Here is my conviction: not all of us are called to be the perfect hostess. Not everybody loves the thrill of planning, preparing, hosting, and decorating events, nor need they. The plain fact is that for every 8-12 friends, we really need only 3-4 who love this position to keep a sort of fun party atmosphere going throughout the year. Though the greater percentage of us might not love the prospect of opening our home and food under the scrutinizing eyes of others, most of us agree to attend them. Which has me thinking… there are many books and cookbooks about hosting etiquette, but what about the guests, the rest of the “group,” the other 66 percent? What makes the perfect dinner guest?
In my early twenties, post-university, I moved to New York and began to work in the field of personal assisting and fashion. Such a profession lacks the glamour one might imagine: in general, I was the afterthought at the end of personal introductions. However, when a few months of trotting to fancy affairs, clutching three Blackberries, and having my hastily smeared-on mascara still drying from the cab ride to the black-tie event had gone by, I began to receive invitations to dinners from people I thought were relative strangers. Though I had met the hosts in passing at prestigious events held outside of my general society or specialty, I still decided to start going. Thus it was, I found myself sipping specialty drinks and eating excruciatingly delicious appetizers, chatting with strangers about everything from my thesis on Wallace Stevens to growing up in inner-city London.
After I was invited to more than one dinner at which I knew only the host or hostess, I began to wonder how it was I was receiving invitations to such events in the first place. Then I noticed a detail that before had seemed coincidental and obscure but which turned out to be foundational. I was always seated beside the odd-person out, whether they were the only professor in a sea of fashionista socialites, or the religious worker in the midst of politicos. One host invited me to his family home leading with “we really need someone to talk to Mr. X (not his real name)—we have to invite him and he never talks, and we heard you were interested in his specialty. And you’re so easy to have around.” Translation: I always dress appropriately, try to make conversation, and bring flowers.
The proverbial light bulb flashed above my head: I had become the type of guest that anyone can invite to their dinner party, cocktail hour, 4th of July BBQ, or potluck dinner. I had become a Professional Dinner Guest.
Thus it is, friends and readers that I wish to embark on a little series where we explore what it takes to become the person no host or hostess needs to worry about inviting. To have those few little qualities that, in fact, culminate to make you a desirable asset to any event. It’s not even a complicated science, but I find, and I think that you’ll agree, that we often forget the little things in this mad rush of world around us.
So, in the upcoming posts in this series, we will to go over the most important things for us to remember before rushing off to our friend’s homes—the little touches that will always have your host, hostess or friend beaming. In essence, we will explore how to be, in your own sphere, a professional and delightful dinner guest.
Image via Sunday Suppers