How to Be the Perfect Party Guest

by Brett on December 17, 2008 · 37 comments

in A Man's Life, Friendship, On Etiquette, Relationships & Family

The season for parties is currently in full swing. For the party guest, the event is a chance to kickback and have a good time. But for the host, throwing a party can be a stressful endeavor. A host must worry about the decorations, the food, the entertainment, and whether their guests are getting along, having a good time, and behaving themselves. Take one worry off the host’s list by being a winning and polite guest. Not only will you help your friend’s event be a success, you’ll find more invitations to parties in your mailbox.

1. Always, always, RSVP. “RSVP” stands for “Répondez s’il vous plait,” French for “please respond.” When you receive an invitation that asks you to RSVP, the host or hostess is kindly requesting that you let them know whether or not you will be attending their function. Today the RVSP has come to be seen as optional. Some men believe you only need to call if you are coming; some think you only need to call if you are not coming; and some do not think you have to call either way. Sometimes RSVPing is avoided because you do not want to face the awkwardness of telling someone you are not coming and making up an excuse about why.

However, not RSVPing is rather rude. The reason you must RSVP is that the host or hostess needs to know how to plan his or her party. They must pick the proper venue to accommodate a certain number of guests, the proper amount of party supplies, and perhaps most importantly, the right amount of food to serve the guests. By not RSVPing you keep your host completely in the dark as they attempt to prepare for their function. The host is forced to guess and may then buy too much or too little food, causing them to overspend or experience embarrassment, respectively.

On that note, do not RSVP and then pull a no show. Again, the host will have allotted for too much food and party favors, and these things will go to waste.

If you cannot attend an event, simply express to the host your appreciation for the invitation and then apologize and say that you unfortunately have other plans. This excuse is always true-whatever you will be doing instead of the party are your alternative “plans.” If you like the host, make plans to get together another time. If you do not like the host (and this may be why you are not attending the party in the first place), simply leave it at that.

2. If you are attending a dinner party, offer to bring something. Cooking up a tasty meal for several guests is no easy task. Take some of the burden off the host by offering to bring the salad or dessert.

3. Always arrive on time. Part of the pressure of throwing a party is timing your food to come out exactly when the guests arrive. If you’re 20 minutes late, you will significantly add to the cook’s stress by having them worry not only about the taste, but whether the food is getting cold. If the food is not ready by the time you arrive, you simply have more time to mingle.

If the party is a large, come and go as you please type of shin-dig, being “fashionably late” is acceptable.

4. Bring the phone number with you on the way over. If you get lost or have an emergency, you will need to call the host to keep them abreast. Don’t keep the party waiting without any word from you.

5. Bring a gift for the host. A bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers are excellent choices. This is particularly appropriate for dinner parties.

6. Come prepared for conversation. Don’t be a party dud. On the way over, think of a few things you can talk about-movies you’ve seen, funny stories from work, and interesting news about yourself and your mutual friends. Think about the host and the other guests; what are they interested in and what kinds of questions can you ask them? Remember, you should almost always avoid controversial subjects such as politics and religion.

7. Eat and drink responsibly. Don’t come to the party famished, ready to devour anything and everything in sight. At a party in which hors d’oeuvres are being passed around, don’t put a ton on your plate. You’ll look like a hog. And no double dipping! Finally, don’t become inebriated.

8. Compliment the host. Tell the host what great food or what a great party it is at the midpoint of the night and then again when you are saying your goodbyes.

9. Help wash the dishes or clean up. Not all etiquette guides would approve of this, but we have made it a personal rule concerning dinner parties with close friends. If someone is kind enough to slave away in the kitchen making us a meal, we don’t think they should have to wash the dishes too. We always step in and do them. Your host may initially protest, but they will be inwardly grateful.

10. Don’t overstay your welcome. The appropriate time to leave is something you just have to feel in your bones. Things will be winding down, and conversation will hit a lag. At this point say, “Well, we’ve had a wonderful time tonight. I think we should get going. Thank you very much for having us.”

