Firstly, I have no recipe for you today. I have parties on the brain. When there are lots of parties, which there have steadily been since the second week in November, either hosted by us or attended by us, it always means I’m not photographing what I’m cooking. I can’t imagine a party scenario where I would pause to set up lighting, get the money shot and then serve my guests cold food. I mean, the food bloggers out there who manage to keep things rolling through the holidays amaze me!
Because I love cooking, I love to entertain, and hopefully am becoming a better hostess with practice and with time. I thought today I might visit the topic of being a wonderful party guest, as a reminder to myself during this busy time of year. I’d love to hear your feedback! What makes a guest great, in your opinion? What makes for one you’d rather not invite back?
As the key points here are really just common sense/common courtesy, it shouldn’t be anything to overthink or worry about, so don’t fret. And an evening doesn’t need to be formal, or an elegant sit-down dinner for these guidelines to apply — even a regular old outdoor bbq, or casual birthday gathering with store-bought appetizers require a guest’s polite consideration. I think this first bullet point especially could bear repeating:
I couldn’t have worded this better, so, excerpt from theglamoroushousewife.com:
“Whether you receive an invitation via mail or email [even Facebook], over the phone or in person, the art of being a guest begins with a prompt reply. Your hostess is making plans, all of which depend on the number people attending, and she is kindly inviting you to be a part of her event. Delaying your response gives the impression that you are deciding if the event is worth your time, and declining politely is far preferable than never responding at all. You owe her the favor of an answer, and the earlier a hostess knows that you will be joining the gathering, the better to help her ensure that everyone has a wonderful time.”
I recently overprovided for a party where some who were to join us bowed out at the last minute without letting me know. With enough appetizers for an army, I did feel a bit foolish. If we say we will come, we should show up. Undoubtedly, our hosts have selected their party guests based on who meshes together well and is looking forward to our attendance. Shopping for ingredients and prepping food for a certain number of people takes time, effort and cash, so they are counting on our word. Let our yes be yes.
And if we must give a last-minute regret, we should let our host know the first chance we can.
Arrive on time
While “don’t be late” goes without saying, “early” is not on time, either. Early means the hostess may not be dressed yet for the evening or still have little piles of clutter that need to be put away, or chopping/prepping still to do. Arriving early can make her feel uncomfortable and unprepared.
If we are held up and need to come late, a text message to let the hostess know is appreciated. She is timing a symphony of dishes to arrive at the table hot for the guests’ maximum enjoyment. Likewise, if we’re going to be thirty minutes late, we won’t say “five” just to ease the bad news.
Assume the party is adults-only unless otherwise specified
Parties that can run late into the evening and set us free from watching little one(s) are a nice treat. Adolescents who don’t know anyone and may not enjoy themselves or fussy toddlers may throw off the vibe of the evening that your hosts worked hard to pull off. Also, we should try not to put the hosts in the awkward position of saying no by asking if we can bring kids. The hosts may be made to feel like kid-haters, which they are not.
Let our host know about our dietary restrictions
We cooks love a challenge, if that is vegetarianism, veganism or Paleoism — gluten-free, no dairy, no carb, we can handle it. But not if we don’t know. At the time of accepting the invitation is the right time to say something; don’t be shy. I try to also ask my guests, especially if they are new to my home, if they have any intolerances or “dislikes”. This can save the awkwardness of me happening to serve an ingredient or a dish they would rather not eat.
Don’t save questions for the last minute
She may not want us to know it, but your hostess may be running around like a chicken with her head cut off the last hour before the party, making sure everything is ready. When I am heading out the door would be an unkind time to text or call for directions, to ask what I can bring, to ask about dress code, to ask where the party is taking place, to ask if children are accepted, or to ask things that could be discussed at an earlier, more convenient time.
