Learn How To Be Visitor Friendly With Dinner Party Do's & Don'ts For Hosts & Guests
Dinner parties, a meal with friends and family sandwiched between status updates and hot gossip. We've laid out our guide to simple yet highly important dinner party etiquette, relevant to all occasions, ages and types of individuals, plus must know hostess commandments, channelling updated great-great-grandmother vibes for the hashtag generation.
A word of warning: If you play by our rules, be prepared to welcome visitors back for years to come, and have endless rsvp's.
Let Your Guests Know Timings Before The Day
Whether your husband has a big work project the next day or you're planning an out-of-town trip, let your guests know when you'll be ready for them and when you'll need them to leave. A good host can become a bad host very quickly when guests overstay their welcome!
As many etiquette conventions have fallen away, this one is timeless: do not bring someone unless you have cleared it with the host first. Even if it is not a seated dinner, it is not a barn raising. More than likely it will be fine, but who are you to decide? If an unexpected plus-one materialises, the good gracious host is going to welcome the uninvited guest in. They’re going to figure out how to rearrange the plates, add an extra place setting, and make it work. Make an uninvited guest feel just as comfortable. The more may be the merrier, but it is not your call as a guest.
Be A Prepared Host
An empty pantry is fine, if that's what your family is used to, but don't let your visitors go hungry. Make a point to offer them snacks and drinks often, or encourage them to help themselves.
First be sure to inquire about any food allergies or restricted diets, there is nothing worse for the host or the guest than serving up, or being served food you dislike or are allergic to!
Nice Smells & Good Lighting
Light candles, toast crostini, slice up fresh citrus for cocktails, get those delicious smells going to kick start everyone's appetite. Additionally, turn the lights a few degrees lower than you think is appropriate, and light tea candles to compensate. The glow of candlelight is universally flattering, and your single friends will thank you.
Share Your House Rules
If you have a shoes-off policy or your cats aren't allowed outside, let guests know at the beginning of their visit. Make accommodations for smokers while hinting that you don't want them to light up in your house, "If you'd like a cigarette, I left an ashtray and matches on the front steps," this gets your point across without stating the obvious.
Give Yourself Extra Time
Everyone wants to be a hero when they're hosting and do everything, but that is a recipe for stress. Sometimes we all get a little over ambitious thinking we can defy physics. Doing an hour's worth of work in 20 minutes? Yeah, it's not happening, no matter how put together you are. Always schedule in a little bit of cushion when hosting an event, so if you think you need an hour, give yourself an hour and 15, you'll be so happy you.
Never Ask A Host “Who’s Going?”
It may give off a vibe that you are attending the event simply for the pleasure of others and not for the one giving the party. The other guests shouldn’t even matter, they want you there and that’s all you need to know.
On Arrival, Find Time To Say Hello To Your Gracious Host
If he or she is being spoken to, come back and greet them when they’re free. Never interrupt a conversation between the host and other guests. Do the same before leaving. French Exiting is no longer chic. Say goodbye to your host and thank them for having you. It’s the simplest way to show your gratitude.
There Is Fashionably Late And Then There Is Just Rude
One is expected to arrive at a party on time. It is only acceptable to be a maximum of half an hour late (a window for unexpected traffic), unless a real emergency comes up. If you have a previous engagement and unsure of your arrival time, it is best not to join a formal dinner at all and simply inform the host that you will arrive for drinks at the end.
Likewise it is also best not to arrive too early, as this may but the host under pressure if they are running late.
Always Observe The Theme
Nothing will irritate a host more than seeing you in a black t-shirt when the invitation says cocktail chic. You may not own a floral shirt for the next Hawaiian afternoon event, but there are always ways to incorporate themes into your outfit. Make Google your best friend. It may teach you wonderful tricks like using a floral tie as an accessory or how to make use of that Hermes scarf you bought on a shopping spree.
Only Bring Your Kids Or Babies To The Appropriate Events
Barbeques, weekend gatherings and playdates are a good idea. If the host wants you to bring your kid for a day of swimming at their newly refurbished home, we are certain they will let you know. However, nobody wants to hear a crying baby at girly gossip time over mimosas.
Don’t Hoard The Good Stuff
The host’s aperitif table may be overflowing with Beluga caviar, seared foie gras and the best cheeses from Switzerland, but it may be seen in bad taste to overflow your plate when first arriving to the buffet. It’s fine to get a generous portion, but never wipe it out. You’re always welcome to come back for seconds when everybody has had their first.
Ask Permission Before Changing The Host’s Music
You may not like to listen to their Best of the 90s playlist, and we absolutely don’t blame you for not liking some individuals choices, but be respectful when plugging in your phone before assuming that the host wouldn’t mind. They may be in the pool enjoying a drink, but could still be waiting for their 90's hit to boom.
Alcohol Is Your friend, But Not Your Best Friend
Never drink more than you can handle. Not only may you embarrass yourself with your crazy antics or potentially inappropriate conversation, but you may become a bother to the party giver and their guests. Good alcohol should enhance the experience, but it should never be the experience alone. Drink what you like, but why go to a party when you can’t remember that you promised everybody a trip to Bali on your credit card?
Is Asking For Condiments Acceptable?
Slathering your food in tomato ketchup or mayonnaise can be very offensive, as it insinuates that your host has not seasoned your food adequately. If you do obsess over a certain condiment not provided, try to ask politely for this before tasting the food, so they know it is not due to the taste and it is personal preference.
