Hospitality & Manners

10.2 Ways To Be A Gracious Guest

Yesterday we looked at some ways to make entertaining more fun and easy, so today I thought I would take a look at the flip side — how to be a good guest and endear yourself to your hostess.

1. RSVP as soon as possible. Responding the day before or the day of the party is better late than never, but it is really bad form and just plain not nice.  Be considerate and repondez s’il vous plait pronto y’all.

1.1 This is not an official don’t, but it is a pet peeve of mine — Do not call the hostess on the way to the party and ask for directions. Chances are she’s really busy attending to last minute details and greeting guests and doing a thousand other things.  Take the time to Google directions before you go.

2.  Do not show up early for a party under any circumstances for any reason ever.  Be fashionably late. For a small cocktail party or a come-and-go, fashionably late means 10-30 minutes.  For a dinner party, 15-20 minutes at the most.  Beyond that, the hostess gets nervous.

2. Do not show up with your kids unless they have explicitly been invited.  Do not show up with your out of town in-laws or other relatives unless they have been invited.  Do not call and ask if you can bring a few extra people because it puts the hostess in an awkard position — she has to say yes or look like a meanie.  If you have unexpected company, call the hostess and offer your regrets explaining that you are sorry that you won’t be able to make it and tell her why. If she wishes to include your company, she will offer.

2.1. If your children are invited, you are still responsible for them.  Check on them from time to time to make sure they are not setting the house on fire.

3. I think a small hostess gift is a really nice expression of gratitude. Make it something small and special but not terribly personal or embarrasingly expensive.  Here are some ideas:  note cards, wine glass charms, candles, a holiday ornament, small rosemary plant, a gourmet food item (chocolates, olives, sauces, biscotti and coffee or tea, jellies), a small book or something home baked like  pumpkin bread or cookies.  Other ideas?

4.  Do not bring food to a dinner party expecting it to be served unless you have been asked to do so.  It is presumptuous and the hostess will be put in the position of having to serve your King Ranch casserole next to her Beef Wellington.  She will resent you for it and she will wish a pox of termites upon your house.

5. If you have been asked to bring a dish to the party, bring it ready to set on the table.  Do not come to the party with a bag of groceries and then ask for a knife and cutting board so you can make your famous homemade salsa.  The last thing the hostess wants is another mess in her kitchen.

6.  Do not bring your own food to eat in a little Tupperware container. If you have food issues, eat at home before you come and just play along graciously. I’m going to retract this one on behalf of  Celiac patients.

7. If you don’t see it, don’t ask for it.  If the hostess is serving hamburgers, do not ask where she’s hiding the chicken.  If you don’t see wine or soft drinks or your favorite diet drink, don’t ask.

8.  Do not clear the table.  Offer to help clear the table, but accept no for an answer. If the hostess says to leave it, then leave it.  It could be she doesn’t trust you with her grandmother’s china.

9.  Be at the party – engage!  See if you can listen more than you speak, ask more than you tell.  Participate and contribute.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and be quick to introduce others. It’s okay to ask someone to remind you of their name, even if they just told you. It happens to all of us and no one should be offended by that.

10. Know when to go. If the hostess is slumped in a chair with her shoes off and yawning, it might be time to wrap up your  fascinating life story and say goodnight.

10.1  A follow up note or email to say, “Great party! Thanks for the invite!” is a super duper nice thing to do and ups the odds that you’ll get invited back.

10.2 Reciprocate! Have a get-together of your own!

39 thoughts on “10.2 Ways To Be A Gracious Guest

  1. “2.1. If your children are invited, you are still responsible for them …”

    Please listen to this, I hate when my mom has guests in the house and they leave their kids in the house as if they just entered in a daycare center.

  2. My child has celiacs disease. She attends every party she goes to with her own food in tupperware. She isn’t being rude, she wants to eat at the party with friends, and we don’t want to have to tell the hostess what to serve. Many people are in this position these days.

  3. I like your hostess gift ideas. I tend to want to throw things when someone brings me flowers as I then have to stop what I am doing, find a vase and cut the blasted things when I should be fiddling with the food.
    One of my favorite hostess gifts at Christmas time was a homemade ornament for my tree. I’m a tea granny and good friends will get me a box of specialty teas. LOVE IT.

