07/11/2015 04:37 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Charles MacPherson's 5 tips for summer etiquette

Summer is a busy season for weddings and, if you're lucky, invitations to a home barbecue or weekend cottage stay. If you've ever been stymied about what to wear, bring or give, help is at hand.   

Here are some tips on summer etiquette from Charles MacPherson, author of the etiquette guide The Butler Speaks and owner of the Charles MacPherson Butler School & Academy.

1. Ask the host/hostess first

"The most important thing is to ask the host or the hostess what they would like," said MacPherson.  

Some hosts are keen to prepare all the food, but might need suggestions for entertainment or group activities, or vice versa. Rather than jump to conclusions, ask your host how you can best help.  

2. Remember you're not at a hotel

In a cottage or cabin scenario, and even in some homes, there's usually only one bathroom, said MacPherson.

"Don't be the bathroom hog."

Do your makeup, hair, and dressing in a bedroom if possible. Clean the bathroom to the best of your ability for the person who's going to use it next.

Make your bed, clear the dishes. Help put away the board games. When you've finished your stay, ask your host if they'd like you to remove the bedsheets. Be thoughtful as a guest so that your host isn't left to clean up your mess.  

"They're not there to serve you. They've just invited you to spend the weekend," MacPherson said.

3. Don't overdo the gift

"People are obsessed about the hostess gift," said MacPherson.

Some guests will demand you open their gift right away, in front of the other guests, and use it that same day.  

"It puts the host in an uncomfortable position," said MacPherson, and it can make other guests who perhaps didn't bring a gift, or who brought a less expensive gift, feel out of place.

"It would be better to go and genuinely enjoy your time together and write a great thank you note afterwards saying what a great time you had. That to me is more appreciated than trying to come up with things all the time."

4. Dress up so you can dress down 

"You will never make a mistake by being a little bit more formal or a little bit dressier, rather than underdressed [for a wedding]," MacPherson said. 

You can always dress down an outfit, but you can't just whip out a dress or tie that you neglected to pack, he said.

5. Don't spend more than you can afford

When it comes to a wedding present, brides and grooms are becoming more vocal about what they want these days, and sometimes those items can fall outside of your budget, MacPherson said. 

"I'm a really firm believer that you should only spend what you can afford. Don't put yourself in debt to buy a present." 

"If you've invited me to your wedding, it's because you want me to be there, it's not for a specific financial contribution, or it shouldn't be."  

In the end, it doesn't matter how much you spend, just that you go and celebrate with the happy couple, MacPherson said.  

To hear the full interview with Charles MacPherson, listen to the audio labelled: Summer etiquette 101.