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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

        Thanks...it 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.

              2. They sound terribly rude, but really, your only options are to put up with it or not invite them over--getting them to change is not going to happen. Since I'm assuming these are all group meals, just proceed with your evening as planned, regardless of when they show up.

                While I appreciate your frustration, you also need to keep in mind that no one is ever going to care about a party (whether it be dinner or a wedding reception) as much as those throwing the party do. So while it would be nice if guests got a good night's sleep in order to be fresh for your dinner or didn't schedule any other activities beforehand....that's not really realistic. Sometimes a social event--even one you will ultimately enjoy--is just another "have to" on the checklist.

                8 Replies
                1. re: LeoLioness

                  There are no "have to" events in my life--except maybe a funeral now and then. If I don't feel like going to someone's house for dinner, I just say no. This is all and all a casual group of neighbors who are friends--guess I'm just going to have to find a way to get over it. (By the way, these are people without kids or family obligations. Last time one of the repeatedly late guests showed up--late again--she said she'd been on time but then decided to stop and get a massage.)

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Once I threw a party and arrived late myself, had to first start getting the food in order while my dh made cocktails and the guests started their evening 30 mins. without me. My point is, life happens. Unless the delay is intentionally mean spirited (& why have these guests at your home then), I wouldn't get too upset over behavior that has nothing to do with the hosts and more about the friends we keep.

                    Perfection from the pot roast (as my Mom would say) not the people you care about.

                    1. re: escondido123

                      If you don't have any "have to" events...why do you have to invite the people who seem to make you so unhappy. I agree that if you don't want to attend something, you shouldn't. But come on--you've never accepted an invitation and then the day had other stuff going on? Or didn't really feel like going, but it was too late to back out? Really?

                      People without children can have obligations...not sure what that has to do with anything.

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        I agree, I just shouldn't invite that person, still trying to sort that out. As to your doubt about my lack of stuff going on and/or not feeling like going--that was true in the past before I retired, but now my life is very quiet and peaceful and I don't accept invitations that I don't enjoy and without kids/grand kids there aren't other people making demands on my time for good or for bad. (I didn't say people with children don't have obligations, but I do believe people with them have more that are nonnegotiable.)

                      2. re: escondido123

                        My Aunt Mary was always, always late. She was always late for work but was so adored they worked around it. She was an hour late to family gatherings. Finally we told her to be there an hour before everyone else. And from then on she showed up on time :)

                        1. re: bobcam90

                          I tried that and they still got there after everyone else--the husband is an on time person, it's the wife that is always, and I do mean always, late.

                        2. re: escondido123

                          Was on the way over for dinner and stopped for a massage? Really says where your dinner party was in her priorities. Wow.

                          1. re: babette feasts

                            What I find amazing is that she would actually tell me that! But yet she keeps coming to our dinners and inviting us to hers...very hard to sort out what goes on in her head.

                      3. We have a British Open brunch for the final round every year (including this Sunday) and it's starts at 9:00 am and lasts until the food and booze run out....generally about 3-4 in the afternoon. It's casual, low key, etc.

                        One year I invited a couple and they had been at an all night bowling party the night before. They came in and disappeared. We found them asleep in our guest room. They woke up after everyone had left and were surprised there was no food left.

                        We didn't invite them the next year.

                        1. The ideal dinner guest is the one that does not plug up the toilet. Outside of that I do not care what they do.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Fowler

                            I once had a dinner guest shatter a bottle of foul-smelling Chinese liquor all over my floor. After using a whole roll of paper towels to clean up, he proceeded to try and flush this baby-sized wad of paper and glass shards down the toilet, which clogged and flooded the whole bathroom. We were stepping on little pieces of glass in that bathroom for weeks.

                            We are still friends, so I guess I am bit more lenient than you in this regard. But I agree with posters above that if someone kept showing up early or late I would just quit inviting them.

                            1. re: RealMenJulienne

                              I know of that foul smelling liquor of which you speak, and if anyone spilled that all over my carpet, I would seriously consider never inviting them back. :|

                              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                I went to a Chinese wedding where they had a bottle of that on every table. Positively dreadful stuff and I have no idea how/why they drink that concoction.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  It probably has something to do with *stamina*, if you know what I mean. That seems to be the blanket reason Asian folk have for eating/drinking unusual and vile things. :P

                                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                                    I'll bet you are right! Kind of like "I can drink this ghastly beverage and not vomit. Can you?"

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      Yeah. And then they go home to test the stamina and instead pass out worshipping their ancestors over the porcelain shrine. Kekeke...

                                      1. re: Fowler

                                        When I was a student in Beijing, we drank it because it was cheap, 55% alcohol, and came in conveniently sized bottles for smuggling into nightclubs. You could stick a bottle into the ankle of your sock like a detective's backup revolver and no pat down would ever find it.

                                    2. re: Fowler

                                      Is that mao tai or something like that? I had it at a Chinese New Year celebration and could barely touch my lips to the cup. It smelled like alcoholic mold.

