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A dinner/lunch guest should be sure to......

I am at an age where I am attending lots of luncheons and dinner-parties.. yet I was raised by parents who really never much went out and never hosted dinner-parties...

Therefore, I would like to know all of the things I should be sure to do--like offer to bring a dish, offer to do the dishes, etc.

What do you expect or would you appreciate a dinner/lunch guest to do?

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  1. Make conversation, use your manners, say thank you, and reciprocate. Oh, and to someone's home, bring a hostess gift.

    15 Replies
    1. re: tzurriz

      I thought I responded to same suggestion below, but I guess not.

      I don't think reciprocate is something that is expected or that one "should" do. One may offer, but I don't think it arises to "should" in proper etiquette.

      1. re: FrankJBN

        Sorry, but no. If someone invites you to their home, or out for a meal, you reciprocate. That is simply good manners. Neglecting reciprocity is extremely rude.

        1. re: tzurriz

          I agree with Frank. If someone invites me to their house for dinner and I discover in the course of the evening that our views of the world are so different another get together would not be fun, I say thank you and that's it. No need for a second night of tortured conversation while my cats must be locked away because of their allergies and I have to remember to never say the name of our President.

          1. re: tzurriz

            I strongly agree. The failure to reciprocate according to one's means (so, that doesn't mean you have to host in your house at the same level; but you do need to host somehow, somewhere) in a timely fashion has long been considered a major rudeness in American etiquette, for what it's worth. Enough that someone would be considered within their rights to omit you from further invitations for your failure to do so (as as been illustrated on many Chowhound threads, just for starters). Reciprocity is the principle means of expressing gratitude for being hosted; all the others are incidental to it.

            1. re: Karl S

              And so if you did not enjoy yourself at a gathering and you choose not to reciprocate then you will be omitted from further invitations. And in some cases that's a good thing. On the other hand, there are people who cannot reciprocate for a variety of reasons, sometimes economic, sometimes lack of space and sometimes a personal reason. (I have a friend and her husband goes nowhere and does not want social events in his home. Some of her friends know this, others don't. She tries to make up for this in other ways.)

              1. re: escondido123

                Note, I've specifically said reciprocity is according to one's means. Anti-social people are, well, anti-social, so they are outside the normal realm of etiquette. I am not talking about the margins here.

              2. re: Karl S

                "Reciprocity is the principle means of expressing gratitude for being hosted; all the others are incidental to it."

                I thought saying thank-you was the principal way of saying thank-you.

                Again this seems so much to me like 'pay back'. Am I so different since I don't want to be paid back when I do something nice for someone? And yes, I will do something nice repeatedly for someone I want to do something nice for and not exclude them from future niceties, because of 'What have you done for me lately/"

                I don't see how failing to reciprocate can be considered rude, when the behavior you (not "you" alone) describe - came to dinner, no dinner invite back, no more dinner for them - seems to me to be the height, the very epitome of rudeness. A showing of lack of friendship and honesty, in short a demand for pay back, which means you weren't ever doing something for the person in the first place because you always expected to be paid for it.

                Not me. Not ever. If that's how people feel, i don't want to break bread with them.

                1. re: FrankJBN

                  It's not pay back. If it were, it would not be qualified according to one's means. Rather, it's the form by which the fundamentally reciprocal nature of social obligations are recognized and honore. You may not reciprocate, and others may not socially penalize you, but some of those folks very likely notice and make their own judgments, about which you may not care, but it's just built into the very nature of social customs.

            2. re: FrankJBN

              What if one doesn't have the space to hold a similar dinner/lunch? What if one cannot cook? In those cases shouldn't the extent of the friendship dictate reciprocity?
              Why not do as escondido's friend does, and help in a way that is more suitable, if one should desire to reciprocate.

              1. re: iluvcookies

                You can treat someone to breakfast at a diner, if that's your means. That's also playing host.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Or, I could make 200 cookies for their kid's bake sale. Or help clean out their garage, or babysit.
                  And what if the dinner was actually a thank you for one of those things?

                  All in context, my friend.

                  1. re: iluvcookies

                    Those are nice things, but they are not reciprocal hospitality. I am not going to argue at the margins, I am just emphasizing that there remains a norm that is not swallowed up by a cloud of exceptions.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      I think times have changed and reciprocating no longer has to be the same activity, just something that reflects mutual effort. (There are many more people than there used to be who socialize with people who are not the husband/wife couples that was the standard, specifically single guys who may not be good at entertaining, and I think that changes the dynamics.)

