Being invited to a dinner party is equal parts excitement and stress. Sure, it’s going to be a great time, but what dish do you bring? How do you thank the host? Do you need to give a gift? How much money should you spend on it? Can you bring the kids?
We can’t help you decide which incredible recipe to share (although we have plenty of suggestions!), but we can help when it comes to dinner party etiquette. Consider this a lesson from a modern-day Miss Manners: Avoid these guest mistakes to ensure you’ll be invited back.
Mistake #1: Arriving on Time
Unless your invitation specifically states that you should arrive at whatever o’clock sharp, you’re expected to show up fashionably late. By this, we mean at least 15 minutes after the start time. Most people say they arrive anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes after the posted time. Twenty is a little late for our tastes, but five may not give the host enough time to put on the finishing touches. If you’re going to be late-late, however, be sure to notify the host so they are not waiting around for you!
Mistake #2: Bringing Unannounced Guests
Dinner parties require a lot of planning. Chances are, the ideal number of chairs has already been placed around the table and the host has made enough food for the amount of people who said they would come. If you bring a plus-one, they will upset the careful balance. It’s one thing for a couple not to show up, leaving the host with extra food, but it could be even worse to add more people to the mix and leave the host with a shortage!
The people invited are usually explicitly stated on the invitation, but if you were only casually asked to come, you might be unsure. In a pinch, if you are suspecting that alcohol will be poured and fancier meals served, ask the host if you may bring your partner but leave the kids at home.
Mistake #3: Coming Without a Gift
In the case of a casual night with family friends, a gift probably isn’t expected. For most dinner parties, however, it is customary to come with a small present—a simple gesture like a nice bottle of wine that you have tried and recommend for the host. (Don’t show up with something you’ve never drunk!) If you are looking to be more creative, a jar of homemade jam, a bouquet of flowers or wine accessories (think wine charms or aerators) will go above and beyond! If your gift is edible, it’s up to the hosts whether or not they want to serve it at the party. Don’t feel bad if they stash it away for later.
Mistake #4: Expecting the Host to Cater to You
Even if your host knows you have special dietary restrictions, it is not their responsibility to cater only to you—especially if there are lots of other people at the gathering. If they’re thoughtful, they may have prepared at least one dish that fits your requirements, like a salad without cheese for someone who’s lactose-intolerant or a pasta sauce without meat for a vegetarian. In the rare case that they have not, however, do not get irritated. You are a guest in their home and it is your responsibility to appreciate their hospitality and effort. Nibble on the few things that you can eat and remember: You can always have a second dinner when you go home.
Mistake #5: Eating Before Everyone is Served
When the dinner begins and dishes are still being passed, there’s nothing more frustrating than a guest who’s already dug in to the entree while everyone else is still dishing up. Even though it might be tempting to have a bite, don’t until the table has settled. As a general rule of thumb, wait until the host has started eating to pick up your fork.
Mistake #6: Allowing the Host’s Glass to Sit Empty
It’s the host’s job to make sure no one’s glass goes empty. As a guest, it is an extra-special gesture if you offer to fill the host’s glass. While they may not notice if you don’t do this, it is this kind of simple act that goes above and beyond to making your host feel appreciated and valued.
Mistake #7: Using Your Phone
We’re fairly sure that Miss Manners would be a proponent for our no-phones rule. When you’re in someone else’s home, socializing is more important than checking your texts. Even though you might be half-expecting a text from the babysitter, put your phone on silent and tuck it away for the duration of the meal. If you are truly compelled to use it while others are still eating, excuse yourself to the bathroom and check it on your way there.
Mistake #8: Overindulging
Making the correct amount of food for a dinner party is a difficult equation, so it’s an honest mistake if your host guesses incorrectly. (Use this guide when you host to avoid that.) If you notice that the salad platter is low before it gets to you, take only a small serving and wait to see if there is any left at the end. The same goes for the meal itself. Don’t take seconds until you are sure the rest of the guests have at least gotten their first serving just to ensure that you are not being greedy with any particular dish. Whatever you do, do not ask the host if there is any more food in the kitchen or suggest that they make more food for the next time. Surely the host has noticed the shortage of food and is already embarrassed. Drawing attention to this flaw will only make them feel more uncomfortable.
Mistake #9: Refusing Food
At the same time, it’s also important not to take too little food. It’s one thing to have dietary restrictions that limit you to just a couple dishes, but small bites of this and that can be considered rude. If you’re usually a light eater, be sure to compliment the hosts on their cooking so they know that you enjoyed the dishes. That way, any extra food on the plate won’t be mistaken for things you didn’t like.
When it comes to dessert, always have at least a taste. Few things are more upsetting to a host who’s baked the perfect post-dinner pie than a guest who is on a diet and refuses to try even a bite. Even though you might not want to indulge in an entire serving, at least sampling a bite or two will mean a world of difference for the host.
Mistake #10: Not Helping to Clean Up
Once dinner has ended, the hosts will probably take the dishes to the kitchen. In a larger group, be sure to offer to help so they aren’t spending all evening cleaning. Clearing the table, scraping plates, or even boxing up leftovers can be immensely helpful for the host. It’s considered rude to just sit at the table and continue talking while the host cleans up around everyone. If the other guests are being unhelpful, it doesn’t mean you have to be.
Mistake #11: Trying Too Hard to Help Clean Up
At the same time, if the host responds that they don’t want any help, do not push. Some people are very particular about their kitchens, how dishes are rinsed, and where things go. If your host would prefer to clean the dinner plates alone, it can be stressful to have guests demanding that they help out. If your host has a particularly small kitchen, offer to help with a task that doesn’t crowd the room, like dusting crumbs from the tablecloth or setting out new glasses for a round of drinks.
Mistake #12: Not Offering to Pay for Extra Purchases
You’re not expected to offer the hosts any money in their home, but if the group ends up going out for drinks or sends someone out to pick up some ice cream, the host should never pay for these outside purchases. Make sure one of the guests drives the host to the bar, if the party goes there, and make sure someone pays as well. The host is having the entire group over for dinner—that is enough time and effort to warrant a few nice gestures!
Mistake #13: Not Thanking Your Host
Perhaps the rudest mistake a guest can make is forgetting to thank the host before leaving their house. Inviting people, preparing dinner, and cleaning up before and after are huge tasks. While the host probably enjoyed the dinner party, it likely took a lot of effort and expense as well. Make sure they feel appreciated and end the night feeling as if it was a success.
Mistake #14: Overstaying Your Welcome
Never be the guest that stays an hour after everyone else has gone home. If you notice you’re the last guest, make sure to scoot as soon as you finish your current conversation. If the host is a close friend and you feel as though it would be nice—and not pushy—to stay, at least offer to start cleaning so that your host can go to bed at a decent time after you do eventually leave.
Mistake #15: Never Hosting
Finally, if you are invited to a couple dinner parties but never host your own, you are taking advantage of the hosts’ generosity. Every now and then, it is customary to have the group over to your place, even if you might not like entertaining. If your guests are as thoughtful as you (hopefully) were, you should have a fine evening no matter how the food turns out!
Worried the night will be boring? These creative dinner party ideas will keep the evening interesting—promise.
Someone who brings a thoughtful gift, makes sure the hosts are enjoying themselves, and reciprocates the offer by hosting future parties is a stellar guest, sure to be invited back! With these tips in your tool kit, the only thing left that you need is a killer appetizer to share.