Miss Manners: My dinner guests insist on cleaning up the dirty dishes but it’s not helpful. How do I get them to stop?

stock dirty dishes

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I enjoy entertaining in my tiny apartment. My kitchen has only 28 square feet of floor space, and counter space is also very limited.

There is room for only one person in there, and there is no place to set dirty dishes. I have my own system for clearing up, which just takes me a few minutes. Even so, every time I get up to clear the table for dessert, my delightful friends jump up to help.

Despite my best and most diplomatic efforts to explain the above, I have guests who insist on “helping” by bringing stacks of dishes and food platters into the kitchen. There is literally no place to put them until I am ready.

Last night, one guest stood in the doorway with a stack of dishes and asked, “Where shall I put these?” I was tempted to look around the kitchen and say, “Gee, I don’t know. Looks like there isn’t anywhere to put them. Which is why I asked you not to bring them.”

How can I get through to these unhelpful and oblivious guests?

GENTLE READER: Ah, yes. Like those kind folks who will help a little old lady across the street without listening to her protests about being headed in the opposite direction.

In your case, the polite thing is for guests to desist when an offer of help is declined. What Miss Manners would have said to that unhelpful one is, “Oh, just distribute them back on the table until I can get to them. Thanks so much.”

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DEAR MISS MANNERS: Growing up, I was taught that if you used a guest hand towel in the powder room at someone’s house -- or at a private club, or an ambassador’s residence, for example -- the correct thing to do was to put it back on the towel rack where it had been hanging, making it obvious that it had been used.

The idea was to be neat about placing it over the towel rack, but also to leave it somewhat crumpled and not fold it back to its original shape.

Is this actually correct or not? Have you ever heard this?

GENTLE READER: Allow Miss Manners to congratulate your parents -- not only for teaching you the proper disposal of a guest towel, but for teaching you that guests may use guest towels in the first place. Few people seem to know that -- including many hosts who put out guest towels and are then outraged that the guests failed to understand that they were purely for decoration.

Yes, it should be clear that a guest towel has been used. You can leave it on the sink or at the corner of the towel bar; sometimes there is even a little basket there to receive them.

Miss Manners | Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Miss Manners, written by Judith Martin and her two perfect children, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Marin, has chronicled the continuous rise and fall of American manners since 1978. Send your questions to