                      1. re: escondido123

                        Judging from remarks I hear from social and professional peers, as well as too many remarks from Chowhounds over the years, I think I am far from alone in saying that reciprocal hospitality remains very much a social expectation.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          I didn't say you were alone. You have your view and I have mine; it's fine that we see things differently. Best to you.

          2. Be there on time. Say nice things about the food. Smile. Talk about good things, no medical, criminal or funeral topics.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jmcarthur8

              Is it just me or would anyone else LOVE to hear about criminal topics?

              1. re: jmcarthur8

                Yes!!! Sometimes criminal topics can be quite interesting. Almost as much as the new school board budget vote!!

                1. All good suggestions. I would ask if you can bring anything and once there ask if you can help--if they say no assume they mean it. For a dinner party, I always bring a bottle of wine which is always appreciated. Oh, and I really like the idea of being on time, but never early.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: escondido123

                    "...if they say no, assume they mean it."

                    +1. I don't like to argue with guests, but when pushed and I have to say "my kitchen is off limits," I mean it, but end up sounding mean instead. I really don't need or want help. Just smile, show up on time, offer to bring something (and also trust I mean it if I say no thanks. However, a bottle of wine or flowers in a cheap vase are nice), and eat heartily.

                    1. re: pine time

                      Yes, the vase is key when bringing flowers. Please don't bring a bouquet and expect the host/ess to drop everything to find a vase to put it in!

                      1. re: Isolda

                        Should you bring flowers and/or wine, to have lunch at someone's house--if you are already bringing a food-item (and possibly a belated gift)?

                        1. re: GraceW

                          To me it's either/or, but both (food item and wine/flowers) aren't needed.

                        2. re: Isolda

                          I was taught that if flowers are your intended gift, to have them sent early in the day of the event so that the hostess/host can decide where they should go.

                    2. If I'm a guest, I reckon my job is to enjoy the event and say so. Even If I havnt.

                      1 Reply
                      1. Eat enthusiastically, but be aware. Don't pull a "Mr. Grant" and take so much of a dish that there won't be enough to go around!

                        1. -Be on time
                          -Bring something the host doesn't necessarily have to put out (wine, chocolates)
                          -Don't cling to the hosts. If you don't know people there, introduce yourself. Break your own ice.
                          -Praise the cook
                          -Don't get too drunk
                          -Know when it's time to leave

                          And have fun! I have the best time at my parties when everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves.

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: LeoLioness

                              We need one of those "most helpful answer" buttons.

                              I will say, though, that after reading many threads on chowhound about what guests should and should not do, that there are regional and generational variations in these rules.

                              If you stick to these you'll be okay, but once you are there you might want to take a look at what the other guests did. For example, there's an ongoing thread about whether it's rude not to offer to help clean up: some people think the offer is completely unnecessary (even unwanted); some people think it's polite to make a token offer, which will be declined; some people (usually younger people) believe everyone should pitch in and help. Same with offering to bring a dish. Afterwards you might want to check in with someone else you know who was there about if there was anything you should have done differently.

                              The main thing is, as someone said above, to take no for an answer: if the host(ess) says no help is needed, then accept that gracefully. If the host(ess) says don't bring anything, then don't bring anything that you expect to be served (but do bring a host(ess) gift). And you can never go wrong with "be on time," "praise the cook," "don't get too drunk" and "know when it's time to leave" -- even if the other guests don't follow those rules, they're still the rules to follow!

                            2. Bring a nice bottle of wine (unless your host/hostess is in recovery--doesn't have to be big $$) or box of chocolates, eat well, chat pleasantly, enjoy yourself, and don't overstay your welcome. After coffee/cookies/dessert, don't overstay your welcome. That's all I have!

                              The fact that you're asking tells me you'll be a great guest!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pinehurst

                                Careful with the wine ! Unless you know for sure that they imbibe. Recovery is one thing but there are people in this area that would be horrified at the thought of alcohol for religious reasons.

                              2. Be timely. Bring sociability. Be well-mannered. Eat and drink what is served. Leave timely. Be grateful (write a little thank you note - electronic is OK for casual dining, a short letter for grander affairs). And reciprocate according to your means within no later than a year, preferably sooner.

