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Mixed Expectations

Reading about your double booked dinner guests reminded me of a similar sticky situation.

Having relocated across the country, we found we were only two hours from some old friends of ours. We hadn’t seen them in years but had sort of kept in touch with Christmas cards and social media. They’d always been great company, and we were delighted when they suggested we come over for dinner on a Saturday night. Given the length of the drive, and the fact we might have a glass or two (!), they offered to put us up for the night.

The dinner was splendid. They’d invited several local friends who turned out to be great company, the food and wine were superb and all in all, a great success.

We were the only couple staying overnight, and when we came downstairs the next morning it was obvious the hosts had gone to a lot of trouble for us – freshly baked bread, poached eggs, home made jams, all delicious. We sat and ate and chatted, all agreeing what a great time we’d had and, now that we lived close by, we could do this more often. By now it was drifting into late Sunday morning, so we started to say our goodbyes and thanks, and to make a move.

This is where it went slightly wrong. The hosts were dismayed. It turns out they’d planned an extravagant lunch for us as well. The fridge was still packed with delicious food, more than they could eat. They’d planned for us to spend the whole day with them, lunch and tea, and head off in the evening. We hadn’t expected that, and had made plans for the afternoon.

They were a bit put-out, we were a bit embarrassed, but what could we do? Fortunately the awkwardness subsided into a profusion of apologies and promising to stay longer next time. We left in a cloud of only slightly strained goodwill and bonhomie.

It’s clear there was a difference in our expectations, and it’s not going to ruin our friendship. But I’m wondering what other people’s expectations would have been? Should I have made it clear that, though we were pleased to stay the night, It didn’t mean we’d be spending the next day with them? If you’re invited to dinner, and to stay the night, is lunch automatically included? 0206-15


What a treasure to have friends whose hospitality is quite generous!

Upon accepting an invitation to be a house guest, I find it helpful to be upfront in my communication to inform my hosts when I will be arriving and departing if the invitation appears to be rather open ended.   It then gives them the opportunity to appeal for you to stay longer.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • siamesecat2965 April 1, 2015, 7:39 am

    I think it was simply a miscommunication on both sides. It seems like they didn’t discuss the plans, and how they thought you’d stay all day Sunday, and you weren’t clear either as to when you were planning on leaving. But it sounds like in the future, now you know, and can do so.

    I know I have a tendancy, esp if I’m driving a distance of several hours or more, to like to leave fairly early, if I’ve stayed over with someone. But I let them know. And they’re usually ok with it as well. It does depend on the nature of my visit; sometimes I stay with family on the way to my mom’s, and they know I’ll spend 2 nights with them, and then get up and be on the road by 8-9.

  • essie April 1, 2015, 7:39 am

    As I see it, the problem was when your friends invited you over for “dinner” instead of inviting you for “the weekend”, which appears to be what they intended. Remember this when you invite them to your place and, since their definition of “dinner” varies from yours, be clear about your plans lest they write to Etiquettehell about being invited for dinner and shooed out the door after breakfast!

  • NostalgicGal April 1, 2015, 9:44 am

    I see this as miscommunication, and if you OP reciprocate, make sure it’s clear what the plans are, and indeed, you can be as hostful as you wish (reciprocating in kind). And if you ever go back there as guests, make sure it’s a little clearer what the schedule is…

    Hopefully it has been patched over by now.

  • LJ Briar April 1, 2015, 9:45 am

    Awww, that was kind of them, but I agree with what everyone else is saying. Next time, just be more upfront about when you plan to arrive and leave, and all will be perfect. That’s something I know I need to practice. I always feel uncomfortable stating when I’m leaving or when I expect guests to leave, like, I’m saying, “This is exactly how long I can stand you and not a second longer.” But everyone’s right. Politely phrased, it helps clarify expectations.

  • Hollyhock April 1, 2015, 10:20 am

    This is why the onus is on hosts to be specific. I am always surprised when people who are hosting fail to take control — you are in charge, it is up to you to lead. That goes for pointing out where guests should sit at table, organizing the activities/itinerary for the event, etc. and stating the other parameters of the invitation. Uncertainty does not make for a very relaxing meal or visit.

