The proper etiquette for a dinner party will vary from party to party. The expectations surrounding a potluck with old friends are going to be very different from the expectations around a formal dinner party. But there are going to be some universals. Below are a few of our favorites.
Don't Arrive Too Early
You know how even if you plan everything out, something always comes up at the last minute to put you into a panic. It is going to be the same way for your hosts. Don't add to their pressures by showing up early. They already have a lot to do without entertaining you.
Do Ask What You Can Bring
Ask what you can do to help your hosts, and ask them when you RSVP. (I don't include RSVP'ing as a “Do” since any dinner guest likely to not respond to an invitation is unlikely to get invited in the first place.) Take your direction from what the host says. If they “Wine”, bring a bottle. But if they say “Nothing”, take them at their word. They will likely have a full menu plan and you bringing some appetizers won't be appropriate or appreciated. However, a small host/hostess gift is always thoughtful.
Don't Arrive Late
A dinner party has a schedule built into it, usually around the cooking of the main dish. Being late can interrupt that schedule, or at a minimum add unwanted stress to your hosts' evening. If you are going to be more than a few minutes late, always call ahead to warn them, and then use the rest of your drive over to come up with a really good excuse.
Do Talk to Strangers
Your Mom was right about many things, but this is not one of them. One of the real pleasures of a great dinner party is meeting new people in a relaxed, unhurried setting. Remember, if your hosts thought this new person was interesting enough to invite to dinner, you will probably also find them interesting and really enjoy the conversation. Also, your hosts will appreciate you making that person feel welcome.
DON'T STEAL THE SILVERWARE, EVEN IF IT IS IAN WILSON DESIGNS
You know you are going to want to, but just don't. Buy your own. Your food will taste that much better with you own legally acquired sets, and then you can have your hosts over to dinner at your place without having to hide it.
Do Offer to Help With the Cleaning Up
This is a bit tricky. You do want to offer to help clear and clean, but if your host insists they would prefer to do it themselves, go sit down and have another glass of wine. I have known some hosts who are pleased to get the clearing up done quickly so they can rejoin the party. They appreciate how much quicker it is when everybody pitches in. Others have a certain way they want things done, and really don't want others involved. So make a sincere offer, but back off if that is what the hosts want.
Don't Stay Too Long
This will require a bit of judgment on your part (not always easy if you have had a drink or three). Just as it is important to arrive at the proper time, it is also important to leave at the right time. Too early and you are short changing your yourself and the your hosts. Too late and you have become the guest from Hell. I cannot give any firm advice on this score other to be aware of hints from the hosts. If there are sneaking glances at their watches, it is probably time to pack up.
Do Thank Your Hosts the Next Day
Saying thank you is always appropriate to acknowledge the efforts of your hosts in throwing a dinner party. How you do this will depend upon the event. For a very casual affair, a simple text may suffice. For a more formal evening, a hand written note may be the ticket. Either way, your hosts were very generous to include you in their plans, and you should definitely let them know you recognize that.
A Quick Recap
Don't arrive too early
Don't arrive too late
Don't stay long
DEFINITELY DON'T STEAL THE SILVERWARE
Do ask what you can bring
Do talk to strangers
Do offer to help with the clearing up
Do thank your hosts the next day
Follow all these guides and you are well on your way to being the perfect guest. Who knows, you may even get invited to the next dinner party!