You’ve been invited to a holiday gathering. Hooray! You don’t have to plan, prep, shop, chop and cook for days. While the host will be doing the lion’s share of work to make the day tasty and festive, each guest also bears a portion of responsibility for it unfolds. You don’t need to baste a bird every 30 minutes, but you do need to bring thoughtfulness to the occasion.
It goes without saying you should avoid talking politics, religion, or your thoughts on the COVID vaccine. In the spirit of helpfulness and harmonious interaction, here are some less obvious things not to when invited to someone’s home in the holidays (and what you can do instead).
Don’t: Surprise the host with last-minute dietary requests
The time to let your host know that you are a low-carb, lactose-intolerant pescatarian who only eats fair-trade, non-GMO grains every other Tuesday, is when you’re invited. Don’t spring any allergies, special requests, or dietary restrictions on your host in the days leading up to the main event (or worse, after you arrive). Unless they are your ride or die bestie, also don’t assume they remember an allergy you previously told them about.
Do: Alert the host to any dietary restrictions when you accept the invitation, and offer to bring your own substitution.
Don’t: Show up empty handed (or with a surprise dish)
There are some things hosts generally love receiving (flowers, wine, candles, and high-end chocolate they can enjoy after everyone leaves, to name a few) and there are things they don’t (an unplanned Pyrex of your mum’s “famous” potatoes au gratin that you “couldn’t imagine dinner without”). While guests should always bring something for the host — the more personalised or tailored to their individual interests, the better — they should not roll up with unsanctioned foods and expect them to grace a meal the host has been planning for weeks.
Do: Ask if there is anything you can bring — well in advance. If there isn’t, bring either a thoughtful, personalised gift or safe, classic standby.
Don’t: Expect counter space (or oven space)
If you are bringing a side dish, make sure it’s fully prepared and self-sustaining. Avoid bringing potatoes that still need to be mashed, or rolls that need to be kept warm on a low temperature in the oven. Chances are, your host doesn’t have free counter or oven space for you to complete this last step of your cooking project. Take it over the finish line before you arrive, and figure out a way to keep your item warm with insulated bags or coolers, a portable food warmer, or these other nifty ideas. If you must have an oven, make sure your host knows ahead of time.
Do: If your side absolutely requires reheating, bring it in your own ovenproof dish. Also bring your own serving utensils. They might not have extra to spare.
Don’t arrive early (or come starving)
If you’ve ever hosted anything, you know that often, even the most well-orchestrated timing veers off plan, and you end up racing to finish before your guests arrive. If there’s anything a stressed host likes less than the feeling of being unprepared for the hungry people about to walk through their door, it’s when they walk in early.
Do: your host a favour and arrive no sooner than at the appointed time, but preferably at least 15 minutes late. Also, grab a snack on the way so you’re not famished, drinking on an empty stomach, or overheard saying “When are we gonna eat? I’m starving” from the other room.
Don’t: Offer advice or critiques
Picture it: You’re foisting potatoes into boiling water in a manner that’s been successful for years and someone says, “Yikes, don’t burn yourself! You’re making me nervous. Want me to do it?” Uh, no, Briana, I don’t want you to do it because my technique slaps. Be mindful that any tips, tricks, or advice offered may be construed as criticism to the head chef. You may know the best hack for lump-free gravy but unless it’s asked for, thou shalt not utter it.
Do: Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. If not, don’t hang out by the fridge chit chatting. Escort yourself to another room to minimise the host’s distractions.
Don’t: Overserve yourself
Please, dear guest, don’t get drunk. This isn’t a frat party. This is someone’s house or apartment, where children may be walking around. No one needs to see a grownup get loud, handsy, sloppy, or inappropriate. If you may have trouble staying within the bounds of polite inebriation, enlist the help of a friend or family member to help you pace yourself, or cut you off before things get weird.
Do: Drink in moderation; eat steadily and often to absorb the Cabernet.
Don’t: Overstay your welcome
It’s been a long day for your host, who likely has been standing up for many hours straight to make this feast possible. Stay clued in to any subtle hints they may drop to indicate they want to crawl into their jammies and pass out to Netflix — and scoot out promptly and accordingly. But not, dear amazing guest, without offering to help clean up first.