Growing up in the Deep South, I was taught the importance of manners and hospitality from early on. Phrases like “yes maam,” “no sir” and “thank you, that meal was absolutely delicious”—even if I was served cold cereal—were ingrained in my speech from such a young age that they came to me as naturally as breathing.
I began to truly appreciate these lessons much more as an adult. The hospitality guidelines I learned from my family and friends of family have given me the ability to feel confident and comfortable in most any social situation. I think the true key to being a great guest is to honestly care about the people you are visiting. One way to do so is by being intentional. There are many simple things you can do to make someone feel special when you enter their home. I like to bring a gift that I know will mean something to them. Everyone is longing to be “known” and when you offer a gift that is thoughtful and specific to that person’s likes and interests, they are guaranteed to feel cared for.
For example, if you know your friend is a big fan of whiskey, bring their favorite bottle along with a handsome flask. If your friend loves candles, wrap up a nice one with beautiful paper and top it with greenery from your yard. I love how smells can automatically conjure up specific memories, and lighting a scented candle will remind your friend of your visit. If you are visiting during the winter months, a beautiful blanket or handmade house shoes are a fun gift that makes someone excited to cozy up in the living room for a good long catch up session. If you are on a really tight budget but don’t want to arrive empty-handed, an inexpensive bottle of wine is a kind gesture. I always recommend adding a hand-written note, telling the guest how appreciative you are for being welcomed into their home and how excited you are to spend time with them. If you can’t afford a gift, a thoughtful note goes such a long way.
Once in the home it’s always nice to give your host your rough schedule, so they know when to expect you in their space. Treating your host to a meal during your visit can be a wonderful gesture. I host people pretty consistently, and I always want to take my guests to my favorite restaurants around town, but that can also get costly. If you are able to take your host out for one yummy meal, or cook for them while you are staying, they will so appreciate it.
One rule my parents taught me is to always leave a space better than you find it. I don’t bother asking how I can help clean up after a meal; I just do it. The morning I am leaving, I strip the bed, put on clean sheets if they have a spare set, empty the trash in the room and pile all the dirty towels in the laundry room. Lastly, it’s nice to write a thank you note upon leaving. I like to tell my host all the things I appreciate most about them, and thank them for being so gracious to welcome me into their home and their lives.
Doing one or a few of these things can pretty much guarantee that your host will be genuinely sad to see you go—and look forward to your next visit!
Photos by Mike Seehagel.
For more ideas, see our Gifts for the Host collection.
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