An etiquette expert weighs in on the best way to manage this time-consuming task.

Preparing to host a dinner party at your home can be an all-consuming task—and the work doesn't end when the last plate is cleared. Post-meal, there's an entire load of dishes left to clean. So, when the first hand raises to help with the washing, what should a hostess do? Accept the assistance? Doing so isn't necessarily in line with the etiquette lore we've heard in the past. Ahead, an expert shares her reasoning.

Should hosts accept help?

"I rarely allow guests to help with the dishes," says etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "This is the host's job. Only close friends and family members should offer to help if assistance is needed." She believes it's okay to decline the offer by saying something like, "Thank you for offering, but I want you to enjoy yourself."

white kitchen sink with black faucet and dish rack
Credit: Getty / Jonathan Kitchen

Should hosts ask for help?

"If guests don't offer to help with dishes, the hostess should not ask for help unless absolutely necessary," explains Whitmore. If you're able to postpone cleaning the dishes until after guests leave—for example, if your kitchen can be closed off to guests—simply clear the table and leave the fuss for later so you can continue enjoying the company of your guests.

What should a guest do if they want to be helpful?

Offering to help with the dishes is a kind gesture, but it's not necessary, says Whitmore—and it's important to know when to take a step back based on cues from the host. Keep in mind that every host has his or her own way of managing a small event. They may prefer to keep control of all duties because they have particular ways of doing things. For example, Whitmore points out that guests may load the dishwasher in a strange way, or forget to hand wash fragile items. If you find that you're offering help and it's being refused, or the host seems annoyed with the questions, back off and go enjoy the party.


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