How To Be a Really Swell Guest

Want to know what drives me crazy? Guests who arrive early for a party, even five or ten minutes.

I’d love to be one of those hostesses who’s ready an hour ahead of schedule, cocktail in hand, leafing through a magazine, serenely awaiting their guests. But for me, the last ten minutes before party time are pivotal to the evening. I’ve been busy making it all look effortless, doing everything I possibly can in advance, so I can focus on my guests when they arrive. Those last precious minutes are often the only time I have to jump in the bathtub or even just change out of my yoga pants and put on lipstick. But then the doorbell rings. Not to sound dramatic, but it can set the whole evening off-kilter.

It is often people who don’t have parties themselves who tend to arrive early. Of course, you darlings mean well; you have no idea you’re being rude, but you are. If you arrive early, drive around the block, sit outside in your car and do a last phone check or ask your Uber driver to let you off down the street. He or she will understand you are just trying to be a thoughtful guest.

Here are some other ways to be a thoughtful guest.

Reply ASAP
When somebody invites you to something, get back to them as soon as you can. Even if you can’t give them a definite answer, acknowledge you got the invitation. The smaller the group invited, the more critical this is. If you must decline, do it swiftly so the inviter is not left in limbo.

Bring the fun you
Hostess gifts are nice, but the best present you can give your host is to show up on time, in a great mood, ready to shake off the cares of the day and—this is imperative—put your phone away. Smart-phone addiction is a social epidemic, even among some of the most well-mannered. Resist the urge to check your phone, unless you have a child at home with a sitter.

Good conversation is the essence of any enjoyable party, and if you can add energy and sizzle to the talk, you will be a sought-after guest. Be willing to meet the other guests more than halfway, and pay particular attention to newcomers and shy types.

If you get pre-party jitters, it’s better not to calm them with a “dressing drink.” My advice is to use that time reading or watching the news, so you can talk about what’s going on in the world. It’s not weird to check out the social media pages of those you know will be at the party. Instant conversation fodder.

Don’t be a bore, darling
Sure to dull any social gathering is the conversation of the bore. We all know at least one. Wholly convinced of the fascination his opinions hold for others, he can make a conversation seem endless. He is blind to the subtle cues of drifting attention: the furtive watch-check, the glazed over eyes scanning the room in hope of rescue. The bore incites in others the classic cocktail party maneuver called the Human Sacrifice, wherein the bore is passed off to an innocent victim who wanders by. “Jessica! Have you said hello to Ezra?”

If you suspect you might be a bore, try not to be a hopeless bore. Realize that the key to being an interesting conversationalist is to listen as much as you talk, that conversation is about silences as well as about words. Ask questions, don’t interrupt to turn the conversation back to yourself, and don’t ramble.

A little prezzie is always okay
It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s always sweet to bring a little something for the host or hostess in addition to the requisite bottle of wine. Just don’t bring something where she would have to drop everything and deal with it, like fresh flowers that need a vase. The Little Flower Shop in Fairway has gorgeous flower bouquets in a simple glass vase ready to brighten any room, for twenty-five bucks.

Here’s my new favorite hostess gift: I go to Pryde’s Kitchen and Necessities in Westport and buy a Pickwick Candle in their new scent “Home Sweet Mahomes” because it smells divine. And because Patrick Mahomes.

A few other ideas: Bring a book you know he or she will like, with a heartfelt inscription. You could bring some of your favorite hand soap, or a bottle of good olive oil. A bottle of fancy French Champagne is a nice touch as well. If it’s a larger gathering, tag your gift somehow.

A note about notes
A handwritten note still is the most appreciated and thoughtful way to thank your host. It’s easier to write a thank you if you’re punctual about it. The more promptly you dash it off, the more heartfelt it seems, and the fewer words you actually have to write. I get great-looking, high-quality personalized correspondence cards with lined envelopes from my buddy Kelly Cash.

If you’re not a writer, don’t think your note has to be impeccably penned. I prefer a messy note written straight from the heart to one that is perfectly worded, with no cross-outs or other signs of personality.

Write the way you talk. Be specific. If the dessert was spectacular, say so. If the guest list included someone you were thrilled to see or enjoyed meeting, mention that.

And if you have hard-to-read handwriting, it’s perfectly acceptable to type a thank-you note. If you are time-challenged, a quick phone call or a brief, heartfelt text or email, sent promptly, is much better than nothing. And if you really want to dazzle, send flowers.

Bother to reciprocate
If you are not in a position to entertain, people understand. The important thing is that you take the time to stay in touch and at some point initiate something. It doesn’t have to be lavish. Call your friends to meet you for beer and cheeseburgers at Shake Shack, pizza at Spin, or tacos and margaritas at one of our town’s excellent Mexican restaurants.

Inviting people to come as your guests to an interesting fundraiser is a thoughtful way to reciprocate, and support a cause at the same time. There are so many worthwhile, well-executed benefits in this town: fashion shows, movie screenings, art auctions, golf tournaments, dressy galas, and theme parties of all kinds. You have only to visit to get a few ideas.


A Snack-tastic Hostess Gift

I found this simple recipe in Giada’s Feel Good Food from the annoyingly perfect Giada deLaurentis. It turns ordinary almonds into something extraordinary. Bring some in a pretty glass food storage container that your host can keep. He or she can put them out at the party or save them for later.

Smoked Almonds

  • 3 cups raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons Smoked Sea Salt (I get mine at Savory Spice in Brookside.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the almonds, olive oil, and smoked salt. Toss until well-coated. Pour the nut mixture onto a baking sheet in an even layer. Roast in the oven until the almonds are aromatic, crunchy and slightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool before serving or storing.

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