Dinner Party: Balancing the Guests and the Dishes

by epi on August 5, 2011

Q: I think it’s inappropriate for a dinner-party host to start washing the dirty dishes while the guests are still around.  Isn’t this code for “party’s over- go home”?

A: It depends.  At a formal party, the host shouldn’t clean up until her guests have left.  A casual gathering with close friends is different.  Without huffing and puffing about the cleanup, offer your friends a chair and a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and say, “You do the talking while I clear up.”  Few friends can resist a captive listener, and you’ll have a clean post-party kitchen.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth Ann Vega August 5, 2011 at 10:36 am

Is it appropriate for a dinner guest to come with a baseball cap and wear it during the entire time in the house including dinner?

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Just Laura August 5, 2011 at 10:56 am

No.
Here’s what the Emily Post Institute says about the wearing of hats.

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Pam August 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm

It depends…if the party is large and lack of counterspace in the kitchen begins to hinder the host’s ability to prepare later courses or dessert, then a host cleaning up to make room is not rude.

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Beth August 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm

What is appropriate in regard to me, as a guest, helping to clean up the table at dinner parties or family parties? I usually end up clearing the table at my in-laws, but I end up being the only one who does so (besides my mother or father in-law). I feel bad leaving all the dishes for the hostess or host and feel obligated to help. What are the “rules” for being a guest and helping to clean up after a dinner party?

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Mrs. Czeisel August 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Guests are never obligated to help clean up. They may certainly offer, and in the case of your in-laws the relationship may be relaxed enough that you can skip the offer and go straight to helping. Many hosts don’t like it when guests clean up so generally speaking one should ask and if the offer is turned down not try to help anyway.

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Alicia August 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

As a normal guest you can offer but should not feel obligated to offer. In the case of your parents r in laws it can be expected that family helps. However you shoudl with your in laws follow your husbands lead. Only offer after he does.

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mary December 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm

For a family reunion how can you go about asking everyfamily to bring their food & drink, for years we had it at our home provided everything, no expense to over 50 people. This year we thought about having it at a state park ? Whats your thoughts about this

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crystal hartwell March 29, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Where does the line draw on doing your host’s chores when you are visiting overnight (or a few?). My inlaws feel as though everyone needs to take turns doing the dishes, cleaning the floors, etc. While I know their intentions are good, I feel intruded upon when they put away my dishes (for some reason opening all the cubboards in my home feels intrusive). It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable about doing in their house too. What about others things that has been ‘expected’ like cleaning the floors, and windows? I had one friend complain because their inlaws did not ‘make the bed properly’ and how rude it was. What chores are expected of an overnight or extended stay (week) guest?

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Winifred Rosenburg March 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm

The only chore that has to be done is keeping your room tidy, including making the bed although I was unaware that there is one correct way to make a bed. Beyond that an extended guest should ask how he can help. If the host is too polite to name anything, he can make suggestions to indicate that he won’t take “nothing” for an answer, but ultimately he shouldn’t do anything without the host’s permission. As you have noticed different people have different preferences of what they are comfortable with their guests doing. It’s important for guests to respect their host’s preferences and not cross any lines by doing things without asking. I once had a guest who decided to “clean” while I was out. This included rearranging all my things so I couldn’t find what I needed when I went to work the next day and opening all my wedding presents, throwing out boxes and such. (It was the week before my wedding, and I had been waiting until after the wedding to open them all.) She’s not allowed to stay here anymore.

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Elizabeth March 30, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I think it is pretty common for longer-term guests to help with some household chores, cooking and cleaning up after meals being chief among them. However – floors? windows???? Do they invite you over specifically to do these chores? In my mind, windows are like a once-every-six-months type of chore, and certainly nothing I would EVER ask a guest to do. It sounds like they are asking you to do deep cleaning, and that is entirely inappropriate work for a guest. It sounds like this family has some … interesting customs, though, and I’m not sure how you can politely avoid them if others are doing it. One stand you might be able to take is if only women are asked to do work while the men sit around. That I would absolutely rebel against. What does your husband say/think about all of this? He might have some insights about the situation. Perhaps his parents are old and actually need help, and this is the way they can get it without admitting the need?

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