    An invitation should be extended for a specific timeframe: “We’d love for you and Denzel to come to dinner on Saturday and spend the night. Please plan to arrive by 5; you’ll have a few minutes to unpack and freshen up before our other guests arrive for cocktails on the terrace at 6. Khakis and sun-dresses will be fine.

    “In the morning we usually serve breakfast about 9; that will get you on the road by 11 before the worst of the Sunday traffic hits.” OR “In the morning we’ll have breakfast around 9, and we have tickets for the garden tour which runs until 2 p.m.; after that we’ll do a cookout by the pool and you can head out by 5 p.m. We hope you can make it!”

    If a host doesn’t offer, a guest should say “Oh, thank you, we’d love to. Will it work if we arrive by 5 on Saturday? And we’ll need to leave by 11 a.m. on Sunday because Monique has a golf game at 2 p.m.”

    When I invite people to our cottage I always say “If you leave town around 10 you’ll get there by noon, which will be perfect; we’ll have a mid-afternoon corn roast & cookout and there will be plenty of cheeses, veggies and dips, sandwich fixings and leftovers from the grill to graze on all evening. On Sunday we cook a late pancake breakfast and lounge around mid-day. I generally start cleaning up and loading the car by 4 p.m. and head out for home no later than 5 p.m.; you can get an earlier start while I finish my closing-up tasks.” That way no one is blindsided by what is expected of him or has to worry about whether they’ll go hungry.

    • A different Tracy April 2, 2015, 3:48 pm

      Actually, this kind of strictly regimented invitation would probably make me uncomfortable as a guest. I think there’s some happy medium between “stay the night and leave at an undetermined time” and “arrive at this time, wear this, and leave by this time.”

      • Lynne April 2, 2015, 7:59 pm

        I second that.

      • Raymee April 3, 2015, 12:59 am

        Agreed. In my corner of the world, this would be a very bizarre invitation.

      • Kimstu April 5, 2015, 5:17 pm

        For close friends who already know all about each other’s social circles and schedules and local traffic conditions, etc., this would indeed be a rather weird and “micromanaging” invitation format. But for visits between people who aren’t already intimately acquainted, it’s absolutely proper to give this kind of detail in the invitation.

        In fact, as @Hollyhock notes, if a host in that situation isn’t providing those details, the guest should ask for them. Unless the guest is willing to be VERY flexible about bringing an appropriate wardrobe for different possible activities and different levels of formality, being prepared to leave at short notice depending on what the host’s schedule turns out to be, and so forth. It’s generally easier on everybody to get the overall plan of the visit sketched out beforehand, as the OP learned to their cost.

    • Hollyhock April 3, 2015, 9:42 am

      It might seem bizarre to people who live casually but it’s how invitations for a weekend or party are properly issued per every traditional etiquette book I’ve ever read. Start time, end time, attire, heads up about activities.

      I see nothing wrong with outlining expectations in advance. It certainly would alleviate much of the confusion and hard feelings that are illustrated by a lot of the posters to eHell.

    • vjcole April 3, 2015, 9:51 am

      This is the kind of overly tight scheduling that makes me avoid travel tour groups. As “A different Tracy” said, there must be some kind of happy medium.

      • Hollyhock April 3, 2015, 5:41 pm

        Other than noting meal times, the timing of a mutually agreed upon ticketed event (i wouldnt spring the garden tour or a hockey game or concert on an unsuspecting guest, naturally) and when guests are expected to depart, there’s really nothing tight or regimented about it. And it beats people sitting around wondering when they are going to be fed or if they need to help clean up. (at my cottage, they do not.)

  • lakey April 1, 2015, 10:37 am

    I think this is just a matter of miscommunication, rather than rudeness. Since they were so gracious and went through a bit of disappointment, I would do something nice for them in return. Invite them to your own home, perhaps to attend something. Then in the future be more specific.

  • Shoegal April 1, 2015, 11:10 am

    I think as Admin said a discussion about when you might leave was never had – so your friends planned on you being there all day – while you were probably thinking they would want you out of their hair. They sound like tremendously great friends to go to so much trouble for you.

