How to Be a Good Party Guest: 7 Etiquette Tips All Hosts Appreciate

Want to endear yourself to your host? A good party guest follows these simple rules of etiquette.

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Good party guest - young woman texting RSVP
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A good party guest replies right away

Being a good party guest begins well ahead of party time. When you receive an invitation, be it by phone, email, text or even a formal one in the mail, provide a prompt response, especially if it’s a dinner. This is also the time to ask if you can bring a plus-one, though doing so is only advisable if you know your host well. Not sure you’ll be able to attend? Ask your host if you can give them an answer by a specific later date.

If you have any food restrictions or allergies, let your host know as early as possible, to give them time to tweak the menu to accommodate you. Sara d’Amato, a Toronto-based sommelier, suggests offering to make and bring a dish you can eat, taking a bit of pressure off your host.

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A good party guest brings a gift wine
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Good guests come bearing a gift

Always bring something for your host. Wine is often appreciated, especially if you know what your host’s favourite bottle is. But if wine isn’t your thing—or your host’s—bring cut flowers, a specialty loaf of bread to be enjoyed later or a good-quality olive oil. (Here are more great Canadian gifts under $50.)

If you’d like to contribute food, find out ahead of time if your host is keen on the offer. If they are, let them decide if your suggested dish goes with the menu or theme they’ve planned, and be prepared to change recipes if it doesn’t. “Good intentions don’t always help,” says Laura Calder, an entertaining expert and the author of The Inviting Life. If you’re asked to bring food to share, make something appropriate for the occasion—no roast or lamb shanks if it’s a finger-foods function—and present it on a pretty platter or in a bowl that can go right on the table, ready to serve.

Make sure whatever you contribute is in line with your host’s culture, religion or values. “Don’t bring dishes with bacon to a kosher home. If you’re not sure, omit pork,” advises d’Amato. Along the same lines, don’t bring meat to a vegetarian’s party or peanuts to a peanut-free home. If your host is a good friend, check in before party time to see if there’s something you can pick up on your way over.

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Good party guest - leave when party food is finished
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Want to be a good party guest? Keep to the host’s schedule

An early arrival is a definite no-thank-you! since many hosts can be found prepping up until the appointed hour. “Best is to arrive a bit later than the invitation time, though no more than 15 minutes late,” d’Amato recommends.

At the end of the night, make sure you don’t overstay your welcome. “Be aware when it’s time to go—you don’t want to be the one who will not leave,” cautions Calder. One cue that signals that the party is coming to an end is when food and drinks are no longer being served. Another is your host’s body language. “If they start to look restless or otherwise uncomfortable, it’s time to make an exit,” explains Calder. But keep in mind that leaving too early can put a damper on things before everyone’s ready to go. If you do need to sneak out a bit in advance, let your host know ahead of time and say goodbye to them discreetly so as not to disrupt the party.

Feeling stuck? Here are some polite ways to end a conversation.

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A good party guest being social shaking hands
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A good party guest is social

“Arrive in a good mood and introduce yourself in a cheerful way,” says Calder. “It can be a lot of work for a host if they have to get people to interact, so it’s up to the guests to oil those wheels themselves.”

As for striking up a conversation, introducing controversial topics is fine, d’Amato says, as long as you do so thoughtfully. “Listen to other people and be considerate. Discussions like these can make for a lot of fun at parties,” she says. (These interesting conversation starters could come in handy, too.) And if things get a little rocky, use your intuition. “If you see that a topic is upsetting someone, get off it,” suggests Calder.

While stimulating conversations can be the lifeblood of a successful party, if you’re shy it can feel daunting to chat with people you’ve just met or don’t know well. Toronto-based relationship expert Natasha Sharma, who has counselled scores of socially anxious clients, says shy people often worry that others will judge them, which can make them even more timid. The trick is not to stress about how the other guests will see you, as this will help you to talk freely with them in a genuine way. “Unless you’re really, really socially awkward, other guests aren’t going to notice you’re shy,” she says. “Accept the ones who gravitate to you, don’t worry about the ones who don’t. And if it’s not clicking, there’s no harm in politely finding a way to excuse yourself,” Sharma says.

Don’t miss this practical advice on how to overcome social anxiety.

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A good party guest don't use phone at dinner
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Good party guests follow house rules

In general, it’s good etiquette to limit or cut out time on your cellphone, so no checking social media or playing loud videos—even if that clip of your cat is adorable. While it might be tempting to share photos of your host’s dinner-table setting or tasteful home decor, Calder says that if a party is in a private residence, guests should avoid posting pictures on social media without permission. Not sure whether to keep your shoes on or off indoors? If it’s not obvious with a pile of shoes at the door, ask. And while the holidays may be cause for celebration, it’s also advisable to drink in moderation.

Could you be addicted to social media? Here’s expert advice on how to unplug.

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Good party guests help clean up wash dishes
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Good party guests chip in

Who doesn’t appreciate a helping hand? There’s nothing wrong with offering to assist with chores, especially if you suggest doing something particular so your host doesn’t have to think up a task for you. But don’t push it. “If your host says, ‘No thanks,’ stay seated,” Calder says. “It’s so nice when you have a bunch of people sitting and talking, but if five of them jump up to help the moment I go to do something, there’s usually someone left there by themselves.” If food is served buffet style, don’t wait for your host to hand you a plate to start eating; when you’re done, take your dishes to the kitchen rather than waiting for someone else to do it for you. And when your host sits down to eat, refrain from asking for anything, even if it is to do something on their behalf—let them enjoy their food and company.

If your host has young children or grandchildren in attendance, one surefire way to score points is to take it upon yourself to entertain them. Another way to pitch in is after the party. “If you’re staying to the end of the night, doing a few things to help tidy up is always appreciated,” notes d’Amato.

Find out 12 rude conversation habits to avoid.

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A good party guest writes a thank you note
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Good party guests express their gratitude

Within a couple days of the party, get in touch with your host to say thank you. In most cases, a phone call or email is fine, but try to home in on some specific details. “Highlight things that made the event stand out,” says Calder. You could compliment your host on the food, their home, the atmosphere or the guests you met, for instance. (Here are more times when you should write a thank you note.) Calder also suggests eventually reciprocating with an invitation of your own. It doesn’t have to be a party at your own home; if hosting at yours isn’t your thing or you don’t have space for that, Calder recommends planning a trip to the movies or something a bit more elaborate, such as a picnic at a park. Because get-togethers are like friendships: if you give, you’ll usually receive—in this case, a return invitation.

Next, check out 20 dining etiquette rules no one follows anymore.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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