                                You may bring a host(ess) gift that is not expected to be used at the dinner/lunch (the host decides what is served, not the guest). A host(ess) gift does not replace the thank-you communication and reciprocity (though some people these days appear to assume it does). Assuming this is properly hosted, rather than pot-luck, you may also ask if you can bring something, but you are not required to do so, and you need to be careful about agreeing if it's beyond the scope of what you are able to do.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Karl S

                                  I think it is worth emphasizing...do NOT expect the gift to be used at the event...this includes wine or dessert. The host should not be made to feel obligated to serve that Chateau ____ or those special cookies you traveled to Italy that morning to procure.

                                2. Offer to bring something and respect their wishes if they say not to.

                                  Bring a small gift for the host that they do not need to put out with the meal--I always specify that it is for them, not the party. What this gift should be depends upon the host/occasion/relationship. IMHO, if you bring a dish/dessert/wine then a gift is not needed.

                                  Be gracious and polite.

                                  Let the host know of any allergies when accepting the invite, though a good host should ask if you have allergies and/or preferences. (I know I do!)

                                  Thank the host upon leaving.

                                  Don't set fire to anything, break anything, or drink the last Diet Coke.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: iluvcookies

                                    If you have a major eating issue--vegetarian-vegan-celiac-deathly allegy--please do tell the host when you accept the invitation. If something is served that you would rather not eat, say as little as possible about it and just don't take any. Do not go into any details about your personal health/food issues and Don't Yuck Anyone's Yumm.

                                  2. Do everything everyone else seems to be in agreement about and you can't go wrong. One thing NOT to bring: an extra guest unless the invite is specifically for you PLUS guest. Never assume that because you are invited that you can bring a significant other, out-of-town cousin/friend/whoever is staying with you, etc.

                                    And have fun!

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: mangiare24

                                      "One thing NOT to bring: an extra guest unless the invite is specifically for you PLUS guest."

                                      maybe you can be the one to tell my wife "The Jone's invited Frank to a dinner party on Saturday night, but you can't come."

                                      It is perfectly acceptable to ask the hosts if spouse etc can come; it is also perfectly acceptable to reveerse your acceptance if spouse is unwelcome.

                                      1. re: FrankJBN

                                        Is that something you've ever encountered, being invited to a dinner party (a social occasion, not a work/networking thing) where your wife wasn't also invited?

                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                          Some people have spouses or significant others that are not in their circle of friends, for whatever reason. The host may not be aware there IS someone to bring along. It's always nice to ask.

                                          1. re: LeoLioness

                                            Maybe you should ask that question of the poster I responded to who had posted "Never assume that because you are invited that you can bring a significant other"

                                            To allay your curiosity, it was a joke. The short version, suitable for many ocacasions of repartee and available to either spouse is simply "You tell my wife/husband."

                                          2. re: FrankJBN

                                            I once assumed the email invite addressed "ladies" for an afternoon Christmas gathering meant it would be just the ladies. Made my SO go to the mall nearby until we had to leave for a family dinner since the party was two hours away from my house. Arrives to find it was coed and I was mortified. Always ask now.

                                            1. re: melpy

                                              But when you ask that puts the host in the awkward position of saying no. Some hosts will say yes just to be nice and that's how a dinner party for six turns into one for ten or more. Many people have posted about this here on CH. I have no problem with saying no, but many other people do. Of course this can be made clear if the host stipulates if the invite is for 1 plus guest or not from the beginning.

                                          1. re: ricepad

                                            I disagree that one should reciprocate. One may, but I don't think this arises to a should in terms of etiquette.

                                            1. re: FrankJBN

                                              No, it's a big etiquette rule. Failure to observe it puts one in the ranks of people who don't get invited back.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                That may be your experience, but it's hardly a universal truth. It's not the case among my closest group of friends, at any rate.

                                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                                  I have a friend who reciprocates in other ways by helping us with house projects etc. Being a host is just not his strong suit though he does so about once a year.

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    I have to say, I get invited to second and third etc. dinner parties and parties all the time, even though very few of those people may get to my table. Very few.

                                                    Of course, some folks are considered more desirable guests than others. They don't invite you back unless you do something for them first? Tch, tch, tch. I'm sorry.

                                                2. re: ricepad

                                                  I don't ever expect reciprocity.

                                                3. EVERYONE HAS BEEN VERY HELPFUL! Thank you to everyone that responded.

                                                  With respect to the comments/discussion about "reciprocating"... what would be acceptable OR less acceptable if:
                                                  --you live over an hour apart and usually you dine near them at a restaurant & now they are hosting at their house... and you prefer to (in the future) dine near them (even pay for them to reciprocate) because you a) live in an empty pillbox AND b) you know they are more likely to be able to meet up with you near them (instead of drive out here)?