  4. I have Celiac disease and I wouldn’t bring my own food to a dinner party and draw attention to myself. I eat the veggies and pick at whatever I can. It’s only for a couple of hours, it’s not like I’m going to starve. I’m there to be with friends more than eat.

  5. I think you should UN scratch through your comment about bringing your own food. No matter what kind of disease they are dying from — it’s still rude to bring your own food. Eat lots before hand… drink lots of water… move food around on your plate, and feign happiness.

    This is a great list!! I should print it out and mail it to my guests who are coming for thanksgiving. LOL I’m just kidding… (sorta).

  6. if your hostess is your 8 mos preg sister in law whom you have not met even though she has been married 8 years to your brother its still not ok to bring your own food
    her feelings will be hurt

  7. i’m so with you on the kid thing. i hate to spend days cleaning and preparing my house for a party and then my guests arrive with their children who promptly destroy it. it’s one of the reasons i hate doing “formal” parties.

  8. I’m not so sure a hostess gift is always required. There is something to be said for showing up empty-handed and receiving the gift of someone else’s hospitality. A bottle of wine at Christmas time, and always some kind of gift from a houseguest, but there has been a dramatic inflation in hostess gifting that makes me wonder if people understand hospitality at all. Receiving is as important as giving, and nowadays it’s all so transactional. And I agree with you on the RSVP thing – and would add, “don’t call at 4:00 and ask ‘are we still on for tonight?'”

    * * *
    A gift is never required. If it were, it wouldn’t be a gift. I said a small gift is a nice expression of gratitude. Whether or not I bring a gift depends on the kind of party, the familiarity with the hostess, how frequently we gather and some other factors.

    I have some friends who are involved in the Lets Start Talking mininstry in China and Russia and the people who come to read with them always bring a small gift. It might be an orange or a small handcraft. The small token as an expression of gratitude is built into their culture and a lovely and gracious thing. Focus on others and simple expressions of gratitude is something that is lacking in our culture.

  9. Aw, gee, and I’ve always preferred to retreat to some corner with a big tumbler of wine and just wait until it’s a decent time to go home. 😉

    * * *
    I would never drink wine from a tumbler. I usually poke a hole in the top of the box for my straw.

  10. I love those posts. I especially like the hostess gift ideas, because I can never think of anything other than wine or flowers.

    * * *
    One of the nicest hostess gifts I’ve received was a small basket of four or five Heirloom oranges, they are sweet and delicious, like candy. Another time for a summer party, someone brought me a couple of gardening tools, like a spade and the claw thingee, both tied in a pretty ribbon and I think there might have been a packet of seeds attached. Another favorite was a tin of spiced pecans that they had made, also tied with a pretty ribbon. All small, inexpensive but thoughtful and creative.

    I’ll be putting up a post later this week for y’all on hostess gifts.

  11. I’m so glad BooMama sent me over here. I’m an antique Mommy too and don’t know many others who blog.

    I loved this and the last post and look forward to reading some of your older posts too!

  12. 15-20 minutes late for a dinner party?! I wouldn’t dream of being that “late”….but I admit I’m OCD when it comes to being on time. I’m that annoying guest who sits in your driveway until the exact time because I know better than to be early, but just can NOT be late for anything….ever. LOL

    * * *
    I too am extreeeemly punctual. It’s okay to be on time, but never early.

    Fashionably late works because, and I know this from experience, that invariably it takes a few minutes longer to get ready for guests than planned — you can’t find the matches to light the candles, the ice bucket is missing or a light bulb blows when you turn on the lamp. Or something, because? It’s always something.

  13. You can come over to my place any time 😉 But don’t send me a thank you note–I am terrible at thank you notes and they make me feel guilty. (I don’t mind thank you emails or phone calls though.)

  14. My son’s fourth grade teacher invited the entire fourth grade class to her house for a few hours one afternoon to swim. She specifically said that food would not be served, siblings were invited and parents were to stay (safety first!).

    That morning I was at our Farmer’s Market. I spent a whopping $5 on a fresh bouquet of flowers, cut the stems and put them in a big Mason jar with a pretty fabric tie on them.

    I think if you’re going to bring flowers to someone you should prep them in a vase so the hostess doesn’t have to leave her hostessing to mess with them.

