Hmmm… I’m Not So Sure About This One

It’s Saturday, which means there’s a decent chance I’ll be sharing one of Dan Ariely’s responses to an email he received from a Wall Street Journal reader. And today is one of those lucky Saturdays.

Here was the question:

Dear Dan,

When I host friends for dinner, can I ask them to help with cleaning up afterward? I hate doing dishes, but maybe it’s impolite to ask guests to share the load. —Evelyn

Here was Dan’s answer:

I think that you should ask your friends to help. Doing dishes isn’t fun, but if your guests pitch in they will derive satisfaction from knowing they are helping you out. Not only is it a way for them to express appreciation for the meal, but working together on a task is a way of increasing social bonds.

But since the end of an experience is important in determining how we remember and evaluate it, you may want to avoid ending the evening with this chore. Instead, try cleaning up together right after the meal and then invite everyone for a final drink. Of course, that would create a few more glasses to wash, but you would end the evening on a positive note.

I’ve never been to a dinner party where the host has asked a guest to help with the dishes. And we’ve never had people over for dinner and asked them to help with the dishes.

Asking for such help just seems incredibly rude, and I would never do so.

On the other hand, guests should volunteer to help with the dishes. And such help should be readily accepted, for the reasons Dan notes above.

But there’s a big difference between asking for help, and accepting an offer for help.

Volunteering to help with the dishes is common courtesy, but if someone doesn’t offer such help, I do not think it is appropriate to ask for such help. I think doing so could possibly embarrass the guest, and make the host seem demanding.

The good news is – it will probably all work out in the end anyway.

Guests that volunteer to help will likely continue to be invited back for dinner, so there would be no need to ask for help with such guests.

If guests don’t volunteer, there may be a good chance they don’t get invited back again.

And if a host does ask for help, they may find that people may not be so eager to come back for another party. Thus, no party, no dishes to clean up.

So my answer would have been to not ask the guests for help.

If they volunteer, great.

If not, that’s what your naughty list is for…

*image from Reader’s Digest

16 thoughts on “Hmmm… I’m Not So Sure About This One

  1. I have to say that I agree with your response. it’s always thoughtful to at least offer, then let the answer come from the host. some people have their own system of cleaning up, some like to leave it for later, some might love the help, but I don’t agree with asking the guests to help.

  2. I have to say that I agree with your response. it’s always thoughtful to at least offer, then let the answer come from the host. some people have their own system of cleaning up, some like to leave it for later, some might love the help, but I don’t agree with asking the guests to help.

  3. I fully agree with your response. I was taught to always offer to help. It may not always be accepted, but it is always appreciated. And if a guest was to offer, I would likely decline. Cleaning up was a task I accepted as fully my own when I decided to have the party. I would prefer they relax and enjoy themselves!

  4. I’m with you. I can’t ever imagine asking guests for help. Who does that? (Say, while you’re here, how about doing a couple of loads of laundry with me? 😎) I always offer if I’m a guest—75% of the time they are happy to have the help. I’ve come to realize that some people say no because it makes them feel uncomfortable to have guests do anything. With family, I usually just get up and do it without asking.

  5. I wouldn’t ask, it’s nice to all go and relax on the sofas, in another room, depending on how your house is arranged. Probably people offer to take plates out to the kitchen ( though you might not want them to see the horendous mess in there! ). If you go out to the kitchen to make coffee you can surreptitiously tidy and put plates in to soak. If you have people round you want to enjoy chatting to them.

  6. It’s an interesting question, and I think the answer depends on the definition of terms. Words like “hosting” and “guests” seem a little ambiguous. For example, if your guests are your close family, and they come often, it’s reasonable to expect them to offer to help, and for you to take them up on their offer. If your guests are less friends and more acquaintances, like the president/chairperson of your organization there are different expectations of the “host” and “guest.” Think about the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey… If she came over, I’d say it’s fair to assume doing the dishes or even helping clear the table should not be expected (though ample sarcastic commentary should be 🙂 ). If a meal is “hosted” there’s an expectation that much is taken care of by the “host.” If it’s closer to a potluck, different expectations are in place from both “host” and “guest.”

    1. thanks for your insights; I agree with all of them. And while my wife would love the reference to Downton Abbey – I’ve never seen an episode (hard to imagine, I know!). Hope you are enjoying another endless weekend!

Leave a Reply