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What is good guest etiquette? [Moved from General Topics board]

And how do you set up your dinner/lunch parties to facilitate it?

So yesterday I had some friends over to lunch. I live a ways away from them, in the country, and I had been looking forward to having them over for quite a while. So this was a bit of an event.

I roasted an organic chicken with organic lemons, a la Marcella Hazan. I made an orzo macaroni and cheese (also for a baby that came along). I baked bread. I served my best olive oil as a dip. I bought good wines. I put my homemade preserves on the table. I drove around putting together ingredients. I cleaned my house furiously to make the place ready.


They got there an hour late because one of my friends insisted on taking the long way. Then they left immediately after eating, leaving me to feel like they had dined and dashed.

I realize that where I live, while beautiful, is out of the way for people. But I think that dining and dashing is really bad manners, particularly when I put so much effort into feeding people well.

So I ask you: what is good guest etiquette and how do you facilitate it?

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  1. I am so sorry to hear that your Herculean efforts fell upon ungrateful guests. It is rude to arrive late, then dash. I am much like you and go to great pains to put out the best ingredients and homemade food that I can.
    Not staying to "visit" with you, or even offering to help clear the table is very rude indeed. It conveys a lack of apprecitation for your hard work.
    If they call to thank you, I'd say something along the lines of "gee, time flew so fast, I wish we had more time to visit". Maybe they'll pick up on the hint.


    2 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      Sounds like you did everything right, just seems you guests were quite rude. The only thing I can think of that may facilitate a longer stay is maybe do it on a Saturday afternoon as some people need to work on Monday and may feel they have to get home early or leave early to avoid traffic. I know when my husband and I are invited to dine with friends that live a fair distance from us we get a hotel nearby so we can visit longer, would be hard on a Sunday as Monday is a work day. Sounds like a lovely lunch sorry you didn't get to visit with your friends.

      1. re: bubbles4me

        So how do you guys act as good guests? For me, helping to clean, complementing the chef and really appreciating the work and creativity that goes into serving food is a must. And then, in a way, repaying my host by being an entertaining guest.

        A few months ago I read this article about sugar peas. This guy said that when it's pea season he will sometimes put out a bowl of raw sweet peas, but only if he knows that people will appreciate it. At the time I thought that was a bit precious but now I really get it.

        Anyway, thanks for empathizing with me!!!! Monavano, I'll definitely visit your blog.

    2. Yikes! I don't blame you for feeling a bit taken advantage of, to have guests dash for the exit the second they've swallowed the last bite of a dinner you put so much effort into.

      I'll usually make a point of asking guests if they have any specific preferences I should remember. Better to know in advance that they hate onions if I'm thinking of French Onion soup, or that they've become vegetarian before I stick a chicken in the oven.

      I'll also mention in the invitation "feel free to arrive anytime after x, and dinner will be served at y" so that there won't be grumbly stomachs while I take care of last-minute prep, and to let people know exactly when I want them there.

      As for your guests, I don't think the faux pas is on their end, not yours. It's generally okay to show up an hour late for a cocktail party where lots of people will be mingling (though by then you're pushing the "fashionably late" envelope a bit)... but it's NOT okay to show up for a sit-down meal a full hour late - the food would be stone-cold or completely overdone by then!

      1. Sorry to hear about your rude guests. You sound like a great host/hostess. Had similar experiences with family, not friends, tried this and it worked. Every holiday is at my house, my family used to just show up late without notifying me, eat & leave. One time I had a $60 prime rib roast that would be ruined. My husband, Mr. Meat & Potatoes, was furious as he was looking forward to the roast. My kids and husband insisted we eat without them. We did. When they finally showed up 90 minutes later, the table was cleared and the kids were doing the dishes. We sent them home. It has never happened again. I think they were so shocked.

        You need to find a way to explain your feelings to your friends. You need to share how much you invested in the get together and how disappointed you were. A lot of people these days simply don't have manners and you need to educate them what a dinner party means to you. If they can't allow the time, find another date & time. If they are good friends, they will realize your viewpoint once communicated to them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Diane in Bexley

          Diane, I am a big fan! Good for you that you didn't put up with such inconsiderate behavior.
          I do agree that somehow, the friends need to know how you, the host, feels.