  15. Great list. I for one have worked very hard over the last few years to improve my RSVPing skills.

    I once hosted a surprise birthday party for a friend – a soup supper with about 40 guests. I served it buffet style. A few of the guests followed me around asking “Don’t you have more chili?” even though there were two other kinds of soup. I did have more, and as I started heating it up they all just stood and watched like poor little orphan children, cupping their chili stained bowls in their hands and being quite pitiful.

    Please tell me. Was that rude?

    P.S. I had not met most of these people before so I didn’t finish the night with a very good impression of them.

    * * *
    Musta been some awesome chili….

    A soup party sounds fun! I have been thinking about having a salsa tasting party, along the lines of a wine tasting party, only of course salsas.

  16. My grandmother used to say:

    “Don’t be early, don’t be late…
    Right on time makes a perfect date!”

    She was right about that. One of our dear friends is a 50-something single gentleman, and he almost always shows up about a half hour early. Last Thanksgiving, he arrived 40 minutes early, and I was still in my bathrobe, not wanting to get anything on my clothes while working with the food. He thoughtfully brought beautiful sunflowers that I had to stop to find a vase for, and he suggested I use them as my centerpiece on the table. He was hurt when I told him the centerpiece was already in place, so to attempting to be a warm hostess, I used his sunflowers and set aside the centerpiece I had worked on for hours the night before. That made for an awkward beginning to a long day!

    RSVP is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. When Studly and I married seven years ago, I was astonished at the complete disregard for the RSVP concept. One lady RSVP’d for four people, but she was the only one invited. And… NONE of the four – including this woman – actually showed up for the wedding/reception.

    Some favorite hostess gifts I’ve received: a set of cute hors d’œuvre forks, a darling Christmas tree ornament, wonderful seasonal candles (pumpkin pie scent was awesome), lovely salad tongs with beads wired and wrapped aroung them, a small “harvest” platter/dish, and my most favorite: a box of my coveted Earl Gray tea!

    My dear friend Joy Weaver, a nationally known etiquette expert, says in her book “Just Ask Joy… How to be Socially Savvy in all Situations” a guest should ALWAYS take a hostess gift and ALWAYS leave by (or before) the ending time of an event as specified on the invitation (if an ending time has been given), even if you’re having a blast and really want to stay longer. Here’s a link to her site:

    GREAT post, AM. Got me thinking about being a good hostess AND guest!

  17. I love to entertain. However, if I tell you dinner is at 6:00 – I mean dinner is at 6:00! If I have gone to the work to have the meal ready at 6:00, I want people there ready to eat it. I once had guests show up for dinner an hour and a half late. (no phone call!) They were to bring dessert and her first attempt flopped so they went to the store and got something to try again. They ended up bringing ice cream. I had made a full turkey dinner – talk about a nightmare trying to keep that warm.
    I had to shampoo my upstairs carpets and disinfect bathroom floors after the last party – due to unattended children peeing where ever they felt like it. I had toys set out for the kids to play with in a downstairs room. They dumped the toys, but did not play with them and continued on to explore parts of the house I did not intend for them to be in. I will shut and lock bedroom doors next time.
    I am still laughing about flaming pineapples!!! I made hula skirts out of crepe paper and coconut bras out of paper bowls (with flowers glued on the bottom) for one of my girls birthday parties. They watched Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii!

    * * *
    If I’m serving dinner at 6pm, I ask guests to come at 5pm so they can relax, have an appetizer and a drink, visit. And if I ask someone to bring a dessert, I always have a back up just in case, just because stuff happens.

  18. I wonder if hostess gifts are a regional thing?

    I travel in some fairly nice circles (I think…we could be a bunch of slack-jawed, panty-line-flaunting rubes) and I have never received a hostess gift, given a hostess gift, or witnessed anyone giving anyone else a hostess gift at a party.

    The exceptions are housewarming or bon voyage parties, wedding and baby showers. Regular Saturday night get-togethers or open houses are giftless affairs.

  19. In connection with your comment to Heidi’s comment:

    We did a salsa party buffet-style a year or so ago. It turned out great. On this “dinner” I had the guest bring their favorite salsa so everyone can taste.

    *PS – I received some pretty creative Southwestern hostess gifts.

  20. I meant to leave this comment on the hostess post which I thought was quite lovely. As a hostess, I prefer to clean up once ALL guests have left. Someone always asks to help clean-up but I just say no thanks, I’ll take care of it later. That way I can focus on guests and relax a little bit. Also, I don’t want my guests to feel uncomfortable. If they see you start cleaning up they may think it’s time to go. I just pile dishes in the sink, put food trays on the counter with tea towels over them. I can refrigerate leftovers later. Once everyone is gone, my husband helps me clean up and it gives us a chance to talk about everyone who just left, I mean talk about the lovely time we just had with friends.