    This story reminded me of something on the opposite end of the spectrum. I invited a couple over to our house for some cocktails and snacks on a Friday evening. As is typical for me, I like to do something fun on a Friday after the work week. The evening was just the 2nd time we have spent with this couple and that time they had stayed till about 2 am. Yes, it was decidedly late but still a fun evening although I was reaching the point where I just wanted to go to bed. Anyway, on the 2nd visit they stayed equally late, we suggested they stay over but they decided to go home. There was “talk” about breakfast the next day. My husband (who had a few too many) was all for the idea, the guests seemed willing but I tried repeatedly to squash this idea. The next day, they texted to ask if we were still on – so they were giving me an out but I allowed the breakfast to materialize. I thought – oh, it might be fun and they’ll leave about 11 or so – so it’ll be fine. My husband and I usually devote our Saturdays to working around the house, cleaning, projects, etc. They came over – we had a great breakfast, it was fine, we had fun but they ended up staying all day, leaving at 9pm that evening. Absolutely nothing got done that day – and I felt like we lost the Saturday completely doing absolutely nothing. I really am not a cook and don’t really have a whole bunch of food in the house and I never really plan dinner – so after breakfast we didn’t really eat anything of substance. My husband put out the limited snacks we had but I didn’t plan for lunch or dinner or anything after the Friday evening snacks I put out. I clearly have no words to tell my guests to leave but I should have come up with something!!! I vowed never to allow anything of the sort to happen again.

    • another Laura April 2, 2015, 6:42 am

      There are generic “polite dismisal” phrases, such as: “we’ve really enjoyed having you over. We will do it again soon. Unfortunately, we have some work projects that really need to be done today. Shall we plan to get together again (name a good time)?”
      And just curious, do they ever invite you to their home or is the hospitality all one-sided?

      • Shoegal April 2, 2015, 3:38 pm

        So far – there hasn’t been an invitation. I keep thinking they would reciprocate but they haven’t yet.

    • NostalgicGal April 2, 2015, 10:58 am

      Fine, if they linger I hand out work gloves and garden implements. 🙂 Then go get pizza for lunch and hint heavy about the afternoon’s schedule and usually that sends everyone home.

  • Shannan April 1, 2015, 12:19 pm

    Yes it seems as if this was just a difference of expectations. I would probably invite them over one night in order to reciprocate but then just maybe casually mention what you have planned.

  • vjcole April 1, 2015, 12:39 pm

    Your friends sound like lovely, generous people. However, I think their expectations might have been a little out of line. An invitation to dinner, even if accompanied by an invitation to stay overnight, doesn’t obligate the visitors to anything more than dinner and POSSIBLY breakfast, although that would depend on how late the visitors slept, and how early they wanted to leave. I’d chalk this up to a miscommunication on both sides, and just work on being more specific in the future.

  • Lila April 1, 2015, 1:02 pm

    I think people think of an invitation for a night’s stay in a similar way to a night’s hotel or bed and breakfast stay. At a hotel you spend the night, eat breakfast, and check-out by 11. Granted, staying with friends is much less regimented and more personal but the “bed and breakfast” format seems natural and unforced and alleviates the possibility of guests overstaying their welcome.

  • Anonymous April 1, 2015, 1:30 pm

    You’re fine. It wasn’t your fault that they invited you for one meal, and made you three. I mean, on the surface, that was nice of them, but they didn’t communicate the plans in advance. I think that communication needs to happen, because there have been huge debates on here about whether a “dinner invitation” means “dinner only,” or “dinner and hang out before and/or afterwards,” and here these people added in a sleepover, breakfast the next day, and they were planning for lunch as well. I’d be uncomfortable with that, because I’m an introvert, and I need alone time, and also, I’d probably feel sick to my stomach after eating more than one “company level” meal in a 24-hour period–because, after all, people generally serve appetizers, multiple sides, alcoholic drinks, and dessert along with the main meal when they have guests, but not when it’s just them, and, hospitable gesture or not, my stomach is only so big. Anyway, the polite thing to do is, of course, reciprocate their hospitality, but it doesn’t have to be on the same level, and I think the distance might actually be a positive thing, because this way, you don’t have to host them in your home, if there’s a daytime activity you could do someplace between your house and theirs instead, like a museum, or a park where you could have a picnic, etc. You could tell them that you “don’t want them to have to drive that far,” and make it seem like you’re making it easier on them, even if your reasoning is because you don’t want “dinner” to turn into “the whole weekend.”

