Seeing as I have not yet been blessed with my own Hamptons cottage, I focus on being the best guest possible when fortunate enough to land at a friend's home for the weekend. After all, there is something wonderfully vulnerable about being invited to someone’s house — especially out East, the center of the chic and established. And not for nothing, but being a notably great guest goes a long way. Personally I've found my approach has resulted in a flurry of invitations, and perhaps, one could even say, a reputation as a “hot ticket” guest.
First thing's first — once invited, the way you accept the invitation is crucial. You must always be excited and enthusiastic. When people open their homes, which they've most likely spent ages fussing over with their decorators, it is important to demonstrate how very much you appreciate their efforts.
It may be true that in the Hamptons you may very well have your pick when it comes to hosts, but you must avoid making it seem that way. No one wants to feel like they’re second best or that you—heaven forbid—might be holding out for a better invitation . . . perhaps something on the beach or someone with a chef?
Once the dates are nailed down and your outfits chosen (be sure to inquire prior should there be any activities or outings that you may need to dress for), a good guest will always think about a gift. Some might suggest it’s better to send something after the visit, but I personally find it sinful to show up anywhere empty-handed. Though even worse is bringing a thoughtless, generic gift. Wine . . . candles . . . something that might be given to anyone. Dreadful!
I find that giving a personalized gift such as something monogrammed—something singular for the host or hostess—is always a winning strategy. Typical go-to gifts for me are items that match the host’s energy, items that will be used and remembered for how much fun everyone had or how thoughtful you were.
An elegant and easy win is always a tissue box cover, leather notebook, or even a monogramed flask. Attempting something they might not already have or need endless of.
And for those who believe wine is fine to present at a dinner party . . . it’s really not. A proper host or hostess will always have a wine chosen and paired with the dinner. Bringing a bottle will only make them feel obliged to serve it, creating more problems than joys. Not to mention reaching into your own wine rack shows no effort on your part . . . obviously not the sort of impression you'd like to make in any situation.
As a guest, you have certain duties, perhaps most important of which is adding to the atmosphere. Come armed with good stories, gossip, and smiles. If you and the hosts, as well as the hosts' other guests, are not very familiar, avoid sticky topics. Think light and fluffy. Steer clear of anything on the front page of a newspaper.
Oh and you must be thoughtful about how you offer to help, which a good guest should, as it’s easy to misstep. For example, when a hostess or her staff is clearing the table, that is no time for you to help. In this moment, your friend is not in need of hands to clear, but of someone to help keep the conversation lively.
The best way to go about finding ways to aid your host is to find a private moment and ask. Asking in front of other guests is not ideal, and in private you rely on your host's honest thoughts being shared.
As with everything, timing is everything during your stay. Always do your best to request and follow the host or hostess’s timeline. An absolute unbreakable rule is never be late — but do be mindful that earliness also presents a problem. Hosting timelines can be complicated, and no one is doing anyone any favors by being too early for an outing or meal.
When dressing at someone else’s home it is important to let your host or hostess set the tone. Always dress before you leave your room. And keep the outfit flexible as you might not know the agenda. The tennis pro could be waiting for you! Loungewear can be a very important aspect for the weekend in the Hamptons, especially if the weather is bad. Pack something like a cashmere or linen track suit with matching monogramed slippers. And should it rain, put your host at ease by letting them know you are understanding of the weather and are of course not expecting to be entertained.
After your departure, some people might recommend that you send flowers. While a nice gesture, in reality it is not ideal. Flowers are personal and are often already taken care of. In lieu, I find a thank-you note is best.
I am consistently shocked by my hosts’ surprise at receiving my hand-written appreciation in the mail. Thanking people with a sweet note is never a bad look (especially not during an age when it has become a rare treat), but taking up space or burdening a house manager with a floral arrangement the host or hostess will never see can be.
Ultimately, friendship is priceless, and being a good guest is but a wonderful bonus for your friends, not the reason you are there.
Pack properly and be prepared, timely, and pleasant. Keep in mind that hosting can be stressful. I have faith all will be well.
[Photos via Aerin]