  21. I have to comment on the Celiac thing. I think the proper etiquette will depend on the situation at hand. If you’re a good friend that understands my health issue with my gluten/dairy/soy food allergies, you usually don’t mind if I bring my food or food for my toddler son. Small children are not always mature enough to understand the social etiquette that us adults live by. They just know they’re hungry when they’re hungry and a fussy child in the face of a full buffet he can’t eat is NOT something I’d like to bring to a dinner party. Nor is any decent hostess going to want it.

    In a situation where I don’t know you too well, I will eat before I arrive in an effort to not go crazy hungry watching everyone else eat yummy things. I don’t think “faking” a plate of food and pushing it around with your fork and feigning happiness is an appropriate answer. Why? Because later on someone will inevitably say, “Well I saw her eat the cake at AM’s house during Christmas. Did she not have Celiac then?” Most hostesses are gracious enough to let things like that slide. If they’re that uptight about everyone eating THEIR food, food sickness be damned, then it’s obviously not a friend I’m likely to keep long.

    We’re talking a health issue here. Not food preferences.

    * * *
    This got off course when someone introduced the idea of a child at a dinner party. I had in mind adult parties when I wrote the post and I wasn’t thinking of people with health issues. I sort of assumed that would go without saying. And obviously when you throw a child in the mix, it’s a different deal, especially a child with food allergies. But if I’m going to someone’s house for dinner and the kiddo is invited, I feed him before hand anyway because he’s a picky eater. But I do expect him to sit at the table, not ask for what he does not see, to thank the hostess for dinner and to be polite. And call me cranky, but I would not have a sit-down dinner party with a toddler.

  22. I don’t call you cranky, AM. Dinner parties and toddlers do not mix IMO either! Ha!

    I do appreciate you understanding some folks limitations when it comes to a diet though. I just think that many people not familiar with Celiac do not understand how incredibly sick we can get by accidentally ingesting something not allowed for their diet. It can literally make me ill for days. I can feign it, but it more often than not, it causes confusion to the hostess or to other guests. By no means, do I expect a full fledge meal prepared around my limitations, but it’s not always fun going to an event where you have literally have NOTHING to eat. Been there, done that.

    I’d rather educate and not be embarrassed about my medical condition. I know from being a hostess many times myself, I would love to know about any dietary restrictions my guests have. I might not be able to fix something they can safely eat, but I’d like to try in order to make them feel welcome. I guess I look at it as, if the social aspect is what’s important, then I don’t care if they bring a Tupperware of their own meal or snacks for a legitimate health issue like that.

    I just don’t believe etiquette is black and white. There are always grays, but not everyone seems to agree with me. Or maybe I just don’t have the manners I ought to have, which is possible too. LOL!

    * * *
    I never meant the person with celiac or food allergies. I guess when I wrote “food issues” I was thinking more of the person who calls ahead and asks what I’m serving so they can bring their tupperware if it doesn’t suit them or the person who doesn’t like a certain food texture — which frankly doesn’t happen that often, so I should have either left it out or been more careful how I worded it. Sometimes things make a lot more sense inside my head.

  23. Love these just as much as the 10 comments of entertaining. And I always try my best to 1. start with an empty diswaher and 2. drop a thank you note to the hostess!

  24. I love #7 and #10 – I have a person in my life who has not been invited back because she notoriously broke both 7 & 10 EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    Excellent reminders as we head toward this holiday season! 🙂

  25. Whoops, she broke #5 too – EVERY time. And do I dare start on the times when she brought her untrained kids? LOL – can you see I have baggage about this?? 🙂

  26. Okay, now I have to google King Ranch Casserole . . . is that some Southern specialty? Up here in the North they serve what is called “hot dish”. (hot dish = casserole)

    After comparing the two lists it appears it takes more effort to be a good guest . . . hmmmmmmmm . . .

  27. Poking a straw in the box…not that’s a classic! You should patent a Capri Sun type single serve pouch of Pinot Grigio!! I’d buy 🙂

    Also, concerning simple expressions of gratitude lacking in our culture—you are spot on, so true. However to counter that, I did happen to just put up a post tonight about the random act of kindness from one friend. Amazing how something so small, inexpensive can truly make your day!!

