The focus of my blog has been hospitality from the host’s perspective. But you know, the guests have have an important part to play as well. Even if the host is a five-star entertainer, a party can turn into a disaster really quickly if the guests don’t mind their manners or commit a lot of social faux pas.
As a guest, it’s important to display proper social etiquette. Really, it’s a way to show appreciation to the hosts. You should want to do whatever you can as a guest to help the party go more smoothly. Remember: your hosts may already be a little worn out from all the party prep; you don’t want to add to their anxiety. You want the other guests to enjoy themselves too, and you should want to make sure none of your actions put a damper on the evening for them. And certainly, good party etiquette is important if you want to be invited back…and if you want to keep an untarnished reputation.
Every host probably has his or her own list of what’s most important. For what it’s worth, here’s my list of essential manners for party guests:
1. Be on time, but not too early. If you’re going to be more than 15 minutes late, call ahead to let your hosts know. Don’t be offended if they decide to start the meal without you. That may be necessary if the food is already cooked and cooling off, or if the other guests have already arrived and they’re starved. At the other end of the spectrum, don’t show up more than a few minutes early. Your host may be like me, and save getting herself showered and ready for the party as the last “task” to do before the party. I’ve had guests show up a half hour early, without calling me first to ask if it was okay. It was more than a little embarrassing for me to have to answer the door with sauces splattered all over my clothes (from food prep) and bits of dough in my hair. (Admittedly, I’m a messy cook!)
2. Leave your Blackberry, iPad, iPhone and other electronics at home. I’ve been at get-togethers before where some of the guests did more “interacting” with their cell phones than with other guests. If your job requires you to always have your pager or cell phone with you, put it on vibrate and only answer it if it’s critical you do so.
3. Show consideration for the host’s home and furnishings. If you see a mat and shoes by the door, wipe your shoes on the mat and park your shoes with the rest of them. Don’t insist on wearing your shoes anyway, and don’t become offended if your host tells you she doesn’t allow shoes on the carpet. Other important considerations include: Don’t rest your feet on the coffee table. Set your drinks down on coasters, or ask first if it’s okay to set the glass down directly on the coffee table. If you have young children, keep an eye on them during the evening; don’t allow them to wander around aimlessly throughout the house, opening closets, etc. (I have a special closet in my house that has board games, blocks, stuffed animals and other toys in it. When little children are over, they know they can go to that closet without having to ask. I’ve told them that many times and they just know. But the rest of the house is not for “free” exploring.)
4. Sit where you’re asked to sit. If there aren’t placecards, wait for your hosts to direct you where to sit. If the host has put place cards at each setting, don’t move them around to suit your desires or complain about where you’ve been asked to sit. Your host has probably taken some time to devise just the right seating arrangement. Don’t throw a wrench in her planning by trying to move people around. I once had a large sit-down dinner where some of the guests complained because they were at a table with me and my husband instead of another table. I wanted them by us so we could get to know them better.
5. Don’t add to the guest list. You will put your host on the spot if you ask, “Is it okay if I bring So and So?” This is especially important if it’s a sit-down meal where there are only so many seats at the table. But even if it’s a party where everyone is standing around, there’s still only so much space available for guests. Not only that, there may be certain guests that a host has not invited to a particular party, because that person clashes with another guest, and the host is trying to keep the evening tension-free.
6. If you’ve been assigned to bring something, such as a cheese and cracker tray or tossed salad, arrive at the get-together with that food item ready to serve. Don’t arrive at the dinner party with ingredients to make the salad or blocks of cheese that need to be cut up. That preparation should be done ahead of time. There may not be space in your host’s kitchen for you to do that kind of prep work.
7. If, due to unforeseen circumstances and you must cancel last-minute attending a dinner party (and it should be for “good” reasons, like you have the bubonic plague and you don’t want it spreading to others!) call your host directly and tell her. Without getting too personal, state why you can’t come and that you regret missing out on the evening. Thank her for her inviting you, even though you can’t come after all. Don’t just send her a text, assuming she’ll get it. (There are still people like me, who don’t text, and never receive text messages that are sent.) Also, don’t simply tell another guest (who’s also going to the party) that you’re not going to show up after all, and ask him to let the host know. You need to talk to the host directly. Now, it can be okay to send the host an email letting her know, if you KNOW she checks email regularly (my guests know that I do), meaning several times a day, and that she will get the message before the party.
8. If you have a “community” of friends—church congregation, school, fellow office employees—be sensitive to the fact that everyone in “the group” may not be invited to a dinner or party. Even if the hosts live in a 15,000 square foot mansion, they may not be able to invite everyone. There’s bound to be at least a few people left off the guest list at any one event. Be mindful of that. For that reason, it may not be the best idea to post on Facebook that you’re going to an exclusive soirée if others are going to feel left out when they find out. Another important suggestion: if someone asks you to go out to dinner with them on a particular night and you’ve already invited to the MacGillicuttys’ shin-dig, simply reply, “I’m sorry, we’ve already got plans for that evening.” Don’t respond by saying, “Oh, you’re not invited to the MacGillicuttys’ party?!!” And, getting back to point #5, don’t tell the person, “Oh, I’m sure you can come to the party at the MacGillicuttys’ place. They always have room.” They may not.
9. If your host starts clearing the tables after a meal, offer to help. If it’s a large party and she’s got lots of cleaning up to do, don’t sit around chatting while the host works until midnight cleaning up. This has happened to me. Now I will also add, sometimes I’m not concerned about clean-up, especially if the next day is blocked out for cleanup, and if all the guests are really enjoying themselves, all sitting by each other in the family room having a good conversation. I may not want to break that group up. In that case, don’t insist on cleaning up. Follow your host’s direction.
10. Don’t dominate the conversation, bring up a lot of controversial topics, or ask other guests or your hosts personal or prying questions. I can think of a particular “friend” we used to have over where we used to live years ago and practically everything he said used the pronouns “I” or “me.” He talked about himself the whole time, and rarely tried to engage others. Or, he would "talk shop" with another person a the table and completely leave out the person sitting between them. I can also remember dinner parties where one guest asked another personal questions like “Why are you still single?” or challenged the other about political views and the offended party stormed out of the room. The who party was a fiasco after that, because everyone was tensed up about what happened. It seems like commonsense, but try not to do these things. Think about your words before you open your mouth to talk. If your words are going to grate on other people, don’t speak them.
11. Be trustworthy. One individual used to joke with me that she was going to inspect my medicine cabinets and nightstand drawers, just to see what was in there. After that I’d always feel a little on guard whenever she came over. It’s not that I had anything that awful in my cabinets and drawers. Still, I didn’t really want people looking in there. Your hosts may have medicines or certain items like their checkbooks that they’d prefer others didn’t see. Resist the urge to snoop around when you’re visiting someone else’s home.
12. Don’t overstay your welcome. If your hosts start yawning or telling you about what a busy day tomorrow’s going to be, take the hint and say good-bye. Don’t just continue talking. Pack up your things and get ready to head home. End the evening on a good note.
That’s my list. Now I don’t have a lot of guests exhibiting social faux pas, but it does happen now and then. And the times that these things did happen, it did take away from the evening. That’s why I think these points are worth mentioning.
What about you? Do you have any ideas along this line? What do you think are some of the most important manners for party guests to display?
I’ll be waiting to hear from you!