Christmas party season is upon us and, no doubt, your diary looks as complicated as a schematic for the Large Hadron Collider. You have get-togethers with friends and family seemingly every day from 1 December until early January. But fear not, no matter how frazzled this festive marathon leaves you, your behaviour will be impeccable thanks to my Essential House Party Etiquette Guide.
Sound the alarm
Accept or decline the invitation promptly and flag it if, for instance, you’re bringing a vegan. Given notice, a good host will cater accordingly, but it’s awkward if, say, a coeliac appears unannounced and has to nibble on a celery stick all night.
Don’t turn up empty-handed. Don’t try to palm off the rubbish wine that others have left at your parties. Don’t arrive with six cans of Fosters then plough into the host’s craft beer. Essentially, bring far more booze than you need and ensure it’s of a quality you’d happily drink. And under no circumstances should you take any leftovers with you – it’s the mark of a tightwad – any spare bottles are the host’s booze-bonus.
Bouquet? No way.
Flowers may seem a nice way of saying, “thanks” but, practically, it’s another job for the host or, in a packed kitchen, more clutter. Bring cheese, bring chocolates or, best of all, bring more booze.
If you’ve been asked to bring food, deliver on that promise with sensitivity. If your host is a keen cook who makes an enormous effort, respect that. You don’t necessarily have to cook your contribution from scratch. But if you’re doing dessert, buying a cheesecake from the nearest 24-hour garage is taking liberties. Conversely, foodies, if your host’s idea of catering is opening a packet of mini pork pies, don’t turn up with a conspicuously posh hamper and eat only that. Snobbery is a real vibe killer. One night of economy scotch eggs won’t kill you. (Hopefully.)
Play it cool
Don’t walk in and start rearranging the packed fridge to fit your booze in. The host will have it stacked like a four degrees centigrade game of Jenga – move anything at your peril. It’s winter: stick it in the garden.
This is a party. Tupperware, ovenproof dishes and salad bowls that guests arrive with will go AWOL. Don’t use your best Le Creuset and don’t stress out if, at the end of the night, you go home potless. That lost cake-stand will make its way back to you eventually. You’ll spot it at a mutual friend’s party in 2019.
Children are animals: they can strip a table of snacks with the brutal efficiency of lions hunting on the savanna. Adults are expected to show more decorum. That means no pestering the host about when the food will be ready, no agitated hovering around the buffet to be first in the queue, and no coming back for a second run at the spread while latecomers are still getting their first drink. If Uncle George has to eat early because of his tablets, he’ll have to make do with a sandwich.
We’re mates, right? We’re blood, so let’s keep this feast informal. There may be serving utensils on the buffet table, but if you see someone picking up a piece of quiche with their fingers, that doesn’t warrant a hysterical hygiene freak-out. This isn’t Victorian England. We don’t carry major communicable diseases. If your friends are appalled because you‘ve double-dipped in the guacamole, the solution is simple: get new, less uptight mates.
Get your thanks in early and often. You should text the host the following morning too, but after their exhausting day of blitzing, basting and baking, your immediate praise will be an invaluable pick-me-up for the grafter who’s brought all this together. And if a dish has gone south in a kitchen catastrophe, laugh it off. Save the inquest for another time.
At any packed party, at some point you’ll end up on an unstable emergency chair, eating cake from a plastic camping plate while drinking wine out of a paper Mr Men cup. Don’t moan. That’s parties for you. Similarly, before you bug the stressed host for pepper, a clean butter knife or pizza (because little Oscar doesn’t really like fish fingers), ask yourself: is this absolutely necessary?
If the host is planning to sort out the mess tomorrow, leave it. Nothing harshes the party mellow more than well-meaning aunties faffing around with bin bags. At Naylor Towers, I’ve annual Christmas battles with relatives who insist on washing up (we have a dishwasher) and who then, because they have no idea where anything goes, essentially just hide pans and plates in random cupboards. I’m still sorting this chaos out in late January.
Take your cue
It’s 3am. The host is yawning. This argument about Brexit is going nowhere. Forget one for the road and call that taxi. It’s been lovely, but come on, sling your hook. Na night!
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