    Thanks for the entertainment guidelines….love it!!

  28. I’m one of those people who is always early–it was drilled into me as a child that being late is disrespectful. So I tend to be so paranoid about being late that I end up arriving 10-20 minutes early (and usually make the block a few times or sit in the driveway). I’m also a little challenged when it comes to etiquette; I never seem to know the right thing to do. So I’m profoundly grateful to those hostesses who explicitly tell me things like, “We’re serving dinner at 6, so we’d like guests to arrive between 5 and 5:30.” That way I don’t end up arriving at 4:45 (trying to get there at 5 o’clock sharp). I just try to get there by 5:30 and end up arriving around 5:15, which is perfect.

    Thanks for these tips, by the way! They’re helpful for someone like me, who never learned a lot of the social niceties as a youngster but who now lives in a world where I need to know it. (Can you imagine the mistakes a socially ignorant diplomat’s wife makes? I don’t have to imagine!)

  29. I’m so with you on the RSVP’ing thing. It’s really awkward and stressful if I invite you for dinner, and then don’t know if you are coming. And worse if I decide you aren’t and then you show up!

    You’ve probably heard enough on the food allergy and separate dish issue, but as a celiac who is extremely allergic to pineapple, eating out is always a big source of stress. I’d never accept a dinner invitation without making sure that the host is able to feed me. I often offer to bring my own food just in case they don’t feel up to the challenge. The idea of simply going and then “pretending” to eat is ludicrous though. In a formal meal situation, people will definitely notice that you are just playing with your food and as a hostess I would be extremely anxious, worried and offended if someone I invited for dinner ate nothing or practically nothing. So I’d change that paragraph to something saying: “If there is food that you will or cannot eat, discuss it with the host(ess) in advance.” Ideally your host(ess) would give you an opening when inviting you. Eg. “Do you have any food allergies that I should know about?” “No – but I can be slightly picky about eggplant” “Yes – x and if you’d like I can bring my own food” or “Yes – x, y, z but actually if you don’t mind I’d be more comfortable bringing my own food”. If for some reason it doesn’t come up though, as a hostess I would MUCH rather have you bring your own food than to have you spend most of the evening vomiting or worse in the bathroom or have to leave immediately to go home or the emergency room. Just saying…

    I’d also be careful about hostess gifts unless you know the recipient fairly well. People are forever bringing us wine (we don’t drink), chocolates (contaminated with wheat and/or hazelnut flavoured which the rest of my family can’t have), baked goods (usually can’t eat), or smelly soaps (hives and headaches). And once I received a pineapple (of course, maybe they were actually trying to kill me). It’s a nice gesture but really awkward and embarrassing to receive something we can’t use and I don’t have a good way of explaining this without making the guest feel awkward too.

    You might get the impression that dinner parties make me anxious 🙂 They do, but only for people I don’t know that well…

    * * *
    Yes, the food allergy point has been beaten to a pulp. I have retracted it and can do no more.

    About the hostess gifts, would it not be possible to accept the gift graciously and then pass it along to someone who might enjoy it?

  30. I personally like #10!! Why do people need to be pushed out the door when the night is over??!!
    Thanks for your party “rules”! they are good reminders of common courtesy that we need from time to time!

  31. Love the list! But I grew up in the land of “If you’re not early, you’re late.” It KILLS me to not be on time or early. As I’ve “grown” I’ve figured out when I CAN and SHOULD be early and when I should show up fashionably late, but it still kills me 😉 And I think my mother would slap me from half way across the country if I didn’t help clear the table.

  32. Great list!
    Personally I love it when people help with the clean up (but I don’t care if they don’t either) but I hate it when the clean up help makes more work for me- some of my friends who used to come over a lot would try to be very “helpful” and pile all the dishes in my sink. I had no dishwasher so it made more work for my hubby and I as we had to first clean out the sink before we could wash the dishes.
    So, I finally told people not to do that and they were great about it. But yeah, its good to note what people find helpful and you are right, some people don’t find it helpful for people to help clear the table etc…

  33. An idea for a hostess gift is something seasonal. The other day we were invited to some friends house for dinner and I brought mulling spices (it’s apple cider season here in New Hampshire) in a cute jar.

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