I love Entertaining. Dinner parties are my happy place! But the flip side of that coin involves being a good guest. I've made plenty of gaffs in my time and often had to relearn lessons about what to do (and what not to do) in the subtle art of Guesting.
These are the 7 Unbreakable Rules of being a Good Guest. But life doesn't always go to plan and that sometimes necessitates a little artful side-stepping. As the saying goes, "rules are meant to be broken." But if you have to break one, here are some less awkward (read: rude) ways to break them and get asked back again.
RULE No. 1: RSVP (the right way). Once you receive an invitation, the best thing you can do is to check your calendar and respond as soon as possible in the same way you were invited.
The reason is that busy Hosts have set up a system for sending invitations and receiving replies. If you respond outside of that invitation, your response can get lost or miscounted.
HOW TO BREAK IT: You meant to reply, but you forgot to put the invitation into your Google Calendar and got your dates mixed up. If you missed a party entirely, there's nothing you can do except send your Host a card and an apology (and a damn good present) to make up for that gaff.
If there's still time to attend, you have to get hot on the phone to your Host, apologize profusely and hope that they're gracious enough to reinstate your place at their table. Of course, this is easier if the event was a BBQ or cocktail party and trickier if it was a formal, sit-down lunch or dinner. Either way, accept your Host's response with grace and good humor and offer to take them out somewhere nice for a drink or dinner at their earliest convenience.
Rule No. 2: ARRIVING LATE/LEAVING EARLY. Your Uber/Baby-Sitter/Flight was unexpectedly delayed, and you are way past "fashionably late." It happens.
HOW TO BREAK IT: Please text (don't call) your Hosts to let them know as quickly as possible and insist they start without you. Stay late, help clean up, and then send a little something the next day. You'll get away with it, but not twice! On the other hand, if you have to leave a party early because your presence is suddenly and urgently required elsewhere, you better be a doctor on call. Otherwise, you've either double-booked (really?!) or you are sending a clear signal to your Hosts that you don't value their company. Either way, send something thoughtful and you'll eventually be forgiven.
Rule No. 3: Dueling parties. Planning a conflicting party with the same guests on the same date as another party constitutes Hostess Warfare. Don’t go there. If you weren't invited to a party, the worst thing you can do is try and pull guests away from that event to yours. It's just plain childish, looks desperate, and rarely works.
HOW TO BREAK IT: If you innocently planned an event and can't get out of it without major expense/hassle/drama, then the best thing you can do is try and work with the opposing Hosts to accommodate both events as seamlessly as possible. If that can't happen, then do your best to be good-humored about it. This is why they have Save The Date cards!
Rule No. 4: Assuming a "Plus One." An invitation to a party doesn't automatically come with a guest pass. This is especially true at a sit-down lunch or dinner party, where your Host has probably planned a chair and place for every guest. You aren’t allowed to ask to bring a friend but…
HOW TO BREAK IT: If your friend from out of town has suddenly descended upon you at the last minute and you feel guilty leaving him home alone, you may send a private message explaining the situation to your Host. Be prepared to take no for an answer. If you score an extra invite, bring an extra bottle (or two), and for God's sake, make sure your Plus One is charming and doesn't pass out on the sofa!
Rule No. 3: Bringing Bad Juju. The only thing worse than canceling last minute because of a bad mood is not canceling and bringing your bad mood with you! A party is a living, breathing thing, and you don’t want to infect it with your negative vibes. That’s a thing, trust me.
HOW TO BREAK IT: Time to trot out your best Meryl Streep imitation and start acting. I find a good glass of something and talking to someone genuinely funny always works for me. Be careful: that bad mood can often cause you to drink too much and get sloppy, which brings us to…
Rule No. 4: Getting Drunk and Sloppy. I'm a total lightweight, so will admit that I have had to learn this lesson more than once. Depending on your Hosts, cutting loose and having a jolly time is perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who drinks too much and then spends the rest of the night crying in the bathroom or telling everyone at the party how you used to sleep with your Host before he got married, then you may have to enact to some self-imposed rules around drinking.
HOW TO BREAK IT: A Wine-Spritzer is my favorite way to drink all through a party and not get too drunk. I know they are incredibly tacky and 70s, but I like that! If you overdid it, then a short text or note apologizing is the best way to go. And if you broke anything, you have to offer to pay for it. I'd also drop off a replenish-able gift to be on the safe side.
Rule No. 5: Special Diet. There is only one thing more tedious than accommodating a special diet…and that’s not accommodating a special diet and suffering the consequences!
HOW TO BREAK IT: If you (or your invited “Plus-One”) have any special legitimate dietary restrictions, let your Hosts know well in advance of the party. Food or animal allergies can usually be handled without much bother to Hosts or Guests if you give them enough lead time. BTW: Celiac Disease or an allergy to shellfish constitutes a legitimate dietary restriction. Your aversion to cilantro does not.
Rule No. 7: No Party PAPs. You may think that the photo of your friend diving topless into the pool is innocent and fun “you can’t even see your nipples!” but she might have another opinion on the subject. By all means, take photos but don’t post them unless you get explicit approval from anyone in the frame...and your Hosts!
HOW TO BREAK THEM: I like handing out those old-school disposable cameras. Just make sure everyone knows they’re not a party favor! If you posted unauthorized Party Pics and someone got annoyed, take them down immediately, without complaint or fanfare. And never speak of it again until you're much (much) older and it's hilarious. Because unless they are running for Parliament, it almost certainly will be!
These Rules have less to do with adherence to strict Victorian etiquette and are more about basic good manners. A good rule of thumb is the more formal the party, the closer you should stick to the Hard 7. The good news is that everyone has broken a few (if not all) of them. Almost any social sin will be forgiven with a sincere apology and a nice Hostess Gift. You know what to do.