The internet is brimming with manuals and step-by-step guides promising the elusive title of the perfect host. Yet, it’s the guests who hold the key to a successful evening. Remember: never arrive empty-handed, always leave on time, and you'll be sure to secure the next invite.
A dinner party is a performance of sorts. Even the most nonchalant ‘Oh, I’m just going to throw something together’ evenings demand meticulous planning. You step into a spotless home, greeted by a beaming couple, and find a table set with embroidered cloth napkins. They say they use them daily. They definitely don’t.
Behind the scenes, it’s been a day of manic-hoovering, lasagne-burning, and covert attempts to stick pastry back together. All your host wants is for you to play along. To arrive with your good mood, your appetite, your conversation and, most crucially, slightly later than the original request.
There’s no shortage of guides, how-tos, and TV shows dedicated to achieving the elusive title of the perfect dinner party host. And it’s understandable—hosting is stressful. Yet beyond the kettle chips, burnt lasagne, and broken pastry, the success of any dinner party hinges not on the host, but on the guests.
To make sure you’re invited to the next soiree, here are 9 ways to be the perfect guest.
Timing is key.
It goes without saying: reply promptly to the invitation and remind your host of any allergies or notable dislikes. While they may indulge in a few minutes of light-hearted grumbling, it's certainly better than enduring thirty excruciating ones watching you push food around your plate. Oh, and don't pull out at the last minute or decide to bring an uninvited friend. There’s nothing worse.
When your host tells you to arrive at seven, don’t. Arrive at ten past. Why? Because, at seven, they’re likely on a last-minute dash to the corner shop for kettle chips, saving their white shirt from mushroom stroganoff splash back, or fretting over the living room floor, which they’ve been asking their partner to hoover all afternoon. The final ten minutes before your arrival are stressful enough without the curtain call doorbell interrupting the operation.
Don’t show up empty-handed—no matter what they say.
You should knock with your elbows. A kind offer to bring a pudding or a fold-out chair is a given. More often than not the response is ‘Oh no, just yourself’. But don’t listen. And don’t try and recycle that bottle of prosecco you got four Christmases ago. You’re better than that.
Cheat on wine; bring olive oil instead.
Bring the right gift. In 2023, it’s almost impossible to go through an entire week without someone referencing sobriety. But this is no excuse to come empty-handed. And a four-pack of 0% beer or a bottle of soda water doesn’t quite cut it. Perhaps flowers that need arranging? A dessert that needs defrosting? A plant that requires year-round attention? Don’t give your host extra work.
An interesting guest brings something interesting. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil works a treat. An everyday luxury that they’ll actually use. Not just a bottle of wine that’ll be swiftly guzzled, forgotten, and overshadowed by the next morning. Let them drizzle their soups, salads, and desserts with something special. And each time they do, they’ll be reminded of the extraordinary gift-giver—you.
Ask for a task.
And not just ‘Can I give you a hand with anything, Susan?’, but ‘Shall I grate some parmesan for you?’, or ‘Shall I pop everyone's coats upstairs?’. And when they undoubtedly decline, accept it. Don’t ask over and over again.
Now, if they accept, don’t….drift…away… This is a military operation. Your host is the commander in chief and you’re now a soldier. Roll your sleeves up or get out of the kitchen.
Have a story in the bank.
Dinner parties are places for minds to meet and matchmakers to meddle. A place for performers to perform, alphas to dominate, and betas to fade into the background. Make sure to have three conversation starters ready to go. Your duty, this evening, is to be witty and fascinating. But, remember, it’s not a stand-up comedy gig. And avoid any awkwardness over the hors d'oeuvres.
Don’t gossip about anyone at the table.
I’ll leave this here.
We’re in the small plates era.
Sharing food is a foundational part of being human. Gone are the days of strategic seating plans and fork changes between courses. Now, it's about sharing plates. Expect double-dipping in the hummus and people passing bread by hand. Embrace it. And be human.
Offer if requested. Never if not. Don’t aimlessly wonder, stirring their pots, and suggesting they loosen up their sauces. They’ve got it under control.
Disconnect to connect.
Unless you’re checking on the nanny cam or elderly parents, it’s a phone-free zone. Engage with the living, breathing stories around you.
Don’t overstay your welcome.
If it’s midweek, respect the midnight rule. If it’s a Sunday lunch, the host will definitely want their house back by 8 p.m. But all bets are off on Saturday nights. It’s your job to read the room. If your host is cleaning, looking sleepy, or just a bit bored, this is your cue. Leave when the lull strikes.
Follow these rules, and you’ll be at the top of every host's list. Be the guest who shows up 10 minutes after the appointed time. Cheat on wine with an *extra* special gift in hand. Offer assistance without getting in the way, share stories without stealing the spotlight and head home when the time is right. Leave knowing you’ll be invited back. Share with friends, park your phone and be the guest of all guests.
Follow these rules and as the final plate is stacked in the dishwasher, your host will turn to their partner and say ‘Hey, let's hang out with them again soon’.
—Author: Kate Carruthers, Copywriter & Recipe Developer
"I write copy people want to read. That people can't resist sinking their teeth into. Especially if it's about food, drink or hospitality. Currently freelancing at Ottolenghi, I bring a touch of fun to a world that can sometimes take itself too seriously. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. Fun.”
You may also like...
Is the Viral Lemon Olive Oil Elixir Really Worth the Hype?
A TikTok trend celebrating the Mediterranean diet and promising a healthier you. But does it deliver? Autumn’s arrival brings a recurring desire for self-improvement. As the leaves fall, we all seem to echo a familiar battle cry—the pursuit of healthier versions of ourselves. Some seek to eat better, others commit to more exercise, and a few even immerse themselves in an extravagantly-priced juice cleanse. Within the world of nutrition, the villains are ever-changing: one day it’s fat, the ...