          1. re: Diane in Bexley

            Diane, you're my hero. Glad hubby and kids insisted you eat rather than let a nice cut of meat go to waste.

            Believe me, if there's prime rib on the menu, I might arrive 90 minutes early just to make sure I get some! :)

          2. The baby mention jumps out at me. When my kids were little we used to joke about "living by the nap". It wasn't really a joke. It was true. Because if a baby misses his or her nap, everyone suffers. Maybe they needed to get going to accommodate the baby but they should have made this very clear to you.

            1. piedsdesanges I wish I could have been your guest - I'd have arrived on time(but not early), with something for the host, and helped with dishes etc afterwards because I know what it's like to cook for people and then be faced with the clean up. I don't know that Ms. Manners would suggest helping with clean up is required but at least offer to help and chat awhile after dinner...

              What your dinner companions did was just plain rude. Showing up an hour late? Disgraceful. Even if there's a drive and someone takes "the long way" they should have planned for that in advance and left earlier imho.

              I have three kids six and under so each of them is at varying stages of learning table manners and the finer points of etiquette. The best way we've managed to teach them is to be a good example ourselves. Perhaps (although these aren't six year olds you're dealing with) your guests will catch on when you're invited to their home and arrive on time, with gift and help with clean up?? (I'm not saying you don't do this already...just that leading by example has worked for us).

              Otherwise if you're really close to these people maybe talk one on one and explain how hurt you were? We have one friend who, when he makes a faux pas, would rather hear about it (in private of course) than go on making the same mistake in more formal company (like in front of his boss) so he appreciates the feedback...

              I don't know if I'm being any help here... best of luck with your situation.

              1. Well, i agree with what everyone else here is saying...you did everything right, your friends should have lingered after dinner (in my mind, especially if i've made a trek to the country!)

                Sometimes, i'm known to serve dessert and coffee/tea in a different room from dinner. Serve this part in the living room on couches. I find my friends have a hard time leaving once they're comfy on the couch with a good cup of coffee.

                Try finding the friends that like to stay up later, or wouldn't mind crashing at your place for the night, or won't mind getting home late from the country...I tend to have the opposite problem, that my friends won't leave!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: rugburn

                  That is a great idea. Moving the dinner to another room to serve dessert, coffee, tea. Thanks!

                2. While I sympathize with how you feel, my Chinese wife's family is just like that - and she likes it that way (except for the arriving late part, which doesn't happen; your guests should have at least called). They do all the chit-chat over dinner, which is usually at least an hour or two in length, and when dinner is finished, they do help clear the table, but then it's vamoose! Dear wife really doesn't like sitting around the living room and chatting, so she's pleased when the guests go.

                  1. I assume that they knew where you lived when they accepted the invitation. Your friend that wanted to take the long way should have arranged to leave an hour earlier and all of them were rude for the eat and run routine. I don't know if you can facilitate good etiquette, and I think it's a crying shame you would need to "encourage" people to linger and enjoy the afternoon.

                    1. Taking the "long way" to a scheduled dinner engagement causing oneself and the others to be late is absurd. They should be embarrassed.

                      Sorry about what happened, your luncheon sounded absolutely beautiful as well as the setting. I know that you're feelings must be hurt, mine sure would be. But it's a lesson most of us get, learn from it, and invite people that appreciate you and what you do for them. Might take a few times but eventually we get it.

                      You are very sweet to consider the baby in your menu plans by preparing him/her the mac and cheese.

                      I would surely think twice about a second invitation to this group. I sincerely hope you got a decent apology. Oh and why did they have to leave so early? Were they uncomfortable after their late arrival?

