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How to Be a Good Dinner Guest: Seven Rules

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How to Be a Good Dinner Guest: Seven Rules

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This past weekend, our friends Adam and Craig invited Joanna, my husband Andy, and me to have dinner at their Brooklyn apartment…

Adam Roberts amateur gourmet

The menu: Coq au vin and homemade (!) herby noodles from David Lebovitz’s cookbook My Paris Kitchen. It was unbelievably delicious, especially on a crisp fall night. And while the other guests were enjoying cocktails and starter bites, I kept Adam company by the stove as he finished the coq au vin, even helping him whisk up a slurry that included cocoa. “I usually don’t want anyone helping me in the kitchen,” he told me as I followed his instructions to pour the mix into the winey-oniony sauce. “But I love this!”

I knew what he meant — I can be a bit of a control freak when cooking for people. But it’s such a nice thing to offer as a guest — in fact, I’d say asking to help is one of the main non-negotiable rules for being a good guest. What are the others? I’m so glad you asked!

1. Try not to show up empty-handed. In other words, ‘knock with your elbows,’ as a Cup of Jo reader once said. When you get the dinner invitation, it’s a good rule of thumb to respond with, “What can I bring?” If the host gives you a specific assignment (dessert or a bottle of wine), then do your best to stay the course. But if not? Don’t feel like you have to impress anyone or spend a lot of money. I often bring something from my local farmer’s market — maybe a carton of fresh eggs for them to enjoy the next day. Another good option: a slightly nicer olive oil than the everyday kind — like Graza Finishing Oil in the fun squeeze bottle or anything from Brightland. And if you bring flowers, it’s nice to put them in a vase beforehand so the host doesn’t need to break their rhythm to arrange, but again it doesn’t need to be super fussy — last week, my friend Lygeia came over with a single dramatic dahlia from her garden in a deli container filled with water, and it was perfect.

2. Feel free to be fashionably late. Honestly, 15 minutes late is a relief to a host who, if he or she is like me, is probably express-showering or crash-cleaning the powder room at call time, and appreciates a little breathing room. Even 30 minutes is acceptable, as long as you just keep your host updated. Keep in mind that it’s likely certain foods have to be in ovens or simmering in large pots at specific times.

3. Keep the host company in the kitchen. The host should never be cooking alone in the kitchen while everyone else is living it up in the living room. Offer to help, and if they decline, just keep them company, and be in charge of refilling their drink and making them a little snack plate.

4. Don’t start eating before the host sits down. Even when the host says, “Don’t wait for me to sit down!” (I will die on this hill!)

5. Tuck away your phone, if possible. This might just be me being, er, of a certain age, but I find nothing disrupts the flow of a dinner party conversation faster than breaking out a phone to show everyone, say, that hilarious Instagram video of the dachshund diving off the dock. (I’ve watched it at least 1000 times during non-dinner hours, there is literally nothing cuter.) If possible, do your best not to have your phone around at all. The exception of course is 1) when you’re worried about babysitters wrangling babies at home and…

…2) if BeReal goes off while your host is placing his beautiful homemade noodles in the pot of simmering water. How great is Adam?!

6. Show interest in the food. It goes without saying how great it is to compliment the cook and express gratitude for being fed, but that doesn’t have to mean theatrical gasps after every bite. I love it so much when people ask questions about the dish: Where’s the recipe from? What is that hint of citrus? Where does one find sheep’s milk yogurt around here? And the best compliment of all? Can you send me the recipe?

7. Send a thank you. If you’re like Joanna, the hosts are getting a thank-you text outlining 17 specific things she loved about the evening before the hosts are even done loading the dishwasher. If you’re like my mother-in-law, the thank you is sent by way of a personal telephone call the next day, to recount how lovely everything was (and, let’s be honest, to gossip). Send it by snail mail, send it by email, send it by carrier pigeon. It doesn’t matter what form it takes. Just say thanks.

What rules would you add? Or contest?

P.S. How to throw a $60 dollar dinner party and the most fun host gift ever. And are you a party host or enthusiastic guest?



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