used.

· A small bedside table with a reading lamp and a book or a selection of magazines for your guests in case they have trouble sleeping at night.

· A glass and a bottle or carafe of water so that they do not have to get up at night if they get thirsty.

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· An alarm clock. This is so important. Many guest rooms do not have a clock of any kind, and it can drive people crazy to wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea what time it is. An alarm is very convenient when multiple people have to get up and get ready in the morning, particularly if you are sharing bathrooms.

· A radio or small television is nice for relaxing when your guest wants some alone time.

· Pen and paper.

· A box of tissues is always welcome, particularly since many people suffer allergies that flair up when they are visiting areas with plants not native to where they normally live.

By the way, if your guests are going to be with you more than the weekend, plan on doing a lot of laundry. You need to wash the sheets and towels every other day, even if you do not do this for your own sheets and towels, or change out your guests' sheets and towels for fresh ones. Some people prefer to do this every day, but in today's world of water shortages and energy woes, every other day is fine.

The Bathroom

· Be sure you have extra rolls of toilet paper on hand and let your guests know where they are, such as under the sink or in a cabinet, so they do not have to ask.

· Have plenty of hand soap and extra hand towels.

· If you have room, stack a complete set of towels for each guest in the bathroom, including a bath towel, hand towel, and face cloth. If your bathroom is small, you can put a set in the guest room for each guest and let the person know that you have put bathing or shower towels in the bedroom for his or her use.

· Most houseguests forget at least one important item from home. If you stay at hotels frequently, you probably have stocked up on quite a few of those wonderful complimentary soaps, shampoos, and other miniatures. (Yes, it is proper etiquette to take these small toiletries home with you from a hotel.) Put together a small bowl or basket with individual soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hairspray, toothpaste, etc., and include a new toothbrush and a clean comb to set in the bathroom for your guests.

· Also have first aid items, such as pain relievers, Band-aids, and antibiotic cream on hand.

· A scented candle or air freshener is a nice touch.

Being a Good Houseguest

Some people are always being invited to visit friends and "stay awhile," or having friends ask them along on wonderful weekends at the lake or to their mountain cabin. Others get an invitation once and never get asked back again. The difference between a horrible houseguest and one who is a dream is in how you treat your host. Do you make yourself at home to the point you act like you actually do live there? Think over-indulged teenager: not a pretty picture. Instead, do you make sure you are gracious, accommodating, and helpful?

Attitude makes a real difference. Keep in mind when staying at someone else's house that a lot of things are out of that person's control. Before you arrived, they probably cleaned the house top to bottom, stocked their fridge with food and drinks, and spent a lot of time preparing for your arrival and planning activities to entertain you. In return, you should maintain a positive attitude throughout your visit, even if things do not always go as planned. Your host cannot help it if the weather means a game is canceled, one of the children comes down with a cold, or one of the other guests has a fight with his girlfriend. It may be difficult keeping a cheerful demeanor at times if you are sleeping on a lumpy mattress or plans keep going wrong, but if you are the one who keeps everyone's spirits up, you are sure to be invited back time and again.

You should also be very specific about the length of your visit. Let your hosts know when you will be arriving and when you plan on leaving. Even if they issue you an open-ended invitation, do not take them up on it. It is stressful for the people you are staying with to not know when you are leaving. Give them a firm departure date and stick to it so that they know when they can get back to their normal routines. Once you have let them know when you will be arriving, do not get there hours early or late. Either one is unacceptable, and if you show up early you may catch them still cleaning house or running errands. Showing up late, unless it is beyond your control, such as a late flight, sends the message that you expect everyone to sit around waiting for you.

Some other courtesies to keep in mind when you are an overnight guest include:

· Be sure to pack the proper clothing for the visit and bring whatever you might need for inclement weather. You do not want to have to borrow raincoats, umbrellas, sweaters, or other items from your hosts.

· Do not bring your children or your pets unless they were specifically invited. Never ask if they can come. If someone invites you and your spouse for the weekend and does not invite your children, it is clear that the visit is to be a couple's weekend. If the host wants your whole family, he or she will make it clear that your children are included when they invite you. Putting others on the spot by asking if you can bring your children along is an appalling breach of etiquette. If you cannot find a sitter, simply decline the invitation.

· Be sure to remember a bathrobe or some other apparel for modesty's sake if you will be sharing a bathroom with others.

· Offer to help with anything and everything, including making meals, running errands, or doing chores. Your hosts may turn down your offers, but continue to offer periodically, anyway. If the host takes you up on your offers of help, be sure to ask what you need to do and follow those instructions.

· Keep your room neat and make your bed every morning. If you are sleeping on the couch, fold your bedding and stack it with your pillows in an unobtrusive corner each morning so that you are not cluttering the living room.

· Offer to start the coffee each morning if you are an early riser.

· When your hosts have planned activities, take part with enthusiasm. When there is a day that is free, be sure you do not burden them with entertaining you all day. You should have a book, some knitting, a game, or some other activity that you have brought with you that you can entertain yourself with for a few hours.

· If you borrow your hosts' car, fill it with gas before returning it. If it is really dirty, it would be a nice touch if you ran it through the car wash as well.

· Follow your hosts' schedule, not yours. This is particularly important if you are sleeping in their living room or if they have planned sight-seeing or other activities. You do not want to sleep until noon if they have thoughtfully mapped out a big day for you, and you can hardly turn in for bed at 10 p.m. if the whole family usually stays up late and you are sleeping on the couch.

· Keep your stuff in your room, not strewn throughout the house. If your hosts have several people staying, they may cringe to see various sweatshirts, pairs of shoes, and purses tossed around their usually tidy home. Do not treat the house as though it is your own. Keep all of your possessions in the area reserved for you.

· Be sure to ask where your hosts want you to hang your towels after use. If there is a limited number of bathroom towel bars, they may have a specific location for excess towels or they may want to wash and dry a load each day.

· Be sure to ask permission before using any appliances, including the hair dryer that is on the counter in the bathroom or the iron in the laundry room. Your hosts will probably tell you it is fine and to make yourself at home, but ask, anyway. Borrowing someone else's property without permission is never appropriate.

The final gesture you should always make as a house guest is thanking your hosts appropriately. While you are visiting, you should either give them a thank you gift of some sort or take them out to dinner one evening. Thank you gifts can be a game for their family, a selection of movie DVDs, or something else entertainment-oriented, a gourmet food gift, or a nice bottle of wine. You could also give them a nice plant or bouquet of flowers. If you opt to take them out to dinner, you should choose a restaurant that has good service and offers a nice selection on the menu.

After you return home, follow up with a note thanking your hosts again for having you and telling them how much you enjoyed staying with them. Be sure to mention each host by name if there was more than one, and mention some of the activities you participated in. At the earliest opportunity, try to return the favor by entertaining your hosts at your own home.

Being a good house guest is about focusing on how to enjoy yourself while being as helpful and unobtrusive as possible and appreciating the efforts of your hosts. By doing so, you let your hosts know that you understand the honor you are receiving as their guest.