                                                  (And I am sorry to always open these very loaded cans of worms.. I was the same person who asked the 'taste a grape' question in the supermarket--which Chow had to shut down because people were very strong-minded about it.--I am just very interested in etiquette: so I thank all of you.)

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: GraceW

                                                    You can treat them to a meal at a restaurant near them. Need not be dinner. Can be lunch or breakfast, if your means won't accomodate that.

                                                    You could also host them for a picnic in a park or other suitable setting near them.

                                                    Once you grasp the spirit of the obligation - that it's not about scale but about genuinely hosting someone, so that they are now the guest - use your imagination accordingly.

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      Thanks for your responses! Means aren't actually the issue (despite the pillbox); I am just real with the fact that there is no way friends/family ever drive 1-2 hours out of the city to come.. so I would much rather treat them.
                                                      (The picnic idea is splendid too!)

                                                    2. re: GraceW

                                                      I don't know your friends, but I have never expected reciprocity. Not everyone likes to cook, not everyone likes to have people over to their house, there are many reasons, your reasons among them, that reciprocity isn't required.

                                                      If you must reciprocate in some fashion, taking them out to dinner sometimes (not one restaurant dinner for every invited meal) is always nice. It's always very surprising and appreciated when our friends do this for us. The worst is when people keep score and feel obligated, which is exactly the opposite of how I want guests to feel when we have them over for dinner!

                                                      1. re: ellaf

                                                        Agreed. There are many reasons for not having folks over to your house. And reciprocity doesn't have to be all matchy matchy. Reciprocity is about a back and forth of tangibles and intangibles in a friendship, ACROSS the friendship. I might have you over for dinner; you might pick me up from the airport. You might have me over for dinner; I might meet with you for coffee to help you plan a vacation. An invite to a home does not require another invite to a home for there to be reciprocity in a relationship.

                                                        1. re: debbiel

                                                          Exactly. If it were, then I'd never see some of my friends!

                                                    3. If you were reared by your parents to be a polite person in general, then just be yourself.

                                                      If you weren't so reared, it's too late now.

                                                      17 Replies
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Nonsense! First, we're talking about situation-specific etiquette not general politeness, which is cultural: what is polite in some cultures can be rude in others.

                                                        Second, you can learn to be more polite. I was raised in the "be natural, be yourself" '60s by parents who, while nice, "polite" people, were not into socializing or entertaining. I was never taught about appropriate host/guest behavior (beyond just generally behaving myself). I've trained myself to remember to offer someone a drink, discreetly point out the bathroom, bring a hostess gift (or send one afterwards), write a condolence letter, etc.

                                                        Finally, even if you were raised by wolves, it's never too late to rise above your upbringing. It may never come naturally to you, but you can learn to fake it well enough to accomplish your goals.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            What part of my rebuttal is demonstrably untrue?

                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                              I'm not sure it's necessarily about truth or fiction, just different perspectives on things.

                                                              I don't consider what you said to be "nonsense" ... simply that I do not agree with it.

                                                              I suppose I could ask the same thing of your post -- i.e. what of what I said is "demonstrably untrue" -- but that doesn't necessarily advance the conversation, merely heightens the decibel level.

                                                              In post about etiquette best not to ignore it.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                Do you really believe that people can't change their behavior after the age at which they leave their parents? I believe that is demonstrably untrue -- many people learn and change and grow throughout their lives.

                                                                And it's also demonstrably true that something that is polite in one culture can be rude in another. Therefore, just assuming that behaving as you were brought up to means you are being polite is not true.

                                                                Furthermore, telling someone that they (a) don't have to change, or (b) can't change isn't very good advice, even if you believe it to be true in the majority of cases. One should always strive to better one's self!

                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  Agreed. Many people (myself included) live very different lives than the ones their parents did/do and as such, they need to learn certain social customs on their own. Not everyone was "taught" every social etiquette--we figured it out on our own.

                                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            Completely agree.

                                                            As a fairly small child, I recognized the inappropriateness of some table conversation initiated by one of my parents (for example, the efficacy of bran). Today, though raised with weekly examples of inappropriate table conversation in front of numerous guests, I am well able to conduct appropriate conversation at the table, just as I was then.

                                                            We are much more than the children of our parents.

