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10 dinner party etiquette tips from Charles the Butler

Whether you’re hosting or attending, follow our expert’s advice on minding your Ps and Qs at any get-together.

Waiter, butler, with silver platter tray

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What should I get the host? Do I have to serve wine that guests brought the same night? Dinner party etiquette can be tricky, but not to fret. Charles MacPherson, Founder and President of Charles MacPherson Academy for Butlers & Household Managers and best-selling author of The Butler Speaks, shares his top tips for making sure guests and hosts alike are on their best behaviour before, during and after a dinner party.

1. Bring a gift for your host(s)

Appropriate gift ideas could be a book from the best-seller list that you enjoyed, or you think the host would like; a potted flowering plant; pictures from when you were last together at a cottage, birthday party or family get-together; printed paper cocktail napkins; and, of course, an excellent go-to is a bottle of wine or champagne.

2. Present your gift discreetly

Don’t offer your gift to the host in front of everyone, rather pull him or her aside or put it away until a more private moment presents itself.

3. As the host, accept gifts tactfully

If you receive wine or champagne, first thank the guest who brought it, then it’s up to you whether to serve it or save it for another time. There’s no obligation to serve it to the person who gave it to you; when your guests bring wine or champagne they’re being gracious and giving you something they think you’ll enjoy. Drink as you wish when you wish.

4. Unplug and unwind

No cell phones, and that’s a non-negotiable. Make a point of talking to everyone, not just the person you find fascinating on your left. And really listen when someone is talking so you can engage in the conversation. Also, relax and enjoy yourself—if you’re having a good time, others will too.

5. Be adventurous

Forget your picky palette, and try a little of everything your hosts are offering up.

6. Pace yourself

You shouldn’t force yourself to over eat, but your hosts have gone to the trouble and expense to cook for you, so try to make your best effort.

7. Don’t forget the thank you card

As a guest, you should always send a thank you note or email, or at the very least call afterwards. As the host, you should always thank anyone who gave you a present either by telephone or card.

8. Express and address dietary needs

It’s the responsibility of the guest to let the host know about any allergies at the time of the invitation. Don’t ask what’s on the menu, but simply note your allergies and that you wanted him or her to be aware. As the host, if you’re going to try something super exotic, like wild boar on the BBQ, don’t be afraid to ask guests if they’re okay with that ahead of time.

9. The art of conversation

Guests should always be aware of current events to help encourage casual conversation. Read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or scan Internet news pages. Think about what is hot and popular, so you’re in-the-know and ready to participate when the time comes.

10. It’s all about the right attitude

Other than a gift for the host, there’s no need to bring anything more than a smile. Let the host run their party and enjoy yourself!