The dinner party: table plans, proper food and real, stimulating conversation. And as a great way to catch up with old friends and make new ones, a decent dinner party makes those Saturdays of yesteryear spent counting downed pints of lager in a dingy basement pale into insignificance.
But with heightened standards of respectability come heightened standards of expected behaviour. We’ve all seen enough films starring Hugh Grant or Reneé Zellweger to know what not to do at a dinner party if you intend on leaving with any of the dignity you arrived with. Not commenting on a guest’s partner’s youthful strays into adultery or arriving in a tad more than a bunny costume are good starting points. Here are a few more tips to improve your status as a dinner party guest…
There are few things in this world more annoying than someone who doesn’t reply to an invite or, worst of all, cancels the night before. Being the man who pulls out at the last minute is a stain that can tarnish your reputation indefinitely. A valid excuse may just warrant you some exoneration, but a bad hangover from the night before or a cricket match you hadn’t realised was on simply won’t make the cut.
So you’ve been given a time of arrival. We know, you know, and your host definitely knows that this isn’t when you’re going to arrive. You aren’t expected to be on the dot, but holding people up when appetites are growing won’t put you at the top of the list when the next party swings around. But, just as importantly, don’t turn up early. Your host will not appreciate being seen in an apron and crocs on the eve of their party.
An easy option is always to call ahead, that morning or the day before, and enquire as to anything you may be able to bring. Potentially a risky one in case you’re asked to pull together a last minute apple crumble for 24 hungry mouths, but more often than not met with a “no, don’t be silly. Just bring yourself.” This means, surprise me – use your imagination or go down the safe road. Never be the man who shows up grasping garage flowers with half a ripped SALE price label still visible.
If it’s an informal gathering, you may get away with this. But with a table plan organised, as is the case with most dinner parties, this well go down as well as polystyrene fingers on a blackboard.
Surely you don’t need reminding. But just in case, be interesting and interested. If you’re going to slump at the table, moaning about the longest week of your life and whether or not you’re going to die alone, stay at home. No-one wants to get sat next to that man.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE FOOD
Good food? Let your host know. A bit of appreciation goes a long way when said chef has spent most of the afternoon chaotically whizzing around the kitchen. And if the food isn’t good? Lie.
You aren’t at a restaurant, so don’t be scared to offer a lending hand in clearing plates, filling wine glasses, making coffee, etc.
OVERSTAYING YOUR WELCOME
With supper finished, cigar and whisky enjoyed and the evening winding down, pick your moment to depart. If the host is yawning and glancing at their watch, you’ve stayed too long.
WAKE UP ALONE
I know, sorry, but you really don’t want to be the man who spends his entire evening like a dog on heat, pairs with one the guests – probably the closest friend of your host – refuses to call her again and ruins any chance of a recurring dinner party in the future. Word of such conduct spreads fast.
Had a good evening as a guest? Your turn to play host.
By Patrick Tillard