How to Be a Great Guest
David Burtka shares his tips on being a consummate visitor
Hi, it’s David, subbing in for my husband. Let me pose a question: Is there anything more generous than an invite to someone’s home?
The question is rhetorical, but if you need closure on that query, the answer is no.
Whether you’ve been asked over to someone’s house for a meal, a party or a weekend stay, they’ve extended the warmest of offers. You, in turn, can repay their kindness — and set yourself up for a great visit (and the prospect of future visits!) — by being a conscientious, generous guest.
Today, I’m going to tell you how. Where your grandparents might’ve told you to mind your Ps and Qs, I’m suggesting you embrace the Ps and Ps: presents and presence.
Nearly everyone has given or received flowers or candles as a host gift. Are they overdone? A little. And with good reason: they’re lovely! But with just a bit of thought, you can really elevate them to something special.
Before buying a candle for someone, think about that someone. Do they wear a fragrance? If so, they clearly love that scent; see if you can find a candle to match it. Do they live by the beach? Get a beach-scented candle! In a rustic cabin? Gift them a pine-scented candle. Did they honeymoon on the Cote d’Azur? A lavender-scented candle will remind them of their amazing trip. As for flowers, go the extra mile by bringing them in a vase. Flowers delivered in paper or cellophane wrapping require work — the recipient has to get a vase, cut the stems and leaves, fill said vase and put it out. And they have to do it immediately, lest the flowers start to wilt. A present should be a treat, not work.
If you really want to wow your host, consider more personable presents. If they’ve invited you over, they like you. So share a bit of you.
I’m a trained chef, so I’ll bring a homemade jam or dessert. My husband is a magician. Before we visit someone, he’ll work on a magic trick to perform for everyone. What’s your special skill? Can you strum out a song on a guitar? Offer to entertain the crowd. Are you a painter? An original piece of art is a great gift. But if your talent is limited to playing the spoons — an underrated musical skill, but still! — then just be extra thoughtful. From July through September I’ll bring friends a giant basket of vegetables and fruits from our garden. Don’t have a garden? Go to a farmer’s market and then pretend that you do. You could also buy a picture frame, print out a snapshot of you and the hosts from years ago, and meld the two together. Everyone loves a memory and seeing themselves in their younger, hotter days. Why not bring some pastries and a beautiful loaf of bread from a local bakery that you can all share? Or ooh, try this: put together something seasonal: fill a kid’s toy sand bucket with sunscreen, a couple of trashy beach-read books and ingredients for a cocktail. Bonus points if you show everyone how to make that cocktail! Which I often do, since I happen to know amazing bartender Jonathan Lind (who is super handsome, by the way, buuuut not as dreamy as my husband Neil who is standing over my shoulder while I write this, heh heh, awkward).
If your hosts have kids, always, always bring toys. Not only is it a nice gesture to include all of your hosts — even the little ones — but the kids will love you. Especially if you spend some time helping them set up or learning and playing the game with them. It goes a long way. “David gave me that awesome Lego set, he should totally be in the will!” Bonus: If the game occupies them for a while, and allows their parents to relax, all the better.
This is where great guests are made. Participate! Pitch in! Share in the work — and joys — of a meal or weekend together.
Picking up after yourself (and your family — especially if your husband leaves his things everywhere, all the time)? Obvious. What’s less obvious, is to what extent. A couple of years ago I proudly did all the dishes at a friend’s house, and then watched them empty and reload the dishwasher. I point this out not to mock anyone, but to illustrate that people have systems. Comfort levels. Hey, it’s their place — their rules! Inquire about them and respect them.
For example: As a chef, the kitchen is not only where I work, it’s my happy place. When I have friends over and they volunteer to help me cook, I’m super appreciative. And while I do like to keep core tasks like sauteing, grilling, etc. for myself — I know how I like things done in the cooking department — I’m crazy grateful when guests ask to help out with things like peeling veggies, chopping herbs, making drinks, setting the table, drying dishes…I’m not comfortable asking for help, but absolutely LOVE receiving it..!
Finally, one last set of tips for those lucky enough to score an extended invitation — a long weekend or holiday visit. Do all the little things you might not even do in your own home. Make your bed every morning. Don’t leave your dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, put them in a closet or your travel bag. Wipe down bathroom sinks. Re-fold hand towels. Re-arrange chairs. Pick up drinking glasses. Don’t leave iPhones, iPads, chargers and earbuds scattered about. (Okay, that one was written directly for you, Neil. Stop reading over my shoulder!) And this may be the best, most host-appreciated tip of all: On the morning of your last day together, before you’ve even had coffee, take a minute to strip your bed. Gather up the sheets and pillowcases and bring them to the washer/dryer or laundry room. Ask your host if you can run a load. Then clarify that you’re talking about laundry. Yeah I did. Go that extra mile and you’ll be invited back again and again.
Suggested for you