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: chef chicklet

                        I say the next time, invite other friends. And be bold. When you call or write to invite, say "now listen, this is going to be a feast, and I want to be sure we have time to enjoy it." fayefood.com

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          <<I would surely think twice about a second invitation to this group. I sincerely hope you got a decent apology. Oh and why did they have to leave so early? Were they uncomfortable after their late arrival?>>

                          I would too, and perhaps make it for a day they won't be bringing the baby. Then you can see if maybe the nap schedule was to blame (as someone else suggested) or if they're late this time around too.

                          1. re: marmite

                            I'm not that impressed with anyone that "we took the long path through the woods" and meanders into the luncheon as if they were on a site seeing tour. A delightful kind hostess who has worked her tail off to please her friends deserves some respect and consideration. Decent, informed people do not hop up and run off leaving in a rush as if they had somewhere else to go to. They had a perfect opportunity to make amends for their rather large goof, instead they just proved that they are what they are. A profuse apology, and a genuine and sincere gesture to make amends was indeed required.
                            Forget them. Guests do not ruin the party and the hostesses efforts. uh-uh.
                            You can not control another person's behavior no matter what you indicate in the invite or mention in a phone call. So you can keep inviting them and hope that they get it, and be frustrated. And I say, don't.
                            I have had the occasional guest that says that calls and says they are running late. But 15 minutes is about it, otherwise we proceed. They are welcome to pull up a chair, and join in but I will not hold off feeding the guests that arrived on time.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              I agree with your whole reply. I was thinking that if the O.P. did indeed invite them again, she is a far more forgiving hostess than I. They'd be off my list. And whether or not the baby was the cause of the delay/ early departure, I would have told them to leave it at home in the first place. :p

                        2. I empathize. I had a potluck on Saturday and there was very little dinner and it came an hour and half late. Luckily I made heavy appetizers and lots of dessert. It turned out to be a great party and everyone had fun, including me. HOWEVER...

                          I don't think you can facilitate good guest etiquette. There are some thoughtful tips here from other folks, but I think they are optimistic. I DO think you can be mindful of who you are inviting, perhaps let them know if there is some genuine reason you need them to be on time (like a souffle you're planning to make, not just because you want them to be on time), and then exercise expectation control. I love my friends, but only a handful of them are as food-interested and food-event-crazy as me. They are the ones who come early to help or on time to nibble/gush over homemade ice cream/chat about olives. The others are often late and usually bring wine rather than food if it is a potluck-type situation. If I invite these people for a meal and I want them to be on time, I invite them very explicitly to "come over for dinner" or else they hear "party" and show up whenever. I should have known and been more specific but was trying to be a more relaxed host. Oh, well. So, invite only "food people" or adjust your expectations. We can't make people be polite, unfortunately. Maybe the baby will grow up to be more polite.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                            Don't want to morph this post into a discussion on culture and manners, but I have found that you really need to set expectations with people. With all of the positives of living in a multi cultural society, we don't often know how to behave with all kinds of people. Need to let others know what you expect and what you deliver. Good rule for business too (can you tell I'm a project manager by trade?).

                            1. re: Diane in Bexley

                              Yes I think that's right. I also like the suggestion of serving dinner an hour after you tell everyone to arrive. Do you think it's okay to say in an invitation that you hope people will stay to linger after dinner? Or maybe the best thing for me to do is say, I'm starting the evening early so that we have time to spend together.

                              1. re: piedsdesanges

                                YES! You can give the invitation for dinner as "Since it's such a long drive to my house in the country, please come at 6 p.m. and we can have a nice LONG evening to chat with each other."

                                Regarding the baby, we have 2 kids and while I always wanted my kids to nap, rest, and eat healthy, it's important that the parents not make the child the focal point of the evening. Wish I had a nickel for every house we brought our kids to, taught them to eat all different kinds of food, and put them to sleep on sofas, extra beds, etc. Perhaps you can say something in the invitation as well that you would like little Johnny or whatever to join you and he is welcome to take a nap in your room. Children need to learn to adapt to new circumstances. Boy, I am starting to sound like my mother!

