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What etiquette do you expect of your dinner guests?

I have been thinking a lot about dinner etiquette lately : my goal is to encourage my kids to respect and appreciate the work of the cook and to learn to be good dinner guests. (okay, they are only 1 and 3 right now, but I figure I should start young)

After a stressful dinner with difficult guests, I realized I have certain expectations of my dinner guests and I'm wondering what expectations (if any) you have of your guests.

Here are some of mine:

I would like my guests to arrive on time

I would prefer if guests don't start eating until I sit down with them. I feel like a wait person instead of a dinner companion when people *dig in* while I'm still bringing the food to the table or plating other guests' meals.

Compliments are always appreciated but at the very least, I think *Thank-you for dinner* is very important phrase at the end of the meal.

I am not sure if I expect this or not..but I always like to bring my host a gesture of gratitude (wine, flowers, etc.)

Goes without saying that I expect my guests to be respectful of the other guests...

What expectations do you have of your guests or of yourself as a guest?

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  1. Personally, I don't mind if our guests start eating without me. It always takes me a few minutes to get everything put away, and would rather them eat while it is nice and hot.

    My big pet peeve is that we seem to be the only ones who entertain. I'd love it if we were invited out to other peoples homes every now and then. I don't expect an "even" playing field, but something would be nice. (We entertain at home at least 3 out of every 6 weekends)

    The other thing that I really find important is having "good" guests. By that I mean guests who (for lack of a better way to say it) know that they are "singing for their supper". You know what I mean -good small talk, enagaging new people into conversation, etc. We always try to have a "buffer" couple when we are hosting a different group. (Buffer couple: they know what their responsiblities are, btw)

    1. I read Ina Garten's cookbook Parties, and all of my anxieties have slipped away.

      If I entertain, I do so to have fun, and hope my guests will do the same!

      1. I'd like my guests to show up on time, or call if they are late. I'd like them to behave appopriately for a social situation (i.e. engage in conversation). I LOVE (but don't expect) when people call the day after a dinner party to say they've had a good time - I have fostered this habit myself.
        I don't care if people get too drunk, or eat heaps and heaps of food (I kind of like to see people dig in to their food- obviously there is a line here)...anything that could be described as fun is A-ok with me.
        And I also LOVE guests who reciprocate every now and then...even if it is ordering out.

        1 Reply
        1. re: nummanumma

          I forgot about the calling the next day and saying they had a good time....I TOTALLY agree with you on this one, numma !

        2. I like for my guests to arrive on time or 10 - 15 minutes late. I do not like it when they arrive early.

          I, too, always bring a small gift, but I don't expect it when people come here, and don't even notice if they don't.

          I like for them to try what I cook for them and not refuse to eat anything. I always check beforehand with them for foods that they can't/don't/won't eat, so I gear my menus around their preferences anyway.

          I also like for them to be "good guests" and help with conversation flow and entertain themselves as well as each other and us.

          I don't like for people to start eating without me, but I'm always very careful about not making people sit at the table staring at the food for any length of time. I don't like for guests to help me with dinner excepting the actual serving of food, and that way I can join everyone at the table when everyone else is also sitting down. I know this is old-fashioned, but as a guest, I just can't start eating before the host(s) have begun as well. I'm afraid my mother and my grandmother would materialize and smack me.

          I also like to have some reciprocation. We don't keep score at all, and we do like to entertain more than most people, but some social invitation is nice - we don't care if it's not home entertaining - call us and ask us to go to a movie or ask us to meet you out for dinner somewhere, or invite us to go see a band with you - we don't care, and we try to make that clear. A lot of our friends simply don't cook and entertain at home, and that's fine. We just like some indication that they enjoy spending time with us.

          Yes, a "thank you" is pretty much expected. I don't know that I've ever had someone over here for dinner where there was no "thank you" offered. That's just basic.

          19 Replies
          1. re: Andiereid

            Oh you would be surprised Andiereid at the many that are out there who forget these two magic words: thank you. Granted, it's not as if my wife and I associate with ingrates, but we entertain frequently and this rudeness never ceases to amaze us. Perhaps we are just of an older generation but our close friends seem to find this quite common as well. We don't expect a host/hostess gift, a simple thank-you is thoughtful enough!

            1. re: Andiereid

              EARLY ARRIVALS ARE THE WORST.
              There's nothing worse than having to "entertain" people while I'm still running around in the kitchen trying to finish everything up.

              1. re: Marianna215

                We had a large party a few years ago and we had a couple show up 45 minutes EARLY!! I was still getting things ready and hadn't even dressed yet and my husband was in the shower. She said (I kid you not) "We have another party to go to, so we decided to come to yours early so we could make the other one on time." We did not know them well and didn't really want to get to know them after that..

                1. re: Andiereid

                  Agree - the early arrival is the worst - I much prefer people to show up 10-15 minutes after the stated time.

                  Though - we had an open house at Christmas and actually had an unexpected guest show up 30 minutes early - we'd invited his parents, didn't know he and his wife were in town, and since they are good friends of ours, the parents suggested they come and surprise us, but told them the wrong time! Fortunately, since they are good friends, I had no problem serving them a glass of champagne and finishing up what I needed to do while chatting.

                  1. re: Andiereid

                    Could I get a little clarification on "early arrivals" or guests arriving "on time"?

                    I'm assuming that people are inviting their guests to show up anywhere from 1/2 to 1 hour BEFORE dinner is being served, correct? So everyone can get drinks and appetizers, if they're being served? Or are you having them show up just before the dinner, and this particular set of guests showed up 45 minutes before dinner was ready? (And there were no pre-dinner drinks/appetizers.)

