I think we all probably know how to be great guests, but sometimes a reminder about the things that make a difference and are truly appreciated by hosts doesn't go amiss. And for lots of us, it may have been a while since we dusted off our party clothes and joined other real-life people for an evening of merriment. This is not an etiquette lesson (god forbid) but rather a few thoughts on things that I've noticed over the years, both as a host and a guest. And let's face it, a good performance is more likely to guarantee that you'll be invited back next time. So, if you are lucky enough to be enjoying someone else's hospitality this year, do read on ...
Here's how to be a great guest this Christmas
- RSVP as soon as you can - hosting is a numbers game, so do always respond to an invitation promptly.
- Just say no - if you know you can't go or know you don't want to go, JUST SAY NO. It's so much worse to avoid turning down an invitation by saying, 'I'll try to come'. We're all grown ups here, so do the responsible thing. And how often do the 'I'll try to come' guests actually turn up? Almost never and, honestly, it makes you look bad.
- Ask what to bring - Most hosts will be happy with a bottle of something, but it's still nice to ask the question. I always tend towards taking more wine than I know we'll drink - harks back to the days of student parties when there was always the post-party 'are we up or down on booze' audit. We were always down, by the way.
- Even if the host says, 'No gifts', still bring something - always. It doesn't need to be at all fancy, but it's a token of appreciation. I'm (obviously) a fan of a homemade food gift but you'll know what feels right for you and your host. And if you decide to go for flowers, remember that flowers are lovely but they're even lovelier if they're already arranged in water. It's also thoughtful to bring a gift that's specifically for the host, not for the party. You can say something like, 'This is a little something for you to enjoy another day', which is code for 'hide this away, so you don't have to share it'!
- Don't arrive early - Being absolutely on-time or early is seriously wrong if you want a genuine, warm welcome. For me, polite lateness is 30 minutes and it's good to call or text if you're going to be much later than a couple of hours. From the host’s perspective, a late guest is much better than an early one because no host is ever quite ready on time.
- Do your homework - maybe try to refresh your memory before you get to the party on names of spouses and children (particularly those people you've met several times before!) especially if (like me) you can get pretty fuzzy on these things. There are people who also check over social media for prompts about what's been happening in the lives of those people you'll be spending the evening with - that might appeal to you if you want to go the extra mile.
- Accept the offer of a festive drink - there's nothing like a 'just water, please' to deflate the Christmas spirit and for the host it can be crushing. That's not to say that there's ever any pressure to have an alcoholic drink, but ask what softs are available and enjoy hearing the menu of Christmas beverages.
- Eat something - eating and complimenting the food is part of being a great guest.
- Keep an eye on the host - if they seem frantic or stressed, offer some help or get them a drink or something to eat. Giving the host the space and permission to enjoy their own party can be a gift in itself.
- Offer to lend a hand - And even if the host is a vision of calm and serenity, it's still nice to offer a helping hand. Topping up drinks is my personal favourite - both as a host and a guest, and to be honest, you can just do that spontaneously without any drama.
- Help to clear up at the end of the evening - Even just helping to move things into the kitchen is a bonus. If everyone does a little something, it all adds up. Having said that, we have a rule in our house - you don't clear up when you come to dinner at our place and we don't clear up when we come to you. Unless you stay for a month, that is.
- Don't overstay your welcome - Read the room; if most people have left, it's probably that time for you too. And in a smaller gathering the flow of conversation is often the best indicator of home time. It's harder when you're the host and there are guests who are just not picking up the signals. Announcing that you're off to bed, is not subtle, but done with a smile on your face and a lightness of spirit can work a treat!
- Don't leave without saying goodbye - no ghosting please, it's just ignorant. It expresses your appreciation for not only the party but also for the host as a person and for your friendship.
- And don't forget to say thanks - Just a few words, probably the next day. Texts are fine. Done and done.
So there you go - a return invite guaranteed ...