Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 simple rules for being a good dinner party guest

First, no dinner party is a real party. The word "party" implies fun, carefree antics, abandon and lots of merriment. None of that is true of a sit-down dinner party which is a sober, managed, time-sensitive event.  Remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald said of just such a gathering:  "The evening progressed from phase to phase with the sheer nervous dread of the moment itself."   Uh. Huh.

1.  Do not under any circumstances arrive early. Sit out on the sidewalk if you must. Most hostesses need every single minute to prepare for what is basically a staged and artificial situation:  a formal dinner party.  By formal I do not mean tuxedo formal.  I mean a situation where all the parties will check their bad habits, disappointments and marital bickering at the door and put on good public demeanor.
This is fun, right?

 2.  Do not bring flowers as a gift.  Cut flowers demand immediate attention and the last thing your hostess needs is the chore of finding an appropriate vase, clippers and moss to help the flowers stand up. Flower arranging is a tricky maneuver that sometimes demands a Martha Stewart video to accomplish.

3.  Do not under any circumstances arrive more than five minutes late.  The hostess has timed the dinner to be cooked and still edible by a certain time.  Being late messes up the timeline and makes the hostess anxious.  If you are late do not spend another twenty minutes telling her what happened to make you late.

4.  Do not take the hostess seriously when she says, "bring nothing." She doesn't really mean that.  A good bottle of wine will go a long way to making the evening bearable and possibly pleasant.  Yes, she has her own wine but inevitably guests will linger and that extra bottle will be helpful.

5.  Do not ask for hard liquor and proceed to get stinking drunk before the meal even starts. Liquor loosens the tongue and inevitably your "good public demeanor" will fall by the wayside and the real state of your life will be ruinously obvious, eliminating any chance of a pleasant evening.

6.  Conversely do not choose that night to stop drinking.  Going on the wagon will make you concentrate on your sobriety. Your scintillating qualities will evaporate leaving a cranky overzealous shell of your former self.

7.  Do not express an inability to eat anything put on the table. Do not say, "I can't eat shellfish," etc.  You should have mentioned any life-threatening aversions at the time you accepted the invitation.  Have a little sense for goddsakes. The hostess spent fifty dollars on those super jumbo shrimp and now they might as well be tattooed with a skull and crossbones.

8.  Do not pile your plate with all of the food you think will sustain you for the next month.  Take small portions until everyone has been served.  Judicious second helpings are allowable and show the hostess you liked her cooking.

9.  Do not offer help cleaning up.  Unless the hostess has both arms in a cast, she does not expect you to help with the dishes.  Dinner invitations are meant to give you a night of freedom from the daily grind of feeding yourself and cleaning up.  Accept it.

10.  Mail - yes, mail as in, with a stamp - a hand written thank you note to your hostess no later than two days after the dinner.  If you are so inclined, now is the time to have flowers delivered.  Your hostess has the time to arrange them and will think kindly of you each time she sees that lovely bouquet.

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