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Jul 10, 2011 02:08 PM

What Makes the Ideal Dinner Guest?

My husband and I like to have dinner parties. We put time, thought and effort into it and we know we make good food, the wine flows and people enjoy themselves so I figure we've fulfilled our part of the "bargain." In general our guests--who are friends not work related--do the appropriate things. RSVP to an invitation, show up on time, bring wine or other "offering", help out when necessary, and don't overstay their welcome.
But twice I've had guests come and then talk about how they were out soooo late the night before and will have to make it an early evening, or they show up late because they had something else to do first. Am I being too sensitive when I expect guests to appreciate the time/effort/money I have put into a meal? Some people say I just need to roll with it. I get annoyed about it ahead of time and then obsess over it. What do you think? (This pair is part of a group so I can't just leave them out and going to their house is a nightmare of poor planning, forgotten ingredients and dinner at midnight--often after others have taken over the cooking.)

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  1. What a great question, and very thought-provoking. For me, the things you first mentioned (RSVP, arrive on time, help, don't stay too long, etc.) are most important. I also appreciate good conversationalists who can keep discussion lively (but not too lively, haha!), and who just add fun to the mix.

    I totally understand when people have hectic schedules and generally am okay about people needing to leave early or arrive late. I won't alter my plans for everyone based on one or two people, however. If they show up during the dessert course, so be it.

    I wouldn't be so okay if the same people were doing it time after time. If couple x is always an hour late because of something or other, or couple y always leaves the minute plates are cleared, I would probably find that annoying unless there is a legitimate reason they can't avoid. Then I have to decide to I enjoy their friendship enough to overlook what seems to be an inconsiderate attitude towards everyone else.

    We have a couple of friends who seem to be gratuitously late to just about everything they do. It peeved me for the longest time and then I finally gave into my husband's insistence that we just go ahead without them. So that's what we do and if they show up mid-way through a seated dinner, they are the ones to be embarrassed, not us. It was very uncomfortable the first time but now I just don't care one way or the other. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I don't stress out and I don't burn up energy being pissed.

    2 Replies
      1. re: tracylee was my husband's insistence that made me change my approach. He pretty much pointed out the lunacy of my worrying about being rude by serving without them when they were the ones habitually late, knowing the time dinner would be served and knowing that there were other guests waiting on them. Funny how easy it is to feel responsible for making others feel okay about their misbehavior.

    1. The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones.

      1 Reply
      1. I've never actually had guests that have done what you've described, though I have had people tell me well in advance that they may have to call an early evening because of either a requirement (e.g. medications) or next-day travel.

        My guests generally sit around and liquor themselves as plates roll out and so forth and as they all know one another, things progress as they do and everyone sort-of auto-regulates on time.

        On the sole occasion where there is someone that I did not know, the guest who asked for this person's inclusion acted pretty much as a chaperone with the caution of behaving or risk never being invited back ("la honte").

        1. I generally try to be maybe not the idea guest, but at least a considerate one. Late last week a friend invited a couple of mutual friends over for dinner, I was one of them. Late that afternoon something came up that would have been very difficult for me to avoid so I called the host and apologized, saying that I would be there by the appointed dinner time, but would not be able to get there earlier for cocktails and conversation.

          Now this is a person who is usually pretty patient and understanding, so I was quite surprised when I was told that obviously there were more important things in my life, and to forget about showing up, the get-together was cancelled. As it happens.. I was the third of 4 guests to call two hours before the appointed time to say they would be there, but perhaps a few minutes late. The host's day had not gone well, and said host just kinda reached the snapping point.

          Sometimes things happen, on both sides of the equation. Hopefully you and they can roll with it, sometimes it just doesn't work out. This was an unusual situation all the way around, and by the end of the weekend, we all decided it probably worked out for the best for all of us, apologies were spread liberally and everybody is still friends.

          2 Replies
          1. re: KaimukiMan

            Once in a blue moon is fine, but repeatedly is rude. But it seems most people don't take into consideration the time, effort and expense people put into a dinner party. Maybe if everyone got a bill at the end of the evening--not to be paid of course but just as a reminder--there might not be such cavalier attitudes about the coming and going of guests who have accepted an invitation.

            1. re: escondido123

              I agree with you--the part that I find offensive is that it is repeated behavior, not a one-off situation like KaimukiMan described. We should all be able to extend grace and understanding to people when something throws their day off now and then. But if it is more often that not, then that is indicative of the person's priorities.

              Not sure I could do a bill, but I would probably enjoy fantasizing about it.

          2. If "this pair is part of a group" with whom you regularly interact, have a private conversation with them. Tell them that you plan things rather formally and the times on the invitation are really important to the flow of the entire evening. I cannot imagine anyone ignoring that.

            What I always think about is how just about every sitcom, drama, soap opera, etc. uses miscommunication as an emotional device. By not saying what you think (in a polite manner), you can exacerbate a situation. Perhaps feelings might be hurt or it will make for an awkward moment, but isn't it better than having them hear from someone that you said something to someone else that he or she did this...

            4 Replies
            1. re: mojoeater

              Oh it has been said many times and they just say "well we try to be on time." But I have to say wanting people to show up on time is not my idea of planning things rather "formally." Is it now formal to set a time for people to arrive and expect them to be there?

              1. re: escondido123

                When our friends have dinner parties, they give a start time. But that time just means that is when they will be ready for company. The dinner part is usually more than an hour after the start time which means plenty of time for stragglers, and for the on-time folks to have a drink and socialize. Our friends are by and large pretty casual people.

                1. re: mojoeater

                  Our logistics are the same. We usually ask people to not show up before 6 --- we have people who always want to be earlier than that. We then never eat before 7. So we have a lot of wiggle room. But if anyone showed up after we started to eat, that's a bit too much.

                2. re: escondido123

                  My Mother had dear friends who were always late, to everything. Mother always invited them 30 minutes earlier than she told everyone else. They still arrived after everyone. Some people just think the world revolves them.

                  I agree, start when you are ready, if they aren't there, tough.