How To Be The Perfect Dinner Guest
Dinner parties are meant to be fun. They are occasions for you to meet friends or friendly work colleagues for good food, good wine, and good conversation. If you are invited to dinner, it will most likely be by a couple in their home. But even if it is by someone single, the following principles still apply.
There is an implicit agreement between you and your hosts (we’ll assume for simplicity’s sake that the dinner is being given by a married couple) once you’ve accepted the invitation. They agree to do all in their power to make you feel at ease and appreciated and you agree to reciprocate the effort.
Here are 5 tips for meeting this challenge:
No, you didn’t misread that. You should arrive 5 to 10 minutes (and no later) past the appointed time. Few hosts are able to get everything ready by the time the dinner party is scheduled to start. Don’t assume that a person you know to be timely and efficient at work is able to do deliver the same performance at home. All kinds of contingencies and setbacks occur when preparing to host a large group of people. Your hosts will be thankful for a little wiggle room to change clothes, set the table, and gather the ingredients for making the cocktails.
Whatever you do, don’t show up early. It will inevitably cause embarrassment and stress. You should also avoid being too late. You don’t want to screw up any timetable your hosts may have established for preparing and serving the food.
A bottle of wine is the most common gift to bring to a dinner party. If it is your first time to the particular home you’ve been invited to, you should buy a little something in addition to the wine. Try to get what intelligence you can on the interests of your hostess. The gift should be something simple and thoughtful but relatively inexpensive. You don’t want to create a feeling of awkwardness by presenting her with an expensive gift. A playful book related to cooking, a small decorative storage jar, a little knick-knack for the kitchen—these are the kinds of things you should think about purchasing.
After you’ve toasted the health of your host, you should ensure that their glasses are kept full throughout the duration of the party. If the party consists of a large number of people and you are separated from them, then it will prove difficult to fulfill this task. However, if it is a small and intimate gathering of friends, you should make it your purpose to look out for them—your hostess especially. She has worked hard to pull the party together. Keeping her glass topped up is the polite and gentlemanly thing to do.
There may be times when it is impossible to do this. If you are in the middle of managing a big business deal and need to stay in the loop, then you might have to occasionally excuse yourself from the table and read texts and emails.
However, you should not send text messages or scroll through your Facebook updates at the dinner table. It is just plain rude, and it will kill the spirit of conversation and conviviality. In any case, if you really think about it most matters can wait the two or three hours the dinner party is likely to take.
Do your part to keep the atmosphere of the party light and interesting. A little playful banter and disagreement is okay, but stay away from topics that are likely to cause serious controversy—unless you know for a fact that everyone at the table shares your views on politics and religion.
You should also avoid telling long, tedious stories. This is one of the worst faux pas you can make. It diminishes the liveliness and energy created by group conversation and will likely bore everyone to death. If you must tell a story, make it quick and punchy—something that everyone will readily grasp and be entertained by.
Finally, be receptive to the hospitality of your hosts. It is neither helpful nor courteous to help in the kitchen or to help clear the table. It is not your house or your dinner party. Let your hosts run things. You are likely to prove yourself a nuisance if you try to help them.
One last tip. You should send your host and hostess a card or handwritten note thanking them for having you over. They will deeply appreciate receiving it in the mail.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.