How to Be the Guest That Gets Invited to Every Dinner

So—what's the right time to leave a gathering, anyway?

November 10, 2021
Photo by Alex Testere

Should you ask your guests to bring something? How do you keep people out of the kitchen? How do you serve everything at the right temp? Feel like you've forgotten how to be a good host? (Same.) In our latest series, Be My Guest, a friendly expert takes on questions from our community and deftly puts fears to rest, suggesting all the ways in which we can all get back to hosting safely—and confidently. It is (almost) the holidays after all!

One of my greatest, most embarrassing desires in life is to be well-liked, and one of my greatest fears is that the people I revere the most detest me. I have been told this isn’t the case (yet!), but I’ve also developed some opinions on how to be the sort of guest people want to have around. I have distilled them into four rules.

  1. Have fun.
  2. Ask people questions about themselves. When they answer, listen.
  3. Arrive with one piece of juicy gossip.
  4. Don’t get too drunk. If you do, send flowers.

As my mother always told me, in order to have a good friend, you need to be a good friend. She also has an excellent collection of eccentric coats—another great way to receive compliments and garner intrigue at a party. But there are, of course, more specific concerns regarding being a good guest—so let’s get into some of your questions.

What is the best way to let a host know you have dietary restrictions/preferences?

If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, give your host plenty of heads-up—that is, tell them as soon as you decide to attend—and offer to bring a dish that you can eat. If they’re a good host, they won’t let you, but they’ll be grateful that you offered to make their life a little easier. A quick text like the below will suffice:

Shop the Story

Hi AJ, thanks so much for inviting me! I’d love to come. One quick note: I’m vegan these days, but I don’t want you to have to change your menu on my account. I’m happy to bring something that I can eat, just let me know what you’d prefer. I’ll be sure to bring some wine, too.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Thoughtful article especially the example of a text about dietary needs. I would caution folks to bring a unique mug as a gift. So many of us love mugs and I’m sure I’m not the only middle aged person who has cabinets bursting full of unique, sentimental and thoughtfully given mugs that I can’t part with! ”
— SonjaM

As far as “preferences” go: Picky eaters should try to minimize their own fussing. If you’re worried that you won’t like anything at dinner, snack beforehand and sit next to someone who will eat your scraps to save you from seeming rude. Nothing is more impolite than a wasted meal.

Do I offer to bring a dish if invited to a dinner party?

A quick call, text, or email to ask your host if you can bring anything will suffice. Follow the directions you’re given, and if they assure you that you need not bring anything, it’s your duty to take them at your word. If you despise showing up empty-handed, bring a small but un-showy housewarming gift (like a pair of candles, or a beautiful tea towel, or unique mug).

Now, maybe your host tells you that you can bring something if you want to. If you do want to, some fail-safe carry-along options are Martha’s Mac and Cheese, a dressed-up green bean casserole, a soba noodle salad, or these irresistible PB&J Brownies. And If you’re bringing something in a cooking dish that you’d like to carry home with you, it’s always thoughtful to BYO-reusable storage, so you can deal with your own leftovers without rudely carrying out half a casserole when the party is over.

What is the right time to leave a party?

Unless you have a babysitter to pay, you must stay until dinner is over and dessert has been served. Wait at least ten minutes after everyone has finished eating, so you don’t appear to have dined and dashed. But if you’re tired, or antsy, or feeling antisocial, leaving when you want to will be a more socially appropriate choice than staying and harshing the vibe. Just send a graceful thank-you text in the morning to your host, to remind them how much you enjoyed yourself.

If you’re worried about staying too late, watch your host: if they’re starting to tidy up, turning down the music, turning up the lights, yawning, or looking longingly towards the bedroom, start packing up. You’ll set a good example for the other guests. And if you’re desperate to continue the party, start a little parade to the nearest bar—your host will thank you as they drift off to a peaceful sleep.

What was your biggest rookie mistake as a guest? Spill the beans in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • emily
  • Charleen
  • SonjaM
  • Bailey
  • Lanbriget
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



emily November 24, 2021
My favorite host gifts are homemade candles (I make nice ones and I know which scents my friends enjoy), flowers, fancy butter or salt, or something for them to eat for breakfast the next day (fresh bagels, bloody mary mix, that sort of thing).
Charleen November 21, 2021
Oh, PLEASE, no more mugs!
SonjaM November 15, 2021
Thoughtful article especially the example of a text about dietary needs. I would caution folks to bring a unique mug as a gift. So many of us love mugs and I’m sure I’m not the only middle aged person who has cabinets bursting full of unique, sentimental and thoughtfully given mugs that I can’t part with!
Steven W. November 21, 2021
I'll have to disagree with reservations! We just purged over 30 mugs, some we had never used because of the sheer number of them! There were 5 we, like Sonja, had to keep. It may seem like a good idea, but perhaps people could scout ahead of time or ask it the recipient is overwhelmed with mugs and/or teacups!
Bailey November 14, 2021
This is so helpful! What I always wonder about, besides the questions in this post, is when to *arrive*. I’ve picked up somewhere that you should never arrive to a party right at the time on the invite, but rather at least ten minutes after that. But I’ve also heard that’s rude or outdated! What’s the truth?
Lanbriget November 10, 2021
Loved this article.. would really enjoy more articles similar style to this with “social norms” around dining discussed! Thanks F52 :)
Arati M. November 12, 2021
So glad you enjoyed it!! Did you read the other articles in this series? (they're embedded throughout this article)