Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to become the guest who is on everyone’s list

From page C2 | November 20, 2013 |

By Rebecca Black
Etiquette Now!

You have just been invited to a dinner party! What do you do now? Do you ask if you can bring something? Do you thank the host for the invitation? Additionally, on the date of the affair do you arrive fashionably late, at the stated time, or early?

Hostess gift? Is it necessary?
A polite guest thanks the host for the invitation and offers to bring something to dinner, such as a bottle of wine. Although the gracious host declines, a good guest takes a hostess gift anyway. This gift could be wine, flowers or a small box of chocolates. However, knowing your host’s preferences, hobbies and passions is golden. For example, one guest gave me a wine book as a hostess gift because he knew I love wine and teach “Wine Etiquette.” His name is on my permanent guest list.

When to arrive?
Although we are a country of many cultures, we have managed to find a common view on how we value time. In fact, we value time highly. Therefore, it is best to arrive at the stated time or no more than fifteen minutes after.

When to leave
Even though behaving as the “clueless guest” is not our intention, when we over-stay our welcome we certainly are. Regrettably, there is no one-size-fits-all etiquette rule to help us out with this issue either; but watching body language usually gives us the answer to our “when to leave” question.

Often the host signals the end of the evening. Usually this is a subtle gesture, such as offering coffee while mentioning your drive home, or asking what your plans are for tomorrow. More overtly, a host may begin clearing the table, which is an obvious signal that they would like guests to leave.

What to do if you don’t like the food?
Most people would drool over a beautifully grilled piece of salmon, but not me; I detest fish. It’s not that I am a fussy person. The reality is that we all have our likes and dislikes. Nevertheless, at a dinner party, our host just may serve something we loathe. Openly rejecting the offering is insulting; and it is impolite. Therefore, we need a plan of action.

If the host is plating the meal, request a small portion of the offensive offering (pick your polite reason). Move the food around using your knife and fork while talking. Slowly take bites of the food you like, while merely sampling what you do not. Most will not notice the food you are avoiding. When the meal is nearly finished, move the remainder of the food to one side of the plate. Voila! It appears as if you finished most of your meal. If the meal is served family style, you’re in luck. Just do not choose the food options you dislike.

Break or spill something?
Accidents happen. A good host expects the possibility of glass causalities, wine spills and food flying off a fork. It happens. But, what if you are the guilty party?

Let’s suppose you attend a dinner party and wine is served with the meal. After dinner, everyone moves to the living room for conversation and a game. Most take their wine glasses with them. While playing the game, one of the game pieces knocks over your wine glass and it breaks. Ouch! Broken glass and red wine soak the carpet. What to do now? Even though this is an accident, you are responsible for the broken glass and stain. So, offer to pay for the glass while sopping up the red wine with a towel.

The good guest
As an invited guest, always remember to offer to bring something, take a hostess gift, arrive and depart on time, taste what is prepared, appear to appreciate it, and take responsibility for accidents. Include, using your best manners and you will be on everyone’s guest list. Enjoy the evening!

— Rebecca Black is an etiquette specialist and teacher in Davis. For more information, visit



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