Do You Have To Offer An Unexpected Guest Food And Drink?

How to politely navigate this etiquette no-no.

Big-Batch Spiked Arnold Palmers


It was once a much more common occurrence to have someone drop by your house unexpectedly, especially in the South where friendliness, hospitality, and impeccable conversation skills have always been our calling cards. Whether someone would drop by to offer extra tomatoes from their garden, to drop off a borrowed item, to come by during a moment of need, or simply to pop in for a lighthearted chat, unexpected guests were not quite so unexpected. These days, however, there is a certain etiquette discussion around unexpected guests and how to be prepared in case someone does arrive with any element of surprise. 

Specifically, what are you expected to offer to someone who drops in unannounced? Food? Drink? An invitation off the porch and into your home? To begin, it’s important to note that there’s a big difference between unexpected drop-ins and someone who expects to encroach on a dinner party or stay overnight with no notice. For the latter, it’s not on the host to have anything completely prepared or at-the-ready. 

For those who simply pop over for a visit, it’s easy to argue that food and drink are of no consequence to offer. Some would retort, however, that dropping in unexpectedly is an etiquette no-no, and so offerings should not be required. While that may be somewhat true, for all intents and purposes, it’s still the polite thing to do. Unless, of course, you are completely indisposed and need to keep the visit very quick. There’s many reasons why someone might come over on a whim, and sometimes it’s even a welcome visit that you didn’t expect!

Southerners are known for being gracious hosts regardless of the scenario. So, to be prepared for an unexpected drop-in does to occasionally find its way to your door, here’s what we would suggest having on hand at all times.

For beverages, offering water is always appreciated. A Southern visitor also never turns down a cold glass of iced tea. You can even keep the makings of a proper porch cocktail on hand if so desired. 

For food, easy snacks like mixed nuts, olives, or cheese straws can be put out in a bowl in mere seconds. For those who intrude on dinnertime and you feel obligated to offer dinner—or just want to keep the party going!—freezable casseroles can be time-savers in a pinch. For a friend or family member who drops by in distress, frozen cookie dough can offer instant comfort. 

In essence, a simple offering is a kind gesture always appreciated. Showing up anywhere unannounced is never preferred, but it does happen occasionally. The best manners are the ones that make everyone feel comfortable including yourself. Do what feels right! 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles