So you’ve been invited to dinner or you have invited someone and there are certain rules before and after that are just as important as the table manners you display during a meal.
Basic Etiquette Before & After The Meal
Reply To The Invitation In A Timely Manner
First of all, you should reply promptly to an invitation. In the US, it’s also called RSVP which stands for repondez sil vous plait or please respond. Traditionally, you should respond in the same way you receive the invitation. So if someone called you, call back. If someone actually wrote you a card or a letter, you should write back.
At larger gatherings, you are usually asked to respond by a certain date and you should definitely not miss that line. If nothing is indicated on invitation, respond in a timely manner. If you’re not sure about it yet, just give it a few days but not longer. If you already know whether you can or cannot make it at a certain date, get back to them right away because the sooner they know, the better they can plan and accommodate you and what you need. Once you’ve replied, add it to your calendar so you won’t forget it. Note, the invitation is only ever for people that are mentioned on the invitation.
By asking them if you can bring friends or your kids, you may put an unfair restrain on them because they may have budgetary reasons not to invite more people or they may not like others to be there so, just be polite and respect their wishes. On the other hand, if it’s an informal invitation, let’s say a barbecue at the neighbors, it’s totally fine to send them a text or call them and ask who exactly is invited. Children can always be tricky because on the one hand, they’re part of your family and you may not be inclined to pay for a babysitter, at the same time, it’s best to assume they’re not invited. If it hasn’t specifically mentioned children, look at the time of the event, a cocktail party likely is not meant to include children, a brunch, on the other hand, maybe so. In any case, if you bring your kids along, make sure to know proper table manners.
Inform The Hosts In Advance If You Have Food Allergies
If you suffer from any food allergies, you should tell the hosts in advance, otherwise, they may prepare a meal and not be able to change and accommodate you on the spot. If you have a special diet that’s not medically prescribed, such as the Paleo diet, it’s quite impolite to ask the host to accommodate that because there may be other people invited.
Maybe you have actual allergies such as gluten intolerance, a seafood allergy, and if you also have requests, at the end of the day, the host may narrow down in the portfolio what they can offer. So if you’re truly not open to any other kinds of foods, not even willing to try a little bit of something that isn’t something you like, then I suggest you rather decline the invitation, otherwise, it will create awkward moments and people will be maybe irritated about you.
Always Keep Your Commitments
You should always keep your commitments. Not only does this reflect poorly in your character and people may consider you flaky, but the host and or hostess have gone to incredible lengths to accommodate you, they went grocery shopping, they made a meal plan, they invested in their liquor cabinet, in their wine selection, and they just made a huge effort, so just not showing up is extremely disrespectful. Cancellations for anything other than medical emergencies maybe deaths in a family, or other serious reasons, are simply not acceptable.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to back out of an invitation, always give a reason and apologize. Don’t just say I can’t come because that is extremely rude. Generally, it’s a good idea to confirm the invitation, the date, the occasion, and the time, just a few days in advance to make sure everyone is on the same page and no one marked it wrong on their calendar.
Offer To Bring Something
If you are invited to a dinner party, maybe a barbecue, or any other kind of informal arrangement, you should always offer to bring something. Only ask if you’re actually prepared to bring what the host requests from you. Most hosts won’t ask you to bring six bottles of champagne but if they do and you don’t bring it, it makes it look extremely cheap.
Also, be considerate and never create more work for the host. True story, once I had a guest and he volunteered to bring something so we asked them to bring dessert and they showed up with a box of brownie mix. I don’t have time to prepare dessert it has to be ready. If they say don’t bring anything at all, then you should definitely bring a gift such as a bottle of wine, maybe some chocolates, or flowers.
If you know the host and hostess pretty well or you know if they have a specific hobby or something small that they would particularly like, it’s a very nice gesture of you to accommodate that because it makes them feel special and they can see that you put effort into it. You should never assume that a six-pack of beer or the wine you bring is for your own or for immediate consumption, it’s a gift and that’s it. If the host decides to open the bottle, it’s up to them, but you should never expect that in any way, shape, or form.
Show Up On Time
Always make sure to arrive on time which means you show up exactly the requested time or about 5 to 10 minutes later. Never show up earlier because everyone who has ever hosted a party knows that there’s a lot of work to be done and if guests show up early and you’re not done yet with your preparations, it’s frustrating and it’s just hard for you to manage with your time.
So don’t be that guy who shows up early. If you’re stuck in traffic or you know you’re gonna be late in 5 or 10 minutes, call ahead, let them know and don’t just leave a voicemail or a text. Make sure they get the message because otherwise, they may have food that will be bad by the time you arrive and it doesn’t just affect you, if you have to eat a well-done steak but also as the host or hostess, you’re embarrassed and you feel like your investment was wasted if someone just shows up and the food is not good anymore. Many restaurants won’t seat you if show up more than 15 minutes late and even a home-based setting, it’s just impolite and rude.
