What makes a great dinner guest? It isn't always someone who showers the hosts with gifts, or reciprocates with dinner parties of his own. The type of person who's invited to every party, who leaves at the end of the night and everyone immediately thinks, I can't wait to see him again... That person might be you. Or it could be you.
With the season of entertaining in full swing, being a great dinner guest — even if you're at your family's house — shows the hosts that you're appreciative of their hospitality. After all, they're the ones who will be doing the majority of the work: the meal planning, the cooking, the cleaning, the decorating. The rest of us have it easy as we'll just be guests this year, so here are five simple ways to be someone they'll want to invite again next year.
#1 Offer to bring something. This "something" doesn't always have to be wine or dessert. It could also be flowers, music, a garland you made by hand, a jar of jam or pickles you canned at home, even an elegant salt or savory spread to accompany the meal. If booze is a must, go beyond the table wine and bring a sparkling wine cocktail as an apéritif, like one of these three bubbly concoctions for the holidays.
#2 Appreciate the food. Maybe you're vegetarian and can only eat half the dishes. Maybe the turkey's a bit dry and the potatoes got cold before they even hit the table. Or maybe it was the best meal you've ever eaten — in any scenario, show your hosts that their time in the kitchen was not in vain. Never complain about the food, and if you can't bring yourself to say anything good about the meal you were served, don't say anything at all. Actually, the only complaint you can make is if the platters were all licked up and you wanted to go back for seconds!
#3 Mingle and stay engaged. Dinner parties are the time to put away your cell phone and be in the present. A picture or two for Instagram is acceptable, but once the meal begins, engage in the conversations around you and resist the urge to check what your friends' Thanksgivings look like, or whether or not anyone has liked or commented on your post. If you came as a couple, try to sit away from your significant other and mingle with other people at the party, especially people you don't know too well. Break the ice by sharing one of the "somethings" you brought in Step #1!
#4 Be at ease. Make yourself comfortable. You can make yourself comfortable while still being polite. In my home, I always want my guests to kick off their shoes, help themselves to a drink from the fridge, and answer my door if I'm busy. (Of course, that is just me and I like to keep things casual... so take a cue from the other guests if you're not familiar with your hosts' personal preferences.) It makes me more comfortable when my guests are comfortable, as I don't have to worry about them being thirsty or bored.
Offering to help in the kitchen is always appreciated, but if the hosts decline and seem like they're focused on their tasks at hand, make your way out of there and mingle with the rest of the party until dinner is served. Of course, offer to help again at the end of the meal with clearing the table or doing the dishes.
#5 Follow up with a thank you note. Saying thank you with your goodbyes is one thing. Sending a thank you text the next morning is a thoughtful touch. But mailing an actual thank you note in the days following is gracious, surprising, and speaks volumes about your character. Even among close friends, a handwritten note is the last thing anyone expects to receive in the digital age. It may be old-fashioned but it never fails to warm anyone's heart.
Looking for host gift ideas? Read on for our 5 Thoughtful Gifts to Bring Your Dinner Host.