Sometimes even when armed with the most common dinner party etiquette, you may find yourself committing a social faux-pas without realizing it. Below are some tips to get you through this holiday’s many dinner parties, leave a good impression, and possibly have a future invitation to the next party.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Dinner parties are not like meetings where showing up a few minutes early reflects well on you. Never show up early, not even five minutes. Be unlike Nike: Just don't do it. You’re cutting into your host’s time to get the house prepared, and while she might say she doesn’t mind, believe me, she minds. The only exception to this rule is if you’ve been asked to show up early.
If there is a communicated time when the sit-down dinner is to be served, please do show up early enough to mingle and get situated. Showing up right as dinner is being served or even a few minutes late just shows lack of respect to the host and the other dinner party guests.
If you are running late for any reason, a quick text or call is always appreciated. The host can make the call from there whether to wait for your arrival or get everyone seated at the originally planned time.
DON'T SHOW UP EMPTY-HANDED
It goes without saying that when you’re invited to a party inside someone’s home, it’s always a good idea to bring a small gift for your host.
But what if the host said you don’t have to bring anything? The easiest solution is to graciously take her word for it and don’t bring anything. However, if you eschew their suggestion and decide to bring something consumable such wine or dessert anyway, don’t expect the host to serve it at the party; it may not go well with their planned menu.
If you do bring a small hostess gift, tell the host this is a gift for them to enjoy later. It relieves the host from having to open it in front of others, and any awkwardness that may ensue. Below is a good example:
Flowers while lovely as a hostess gift, can be a bit tricky. If you have your heart set on bringing flowers, please know that you are in charge of getting them into a vase once you arrive. Assuming the host will have time to trim and arrange a bouquet during her party and creating more work for her is never a good idea.
Your best bet? Purchase a small professionally arranged seasonal bouquet already in a vase or have one sent ahead of the party from the local florist. In this scenario, the host will likely be delighted by the surprise delivery and can enjoy it before the party. Also, she’ll have the opportunity to figure out in advance where she can display the bouquet in her home. Win-win for both of you!
ASSUME THE NO TAKE-BACKSIES RULE
Edible gifts are very popular during the holidays. Again, if you should bring such a gift to your host, don’t expect to see your contribution offered at the party - unless the host has specifically asked you to bring a dish or she decides to put it out.
Along the same vein, don’t bring something to share at a dinner party that you expect to take back with you unless the host insists that they will not consume it post-party. That includes the six-pack of artisanal craft beer and the specialty dessert pastries.
ALWAYS COMPLIMENT THE FOOD
It may not have been prepared to your exact standards, but the host put a lot of time and effort into their party; she deserves to hear positive feedback. Yes, you can genuinely find positive feedback to give – even if she had the entire meal catered. A lot of thought goes into party planning whether she slaved over a hot stove or not!
FOCUS ON THE PARTY, NOT YOUR PHONE!
Don’t get so distracted with chronicling the occasion, that you forget to be present. While we live in a world where everything is documented on social media, there’s a time and place for everything. Ask the host’s permission first as they may not want parts of their home broadcast for the world to see. Be mindful of someone’s personal space; better to ask than assume.
STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN
Remember this song from pre-school? Offering to help with tidying up is polite and appropriate, however if the host declines your offer, respect their wishes as well. Your hosts did not invite you over with the expectation that you'll help wipe down countertops. They did invite you over with the expectation that you'll show up and have a good time.
HAVE AN EXIT PLAN
If you have multiple party obligations in one evening, make sure to communicate this to your host prior to coming to their party. In this way, expectations are set beforehand especially if you need to leave by a certain time. Planning your exit in the middle of a dinner is especially disruptive. Making arrangements with the host in advance to drop in for only pre- or post-dinner drinks will be less awkward and disappointing for all when it comes time to say good-bye.