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The Single Life: How to Be the Perfect Guest

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jan 12, 2010
The Single Life:  How to Be the Perfect Guest

"It's the most wonderful time of the year…" At least, it is if you're the partying type.

The holidays tend to bring out our inner Fezziwigs—and remember, even Scrooge got invited to a party. Depending on your personality, all this festivity can be the greatest thing ever or a source of stomach-churning dread.

Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great usefulness:  tips on how to be a fabulous guest. You do want to be invited back, right? At the very least, you don't want to become that guest—the one who becomes a legend passed on from generation to generation as a cautionary tale. Follow the simple guidelines below (there's a set for dinner parties and a set for office parties) and you'll be a hostess favorite in no time... 

Dinner/Cocktail/Random Holiday Parties

Step 1:  RSVP
It's so important (to the host), so simple (it's a phone call, for pete's sake), and so often overlooked by the invitee. Knowing how many people are coming can be a game-changer when it comes buying food, fitting everyone at one table, etc. Don't hold out for a better offer; decide if you're going and let the host know. It's as easy as that.

Step 2: Arrive on time
Don't be early, don't be late. If you're too early, the host may still be running around doing all those last minute things he/she meant to do earlier but didn't quite get to. If you're too late, you're holding up progress, not to mention dinner. If you can't avoid a late arrival, call. Give an ETA and encourage them to start without you.

Step 3: Don't assume
As in, don't assume your children, pets, date, or Great Aunt Myrtle are also welcome. They may be, but don't spring them on your unsuspecting host. Ask. And if they say it's best not to bring extras, don't.

Step 4: Don't come empty-handed
When you RSVP it's nice to ask what you can bring. If you're told, "Nothing," bring something anyway. Flowers (already arranged and in a container, please), wine, chocolate . . . something the host can enjoy later.

Step 5:  Participate
Don't sit back and wait to be entertained. Take part in the conversation—but don't hog it. Avoid controversial subjects; your friends and your digestion will thank you.

Step 6: Play nice
This is not the time to drink too much, get on your soapbox, or pick fights with the other guests.

Step 7: Offer to help
Some hostesses will love you forever if you help load the dishwasher, others would rather do it themselves—but all of them will appreciate the offer.

Step 8: Go home
Don't overstay your welcome. You don't want your hosts to sit there thinking, "Pleeeease go! I need sleeeeeep."

Step 9: Say goodbye
Don't just wander off. Seek out your host, thank them for a lovely time (regardless), and then go.

Step 10: Say thank you
A note (the old-fashioned paper kind) is lovely, but e-mail or a phone call after the fact will also do nicely.

Office Parties

Ah, the much maligned, often dreaded office party. Truth be told, the office party at my place is a blast—but employees at other companies are not always so lucky. If this is you, don't worry. Just remember these simple rules...

Step 1:  Go
Yes, you have to go. At many companies, it's not just a party, it's an informal evaluation—which is why it's important that you do it right. Seriously, I could tell you tales of rising stars who had to find new jobs after their party performance went horribly wrong. Don't let this happen to you!

Step 2:  Do your homework
Find out who else will be there:  is it just your department, or the entire company? Be prepared to talk to people you don't work with every day. (More about this later.)

Step 3: Dress appropriately
This is not the time to whip out that super-short black lace number with the plunging neckline. (Women, that goes for you, too.) Seriously, do you want to be known as the office sex symbol or someone with a shot at a successful career? If it's a formal/semi-formal affair, don't show up in jeans and T-shirt and vice versa. Find out what other people (the ones with decent fashion sense) are wearing and go from there.

Step 4:  No tagalongs
If guests are invited, feel free to bring one along. It would be wise to prep them first on who they're going to meet and what topics to avoid. If your main squeeze has a tendency to get sloshed and/or put their foot in their mouth, it might be best to leave them at home.

Step 5:  No hogging the munchies
No matter how little they pay you and how rare it is for you to eat fancy food, do not loom over the shrimp stuffing your face. It's just tacky.

Step 6:  Work the room
This is your chance to make an impression on everyone there. Make it a good one. Don't spend the entire time with your department, but don't just make a beeline for those in power and go home—you never know who will be in a position to help you later. Which leads us to...

Step 7:  No obvious schmoozing
Casually approach your target, don't interrupt, introduce yourself (if necessary) by name and department/title, say a few polite words and move on. This is not the time to ask for a raise, complain about your boss, or whine about company policy. Keep it positive, keep it brief.

Step 8: Don't flirt
It's just not appropriate, especially with someone who ranks above or below you. (Trust me on this; I used to help lawyers at sexual harassment seminars.) If you've got your eye on someone you may certainly let them know ... but proceed with caution, OK?

Step 9: Don't drink and ...
Drive. Dance on the table. Reproduce any part of your body on the office copier. Throw yourself at the hottie from Accounting. In fact, if you do drink at all, make one last as long as possible. If you go over the line, everyone will know and they'll remember it the next day at work—even if you don't.

Step 10:  Know when to go
However painful it may be, you do need to stick around long enough so it looks like you made an effort—about an hour is usually sufficient. If you're having a good time, feel free to stay longer, but unless you're on the clean-up crew there's no need to be the last one standing.

To summarize:  it doesn't take rocket science to be a good guest, just common sense. So relax and enjoy yourself. Party on!

Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at

**This column first published on December 17, 2009.