Where To Sit
If there is no laid out seating plan, note that couples should sit apart to avoid a public display of affection putting guests off their food. With good friends also being distanced slightly, only to avoid potentially ignoring the people either side. Not at opposite ends of the table of course, but with at least someone between. This dates back to Georgian times, where they would separate couples who were married as they probably hated each other by then!
As For Using Your Phone... Be Present
Rule 101 of dinner parties is to detach from using your phone. A huge part of the experience is to talk to the guests and share your own stories. Do not be selfish and peak at your phone. If you are that busy and feel the need to check your phone, go to the bathroom, as no matter how discreet you think you are, someone will see the reflection of the light from the phone on your face!
Sit-down meals can often feel more intimidating than cocktail parties. Your every move is likely noticed, and you’re essentially stuck chatting with those around you. A good rule of thumb is to listen as much as you talk. A good conversationalist asks thoughtful questions and allows everyone to take their turn answering. If you ever get stuck, just ask as many questions as possible, turn to nature is all else fails!
Mingling is particularly important if you arrive at a party with a date: make an effort to talk to other guests. If you’re hosting a dinner, assigned seats work well to mix up talkative guests with quieter ones. Or if it's a less formal affair, find conversational topics for certain individuals and pair them up, starting a convo and subsequently sneaking off with them in full flow!
Don't forget, it is just as terrifying for the host if people don't get on, so help the host out by making an effort with everyone, especially the individuals who may not know as many people, or are a little more shy to begin with, they will loosen up as the night progresses if they feel at ease.
Stay Neutral...Or Prepare For Sparks
Lively conversation will no doubt wander to the realm of Politics, and whether it’s divisive or just plain dull, a good host can re-route a boring or inelegant conversation on a dime, especially if it's a touchy subject based on personal opinion or belief.
The best way to steer the conversation if it goes into politics, religion, or someone’s burgeoning sex life is to politely interject and offer, “Sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering if I could get everyone’s opinion on X,” people will be happy to oblige. You invite people into a topic that’s about you and it’s a clear note to the offenders to change course.
Pitching in is admirable if the situation requires it, but it can often verge into awkward territory. You can always offer to help out, but you don’t have to insist upon it. Let yourself be a guest. Don’t try to insert yourself into everything unnecessarily.
Should You Bring A Present?
Traditionally you would NEVER bring a bottle of wine, as it insinuated that the host’s collection was not good enough! Nowadays, the rules are slightly more relaxed, but you should always tailor the wine to your hosts preference. If they like a Merlot from France, then don’t just pick up the cheapest one on the shelf!
If the host doesn’t like wine, then buy them chocolates, because everyone likes chocolates, and in the rare occasion they don’t, they will know someone who does. Or something seasonal that may not be for the evening, like a jam or preserve.
If you fancy taking flowers, why not consider a simple succulent or plant? A host most likely won't have time to be cutting stems while the soufflé is in the oven! If you do insist on gifting flowers, then send them a few days prior, or make sure they come cut and in a vase with water.
Vast numbers of knife and forks can be confusing. However there is a simple rule to follow. Start from the outside and work your way in, and remember that everything bar the soup spoon has a partner, so you should always be double parked with cutlery.
Also please use the acronym BMW to ensure you do not steal anyone else's food! B - Bread, make sure you eat from the side bread plate on your left. M - Middle - eat off the main plate in front of you, and drink from the glass directly ahead of you. W - Wine - Always drink from the wine glass to your right.
How Do You Handle Your Bread?
The bread should be torn not cut. Never cut your bread. This dates back to medieval times where blood would be on the knife, and people not wanting to get blood on their bread. This tradition has carried through the years, so tear off a small chunk of your bread, and bring it to your mouth - not the other way round. Only use the knife to butter your bread.
How Should You Eat Soup?
When tackling soup, make sure you scoop away from you, and then drink from the nearest side of the spoon. Avoid putting the whole spoon in your mouth and slurping!
Should You Pour Your Own Drinks?
If the host of the party has wine or drinks on the table, then that is them saying ‘help yourself’. If the champagne is to the side of the table then this generally indicates the host will pour.
The thank you is definitely the most impactful gesture for the guest. Say thank you when you leave, of course. It’s unnecessary to say goodbye to every guest, especially at larger gatherings. This is particularly true of cocktail parties, as it can interrupt conversations, breaks the general rhythm of the party, and often makes other guests wonder if it’s time for them to leave too. In these cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to exit quietly. However, no matter the size of the party, it’s always important to thank and say bye to the host.
It's worth noting that when the host decides the evening is over, he or she may close down the bar. Once a host cuts people off from alcohol, get the hint and be ready to leave. A host may also simply begin talking about the evening in the past tense: "What a great night this was!”.
Remember, as the host or guest the main objective is to have fun, be welcoming and let your hair down, just do it with class and poise!
Being a host means that you are responsible for the experience of everyone walking into your home. You make introductions, keep the conversation moving, and keep the energy flowing the whole night. You also should take a breath and make sure to have fun. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the process of throwing a party, that we forget to actually take part in the party.
Enjoy your delicious food, sip a refreshing drink, and take the time to savour an evening with close friends. P.S: Don’t forget to Invest in a good bottle opener. This will save time and your carpet, it’s easy to spill a bottle trying to pry one open!