                                                          3. re: ipsedixit

                                                            At exactly what point, does the inability to learn, and probably progress end/

                                                            I do not think that I am following you here, but maybe it is just me?


                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              It is almost impossible to -- on an ad hoc basis -- tutor a person to be polite with respect to a dinner-party situation.

                                                              There are just too many variables that may arise to be completely prepared for if a person was not reared to be polite in the first instance.

                                                              We can all sit here and say "Do X if Y happens" and "Don't do A if B happens" but there are so many other variables that will and can arise that no amount of advice will fully capture every single possible situation.

                                                              Remember the move "Pretty Woman"? That storyline plays well here ...

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                "Remember the move "Pretty Woman"? That storyline plays well here ..."

                                                                I can't believe you just used "Pretty Woman" to prove a point!

                                                                1. re: mangiare24

                                                                  <"I can't believe you just used "Pretty Woman" to prove a point!">

                                                                  Really? I've actually heard it used several times, including myself, to make not only the most obvious point in BH but other venues as well.
                                                                  It's very common to use it. The film was loaded with object lessons, misperceptions and misconceptions.

                                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                                    Not sure what "BH" is, but this is the first time I have ever heard someone use it to prove a point. I'm not doubting you latindancer, but it is such a silly, frivolous movie that I would never occur to me to use it as and example if I wanted someone to take me seriously. But that's just my point of view. Lesson learned.

                                                                    1. re: mangiare24

                                                                      BH= Beverly HIlls.

                                                                      Possibly, the use of this movie to describe several different situations, has to do with demography, who knows.
                                                                      Where I live it's a very, useful example of how to describe attitudes, behaviors, mannerisms, pretentions, etc. It actually describes these concepts very well.
                                                                      The movie to some may be 'silly' and 'frivolous but', for others it's useful.
                                                                      Ever see "LA Story"? Another one.

                                                                      1. re: latindancer

                                                                        I've seen both movies and it would never occur to me to use either to make a point. But that's just me. But if I were to use one of them I would use LA Story; Steve Martin is a genius.

                                                                        1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                          Latindancer replied BH stands for Beverly Hills.

                                                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                    <There are jus ttoo many variables that may arise to be completely prepared for if a person was not reared to be polite in the first instance>

                                                                    It certainly gives a person a 'leg up' if they were raised with politeness, however the opposite is also true.
                                                                    Being raised in a well-bred, polite and mannerly environment certainly doesn't guarantee results.

                                                              2. I don't have a lot to add, but thank you for raising the question, GraceW!

                                                                1. I grew up in a "neighborhood" in Brooklyn where friends, relatives and neighbors felt comfortable just "dropping in." Regardless of whether or not it was a formal invited gathering the rule was that you NEVER, EVER went empty handed. Since there was always coffee and conversation involved cakes or cookies were the norm. Otherwise, flowers, wine or even a 6 pack of beer worked. The "gift" need not be anything fancy.
                                                                  I host many brunch/dinner gatherings at my home and am always amazed at the empty handed guests. I guess they were just not brought up right.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Motosport

                                                                    Motorsport, have you heard the 'push the elevator button with your elbow' joke? I'm attaching a link to a version of it, just in case. I heard it originally with an Italian grandmother. But it crosses all ethnicities.


                                                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                      That's cute ;)

                                                                      In answer to the original question, I don't expect a lot from a one-time guest ... I expect more from a frequent guest who isn't reciprocating (sometimes this is understandable due to financial hardship).

                                                                      Of course it's always nice to bring something ... I appreciate wine, and offering to contribute to the menu is nice. I also appreciate a genuine offer of cleaning up afterwards. My everyday stuff goes in the dishwasher, but for company I use vintage dinnerware, glass, and silver that I wash by hand--and of course silver must be dealt with immediately. What I do not cotton to is a frequent, non-reciprocating guest who eats and runs. When this becomes a pattern, said frequency is sure to diminish.

                                                                  2. I would expect a dinner guest to bring a small token of their gratitude. It doesn't have to be a huge expenditure...flowers, wine, candy, etc.
                                                                    I would expect a guest to be polite and gracious and at least attempt to look like they're enjoying themselves so I'm not having to worry about their time in my home.
                                                                    I would simply expect a guest to 'go with the flow' and perhaps either call to let me know they enjoyed the time spent or send a communication in the way of a thank you.
                                                                    This is how, when I've been invited to someone's home, I've been.
                                                                    Relax, enjoy yourself. The fact that you've asked for assistance is a testimony to your character.