Dinner Party Etiquette: 8 Things You Think Are Polite but Drive People Crazy

As kids, we’re told to mind our Ps and Qs and avoid pushing people in the sandbox. But then, when we become adults, there’s another, less-obvious set of rules that we’re expected to follow: dinner party etiquette. Unlike in preschool, no one sits you down and tells you that it’s wildly inappropriate to clear plates while people are still seated or blot a wine spill with a linen napkin. So, to make things easier, we’ve pulled together a list of no-nos from the experts—for both hosts and guests—to avoid becoming the topic of conversation (not in a good way) in everyone’s car ride home. 

Meet The Experts

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1. Being pushy with your dietary restrictions 

Naturally, we’re in the era of organic-, gluten-free- and vegan-everything. BUT, that doesn’t mean the host is responsible for you (and your keto kick) among a sea of other guests. According to Cordon, “​​[You] can’t expect hosts to accommodate every trendy health kick, diet or cleanse. If you are on strict eating regimen by choice, I would say eat what you can on the plate and definitely don’t draw attention to why you choose not to eat something. (Comments about why bread is terrible for you may make the person sitting next to you, who just downed four dinner rolls, feel a little sheepish!) If you are worried about being hungry, either eat a little something beforehand or just decline altogether. Remember, being gracious is about putting others first, and you never want to offend the person who kindly invited you into their home.” 

2. Spending all of your time in the kitchen

“Choose something that can be made ahead of time and served in one dish at the table,” says Fraser. “The key to great hosting is not being stuck in the kitchen when your guests have arrived! Also, leave dessert to the pastry chefs who make it best (at least for someone like me, whose baking abilities are limited) and opt for something easier, like coffee, post-dinner.” To that end, she also speaks to the importance of being ‘intentional’ when you’re entertaining (which is something she picked up while living in France): “The French are so intentional with their meals—from the menu to the table setting, it’s intentional but casual, with the ultimate goal of people sitting at the tables eating and drinking for hours on end.”

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3. Using a linen napkin to clean up red wine spills

Spills happen; that’s life. But how you handle the spill is more important than the stain itself. Per Grossman, “In the event of an unfortunate mishap, ask the host which towels they’d prefer you use to clean up the stain. While you’re at it, blot your lipstick before you sit down at the table, so you don’t leave behind waxy residue on the cloth serviette.” To that end, Carolina Hansson, head of design at Luxury Flooring and Furnishings, also recommends having some oil soap at hand before guests arrive. “If a spill occurs, you can simply blot up the liquid with a damp cloth, then scrub with a fresh cloth, hot water and oil soap solution…[just] remember to pat everything down with a dry cloth afterward.”

4. Preemptively clearing the plates from the table

We get it—the clock just struck 1 a.m., the button of your jeans are about to burst and no one seems to be making movements toward the exit. Yet, according to Gottsman, you should never start clearing plates when people are still sitting and chatting around the table. “If the host is sitting and enjoying their guests, resist the urge to take the dishes to the kitchen sink,” she says. “This gives an unspoken cue to other guests to rush through their meal, or worse, that they also should leap up and help with the dishes. Offer your host a hand with food preparation or cleanup, but respect their wishes if they decline your offer. Always follow your host’s lead.”

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5. Seating couples together 

Depending on the personalities you have at the table, seating can be tricky. But according to Clise, there’s one rule you should always follow when it comes to couples: “To facilitate mingling and conversation, split up couples and, if possible, alternate women and men so that everyone is sitting next to someone of the opposite gender. If the party is larger than four people, use place cards. Try to seat talkative people with quieter people and/or pair up people who might have common interests.” She also adds: “The hosts sit at the opposite ends of the table.”

6. Having an extended cocktail hour

Of course, the whole point of hosting a dinner party is to spend time with friends and family. Yet, at the same time, that doesn’t mean they want to be held hostage at your home for hours on end. “Don’t invite people to a dinner party at 5:30 p.m. if you aren’t going to serve dinner until 8 p.m.,” says Cordon. “An hour is plenty of time for cocktails…Emily Post once said that people like to come to homes where there is a ‘happy combination of some attention of the part of the hostess and the perfect freedom of the guests to occupy their time as they choose.’”

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7. Bringing a gift that requires fridge space

It goes without saying that you should always bring a gift when you’re attending a dinner party. You just don’t want to bring something that’s going to create even more work for your host. “Many of us live in small apartments and houses, and our fridges don’t have unlimited space. With all of the drinks and dinner prep in there (not to mention the hosts’ own food), there will be little space for a bulky six-pack of craft beer,” Roberts explains. “It’s safe to assume your host enjoys cooking, [so] give them something they can use for an upcoming meal (or that they might not purchase for themselves). Head to your local deli and ask them what they recommend. Your local farmer’s market is also a great place to find some local brands of olive oil and vinegar while supporting local.” Or, of course, you can always Amazon Prime a beautiful bottle of olive oil if you’re strapped for time. 

8. Showing up fashionably late

It’s nice to give the host some time to prepare, but you don’t want to be the guest who shows up an hour late. “While you have a 10- [to] 15-minute window to arrive at a cocktail party, a dinner party follows more precise timing. It’s important to be punctual so that you won’t find yourself ringing the doorbell after guests have taken their seats at the table or worse, causing everyone to wait for you when the food is ready and getting cold,” Grossman explains. 

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Assistant Editor

Sydney Meister is PureWow's Assistant Editor, covering everything from dating trends and relationship advice (here's looking at you, 'soonicorns') to interior design, beauty...