Anyone can get invited to a cottage once, the trick is getting invited back!
Here are a few suggestions to improve your chances of a 2nd (or 3rd) invitation
- Eating is a major activity at any cottage. Meals, snacks, pre-meal snacks, after-meal snacks -- it’s an orgy of food. Ask the host what they would like you to bring. If they use that famous Canadian line “Oh nothing” - they’re being polite. Every host wants you to bring something. Offer to bring up a meal (or two) complete with beverages, plus snacks. Co-ordinate menus, discuss food likes and dislikes, allergies, etc. - an example - if you or your hosts avoid gluten/dairy/meat, take that into consideration while contributing to the weekend menus. Planning, co-ordination, and communication are keys to success.
- Still on the topic of food, fridge space is usually at a premium in cottage country.
Don’t bring a ton of perishables the host doesn’t need. Co-ordinate to avoid duplication. “Gee we have 3 pounds of butter but no milk.” Often the host will provide the basics (milk, coffee, etc.) and have condiments. Ask first; no one wants duplicate bottles and jars taking up valuable real estate in the fridge.
Do not rummage willy-nilly through the fridge making yourself something to eat. You may have just eaten tomorrow night’s dinner. Asking the host what’s for dinner right after lunch is also considered bad form.
- Don’t help yourself to the host’s stash of brews or raid their liquor cabinet. BYOB doesn’t cut it in cottage country. The acronym for cottaging is BEFE. Translation: Bring Enough For Everyone (and then some).
- Be helpful. Help prep meals, help cook, set the table, do the dishes. Find the vacuum or broom at the end of your stay and use it. There are always jobs to do at the cottage. Offering to help is a good way to get a return invitation.
- Be mindful and accommodating. Try to fall into step with your host’s timing. While this may sound rigid when it comes to a relaxing cottage weekend, some hosts like to have breakfast done and dusted by 9 am, while others prefer brunch, or maybe your hosts are the ‘you’re-on-your-own to make breakfast’ type. Whichever, find out the “ground rules” so you’re not holding up breakfast because you like to sleep late. Same goes for other meals and activities – ask
- Unless you have a solution for any of the following problems, don't complain about: the bugs, the weather, the temperature of the water, the state of the cottage road, etc. It’s annoying.
- Be on your best behaviour – not a complete personality change but be thoughtful. Do as Aretha sings, respect people, property, and the environment. Most cottages have septic systems and draw water from the lake or a well. If you are not familiar with them, ask what their rules are. There are some definite no no’s when it comes to septic systems.
Bring your own towels and bedding. Your friends are not running a B & B and therefore don’t offer laundry service. Don’t bring too much stuff as space is often at a premium. Ask whether to bring PFDs, pillows or sleeping bags. Leave extras like fishing gear in your car until needed.
- When you receive an invitation, it always includes an arrival and departure time. Leave on the predetermined designated day. Asking to stay longer or just not getting off the lawn chair will guarantee that this will be your last weekend at the cottage. Don’t show up early or late. Call or text just as you’re leaving so the hosts have a general ETA. If running late, call or text with an updated ETA. You don’t want them to worry you’re in a ditch somewhere. Bonus points - as you are leaving, ask if there is anything that needs picking up on the way (ice, newspaper perhaps).
When being at the cottage includes kids, most of the rules are slightly different. Kids want to be busy, so plan activities that involve them. This doesn’t mean packing up the X-Box and plugging them in all weekend. Bring board games, plan a scavenger hunt, or organize a mini regatta. Check, and bring items such as fishing gear, life jackets (if you have them), musical instruments (within reason) and the like (ask first).
- Remember that, although you are just there for a couple of days, the people who own the place are there most of the season, so don’t leave wet bathing suits or towels on the floor. Better yet, be extremely tidy. No one ever gets demerit points for being tidy. Another bonus point – if your hosts are staying up after you leave, offer to take home garbage or recyclables - they can really mount up over a weekend.
- If you are invited, don’t assume that includes anyone else (roommate, person you recently started dating...)
Bringing along an unexpected guest is a guarantee you and your buddy won’t be back.
- Which brings us to your pet. Make sure to ask before bringing your dog or cat. If your pet isn’t house-trained it’s going to be a problem especially if the hosts don’t have a pet.
- Boats and most water toys of any kind are expensive to run. They don’t run on air; offer to pay for gas.
- While some hosts prefer your generous food and beverage contributions rather than a thank you gift, if you decide to bring a small token, here are some suggestions. Don’t bring a cute little knick knack that will collect dust and take up valuable space in a small cottage. Please don’t bring candles. While seemingly innocuous, most cottages are wooden structures and kilometers from volunteer fire departments. Best bets – alcohol, homemade baking, gas gift card, grocery store gift card, toilet paper, and maybe flowers (personally, potted herbs are preferred to a potted plant). A handwritten thank you note goes a long way.
The perfect cottage guest is the person who is "no trouble," the person who is non-demanding, the person who helps out, the person who is respectful, the person who says thank you. This is the person who gets invited back year after year!