After struggling with what to write about for my first post, I’ve been lead to a subject near and not so dear to my heart; How to be a good dinner guest.  With all of the topics to choose from, this one, single theme continues to creep into my personal life.  While I might be going out on a limb, I’m going to assume that most of us have not been raised in a barn or had (real) monkeys for parents.   With that said, the obvious question might be why some folks behave like they have.

Parental example. It’s common to blame our parents for all the wrongs in our life.  Of course, our bad choices are their fault. It’s their fault for neglecting to teach us how to tie our shoes which has forced us to live with Velcro high-tops.  It’s their fault we don’t know how to parallel park. It’s their fault we don’t know how to pay our credit card bills.  It stands to reason it’s their fault we don’t know how to behave politely at a dinner party.  While this sounds outrageous, it may not be too far from the truth.  Unless we are taught and/or lead by example, we can’t necessarily be held to the fire.  Common sense you say? Before you actually say that, consider the fact that common sense has been dolled out in varying doses.  You know what I’m talking about.

SO…for those that actually have been raised in a barn or did not have the good fortune to have been taught basic good form by their parental figures, let me give you some foundational assistance. Remember, this is COOL.  When implemented and executed you might even get a second invitation! That is unless you don’t want one.

  • Dress appropriately. This does not mean you show up to the monster truck preview dinner in greasy overalls and steel toed boots.  Arrive with a clean body and clean, neat and appropriate clothes.  Formal dinner parties may mean a suit & tie for the gents and a dress & fake Manolo Blahniks’ for the ladies. Casual dinners might dictate you wear jeans and a sweater. Each occasion will provide a cue as to the appropriate attire.  When in doubt, ask your host!  If you are still doubtful, error on the dressier side.  Some may challenge me on this.  I’ve heard some experts say that to dress “down” is safe.  I politely disagree.  Respect your host and show them you appreciate their effort and generosity.
  • Arrive On Time.  Don’t arrive more than 15 minutes late without calling. Don’t arrive too early.  Your host may still be preparing for your visit.  You don’t want to interrupt the vacuuming.
  • Do not bring guests who were not invited by the host. PERIOD.  I don’t care who they are; if they were not invited, they don’t come. WARNING: Do not ask your host if you can bring them.  This applies to nearly every invitation including and especially weddings!  More on that at a later date.
  • Do not bring your pet.  Having to actually state this makes me sad. Yes, it’s happened to me.
  • Bring a small token of appreciation.  You might refer to this as a “Hostess Gift”.  A small token of thanks might be flowers (put them in a vase), the traditional bottle of wine (no jug wines, please), scented candle, etc., etc.  You get the drift.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. No one and I mean no one likes a sloppy drunk. Don’t impose on your host by forcing them to either call you a cab or (heaven forbid) have to bunk your sorry self for the night.
  • Don’t be loud. This one is nearly always related to the point above.  You could also state this as “don’t be loud AND obnoxious”.
  • Offer to help.  A simple offer will do.
  • Don’t wander through the house. I know some of you are neat and clean to the core. I happen to be one of those women who believes closets are for stashing last minute clutter. Yes, I’m confessing. Have a heart and don’t ramble through your host’s house uninvited. This can save load’s of embarrassment. LOADS.
  • Body Language. Your body language can say a lot about you and your attitude. Sit up straight. Keep your shoes on. Keep your elbows off the table and close to your own body (even if Heidi Klum is seated next to you). If you are not exactly thrilled to be there…fake it.  Smile and be gracious.
  • Don’t Take your Medication at the Table. If you must medicate yourself to get through the dinner or to control what ails you, politely and quietly excuse yourself and head to the bathroom.  Do your pill popping in private.
  • Eat only after all others have been served. This is one point of particular importance to me and one that is most often overlooked.  WAIT UNTIL ALL OTHERS HAVE BEEN SERVED BEFORE DIGGING IN.  PLEASE REFRAIN YOURSELVES!  Yes, this has happened to me – repeatedly. I’m sure it’s because I’m a good cook.
  • Don’t push your plate away.  I realize it’s hard to believe but pushing your plate away either while you are eating or after is RUDE. If you push your plate away while eating, you’ve just communicated to your host that the meal is not to your liking.  If you push it away after you’ve eaten, you’ve inadvertently said that you are done; bring on the waffle cones. I actually had a guest of mine push her plate away while stating she “just could not eat THIS”.  She’s not been invited back.  You know who you are.
  • DO NOT CRITICIZE THE FOOD. Ever, ever, ever.  I once spent 3 days preparing a special meal for some special guests. One of these special guests told me that he would of never prepared the food the way I did. He did this as he was pushing his plate away.  Yes, he was special all right.  They’ve not been invited back.  Yes, I’m a good cook.
  • Know when to leave. If your host has gone to bed, that might be an indication you’ve over-stayed your welcome. Typically, one hour past dinner is a good guideline to follow when evaluating when to head for the door.   I know you are just dying to hear if this has happened to me.  Yes, in fact, he was still there the next morning. I’m sure it was because I’m a good cook.
  • Say “Thank-you”. Casual get-together thank you’s may be made by a simple phone call (preferred) or even an email (if you must). Formal dinner parties dictate that you send a hand written note.  You don’t have to be lavish. Acknowledge your appreciation!

There you have it!  Dinner party 101.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but it will give you something to chew on (I couldn’t help it) while you are fondly recalling your days in the barn.

I would love to hear your horror stories!  Drop me a comment – remember; misery loves company.  Or at least a good laugh!

K. Martini