Always offer to bring something
Our host will likely say, “I’ve got everything covered, just bring yourself!” as he or she prefers to plan, guide and execute a cohesive menu as a gift to their guests. We are invited to enjoy the experience in a relaxed state. I will think instead of a small gesture such as a bottle of wine (in my preferred price range, no need to put on airs), a beer I am fond of, or a small plate of my favorite cookies, whether to be enjoyed during the party or as a gift for the hosts for another time. Nathan and I are not fussy at our place, but some hostesses may have paired beverages already with her menu, so we won’t expect our beverage to be necessarily consumed that night. Flowers are also a lovely choice, but I’d bring them in a container I could leave for the hosts; showing up with flowers that need to be trimmed and vased while my hostess is still in the kitchen only adds to her to-do list.
If I am asked to bring something, that will be my hostess gift. I’ll try to follow the hosts’ specific request, which I can only imagine will be exactly what she knows I can handle and no more. I should have the dish ready to go when I arrive (i.e. don’t show up with a pineapple and say “here, for fruit salad!”). This is not the time to pop a casserole in the oven that cooks for an hour, or to hunt around for salad tongs or extra serving needs for my dish. Bring everything with me.
For gracious’ sake, drink a drink!
Alcoholic or not, my hostess will have options, so I will accept a glass of sparkling water, punch, or wine when offered as a signal that the party is starting. “Oh no, I’m fine!…” is the answer of a side-liner who is watching, not participating in the party. I’ll get a drink in hand and enjoy myself!
Show up hungry
This is probably just my own thing but I love when people I’m feeding go for seconds. They’ve shown that they love the food without saying a word. We all (myself included) try to make healthful choices and watch our diets, but the occasional party just isn’t going to cause our pants to no longer fit. Set the calorie-counting aside as much as we are comfortable with for one evening and enjoy the food. No need to overstuff ourselves, but hearty appetites are the most welcome types at our house!
Make yourself at home!
If I’m not sure if I should remove my shoes or not, where I should place empty cans or bottles for recycling, or perhaps the host has neglected to provide enough glasses for wine and water — just ask! She wants our experience to be enjoyable, not for us to fret. I have no problem if someone helps themselves to a clean glass from the kitchen, water from the tap or the purifier — hopefully I will do this for them, but meanwhile, my home is for my guests to share in.
Offer to help
In my home, you probably won’t be invited to any kitchen tasks, which is a good time for you to step away and enjoy the party from the living room. Our kitchen is quite small and two bodies in there are soon tripping over each other. I have a rhythm and process to what I do and I generally do not desire help, as my cooking is a gift to my guests. It’s a nice gesture to ask, but don’t press it.
I likewise do not wish to have help with party clean-up, rather for my guests to enjoy themselves and leave without dirtying their hands. Some hosts really appreciate folks pitching in to clean up the kitchen before they leave. I especially need to remember to offer to help clean up even though it may not be something I require in my kitchen.
Try not to overstay your welcome
When my guests linger, it shows that they are enjoying themselves, and I love that. We absolutely should stay well past the meal to mingle and laugh if the conversation is comfortable for everyone. Dessert or coffee may be still to come. But it is easy to tell when the hosts and other guests are lively and enjoying themselves or when folks are beginning to reach tiredness; I try to graciously watch for those hints.
Unfortunately I can become a terribly sleepy hostess (or guest!) because my day job requires me to be an early-riser and early-to-bed on the daily. With stimulating conversation and lively merriment, I can overcome my 9:30 bedtime to continue the fun, but if my hostess is fast asleep on the couch and it’s after midnight and dinner began around 6pm, take that hint. I won’t then pour another drink; I will say goodnight and leave.
Don’t make plans immediately following a party
I might look like I can’t wait to leave. It could hurt my hosts’ feelings to dine-and-dash and not linger to enjoy some conversation and cocktails.
My guests always do this, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. I don’t expect a formal thank-you in the mail by any means, but a quick text or Facebook message shows that they appreciate the effort and time put into it by the hosts and that they enjoyed the evening. Mostly, what hosts want is for their guests to enjoy, after all!
Nathan and I wish you all a very happy Christmas and new year! We love you guys!