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1. Dress appropriately
Is the dinner a formal occasion or a casual barbecue? Ask your host about the dress code and follow his or her suggestion accordingly. "Respect your host’s wishes," says Post, director of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., and coauthor of the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette (William Morrow, 2011). "You and the other guests will feel more comfortable if you’re appropriately dressed."
When you arrive, it’s also considerate to ask whether you’re expected to remove footwear before stepping into the home. Some people don’t mind if shoes are worn inside, but others have cultural, religious or cleanliness practices that prohibit footwear indoors.
2. Bring a gift for the host
Show your gratitude for the invite and bring a bottle of wine, a dessert or a potted plant. These gifts will be appreciated and don't require any prep from your already busy host. Attending a large dinner function? Post recommends attaching a card to your gift. "If you put the gift down on a table before the host has seen it, she won’t know whom to thank," she says. If a dinner party invite specifies "no gifts," "guests should respect that request," says Post.
3. Be on time
If your host gives you a specific arrival time, show up within 15 minutes of the designated time-any later and you could interrupt the festivities. And don’t arrive early-ever. "The host might not be ready," says Post. If he or she is in the midst of meal prep or housecleaning, your presence will be unwelcome.
4. Respect privacy
Some people love to show off their homes to guests, but others aren't so keen to let friends get up close and personal with their private spaces. Or maybe they’ve hidden their clutter behind closed doors. If the host doesn't offer a tour, don't ask for one. "Don’t put someone on the spot or go snooping around," says Post. Stick to the rooms that are being shared with you and resist the urge to overstep those boundaries.
5. Don't be a sloth
Yes, you're a guest, but expecting to be waited on is rude. "Try to pitch in and help," says Post. Offer to chop veggies, clear the table or do the dishes. Your host might turn down your generous offer, but will appreciate your willingness to carry some of the entertaining load.
6. Avoid social media rudeness
A dinner party is prime face-to-face time, so take your cellphone off the table and put it in your pocket or purse. "Texting or using your phone makes other people feel second-best," says Post. "If there’s a potential emergency, tell your host up front that you might have to take a call. If the call happens, excuse yourself from the table to complete the conversation."
7. Curb PDA
Exhibiting personal displays of affection with your significant other can make other guests feel uncomfortable. "Don’t be puritanical about it, but keep PDA under control and remember that other people are around," says Post.
8. Resist the off-limits urge to feed pets
Never feed your host's pet without permission. Many owners have special diets for their animals, and table scraps are verboten. Plus, many human foods are unsafe for pets to eat. "Some people also train their dogs not to beg at the table. The moment you start feeding the dog, it’ll forget that training," says Post. Offer affection in the form of playtime and cuddles, and leave the feeding to the owners.
9. Know when it's time to go
Some guests cannot take a hint. The host mentions an early start to the next day, and guests...don't budge. If the night is creeping onward, know when it's time to make a polite exit. "Don’t stay too long and don’t leave too early," says Post. "If dinner was late, don’t eat and run. Stay at least an hour after the meal and be on cue for when the host is ready for you to leave."
10. Make your thank-you official
"Thank your host when you leave and follow up with a handwritten note. Be brief, enthusiastic, and send it right away," says Post. Manners are always in fashion, and a note mailed to your host to say "Thank you for a good time" is always appreciated.
11. Observe cancelling etiquette
Can’t make it? Let your host know as soon as you can. "Make sure the host is aware that you’re unable to attend," says Post. "Ask someone else to call if you can only email or text." Speaking directly to the host is the only way to ensure that he or she received your cancellation.