How to be the perfect party guest

Don't let this be you!

Today I realized I’m always raving about how awesome our friends are. How they totally contribute to all of our cocktail and dinner parties and enable us to have delightful gatherings week after week. If I had an unlimited budget, could buy as much food as I wanted, and could hire help to shake cocktails and do the dishes, I wouldn’t need our friends to be so helpful. But since most of us don’t have the luxury of hired help or a huge budget that allows us to buy whatever we’d like, most us need a little assist from our friends if we’re going to host parties regularly. So if you’d like to be the best guest at any party you’re invited to—and make sure you’re invited to the host’s parties again—here are a few simple steps you might take. Certainly, you don’t need to do all of these things, but if you do just a few of them, you can be sure you will be on the top of the guest list the next time the hostess is drawing up her guest list.

1) RSVP promptly! We have a lot of loosey-goosey affairs at which RSVPs are not strictly necessary, and admittedly RSVP’ing is not the strong suit of some of my friends, but if you’re invited to a party, let the host know as soon as possible whether you can attend. If it’s a small event, like a dinner party for eight, it’s absolutely critical to know who’s coming. Even if it’s a larger, more casual event, the host(ess) would probably love to know whether you’re coming. Even if your attendance won’t make a huge difference in my shopping or party preparations, I love to know that the invitation was seriously considered and not just ignored.

2) Ask what you can bring. When you RSVP to most parties, you should consider asking whether you could bring anything. If it’s a black-tie event or catered, the answer is probably “no,” but often we hosts and hostesses would be grateful for a little something extra added to the menu. If it’s a casual potluck barbecue, I might realize that we’re short on vegetable dishes or need some more meat to throw onto the grill. If it’s a big cocktail party, there might be a bottle of something special I’m wanting. One regular (and very much appreciated) attendee of our parties works very close to San Francisco’s swankiest liquor store, which I don’t have the time to visit very often (and get into far too much trouble when I do visit). He always asks what he can pick up from Cask for the party, for which I am always supremely grateful.

3) Make a last-minute call. This is absolutely optional, but if you want to be on the “A” list the next time the host invites people over, give this one a try. We have one frequent guest at our parties who usually calls or sends a text message when he’s leaving his house for the party to see if there’s anything we need. Usually the answer is “no,” but sometimes it’s not. Maybe the weather has suddenly turned very warm and I realize we could use another 10 pounds of ice. Maybe I burned the crostini for the hors d’oeuvres and I could use another baguette. Whether or not I actually need anything, I always appreciate his last-minute offer for help.

4) If dinner is being served, arrive on time! If it’s a casual cocktail soiree or all-day open house, as many of our events are, you have a lot of leeway on your arrival time, especially if you’ve alerted your hosts you might be late. But there’s nothing more dispiriting to spend a week planning an elaborate dinner menu only to have your first course of pasta turn into a gloppy mess because one of your guests is not-so-fashionably late.

5) Mix and mingle. I know that when I go to a party, I’m sometimes guilty of grabbing my few favorite people there and monopolizing them for the entire evening. But the Cocktail Host, who is much more extroverted than I am, does a much better job of working the crowd. He goes out of his way to meet new people and have interesting conversations with them when we’re at a party. As a hostess, I want to make sure all of my guests have a good time, and I do my best to introduce guests who might enjoy each others’ company. But, at the same time, if it’s a large party, I’m usually pretty busy slinging cocktails and refreshing the food, and I can’t keep a super-close eye on everyone. That’s why I always appreciate my outgoing friends who make it a point to introduce themselves to anyone they haven’t met before or anyone who doesn’t seem to know a lot of people at the party.

6) Help out (just a bit) during the party. Often people who arrive early ask whether they can help. The answer, in my case, is usually no, because I obsessively prepare for each party. But even if I’ve done everything I can to prepare for a party, there often reaches a point halfway through the evening when I’ve used every cocktail glass in the freezer and the dirty napkins are stacking up on the coffee table. The last thing I want is for a guest at one of my parties to feel like they have to do a lot of work, but if you see a need  you can fill in a quick ten minutes of help—maybe rinsing cocktail glasses, clearing dirty dishes and napkins from the living room, or stoking the fireplace in the parlor—I love it when people just take care of that without asking.

7) Don’t overstay your welcome. Our parties tend to run fairly late, which is fine with us, especially since when I’m getting plum tuckered out, the Cocktail Host is getting his second wind, and he is usually happy staying up until the wee hours gabbing with the few remaining guests. That said, there is a point at which your hosts are probably fading fast. If the advertised hour of the party has passed, think twice about settling in for another drink, and it’s 4 a.m. and your hostess has fallen asleep on the couch, it’s definitely time for you to be heading home (unless you’ve had one cocktail too many, in which case we’re more than happy to pull out some pillows and quilts and set you up on the sleeper sofa).

8) Share photos. Perhaps this is just because I like to blog about entertaining, but I suspect most hosts and hostesses would be thrilled to have a few photos of their party after the fact, whether to share or just have for their own amusement. I always mean to take photos of my parties but I get busy shaking cocktails and making appetizers. If you have a camera and some minimal photography skills, I bet the host(ess) would love to see any pictures that you’ve taken.

9) Send a note of thanks. Again, this isn’t something I expect from my guests, but it makes my day when I get a note—either by email, or, even better, snail mail—telling me that they enjoyed the party. If you had a particularly good time, if you met someone who interested you, if you tasted something you had never had before, your hostess would probably love to hear about it.

So when you’re hosting a party, what do your guests do that make your life a little easier?