Greet The Hosts Personally
Once you arrive, you should always greet the host and a hostess personally. Ideally with a handshake or a hug depending on what culture you’re in. If other people are invited that you don’t know, a good host will always introduce you to each other and he will always try to point out a similarity so you have a starting point for your conversation. Unfortunately, not all hosts do that. In that case, introduce yourself in the same way you would, otherwise.
Never Ask To Bring Anything Home
Once the meal is over, they may be leftovers. If you’re at someone’s home, you never ask to bring anything home even if you brought the dessert or the salad, you just leave it there in its entirety. If it’s a bowl or a tray that you’re particularly attached to, you can get it back at a later point in time but don’t create extra stress by having the host clean your bowl so you can take it home right away.
If at a restaurant, it’s a little different. If you are in Europe or in a business meeting, I suggest you don’t ask for boxes because it may come up as awkward, otherwise, in the US, in a more social setting, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask for a box to bring your leftovers home.
When Dining Out, Who Pays The Bill?
If you’re the restaurant, It can be a little tricky. In countries like Germany, if someone specifically invites you, it implies that they’re going to pay for the meal. In the US, it’s a little different because it only implies that your presence is welcomed, not that your bill will be paid for. Unless someone specifically says “let me buy you dinner”. Don’t assume that someone else will pay for your meal.
In more ambiguous situations, let’s say at a business meal, the person requesting the meeting should always pay for the dinner, of course, if you’re a business owner and a customer requests a meeting, you as the business owner should pay for dinner. The worst thing you can do is to argue over a bill at the restaurant. Sometimes people stubbornly insist on paying the tip and it’s a long back-and-forth and that’s almost worse than if you would just pay the entire bill or nothing at all because it creates a negative vibe.
In social situations in the US, you should assume that you pay for what you consumed, on the other hand, if you go to Italy, it’s very normal that you just split the bill evenly by the number of heads no matter who consumed what. If you splurged and added caviar for an appetizer, the champagne, or the Kobe beef, you should never offer to just split the bill evenly because that would mean other people have to pay for your luxury expenditures.
Never Leave Too Early Or Too Late – Be On The Lookout For Cues
It’s always impolite to leave a party early or right after dinner because it implies that you’re just there for the food and you’re not interested in the company. At the same time, don’t stay too late. Look for cues of the host, are they may be yawning because they’re tired, already starting to clean up and doing the dishes, or staring at their watch many times, or maybe have they stopped serving drinks two hours ago, that’s the case, it’s time to leave now.
I have been the host for a number of times where people really didn’t get the cue, in that case, I had to say you know, “I really have to get up early tomorrow morning, so it was a pleasure to have you but I must go to bed now” and that’s when I understood it. Usually, you’ll never have to go to those lengths because people will get your cues but if you have to say something, be polite and friendly.
No matter if you’re at a party with a hundred people or at a small intimate dinner, you should always personally say goodbye to the host and hostess. It’s quite rude to just disappear and people sometimes think “oh I don’t want to disturb them they’re just in conversation”, if they are, just wait, stick it out, and say goodbye personally because otherwise, they will always remember you in a bad way as the person who just leaves without saying goodbye.
If you’re part of a smaller dinner party with maybe four, six, eight, or ten people, you should always say goodbye to everybody. Of course, in a larger party, it’s not feasible to shake 200 hands and so it’s okay to just say goodbye to the host, maybe the people you had a conversation with or the people you know very well. In a business meeting, that means you shake everyone’s hand. If you’re in Germany, it also means you shake everyone’s hand no matter if it’s business or social. In the US, that’s not necessarily the case.
Be Sure To Return The Favor
If you enjoyed your evening, you should always return the favor and invite the host and hostess to you. It doesn’t matter if you think you can’t cook, you either come up with an idea or you invite them to a nice restaurant that you like and pick up the bill, it’s just a way to show them that you appreciate that they invited you and that you like to hang out with them. If you never invite people back, eventually, they’ll stop inviting you and that will be the end of the relationship.
Also, don’t come up with cheap excuses along the lines of “oh well, what could I offer them that they don’t know or they don’t have?”, even if they’re in a completely different pay grade than you are, they will always appreciate a sincere invitation and you can have great meals on a small dime. Just make it special, make it yours, and they’ll appreciate it. If not, maybe they are not the right people to hang out with in the first place. If someone invited you to their home, it is nice to invite them to your home as well. Again it doesn’t matter if you live in a much smaller place and it’s not as impressive what counts is the gesture.
Do Your Research
Etiquettes are different in different cultures and countries. If you’re traveling to a specific place, make sure to look up common habits beforehand so you know what you’re getting into and you’re not being perceived as rude.