Expert reveals how to be the perfect party host
and guest ahead of the festive season
With the festive season fast approaching, there will no doubt be many dinner parties and Christmas-themed gatherings to attend and host over the next few weeks.
But what are the key things you should be doing when hosting a party or attending one as a guest? To find out, Avant Homes teamed up with Laura Windsor, etiquette expert and founder of The Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy, who has explained how to be the perfect host and guest for a range of occasions…
Hosting a dinner party
At any gathering, a host should be ready to meet and greet guests as they arrive, take coats, and offer drinks. When introducing guests for the first time, they should provide appropriate introductory information to ensure the conversation between the individuals gets underway.
The host should spend no more than two to three minutes with each guest, indulge in some small talk ‘thanks for coming”, ‘it’s great to see you again’, and then proceed to the next guest.
Many hosts forget that if they are hosting a dinner, the main attraction is not the food, but the company and the conversation. That’s why putting together a guest list is one of the most challenging aspects that hosts encounter.
There has to be the right mix of guests who will get on with each other and whom you can count on to be fun and entertaining.
At a seated dinner, you can divide guests by personalities. For example, don’t put talkative people on one end of the table and the shy ones on the other.
Lighting should be bright enough for your guests to see but not glaring. For more intimate affairs such as dinner parties and small gatherings, dimmer switches are perfect as are table lamps which are flattering and softer than overhead lights.
The music should reflect the mood and theme of the party. For dinner parties, the music should be just loud enough to be distinct but not drown out the conversation, as conversation is the most important element, for any party.
Hosting a Christmas party
At a Christmas drinks party, hosts can offer a buffet-style dinner where a substantial amount of food is served and where guests help themselves. This means that the table needs to be away from a door to avoid people queuing near the door.
The ‘bar’ area and buffet table should also be in separate areas. Hosts should mark an entry point of a buffet with a pile of plates.
The mistake a lot of people make is to put cutlery and napkins next to the plates. This makes it difficult for guests to hold everything and serve themselves at the same time. Normally cutlery is placed at the other end of the table, so once guests serve themselves, they can then pick up their utensils at the end.
Food needs to be replenished when a third of the food is left. At buffets, people prefer to use only a fork, so it’s best to offer something easy to eat.
How to be the perfect party guest
Being a good guest begins with the way you respond to an invitation. Once the invitation has been sent, it is polite to reply within 24 hours. Even if the invitation has been sent via email or a text message and doesn’t ask for an RSVP, it’s considerate to let your host know whether you will be attending or not.
Notify the host as soon as you can if you have an allergy or any dietary requirements. Telling them last-minute, or worse, at the event, will inconvenience the host and disrupt the smooth running of the evening.
Guests should not arrive early to an event. If you turn up early, the host may not yet be dressed or may want to take a 10-minute breather after last-minute preparations. Guests should arrive between 10 and 15 minutes later than the time stated on the invitation.
As a guest you can offer to help but don’t insist or hover. Your job is to mingle, mingle, and mingle some more and help make the party a success. You should focus on interesting topics, steering clear of negative or personal ones. If you see guests who seem shy or are on their own, engage them in conversation, make them feel at home, and introduce them to other guests.
Watch out for clues that the host wishes to end the evening’s party. It’s the guest’s responsibility to leave at an appropriate hour. If an end time was written on the invitation, honour it. One way of making sure you do not overstay your welcome is to leave when most people are on their way out.
It is also bad form to turn up to anyone’s house empty-handed. The host has gone to a lot of trouble to make your visit as pleasurable and flawless as possible, so a show of appreciation is always welcomed. A gift does not have to be extravagant, just thoughtful; make sure you are certain that the gift is something the person, or people, hosting the party would really like to receive.
Guests should always say goodbye to the host before they leave. It is extremely rude not to and, if the gathering was small, you will be remembered!