Formal etiquette has mostly become a lost art. While it’s mostly a good thing that many of the stuffy rules of eras past have disappeared, there were a few things our predecessors got right—especially when it came to being a good guest in someone’s home.
It’s important to start off by saying there are no set rules for being a guest. You can be a good guest or a bad guest, but the unwritten rules have long been forgotten. There are always things you can do to be helpful when you’re in someone else’s home and some things you should never ever do.
While I personally grew up with all the party rules and regulations of yesteryear (thanks to my amazing mom), I’ve shed the frilly rules and adapted some of my own when it comes to being a good guest. Take the following as some well-meaning advice from someone who’s been around. You can listen, or you can choose not to. It’s all up to you.
This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway: Please RSVP. Whether it’s for a big event or a small, casual gathering, letting the host know you’ll be in attendance is a great help. There’s probably a head count to estimate how much food they’ll have to prepare or how many table sets they’ll have to lay out, so RSVP as soon as you can.
If by some chance you can’t attend after confirming, let your host know. They’ll appreciate the heads up.
Be fashionably late
Punctuality may not always work in your favor when attending a party, especially at someone’s home. But being late (like Filipino-time late) is much worse. If a party starts at 7 p.m., giving yourself an extra 15 minutes before making your grand entrance is advised.
Other guests, and most likely the host themself, have either yet to arrive or finish preparations. Coming in a little later means there are higher odds of other people arriving. It also gives the host a few extra minutes of prep time before things really get started.
But if you’re in the habit of being late, at least try to arrive a few minutes before the food is served.
If you’re early, help where you can
Sometimes, coming in fashionably late can still mean arriving early. In these instances, it’s important to make yourself useful if you can. Offering the host a helping hand in last-minute decorations or tidying up the space is a good place to start. If they say no (even after you go back and forth insisting a few times), you can make yourself comfortable somewhere you won’t get in the way.
Bring a little something
It was drilled into me from a young age that you should never come empty-handed to someone’s home—especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Never is honestly a strong word, so it’s probably better to say it would be nice if you brought a little something for the gathering.
I try my best to bring two things: something for the host to enjoy by themselves and something you can share with the host and other guests. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be a bag of chips or some chocolate. I usually bring a bottle of wine, some dessert, or a small cheese plate (but that’s my mom’s voice whispering in my ear).
Bringing anything would be appreciated.
Try a little of everything
Unless it’s alcohol, you should try a little portion of everything that’s being served. If your host cooked the meal, even more so. They probably put in a lot of time and effort (not to mention money) into hosting the party, which means you should show your appreciation by eating what they’ve prepared for you.
When it comes to alcohol, though, know your limits. If you’re with a group of friends you can get rowdy with, by all means, go ahead. But if you’re with new people, it’s best not to end the night with a mess on everyone’s hands.
Remember, it’s okay to say no to stuff like alcohol, especially if you don’t want to drink for any reason.
Offer to help tidy up
When the night is winding down or when it’s time to change venues, it’s time for a little tidying. The host will likely refuse any help when it comes to cleaning up, but it’s only fair for you to offer.
If you’re clumsy (like me), you can stick to rounding up disposable items and placing it somewhere more appropriate. If you have spatial awareness and top-tier fine motor skills (unlike me), clearing plates is a good route to take. It’s fast, easy, and will make any table look neater once it’s done.
If the host insists on not letting you help out, that’s okay, too. Just squabble about it a little (and actually mean it when you offer your help).
Know when to leave
Reading the room is an important skill to have in any situation and it’s a skill that comes in handy at dinner parties. When people start making their goodbyes, you should probably do the same. Or if you see the host exhausted and lacking the will to go on, you might want to start the wave of goodbyes yourself.
If you want to leave much earlier, though, you can. Just remember to say the appropriate goodbyes.