  • Melissa S April 1, 2015, 1:38 pm

    So many of these etiquette faux pas seem like they could be avoided if only people weren’t too shy to communicate their intentions up front!

    OP, if I had been you, I would have expected to stay the night, have a light breakfast with the hosts, and leave mid-morning, given that your understanding was to stay for dinner and overnight and given that you likely didn’t want to impose yourselves on their generous hospitality any further.

    However, if I had been the hosts, I would have anticipated that staying the night meant my guests might not be leaving until lunch or later. Time slips away quickly when friends are catching up. I would have prepared by making sure my fridge was stocked just in case.

    I agree with the advice that it falls mostly on the guest to communicate when they expect/plan to leave, at which point the host can extend the offer for the guest to stay longer.

  • JD April 1, 2015, 4:25 pm

    Oh, dear, this happened to me. I was spending a weekend with my sister and called my sister-in-law who happens to live in the same large town, about 20 minutes away. I told her my kids and I would stop by before we left town on Sunday (we’d been invited to spend the weekend with my sister). She asked when we’d be there, and I said probably one-thirty. We packed our stuff, ate lunch with my sister, and drove over to the S-I-L’s house for a visit, only to discover about 15 minutes after we got there that she had cooked lunch for us! I didn’t know what to do — we had just eaten, and she had never mentioned lunch in the first place. Still, I felt terrible.

    • Anonymous April 2, 2015, 12:11 pm

      Well, if you were going to be spending the weekend with your sister anyway, then that automatically means you’d still be there at dinner time, so my answer would be to just explain the situation, and ask if you could save lunch for dinner.

  • SJ April 1, 2015, 4:58 pm

    At least it wasn’t reversed where you had expected an extravagant lunch and full day with them and they had plans and needed to kick you out!

    I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. This is an innocent mistake on both parts, perhaps. Take it as a compliment that they enjoy your company so, and you’ll both know to be clearer next time.

  • Rebecca April 2, 2015, 1:14 am

    Oh dear, I’d have thought the same as the OP, ie that “stay the night so you can drink wine and don’t have to drive home late at night” meant just stay the night, and leave the next morning. In fact, I’d have felt I should leave relatively quickly in the morning so as not to overstay my welcome. I’d have been pleasantly surprised at the lovely breakfast and would have stayed and chatted a bit post-breakfast, but I’d still have thought I was expected to leave by 10 or 11 AM at the latest.

    But I agree with the above, from now on clearly state your expected arriving and leaving time so nobody is surprised.

  • Tracy W April 2, 2015, 2:23 am

    What a lovely problem to have, after all the horribleness we hear about on this site (not that I don’t enjoy that too in a vicarious way 🙂 ).
    Personally I wouldn’t have expected lunch to be included either.

  • Michelle C Young April 2, 2015, 6:24 am

    I just love that the problem arose from you not wanting to impose, and them wanting to share even more with you. Generosity on both sides!

    Clear communication will prevent this from happening again, to be sure. Count your blessings that you have such good friends, who value your company so much, and are so generous with their time and resources.

  • MM April 2, 2015, 8:53 am

    This story is so cute. We should all be so lucky to have such generous, welcoming and kind friends. I’m sure they are gracious enough to understand that there no bad intentions, just a lack of communication. I’m sure you’ll laugh about it in the future!

    Truth be told, I’d rather “understay” my welcome than overstay my welcome.

  • Enna April 2, 2015, 11:40 am

    I think the people in this event need to just claify next time what the plan is. At least there were no disasters such as the guests outstaying their welcome or the hosts booting them out at 6:00 am in the morning. Just chalk it down to expirence.

  • Cheryl April 14, 2015, 2:33 pm

    Being put up for the night due to the drive, normally, like most people, doesn’t mean that breakfast isn’t expected, but leaving by 10 am is more than reasonable. What you could have done, is inform said friends before you came over for dinner, ” I appreciate you putting us up for the night but I promise that we will be out of your hair by (name specific time), we have plans with relatives/work to get ready for/etc. (fill in the reason for leaving by a certain time).” This way they know your timetable, and there isn’t an open ended expectation for you to stay. Besides, it was Sunday, everyone works on Monday, therefore, you will need to get ready, run errands and possible other things, no one should expect you to stay until late afternoon with a 2 hour drive back. You didn’t double book, they made a wrong assumption.

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