11. Write a thank you note. Within a few days of the party, always send a note of thanks to the host or hostess.

Got any other tips? Drop a line in the comment box.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben W December 17, 2008 at 11:26 pm

>A host must worry about the decorations, the food, the entertainment, and whether their guests are getting along, having a good time, and behaving themselves.

Take on the responsibilities you can. Clean up if something spills. Hang up the coats of people coming in with you (or ask your female companion to do this on your behalf). Introduce your friends to people you’ve just met.

Socially there are two strategies here. One, be the life of the party. Have enthralling stories. Learn how to include others opinions in these stories, and redirect the spotlight on those who are speaking up.

Alternatively, two, seek out party guests who are clearly waiting for someone to talk to them. You’d be surprised how many people come to parties and are unable to initiate conversation. Your job as a gentleman is to initiate and ensure that they’re comfortable and having a good time too.

-Ben

2 Dick December 18, 2008 at 12:44 am

Great post.

As far as the dishwashing goes, I personally don’t really like it when others wash my dishes. I’m pretty particular about how I wash things, especially when fine china is involved. I do appreciate help with clearing the table, etc. but really prefer that the dishes are left stacked in the kitchen.

Maybe I’m weird.

3 Phil December 18, 2008 at 5:25 am

If you bring wine, don’t be offended if they don’t serve it. They may have gone to great pains to find wines that they think pair perfectly with what they are serving.

Your wine is a gift to them, not something to be served to you.

I agree with Dick on the washing; as a guest you might know know what is glass and what is crystal; what goes in the dishwasher and what does not. Just offer to help, and do what the host asks.

4 Matt December 18, 2008 at 5:47 am

Nice post.

“Don’t come to the party ravished . . .” I think you mean “famished.”

5 Harland December 18, 2008 at 6:25 am

I think ravished is a good word to use. Don’t come to the party ravished – or else no one will want to take you home. :)
It may also be important to point out (although it is implied in #6) do not be the one to sit in front of the boob tube – especially with sports. Unless you are at a super bowl party (or college bowl party) it is rude to the host and guests to plop in front of a TV and disengage. If there is a can’t miss game on tv – tape or TiVo it at home! Some hosts leave something on in the background – usually to be accomodating to some cousin or Brother-in-law – be kind and don’t lose yourself in it. If you can’t take the temptation, sit facing away or go in to the other room.

6 CoffeeZombie December 18, 2008 at 7:05 am

@Ben W: Is it really gentlemanly to ask your lady friend to hang up coats for you? Shouldn’t a gentleman be the one who hangs up his lady friend’s coat?

I don’t often host parties myself, but I think I would prefer washing the dishes myself. For one thing, guests at a party may not realize that our dishwasher is broken (and I don’t care about washing dishes by hand, so it won’t be getting fixed anytime soon).

Offering to help clean up in other ways, though, is almost universally appreciated.

Also, this shouldn’t need to be said, but, considering how concepts of propriety seem to be disappearing from our overly-casual society, it’s worth noting that, in a home, there are public and private areas. In my opinion, bedrooms, laundry rooms, and any hallway or area of the house that only leads to those rooms (for instance, in a two-story house, the upstairs) are private areas. You just don’t go there unless specifically asked. Simply put, if a door is closed, assume the room is off limits.

Depending on the house, the host, and the nature of the party, the kitchen may also be considered a private area. In my house, we don’t have a dining room; we only have a kitchen/breakfast area, so the kitchen is, de facto, a public area. When a kitchen is separate from a dining room, some hosts may consider it a private area, and some may consider it public. Just play it by ear, there.

The bathroom is a special case. I tend to consider the bathroom to be a private area. However, if you need to go, I’m sure the host would rather you use their bathroom than water their bushes. Since the bathroom is a private area, though, I always ask permission to use it. If, later in the evening, you have to go again, you’re probably safe assuming the permission is still valid.