                                1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                  THAT's EXACTLY what I did -- told them I'd set up a bed and bought applesauce so that the baby would have something to eat. I even got up to watch the baby so that mom and dad could relax and eat. But I don't really blame it on the kid thing. It was the other guests that insisted on leaving and that made my friends who are parents late.

                          2. My ex MIL was always late for dinner when I invited her, we just used to start dinner without her - the message didn't get through!!

                            She also never helped to clear up unless my mother was there too and then my mother told her which course she could help clear.

                            One of the happier parts of my divorce was not having to deal with her anymore!!

                            1. Well, I had a family member show up for Thanksgiving dinner late enough that I had to microwave his food (we couldn't wait) and then left about 20 minutes later, with the first guests who were leaving. Even though he doesn't alway do this, I still get agitated whenever he's coming over, as he's always sort of vague about times. Once he told us he might be late, and I said "Don't worry, the microwave is working". He was on time as I recall!
                              And I can beat everyone on guests being an hour late. We had invited old friends to come and stay over when we moved upstate (3 hours away). They were expected at noon for lunch, and then we were going to town for dinner. They showed up so late that the restaurant was closed when they got there, and we had to eat whatever was laying around. My husband was in a panic because he thought they had been in a terrible accident (this was before cell phones). Their excuse was, they HAD to take the scenic route ALL THE WAY FROM NYC rather than any of the many highways that led straight to us, so eight hours instead of two! They did stay over though, and we had a nice day the next day.

                              1. Your Title asks one wauestion, your opening paragraphs give a good example of what not to do from a guest's perspective and then you ask a second question in closing?

                                - In reverse order, you can only teach manners to your family, and you can not facilitate good etiquette to others.
                                - Second point, everyone will agree that your guests did not have any etiquette, manners or consideration.
                                - Now for the biggie.
                                - Basic consideration is what is expected.
                                - Arrive in a reasonable manner, not too early or too late.
                                - And some may disagree, but bring a small hostess gift, and not something to be eaten at the meal, unless asked.
                                - Act appropriately. Treat everyone with manners.
                                - Thank people.
                                - Offer to assist but not be too demanding. And leave the type-A personality at home.

                                It is just as difficult being a gracious gueats as it is being a gracious host and sometimes it's harder. Many on these boards take food seriously, and some too seriously, and it is important to downshift when you play the "guest" role. Not everyone will prepare a great meal. Heck jfood was invited to a friend's house that had more issues than he cares to write about, but M&M jfood ate what they could, pushed around what they could not and had a blast. The offer to assist, the big thank you at the end, and the call the next day as a follow-up thank you.

                                1. It appears you've gotten a lot of input as to how to facilitate good manners, the gist of which is: you can't. However, I've learned from experience to invite people to show up an hour earlier than I plan to have everyone sit down at the table. If I'm planning to serve dinner at 7:00p, I'll tell my guests that dinner's at 6:00. For those rare folks who actually show up at the designated hour, I'm always ready with beverages and some sliced salami or small finger foods. Everybody I know has a cellphone and can call to say if they're running late, in which case, we'll usually hold off serving dinner. If we're having a large dinner party, however, (and I haven't heard from anyone) and more than half of my guests have arrived by 7:00p (or, at the latest, 7:30), we'll go ahead and sit down. Late-comers can join the dinner in progress. Repeat guests do seem to show up on time.

                                  More often than not, our dinner parties are just with another couple or maybe two. If that's the case, I would wait until the other couple(s) showed up, even if they're quite late. Fortunately, this hasn't been much of a problem.

                                  We have a tendency to linger at the table with coffee and wine, etc., after dinner. Except for one couple who live more than an hour away, we've really never had anyone eat and run after dinner. And I wouldn't understand it if someone did that after lunch. What? You have an appointment? Then why accept a luncheon invitation to begin with? I'd be very p'd-off and would likely not invite them again.

                                  I've never had a luncheon or dinner when I didn't receive offers of help with the clean-up afterward. It isn't necessary and I usually turn them down, but I think it's very nice of them to make that offer, anyway. And I always reciprocate when dining at a friend's or relative's home.

