10 steps to becoming a better dinner party guest

In another decade, the table manners that our parents once scolded us over may well become a UNESCO protected cultural legacy. Generation Y will go down in history as the cohorts that discarded the butter knife and accompanying accoutrements in favour of a smartphone littered table. But as old-school manners and finishing school etiquette become a rarity, it’s high-time we re-evaluated the status quo of modern dinner party decorum.

1. Rapid response
No one likes to be left hanging, not least someone trying to organise life and death matters such as ‘numbers’ and ‘seating’. When invited to dinner, be sure to respond promptly and enthusiastically — “Why Susan, you’ve just made my day!”

2. Dietary requirements
Don’t wait until the evening of to tell your host that gluten gives you IBS. Let them know as soon as possible so they can make alternative arrangements. More considerate guests would offer to BYO dish.

3. Bring a gift
While good conversation might forgive your fork-holding foibles, it certainly won’t excuse turning up empty-handed. If the host has implored you to ‘just bring yourself ’ (and your good banter) don’t be the person who takes it literally. A bottle of wine is good, a thoughtful gift is even better — something that reflects recent life events will leave an excellent impression.

4. The electronics
For duck’s sake, put them away. Having one’s phone on the table makes everyone feel agitated, as though you value the updates on your Instagram feed more than the badinage taking place around you. As it turns out, that message from your colleague actually can wait. Unless you are a cardiothoracic surgeon, in which case, you are excused.

5. Ask questions
To each person in your immediate vicinity, at least once throughout the evening. It’s a simple habit that many of us, even if dining with our habitual posse, forget to do. Ask your companions about the most exciting part of their day, what they’re working on at the moment, whether they have an upcoming holiday planned. If you’re struggling because the person sitting opposite just told you they worked as an assistant at a mortuary, simply turn the topic to something more universal. It’s common sense to brush up on the recent current a airs, before heading into a blazing inferno of rogue conversation. Better to talk about the state of FARC in Colombia than the benefits of formaldehyde.

6. Propose a toast
When it comes time to consume the fodder painstakingly prepared for you, remember that 1) someone needs to propose a toast to the person organising and 2) you should never proceed to eat — not even nibble at — what is on your plate before the host has served themselves, settled in, and received the aforementioned toast.

7. Attention to detail
As you zealously throw yourself into your first course, muttering sounds of indecipherable approval, remember that soups and consommés should be tipped away from your person, cutlery should be put to rest in between mouthfuls, your fork swapped into the other hand if you’re using it upside down, and olive pips, if discovered, discreetly spat into your left hand and placed on the side of your plate.

8. As the night goes on
…and you imbibe more wine, challenges will arise including the simple act of eating with your mouth firmly closed and refraining from talking over those around you. If you take only one thing away from this list, let it be this: whether dining with your mother, son, best friend or worst client, no one deserves to be conversationally bulldozed by yours truly.

9. Dab, don’t wipe
And we don’t mean throwing your arms to one side in an impromptu dance move. We mean using your napkin to daintily touch at the sides of your gob so as to remove excess sauce etcetera. Aggressively mopping your dinner cloth over the lower half of your face is far too brutish and should only be done if said cloth is wet and flannel-like — and you are in the privacy of a bathroom.

10. The thank you note
Old school rules dictate that if linen napkins have been used at a dinner party then a thank you note is expected. However, our modern interpretation of this lofty decree is that if someone has pulled their thumb out of their derrière long enough to organise an actual, real-life dinner party, with more than one course involved, at their house, then you really ought to send a note no matter what the fabric of the face-wipe.

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