                                2. The ideal dinner guest ... at this point, my bar is set pretty low. For me, it would be ideal for my parents and sister to come over and NOT pick three different things about the same dish to complain about. Or to invite friends who DON'T make a mountain of salt on their plate to dip every single bite into before even tasting anything ... then make lots of comments about getting together for something "simple" next time. Since when is steak not simple?! Or to have people over who expect their kids to be polite instead of telling me the strawberry cobbler I'm baking is stinky. By this criteria, lots of my guests are ideal, but I take any excuse to not invite the others over.

                                  It's a joy to cook for people who appreciate your efforts, but disappointing when they take it for granted or just don't appreciate it. I'd maybe think about mixing the group you usually invite over, dividing it up and adding people to the groups - at least sometimes. Then you could invite the problem people over only for very casual things, like a bbq/potluck or for drinks before you leave for an event, and just not invite them when it would be an issue. Or plan a dinner party for when you know they'll be out of town? Good luck ... :)

                                  1. A hearty, adventurous but considerate eater who shows up roughly on time, doesn't stay too late, is unentitled enough to clear their own dishes, and contributes to the conversation.

                                    Though I see the value and efficacy of the approach, I'm not one of those people keen on addressing matters of politeness and etiquette with other grown people who aren't very close to me, so if a person in my outer social circle were a habitual (very) late-comer, but I enjoyed their company when they were around, I would simply start without them. I think their reaction - whether they graciously accept the fair and logical consequence of their tardiness or feel entitled to hold up a whole dinner party - would tell me whether or not they remain on the invite list for future events.

                                    1. This is a good question! In my book, an ideal guest will: arrive more or less on time, let me know of any vexing food issues well ahead of time, ooh and ahh over their food, keep the conversation going at the table, come in the kitchen and chat with me while I get the next course ready, take interest in what I'm cooking, make me wish they didn't have to leave so soon. Not so much to ask, right? :-)
                                      And I prefer perpetual late-comers to people who refuse to completely commit to a dinner party: "We'll come if we can."

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: mbcraw4d

                                        Wow I would not accept that as an answer.

                                        1. re: mbcraw4d

                                          "We'll come if we can."???

                                          Well, if you show up, I'll try to be bothered to let you in.

                                          1. re: mbcraw4d

                                            For "we'll come if we can" people I say "Oh, if you can't commit we'll have to make it a no, ten's the max at my table. Maybe next time"

                                          2. I agree with your definition of an ideal guest, and will just add that my ideal guest has nice table manners. I am really burnt after several years of serving my mother in law, whose manners are atrocious and really put me off my food. I'm thinking of renting her out to people on diets. She'll just sit at your table and pick her teeth with her fingers, then reach into the serving dish with those same fingers and pull out a piece of meat.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Isolda

                                              Oh my gosh, that is just repulsive. Does no one say anything to her? I am not sure I could let it go....that is way beyond chewing with her mouth open or even belching. Eeew.

                                              1. re: jlhinwa

                                                If you say something, she starts screaming and yelling. She's a little, um, nuts. We just use tactical maneuvers to keep her hands away from the communal platters. Fortunately, they are moving next month, so we'll have very few meals left in which to snatch meat platters out of her hands and throw away leftovers because she contaminated them.

                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                  Wow. I have a MIL who is nuts in other ways (truly), but her table manners are passable. I am going to have to remember to appreciate that about her when I am lamenting her latest eating regime. She changes diets like a teenage girl changes hair styles and expects us to all follow along. The only constant is her complete lack of interest in flavor enhancers--no spices or herbs (unless medicinal in value), not even salt or pepper.

                                                  Congrats on the move. Sounds like that will limit your communal eating quite nicely! My MIL moved to Maui 3 years ago (we live in WA state) and I think I have loved her more during the past 3 years than in the previous 27 years of her being my MIL. :-)

                                                  1. re: Isolda

                                                    I have the solution for you. PLATING! That way there are no serving pieces on the table. Give her double what you give others. And just how much are you paying them to move away?!? :)

                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                      There are certain kinds of dementia that involve inappropriate behavior around food--unfortunately I speak from experience. Just something to consider.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        She has narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. She refuses therapy. I used to plate the food, but she would just go back for seconds. I find it easier to put the serving dishes on the table so I can monitor contamination levels. She isn't truly insane, she just thinks the rules don't apply to her, like all narcissists, because she is "special." She knows the rules, though, which is why this is such a thorny issue.

                                                        And yes, jlhinwa, I know I will love her more after they move. I adore my parents and they live in the Seattle area, while we live in Massachusetts.

                                                        1. re: Isolda

                                                          Wow again. I am fairly certain my MIL has schizophrenia though she will not seek help either (the rest of us are the ones with a problem, not her). We have begged, pleaded, offered financial incentives, etc. to no avail. I think she really likes her brand of "specialness."