7 Bradley Looy December 18, 2008 at 7:28 am

Excellent! RSVP’s a must? Absolutely! I am really distraught when planning a party and I don’t get them. In fact, I’m planning one this week and at first heard only from one invitee. I had to call each and every person to confirm and getting in contact with them was difficult. I felt like the nobleman in the Bible to whose party no one showed up. I too was ready to go out in the streets and grab anybody that would come. Maybe I’m the unloved host you described and no one wanted to come to my party, hmmm. :-)

8 NZR (the Plainsman) December 18, 2008 at 7:59 am

Something that has been done with a couple in my family as well as a couple friends of ours:

If you bring something to the party, do not take it back. Your dish, wine, beer, whatever is not something you loan to the host for use in the evening. If it doesn’t get used, leave it for the host; do not take it back.

Not saying this because I want things brought to my house, but I have had people ask for items back when leaving if they weren’t used during the night.

Am I off base here?

9 Dave K December 18, 2008 at 8:27 am

6. Come prepared for conversation.

Personally I’m a bit of an introvert, and can have quite a time getting conversation going. I try to remember to find a newspaper (on or off-line) and read up on current events before going. Being familiar with a number of topics in the news can help things go much smoother.

10 Brett December 18, 2008 at 8:27 am

@Dick-Good point about people being particular with their china and nice glasses. I was thinking about casual dinner parties I’ve been too. If they had broken out their nice stuff, I wouldn’t touch it. I don’t think you’re weird-most people are particular about that stuff.

11 Brett December 18, 2008 at 8:37 am

@Matt-

Nice catch….:)

12 Eric December 18, 2008 at 9:37 am

Having been both the introvert and the life of the party (I guess it depends on the company and how familiar I am with them) I appreciate Ben W’s comments.

Especially when attending a friend’s party where you’re meeting a larger group or clique for the first time, it can be difficult integrating yourself into a group who already has history. It’s nice when one of them finds a way to include you, instead of assuming you’ll just work your way into their circle. The host is often too busy to pull this off.

That said, if you’re the introvert, it’s still good form to watch for an entrance into conversation. Sometimes you can help steer the talk away from their “history” and make new memories with these people.

13 A Guy December 18, 2008 at 11:37 am

I would NEVER let my guests clean up or do dishes. Perhaps you should do a post about hosting a party?

14 Bostonhud December 18, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Regarding number 3, I read once that for every hour you expect the party to last, you should show up ten minutes late. For example, if a party starts at 7, and you expect it to end at 10, then you should show up at 7:30. I’ve used this rule before and it seems to work very well, as almost no parties start on time anymore. I think most party hosts expect people to show up late; few have everything ready at the exact party start time.
How do we think about this?

15 The Common Man December 18, 2008 at 1:25 pm

And if you’re at a party, and somehow you manage to spill orange sauce a gravy boat of orange sauce on the carpet, or drop a pink-frostinged cake on the floor, please tell the host about it immediately, so that they can immediately steam clean the carpet. That way, the frosting and sauce won’t get respectively ground and soaked into the carpet, and the host won’t lose the security deposit at their apartment.

16 Nesagwa December 18, 2008 at 1:25 pm

NZR:

By “dish” do you just mean the food or the actual dish you brought it in?

I’d want my casserole pan back at least.

17 Matt Maestas December 18, 2008 at 1:34 pm

I cannot echo enough the need to RSVP. My wife and I hosted our first Christmas Open House this past Sunday and it was absolutely essential to know how many to prepare for.

One thing I would add; Even though we have no children of our own yet, we have quite a few friends with kids, so in preparation we had a kid area complete with toys, paper, crayons etc. so parents could bring kids and they wouldn’t be bored out of their skull. It was really appreciated by others and led to them staying longer than normal and having a better time.

18 Dana Baith December 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Don’t forget that it is impolite to make negative comments about the food being served. My wife and I are both good cooks and we try to offer our guests the opportunity to experience something new when dining at our house and I’m not talking sea cucumber or squirrel brains.

