If you are like me, then you were not born with innate social graces. In fact, you probably think sporks (a fork and a spoon!) are the greatest invention of humankind and that public burping isn’t rude—as long as your eyes are closed when you do it. We are, after all, descendants of apes.
So when that invitation to a dinner party or to a long weekend at someone’s beach home finds its way into your boorish hands, fear not! Becoming a gracious guest is simple, straightforward, and ensures you’ll receive another invite.
The Unflappable Dinner Guest
Because most of our meals are spent with close friends, family, or alone, sometimes the finer points of etiquette are thrown out the window. Here’s how to get them back.
- Be prompt in your response. If an RSVP date is not given, then respond within one week of receiving your invitation.
- Never assume you can bring a date (no matter how cool your boyfriend is) or your children (no matter how well behaved those little monsters are). Check with the host first.
- If you have diet limitations (vegan, allergies), let your host know. Offer to bring a dish or to help with the food preparations.
Poised for Party Day
- Dress for the occasion. If you are not sure how to dress, don’t be afraid to check with the host. And try not to wear the same outfit as the host.
- Never arrive early. Always arrive on time or no more than ten minutes late. If you are running more than ten minutes late, call ahead to inform your host.
- Never come empty-handed! Arrive with a gift—flowers, a bottle of wine or champagne, or a box of chocolate.
Meet and Greet with Courtesy
- Be sure to compliment your host on his or her home. It does make a difference.
- Don’t be boring or depressing, unless you are around good friends who are used to it. Engage in lively conversation about current events or pop culture, but never talk about financial woes or physical illness.
- Even though there’s bound to be that one person who rubs you the wrong way—this can include someone’s baby or young child—be respectful and tolerant of other guests.
- Don’t start eating until your host has given a signal. Usually, it’s when he or she has served all the food and is seated or a verbal cue.
- Despite what you are used to at home, don’t eat with whatever is convenient (e.g., a large serving spoon, a spork, or your hands). Eat with a fork and knife. If there are some foods that might defy the use of accoutrements, like fried chicken or ribs, follow your host’s lead.
- Never reach across the table to get something. Ask someone to pass it to you. When passing food, always pass to the right of you.
- Remember what your mother always told you: don’t talk with your mouth full, make loud eating noises, or yawn at the table. Try not to place your elbows on the table or hunch over your plate.
- If something being served is not to your liking, keep it to yourself. And never offer criticism about the food. Only offer compliments—even if you are lying through your teeth!
- This one is for my brother-in-law—don’t get too drunk; the same rule applies to you.
Dealing with Dinner Dilemmas
- If something is stuck in your teeth or you sneeze or cough and food flies out of your mouth, cover your mouth with your napkin, excuse yourself from the table, find the bathroom, and take care of the problem in private.
- No spitting! If something is too hot, quickly take a sip of water. Never spit something back out.
Farewell and Thank You
- Remember to thank your host for a wonderful evening.
- If you brought your children, offer to clean up any mess they might have created.
- Send a thank you note the next day. Email is acceptable.
- If possible, reciprocate. Invite the host to your home for dinner.
The Oft Invited House Guest
After mastering table manners, moving on to an extended stay is easy. These simple tips should ease any anxiety about being an ideal guest for over twenty-four hours.
- If an RSVP date is not given, reply within one week of receiving the invitation.
- Be sure to include the time of your arrival and your means of transportation.
- If you plan to visit nearby friends or family during your stay, let your host know.
Decorum During Your Stay
- Come bearing gifts: flowers or a bottle of wine for an overnight stay; a book, a picture frame, or a houseplant for a longer visit. You can also purchase a gift during your stay.
- Offering to help with food preparation and general cleaning tasks is always a nice touch.
- Don’t answer the telephone or use the telephone without asking for permission first.
- If you borrow anything from the host, return it as soon as possible and in the same condition that it was given to you.
- Don’t go to bed first. You can hint that you are tired, but it is the host’s decision when to end the evening.
Tread Lightly in the Lavatory
- Be sure to bring your own toiletries.
- Don’t be a hot water hog. Try to limit showers to ten or fifteen minutes.
- For all you men out there—always place the seat down after using the toilet.
- In general, try to keep the bathroom clean. Especially avoid leaving any type of puddle on the floor.
Good Bearing in the Bedroom
- It is polite to make your bed and straighten up your sleeping area every day.
- On the last day, remove the sheets, fold them, and place them at the foot of the bed.
Farewells and Thank You
- Thoroughly check your sleeping area for all of your belongings before you leave.
- Arrange and confirm your own means of transportation back home. Do not overstay your welcome.
- Before you leave, thank your host for a wonderful time.
- Send a handwritten (no emails, please) thank you note within a day or two of your return home.
- If you didn’t bring your host a gift at the beginning of your visit, you can send one after you have left; best if sent within a week.