How to Deal with a Late Guest

Woman waiting for somebody
It's frustrating to have to wait for a chronically late guest. Cultura/Zero Creatives / Getty Images

Have you hosted a dinner and had a guest show up after you’ve started serving the meal? Have you sat around and waited for a weekend guest to show up, when they’ve arrived hours later than they agreed to come?

These people are guilty of rudeness and a lack of consideration for you and your time, and you have to decide how to handle it when they put you in such an awkward situation. It’s within your rights to be firm, as long as you don’t match their rudeness.

The person should call if she knows she’s running late, but if she doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with letting her know that you wish she’d let you know because you were concerned or worried.

Late Dinner Guest

You’ve sent out invitations, planned the meal, cleaned the house, shopped for ingredients, and spent hours in the kitchen. You’ve done everything you can to make the dinner party as good as it can be, so you expect your guests to show up at the designated time. But one person doesn’t. This is frustrating since it sends a signal that they consider their time more valuable than yours. What can you do?

Here are some tips on how to handle a late dinner guest:

  • If you have other guests who have arrived on time, you might wait an extra 10-15 minutes. If she still hasn’t shown up, go ahead and start the meal. She can join in when she finally arrives.
  • Accept her apology and move on. There’s no point in rehashing what caused her to be late, unless she has a great story to tell. If she does, listen and commiserate.
  • If this isn’t the first time she’s late for a party, you can give her a different (earlier) time to arrive, and maybe she’ll be there when she’s supposed to be.
  • In the future, you might want to consider only inviting her to buffet-style dinners that don’t require a specific time to sit down at the table.
  • If the tardy person is a close friend who is late for everything, have a talk with her. Let her know how hard you have to work to get everything ready for a dinner party and you’d appreciate her consideration of your time by being there when she’s supposed to be.

Late Houseguest

You’re excited about having houseguests for the weekend. After cleaning your house, putting fresh linens on the bed, making sure all the best towels are hung with care in the guest bathroom, shopping for their favorite foods and snacks, and planning events so they won’t be bored, you expect them to do their part by arriving when they say they will. A few minutes before they’re due to arrive, you freshen up so you won’t look as bedraggled as you feel. Now you’re ready for your company.

The designated time goes by, and they’re still not there. Another hour passes, causing you to worry and maybe even wonder if your wires got crossed, and perhaps they didn’t really agree to come this weekend. You’ve almost given up on them when the doorbell finally rings. Should you say something?

Here are some thoughts on what to do when your houseguest shows up late:

  • Maintain a friendly demeanor when you greet her at the door. Show her to her room and continue to be nice.
  • If you’ve already eaten the dinner you thought you’d share with your weekend guest, offer her a snack (leftovers if you have them).
  • If she hasn’t mentioned why she’s late by now, tell her you’d expected her earlier. This gives her a chance to explain and apologize.
  • Remember this in the future and decide whether or not you’ll invite her to stay in your home again.
  • Don't match her rudeness with snarky comments and behavior. It won't make anyone feel better, and it can damage your relationship beyond repair.

Ways to Address Tardiness

When someone is always late, and you want to continue getting together in the future, you should probably discuss your thoughts. Remember to avoid sounding accusatory and to express your feelings rather than point your finger.

Here are some things you can say:

  • “Drinks are at 6:30, and dinner will be ready at 7:00. If you’re unable to make it by then, we’ll go ahead and eat without you.”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been late for our weekly get-togethers before. Is this something you’d rather not do? If so, let me know, and we’ll find someone else to take your place.”
  • “Would you like for me to pick you up so you can be there on time?”
  • “The last person to arrive is responsible for (fill in the blank).” Some things you might fill in the blank with are “paying the bill” or “hosting the next party.”

What Not to Say or Do When a Guest is Late

While you can’t control other people’s tardiness, you can control your own actions and words. It’s fine to make a brief comment about her arriving late, but there is probably no point in putting your guest on the defensive by pushing for answers or making accusations. It’s best if you don’t create drama over the person being late, or you’ll have a whole new set of issues to deal with in the future.

Things you might be tempted to say but shouldn’t:

  • “If you don’t care enough to be on time, I’m not inviting you again.”
  • “You wouldn’t be this late for (name someone else).”
  • “You clearly don’t value our friendship, or you would have been here on time.”

Things you shouldn’t do:

  • Leave one minute past the time you’ve agreed to meet. She might have a legitimate reason for not arriving on time, so give her a few more minutes.
  • Refuse to answer the door when the guest arrives late.
  • Retaliate by being the one who’s late next time.

Other Things to Consider When a Guest is Chronically Late

If you’ve determined that your friend or family member’s tardiness isn’t personal, and you still want to make plans with her, here are some things you should consider:

  • Some cultures consider a time to be approximate, so when you say 6:00, they think it’s okay to arrive at 6:15 or 6:30.
  • How important is it for them to be on time? If you have to be at a show before it starts, that’s more important than expecting punctuality when having someone stop over for drinks.
  • If you really want to see this person, knowing she’s always late, lower your expectations if she’s chronically late, even after you’ve had a talk with her.
  • If they haven’t been on time for the last dozen meetings, don’t expect it to change unless you’ve discussed it and come to a new agreement.
  • Bring a book to read or download a game app on your phone to have something to do while you wait.