                                  Depending on how close you are with these folks, and how likely you are to want to have them over again, I'd say that the advice somewhere above to discuss it on a one-to-one basis with them is good. The lateness was thoughtless, but leaving immediately after putting down their forks was just plain insulting. It would be nice to know if there was some reason they left so precipitously or if they simply didn't know it was rude.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Deenso

                                    A few "don'ts" of my own.

                                    Don't look at the food you have been served,and say "Oh, that's far too much! I'll never be able to finish it". Eat what you want, leave the rest over, and don't talk about it.

                                    Don't tell people how full you are, or how little you eat Nobody cares..

                                    Don't tell people about your latest diet, which doubtlessly excludes half of dinner.

                                    1. re: ekammin

                                      I have one other "don't" to add to ekammin's list.

                                      Don't do anything on the order of this:

                                      Guest to hostess: "This potato salad is good."
                                      Hostess: "Oh, thank you!"
                                      Guest: "I always put a little pimento in my potato salad."

                                      People (family), do this to me a lot, and it always makes me feel a little bit insulted. It's like they're saying - your dish is good, but it could have been better if you'd done it like I do.

                                      1. re: breadbox

                                        ooh I hate that, I remember making fruit salad for my sister for a dinner at her ho use and she had someone else making one too. I made mine with some orange juice and sherry and she loudly said she preferred the other one 'we like our fruit salad dry not wet!' I could have killed her.

                                        1. re: smartie

                                          Ooh, but this is even worse...
                                          I made homemade meatloaf for dinner when my brother-in-law and his (then) girlfriend came to our house.
                                          Bro-in-law looks at his plate & says to me: "What is this?"
                                          I say: "meatloaf"
                                          My husband tries it and says: "Oh, this is great!"
                                          Bro-in-law says: "I don't like the way it looks"
                                          My husband says to him: "J, just try it, it's great"
                                          Bro-in-law refuses to even try the meatloaf and asks if we have any bread and peanut butter so he can have a peanut butter sandwich!

                                          Bro-in-law has no food allergies and he's not a vegetarian! I tried to think of something simple that most people like when I made the meatloaf, and figured I couldn't go wrong with that choice. LOL


                                  2. I would have trouble "educating"my friends...guess I could be more "upfront" with family!! But a suggestion for "next time".....make arrangements to meet for lunch. Let your friends know that you think that way you'll get more time to "visit" and no one has to go to a whole lot of "trouble" making a meal! I have inlaws that just figure it's a whole bunch of trouble to cook - they just suggest eating out when we visit them...which really hurts because I go to such trouble making great homemade meals when they come our way....well I used to....now we go out to a local restaurant of my choice...their loss I'm afraid!!

                                    1. I agree with many of the posts and won't duplicate. I do think that our disappointments can often be prevented by going above and beyond what we might think of as necessary when communicating our invitations (or anything else we are comunicating for that matter). One thing we do when we are inviting people to an all afternoon lunch like a paella is tell them something like "arrive around 1:00. this will be a slow, all afternoon event." While I do think arriving an hour late (without a call I presume) was rude, I understand that not all my friends are foodies and some people look at lunch/meals much differently than I do. By comunicating my expectations more clearly than I think I need to, my friends are usually on the same page as to what is expected.

                                      1. I agree with the others who posted, so sorry to hear that your guests were late, all your efforts went unnoticed, and your guests suddenly left after dinner with no apologies.

                                        My Mom always taught me that it's rude to "eat & run", but not everyone learns proper manners or always uses them.

                                        I tend to "go all out" when having company for lunch, dinner, or whatever. I make everything from scratch, and spend a lot of time planning and preparing dishes to serve. My husband always tells me that some people simply don't appreciate all the effort, and that I should make it easier on myself when inviting friends or family over to eat. But, I enjoy all that I do...the moral of this is that not everyone is like you with good manners and an appreciation of fine food. Some people simply don't know better.
                                        Maybe your guests don't have a clue that they were being rude by what the did.