If you have friends, you’ve been a guest. A relaxed brunch, an overnight stay, or a holiday dinner – hopefully, we’ve all enjoyed the hospitality of others.
It seems logical that one should take care to be as good a host as possible. But have you thought about what it takes to be a great guest?
In familiar surroundings with people you know well and like, being a great guest feels natural. Maybe you don’t even feel like a guest at all. But what about those times when you’re the proverbial fish out of water?
I began this post as Thanksgiving and Chanukah approached. Normally I think about celebratory dinners and entertaining from the perspective of a host, but I had determined that I wanted to write about the flip sides: both hosting and being a guest.
Then last weekend I was invited to a friend’s birthday party where I knew only a few people. There were perhaps 30 people milling around, eating and talking. A few people started dancing. Many of them knew each from a workplace I had never been in. I had to find conversation partners and figure out whether and how to join small groups chatting among themselves. Before the evening was over, I had met several interesting people, but the event reminded me that being a guest is not always effortless.
With that experience fresh in my mind and with apologies to Strunk & White, three elements of being a great guest took shape in my mind:
- Before – The Golden Rule. A small gift, for the host is always nice. Whether it’s a six pack of beer, a box of homemade candy, flowers or something else that shows you appreciate the invite, your thoughtfulness is bound to impress. If you have an allergy, a food issue, or some other special consideration that the host should know about, provide that information ahead of time. Although it is more difficult to broach such a subject if you don’t know the host (e.g. because you’re the “significant other”), it’s even more important to prevent awkward moments that could have been avoided if the message was conveyed in advance. An email may be easier than a call, but either way, the heads up will make the party go more smoothly for both host and guest.
- During – Enjoy Yourself. As a host, nothing pleases me more than to see people enjoying themselves. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Guests who arrive intending to enjoy themselves and who spread that feeling to others make the party-giving easy (and enjoyable) for the host. You don’t have to be the life of the party to enjoy yourself; if you are truly content to people watch or prefer one-one-one conversation, staying true to those parts of your personality work fine. It’s about the indefinable quality of happiness in the room, rather than the level of noise or laughter. You know a room full of good cheer when you enter it, and the warmth emanating from the happy guests breeds more of the same.
- Afterwards – Acknowledge and Appreciate. As you leave, acknowledge the invite and recognize the effort that the host put into the party. A pleasant and appreciative farewell is more than a formality – it’s the right way to end your stint as a guest. And if you’ve had a great time, expressing that as you depart or afterwards in a note is even better.
What “guesting lessons” have you learned and how did you learn them?