                    The thread is centering on dinner being served, and by saying people are early, I'm reading it as you're having them arrive just a few minutes before dinner is being served. This is not just pointed at you Andiereid, but several people talking about "finishing in the kitchen" before their guests arrive, and it's very rare that I'm not in the kitchen for part of the time when guests are there doing the "finishing" of the meal.

                    Just curious what everyone means by "early arrivals" and "arriving on time."

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      I was reading this as people showing up before the stated time on the invitation. I would assume that would be at least a half hour before dinner is planned.

                      1. re: debbiel

                        Agreed. If I invite people for 7:30, I'll probably serve dinner at 8:15 - 8:30, depending on how the "flow" of things is going. If you show up at 7:15, you will find me being snippy w/ my husband b/c he's not in the shower yet - though I will do my best not to let that show!. If it's a week night - and we're having one friend to dinner, we usually all want to turn in early, so usually I'll serve dinner pretty soon after the stated time.

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          So true. The last 15-30 minutes before I have company coming are a crazed "let see if everyting is done-light the candles, fire,do we have enough of everything, hurry up and change" rush.
                          I always want to be ready and enjoy a glass of wine before everyone arrives, but never actually have...Something to aim for I guess.

                          1. re: troutpoint

                            Ah - I can help you w/ part of your last point - you pour the glass of wine one half hour before the guests are supposed to arrive - regardless of you state of readiness!

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Pouring a glass of wine for myself before the party starts is a given, IMO. :-)

                      2. re: LindaWhit

                        Yes, the invitation time for the party was 7:30. They showed up at 6:45. When I say "early arrivals", I personally mean people who show up before the stated start time, regardless of when the meal is being served. If I say "Come for dinner at 6:30, to me it doesn't matter whether I'm actually going to serve dinner at 7:00 (which I usually do), or if I'm serving dinner at 6:45. I do not want anyone arriving at my house prior to 6:30. Within reason - if someone is there at 6:20, I won't be too bent. And by "arriving on time", I mean arriving anywhere at or within 15 minutes past the set time. But a 6:45 arrival for a 7:30 party was WAY over the top for me.

                          1. re: Andiereid

                            OK, got it now.....that's the way I do it as well. Invites say show up at 6-6:30pm, dinner would be around 7:30 or so. I agree - 45 minutes early is WAY too early!

                            I was just obviously reading the posts too literally, I guess.

                            1. re: Andiereid

                              I was once helping the in laws throw a BBQ for relatives in town, we told everyone it would start at 3pm, They all showed up at 9 in the morning looking for breakfast.

                              We've vowed not to answer the door until 3 the next time. Most of the food I was planning for the afternoon was gone by 2 and I had to send out an expedition to pick up more supplies.

                              1. re: Scrapironchef

                                who ARE these people?!

                                a lot of my friends are in the suburbs and we're downtown and traffic is unpredictable, so rather than be too late, I'd rather leave with plenty of time to spare. If we arrive early I'll make my husband drive around or sit in the car until exactly 15 minutes past the stated time -- actually knocking on the door early is just not an option.

                                Arriving for a prior meal just boggles the mind!

                                1. re: orangewasabi

                                  In our family the invitation usually goes something like this: "We'll eat around 4, but there will be snacks and drinks available by around 2."

                                  Then after the meal folks sit around and groan for a few hours, till Grandma gets up and starts getting the food back out or cutting pies.

                          2. re: Andiereid

                            I have friends who know me well enough that if they do arrive early, will sit out in their car until the appointed time or until I come out and tell them it's okay. (If it's not okay... i.e., if I'm not ready, I let them sit.)

                            My MIL and her family used to arrive as much as an hour early. I don't know if they caught on or if someone told them, but they've stopped. (Thank God!!)

                            1. re: abowes

                              When my SIL and her husband first moved here, I would invite them to dinner he would say "what time" and I would say "6:30" and he would say "OK, Great. What time can we come and just start hanging out?" and I would say "uh... 6:30." He finally got the point.

                            2. re: Andiereid

                              If you weren't in NC, I think I know that couple's twin. A couple did that to us for our engagement dinner at our apartment!

                        1. Re: guests starting to eat before the hosts. Obviously this depends on whether it is a sit-down dinner at one table or a buffet dinner with a much larger number of guests who are seated at several tables. In the former case I prefer to wait, unless specifically told by the hosts not to.

                          A related question is this: at a sit-down dinner do you prefer to serve assembled plates, or do you go family style and pass around the serving dishes among the guests? Personally, when I'm a guest I prefer to be served assembled plates as in a restaurant.

                          I agree that there should be more in-hone entertaining. We do it often, but we know some people who rarely do. Also, should there be some minimum expectations for what is served: we were invited to dinner recently and served mac-and-cheese and a jello mold. Of course we thanked and complemented our host politely, but...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: TomOHaver

                            oh Tom, you are reminding me of the chicken debacle of 05. we were invited for a dinner with friends of ours who have moved to the suburbs. When the male part of the couple (we'll call him C.) was putting the chicken on the grill, I heard him mumble something about not enough chicken, I quickly offered to run to the store, no no he said it is fine.
                            We sit down to a meal (served at 8:30 with a 2 year old at the table- a clearly overtired 2 year old who is banging his spoon and screeching ). There are three chicken breasts for FOUR adults and one toddler. THey did not cut the chicken into pieces or anything. I wish you could have seen the looks on our (my and my DH's) faces as we wrestled with how to apportion the chicken. The wife shared one with the baby... leaving two for two big guys and me. It was horrible, and a trip to Wendy's on the way home solved the whole thing for us. How odd is that? Let's lay down a minimum expectation of enough food for everyone- I should point out that $$ is NOT an issue for these folks.