                                                          Families are interesting, aren't they? Enjoy the move!!

                                                2. I am easygoing. However, please don't show up late and then have balls to ask when dinner is and please stay on the main floor......no venturing upstairs, into my bedrooms, bathrooms closets, etc. The stories that could be told.

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sydneyeats

                                                    I totally agree. I cannot think of a good reason for people to go wandering around someone else's home unless they are looking for a bathroom. And that can be handled quickly with a question. I am always stunned when I see someone start for the stairs.

                                                    1. re: Sydneyeats

                                                      Regretfully, l have a loft and as a result it is amazing how many guests walk the whole thing, including a closed bank vault that is my 'storage, larder, closet, etc'. Who knew ?

                                                      1. re: Sydneyeats

                                                        Oh, my, yes! Not wandering is high on my list of desirable guest traits. Come on time, eat the food with nice manners, don't get hammered, and leave the downstairs bath tidy. This really isn't that difficult.


                                                        1. re: Sydneyeats

                                                          A while back I had a Christmas party for my staff at my home in Denver, and 2 of the ladies snuck upstairs and into a large closet where I had about 300 golf shirts (yeah, I know...) all neatly hung in the order of a rainbow's colors, ROYGBIV. They totally randomized them, and then got in my face at the office after the holidays for having too many golf shirts. Insubordinate wenches, but part of a great staff.

                                                          1. re: Veggo

                                                            Hmmm, I kinda like the inventiveness of randomizing your shirts (assuming you have a sense of humor that would be okay with that and they know that!)...all except the part about them entering your private space to do so! That would make me a little nuts!

                                                            1. re: jlhinwa

                                                              It moved the needle a little as to my private space, but it was a forgiveable sin, as they must have thought it would be.

                                                        2. Funny that you mention this! I'd never seemed to experience problems as a host, which gives me all the reason to appreciate good friends that I usually see.

                                                          Recently, however, I'd invited an interesting group to my house- not all mutual friends, but everyone in the room knew more than one person. I've attended the residence of one person (call her B) twice for casual get-togethers that she threw with her housemates (our professional paths cross often). This was the first time I was returning the hospitality by inviting her over.

                                                          I truly think that her behaviors were rooted in kindness, but some of them caught me off guard. Many of you spoke about wanting guests to come on time....B came 20 minutes early! I was frantically trying to cool off the kitchen with fans (hot oven + hot day) and a little overheated when she arrived. She could probably sense there was still work to be done and she offered to help. I ushered her into a cooler room, said to help herself to drinks that were set out, and asked her to sprinkle sugar over some biscuits. She pulls out some leaves that she "picked up off the sidewalk on the way" and set them alongside the table centerpiece as a contribution, then commences in the sprinkling. It was akin to picking wildflowers, I guess? She did ask if she could bring anything (I said no).....so I suppose she was going beyond expectations!

                                                          I ducked into a 2-minute cold shower after the next guest arrived ( a very good friend who I asked to come early with an extra fan) so I wouldn't feel like I was melting during the meal! The rest of the guests arrived, drinks were had, food served within 15 minutes of the last guest arriving. Food was set out buffet style, all could help themselves. B. comes to me and asks if a large container out on my deck is mint....why yes, it is! She asks to cut some- no problem. But to then use that cut mint to garnish every single guest's yogurt (except for the person who didn't want to have unwashed mint on his plate)....? A little awkward, especially when meeting some people for the first time.

                                                          Bottom line.....sometimes being a good guest means letting the host handle things unless asked to step in....or offering services to the host before proceeding. ( I don't think she sensed discomfort with anything except arriving early.) Be aware of not just the host's boundaries, but also those of guests.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: 4Snisl

                                                            You should have called her 'C' for C.ontrol Freak...

                                                            1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                              My parents who loved to give dinner parties had some friends that always arrived late. One night my mother got the brilliant idea to invite them an hour early so that they would arrive on time. That night they arrived on time (an hour early). My mother was still in the shower when they arrived. Oh well the best laid plans of mice and men will surely fail.

                                                              1. re: dratlover

                                                                Predicting late arrivals... reminds me of leading ducks when hunting in Louisiana, and meeting with attorneys in Mexico.

                                                          2. The ideal dinner guest:
                                                            1) Shows up on time
                                                            2) Asks if he may bring a date or guest if that was not volunteered
                                                            3) Brings a bottle of wine that is not expected to be consumed that night, and / or flowers
                                                            4) Seems to have a good time and compliments the host and hostess
                                                            5) Does not make rude, obscene or inappropriate conversation
                                                            6) Leaves on time
                                                            7) Thanks the hostess later with a phone call or note
                                                            8) Reciprocates with an invitation of his own.

                                                            Perhaps this seems old-fashioned, but that is what it takes.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: steakman55

                                                              And I whittle down to exactly those you describe...

                                                            2. Someone who comes over and cooks me an amazing meal.