Both hosts and guests must perform distinct duties and responsibilities at every dinner party.
A host’s duty is to plan every detail ahead of time. We’ve all been to parties where the hosts are scrambling around at the last minute to get this or that done, barely enjoying the company and conversations of their guests. As a guest, I feel terrible seeing hosts constantly popping in and out of the room, unable to relax and enjoy their own party.
A guest’s responsibility is to show up on time and if running late to call the host to give them an estimated time of arrival. Never leave home without the telephone number of your host, so if anything happens while on the road you can call. Also, if you know you must leave early, perhaps by a certain time, do inform the host upon arrival so they will be aware should you suddenly disappear.
A host should always be the person who initiates all actions at the dining table from start to finish. This is true of all cultures in the world.
Likewise, a guest should always look to the host for signals to begin doing anything throughout the meal. As a guest, you should wait for the host to place their napkin on their lap, signal to pass the bread or begin to eat and propose a toast before you do any of these things. For a guest to do anything before the host is a sign the guest is so hungry that she or he is being rude and greedy by not waiting for the host or anyone else at the table.
A host should initiate and monitor the dinner conversation throughout the meal. It is important to know something about each of the guests to help springboard conversations. Likewise, guests should also know something about the other guests. Feel free to call and ask a host ahead of time who else they have invited to dinner and to tell you a bit about them.
I’ve often been asked whether placing one’s elbows on the table, talking with your mouth full or slurping soup are considered poor table manners in all cultures. My response is yes and no. First, until you are physically in a country that allows such behavior, don’t do it. Second, why bother to practice a skill that could be considered bad manners in any country or culture? Rather, my style of instruction is to build a solid foundation of what I call “default skills” that will allow you to be relaxed and confident in any situation, anywhere in the world.
My habit is to never put my elbows on the table, slurp my soup or make noise while I’m eating. But when I go to Asia, I have the most fun doing all these things. It is my little treat!
Next month: Western family-style dining in time for Thanksgiving.
Syndi Seid is a professional trainer, speaker, and founder Advanced Etiquette. See AdvancedEtiquette.com for more information.