However, there is nothing more offensive than someone saying “oh, I don’t eat that” or possible even giving us guidance as to what they will eat.

If you don’t like something or are uncomfortable eating it just say no thanks or if it pre-plated taste a little and leave the rest on your plate if it is not to your liking.

19 stephen December 18, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I love the pictures gracing this article. I particularly note the prevalence of beer served and consumed in a pilsner glass – very civilized. It reminds me of the family parties of my grandparents. All this drives me to the point – when at a party, however formal or informal, be civilized – it is always the mark of good company.

20 Mark December 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Although a small thing, I would like to mention that bringing flowers to a party only adds to the hosts responsibilities as he or she must scramble to find a vase in which to place the flowers. Additionally, the flowers may not compliment the planned decor and would make the host uncomfortable should she (or he) choose not display them. Although the same is somewhat true of the wine, as you already mentioned, the host need not feel compelled to serve it. That option is not as easy with flowers (unless the host simply disposes of them or lets them die).

21 Clayton Roche December 18, 2008 at 3:59 pm

If it is the kind of party where bringing friends is appropriate, for heavens sake, introduce them to the host! I often go with other friends and find myself feeling a little uneasy when I’m in someone else’s house without explicit permission or acknowledgment. This may be more relevant for the kind of parties I go to (I just graduated college), but a general guideline will work: if you are someone’s only connection, help them branch out. Both your friend and the host should appreciate it.

22 rich December 18, 2008 at 11:55 pm

To go off the established wine idea, if you know the host likes a specific drink buy them that. As a fan of Jack Daniel’s, I’m always flattered when my friends bring me a bottle of Gentleman’s Jack or Single Barrel as a gift. By buying a favored/special brand, it also becomes obvious that your gift is for the host’s enjoyment, not for the party.

23 Jane December 19, 2008 at 7:46 pm

A very timely post! I generally seek out the people who seem isolated since I’m fairly comfortable approaching strangers and many people are not. Even if you are feeling a bit shy, you can make yourself useful by knitting someone even newer into a conversation you have struck up only minutes before. Also, if I am artful, I knit people of both sexes into the conversation and open up subjects that will allow a natural disclosure of their romantic availability eg: apartments, new in town etc. This will make meeting people much easier for everyone and hopefully they will barely notice it happening.
RSVPs, yes; some kind of gift, yes. I have never written a thank you note but now I think I will start.

24 Ben Stock of Brainpower December 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Flowers are not the greatest gift to bring to a home party. They invariably take some work to receive: finding a clean vase, cutting stems, arranging. If you arrive at the height of preparations and expect your flowers to fussed over, and displayed, it’s no favor, just more work at the worst time.

25 Diana M. Molino January 4, 2009 at 10:52 am

We often don’t include others, introductions would be helpful. Especially if you know that the other person is shy or they don’t know each other.

I looked at the picture on this article and thought of Norman Rockwell. It looks a lot like one of his paintings.

26 Hannes January 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

How to: be a great guest

1) An invitation is not a gift. It is an investment.

2) Never come empty handed.
Please remind me: Why exactly did I invite you? Ah, you don’t know, too?

3) Never go without compliments

4) Make the host relaxed by doing his time consuming work like doing dinner, dishes, candles etc. It’s the helping hands that make parties possible.
Having parties is hard work. No help strongly decreases the frequency and greatly increases the guest rotation.

5) Of course you give the host a call the next day to thank him if you liked the party.
If you didn’t like it, lean back, do nothing. There is no need to be invited again.

6) Issue reinvitations.
Hosts like to be guests too and as they know what it takes, they tend to be good ones.

—————-

This is what I wrote for myself so I can select the great guests from the normal or even bad ones.
I tend to throw a lot of parties, cooking parties and the like. And for a long time I had no clue how to spot great guests. I merely thought “I have to invite them again because I had invited them the last time”

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

One evening in my time in Hungary I had a terrible cooking party: the guests were 2, TWO, hours late and barely helped. I was furious and so I called one of my best friends Rabea. She said she just had a not so close friend have birthday party at her -Rabea’s- place. They left without helping to clean.

