Have you ever been told ‘don’t bring a thing!’ when you have been invited to a dinner party and then spend the week wracking your brains as to what exactly you can bring? Or perhaps the invitation states ‘7.30pm for 8pm’ and you’re not really sure what time you should arrive? Well, worry not! Help is at hand with this step-by-step guide to being the perfect dinner guest.
Accepting the invitation: First things first: it is the guest’s duty to let the host know if you are attending the event or not. This is usually done within 3 days of receiving the invitation, whether by phone call, email, post or, rather depressingly in my opinion, by Facebook messenger. As tempting as it might be to wait and see if a better offer turns up, it is considered rude not to answer promptly so make your decision and stick to it. It is not the host’s responsibility to chase you up the night before to ask if you are coming or not.
Arrival time: When you have been invited to someone’s house for dinner, whether it be a formal or more casual affair, the perfect guest will arrive 5-10 minutes later than the time specified. This gives your hosts the opportunity to do those last minute jobs that may have been overlooked. Many a time I have had to despatch Mr R at short notice to pick up another bag of ice while I frantically clean the bathroom sink within minutes of the guests arriving!
Should I take a gift? Even if your host has instructed you to ‘just bring yourselves’, it is still considered a thoughtful gesture to take a gift. After all, if your host has gone to the trouble of hauling out the silver and glassware, and spent hours in the kitchen preparing a special meal, then the very least you can do is show your appreciation with a ‘thank you’ gift. The trick with gift giving is to ensure that your host is neither offended nor inconvenienced by your offering. If you are going to a friend’s house for a more informal dinner then chocolates (an internationally accepted gift), a bottle of wine or Champagne perhaps, is perfect. For a more formal dinner, one would expect the host to have selected the wine to perfectly match the food so bringing along a bottle of wine might imply that your host’s choice does not meet your exacting standards – I’d probably steer clear in this case and opt for some high-quality chocolates (Koko Black is my preference). Flowers are a great choice, but send them in advance of the evening so that the host has time to arrange them, or better still send them after the event with a hand-written thank you note – if you choose the latter, it does not give you permission to turn up empty-handed!
Table Talk: Small talk and polite dinner conversation can be tricky, particularly if you are dining with people you don’t know well, but generally speaking you won’t go far wrong if you avoid the following 5 topics: politics, sex, religion, money and personal appearance. The wise guest will keep conversation light, witty (if possible) and neutral: finding out a little about their fellow guests in advance is a great idea, just as long as it does not suggest some latent stalking tendencies in you! As the evening progresses – and the drink continues to flow – helping the host to keep the polite dinner party conversation on track should fast-track you to a repeat invitation!
When to go: The perfect guest will ‘get’ the clues as to when it is time to leave: once the host serves coffee or tea, then it is a very good indication that the evening is coming to a close and that you should be thinking of leaving. If the host starts yawning or worse still, is compelled to open the front door in an attempt to get rid of the errant guests, then you have most definitely outstayed your welcome.
Thank you notes: Not a luxury, a necessity! Hand-written and sent a day after the event letting the host know what a fabulous evening you had, even if you didn’t! And remember, a late thank you is better than no thank you at all.