The Dos and Don’ts of Guest Etiquette

Read author and journalist ELIZABETH DAY‘s guide before you RSVP this party season …


The first thing not to do at a dinner party is turn up on time. When someone asks you to their house for 8pm, it is unfriendly and borderline rude to be ringing the doorbell as soon as the minute hand ticks to twelve. Your host will not be ready. And saying “Oh, am I the first?” with an expression of surprise will not help matters. Arriving 15 to 20 minutes after the stated time is the proper etiquette. Also, bring a bottle of wine even if they’ve told you it’s not necessary. No-one actually means “Just bring yourself”, trust me.

Once seated, don’t start eating until everyone has been served. Don’t only speak to the person on your left, even if they’re more interesting and even if the person on your right wants to talk in monotonous detail about the ins and outs of their child’s schooling. Make an effort to turn both ways, however brief that effort might be.

If the conversation strays into territory you’re uncomfortable with, and you find yourself with no opinion about Shinzo Abe’s economic strategy or Brexit’s implications for Northern Irish border controls, allow a small, enigmatic smile to play on your lips and nod your head at various points. When there’s a gap in conversation, lean forward and ask the person opposite, “But what do you think?” thereby earning yourself a few more minutes of respite.

Don’t start pouring wine into your own glass until you’ve seen at least one other guest doing the same thing. Don’t add salt to the food before tasting it, even if you can tell just by looking at it that it’s going to be the blandest thing you’ve ever eaten. Don’t be afraid to compliment your host extravagantly. Most people are willing to ignore insincerity if it’s wrapped up in flattery.

Once the plates are cleared, do offer to help and make at least a half-hearted attempt to push your chair back as if you’re about to stand and leap into the kitchen. Hopefully your host will graciously insist you stay seated, but will appreciate the gesture nonetheless.

Don’t leave as soon as supper is over. You’re expected to stay for at least one cup of herbal tea, perhaps accompanied by a chocolate truffle.

Once you’re home, do remember to write a note thanking your host for a wonderful evening. Handwritten is best. Oh, and now you’ll have to invite them back at some point over the next few months. Sorry about that, but no-one said being the perfect dinner party guest was easy.


Elizabeth Day’s new novel, The Party, is out now.

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