So we both had an angry minute to think about: how to select the really special ones. Those you can invite and you can be sure you will have a great time as a host. These 6 points you just read are what we came up with.

They are now on my facebook page and I even had them printed out and put them on a “not too obvious, not too hidden” place in my flat.
And what happened?

By selecting the crowd they knew I was looking for them. And they liked it a lot as this gave me the ability to make them many more compliments, I’d have not enough sensibility for before.

With all my best
Hannes

27 Dianna January 26, 2009 at 2:49 am

@Dick, I feel the same way, and I would prefer that guests merely stack up their plates, anywhere that is convenient. I am very possessive about my kitchen, lol. As to the idea that you should arrive late, I find this very off-putting. The later guests arrive the more that I feel that they don’t appreciate the importance of the invitation. However, I realize that this may be a western convention.

I was asked to play a duet at an eastern wedding. The bridal party showed up an hour after the stated start time. However, everyone appreciated my contribution and was very gracious. I guess your mileage may vary!

28 club penguin June 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm

I would like to mention that bringing flowers to a party only adds to the hosts responsibilities as he or she must scramble to find a vase in which to place the flowers. Additionally, the flowers may not compliment the planned decor and would make the host uncomfortable should she (or he) choose not display them. Although the same is somewhat true of the wine, as you already mentioned, the host need not feel compelled to serve it.

29 Free Kids Games September 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm

I always write thank you notes and you wouldn’t believe the response such a small gesture gets. It makes the host feel special, people love to know their being thought of.

30 Henri January 6, 2010 at 11:15 am

Take Gas-x before you go to a party. I was at a party and while some one told a joke while laughing uncontrlably one of the guests farted loudley which caused every body to laugh in hysterics.

31 Henry August 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Hi There. I find these articles very interesting! They will be in high demand soon as the holidays begin to creep up on us once again!!!

32 Shelly Miner August 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Number 9 seems to be slightly controversial. I would have to agree with most people that I don’t like when people do my dishes, not to mention that I feel like an inadequette host if my guests are having to clean up after themselves. However, I know that not everyone feels this way. So I would say ask first, typically those inidividuals that don’t mind help in the kitchen will either ask for it or give you a job upon request, else they will say no. Be respectful of the host.

33 Jen October 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

Showing up late? A guest should never arrive more than 10-15 minutes early to a party, and never more than 20 minutes late. I sent out save the date cards 6 months in advance of my party, and the actual invitation 6 weeks in advance, so there was no excuse for anyone to be late (with the exception of a medical emergency). They had plenty of time to clear the date and time with their bosses and arrange to change shifts or take an hour or two of personal/vacation time. NO EXCUSES, PEOPLE!

34 Ksc November 5, 2013 at 9:46 am

Regarding flowers, having the flowers delivered during the day prior to the party is a gracious gesture & will not leave the host scrambling.

35 northeastoutdoorsman November 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

This is a great post! So few people know how to be gracious guests these days. I was taught from a young age to always respond and ALWAYS bring something. Even a bag of chips and a 2 liter bottle of soda goes a long way.

36 sondra November 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I absolutely HATE when people want to ‘help out’ at a party. It either ends up taking more time, with all the questions, or I feel neglectful, as if they are hired help.
If I throw a party, be assured that I have either limited the number of guests to those I can comfortably manage the workload of alone, or I have hired additional hands. Please DON’T continue to ask me if you can help out. Just enjoy yourself!

37 Jillian April 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Flowers are a wonderful idea and many women as well as men love receiving them. The solution to the vase problem is to bring a potted flowering plant, or to include a vase in the gift.

And as sondra says, even chips and soda, let alone wine, chocolates, a plush toy for the kids, or even a used book related to the host’s interest are very nice gestures: think about the person and plan accordingly.

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