18 Mar 2024

Ten Hosting Faux Pas

Blunders and misjudgements are an inevitable part of entertaining, and you must accept that not every event will run smoothly. But with a little forethought and caution you should be able to avoid the most obvious mistakes.

We all know that having people round to dinner, even if it is an informal supper party, can be a stressful experience – every host wants their event to be memorable for all the right reasons (food, ambience, good conversation), rather than a notorious evening that has become the stuff of dinner party nightmares. If a host is feeling stressed about entertaining, it will communicate itself to the guests and may lead to an edgy evening. While some anxiety is to be expected, identifying the main potential pitfalls, and pre-empting them, will go a long way towards making the evening a success.

1. Alcohol Awareness

It is important that, as a host, you cater for all contingencies. If you are planning a boozy evening where the wine flows freely, you should not assume that all your guests will be joining in. Ensure that you have plentiful supplies of alcohol-free alternatives (sparkling mineral water, elderflower cordial, lime and soda) and take requests for soft drinks in your stride. Never interrogate guests about why they’re choosing not to drink – intrusive questions about health issues, addiction or pregnancy will go down like a lead balloon – and never try and persuade a teetotaller to drink alcohol.

2. Allergy Alert

Seeing one of your guests go into anaphylaxis because you carelessly forgot to check whether the cheese biscuits contained peanut traces is a social gaffe from which it is hard to recover. Obviously, a guest who is seriously allergic will alert you to the problem, but you must be rigorous in your screening of ingredients, especially if you blithely tell the allergic guest that the food is safe to eat.

3. Intolerance Tolerance

These days we’ve all become familiar with food intolerances. Guests who are, for example, lactose or gluten intolerant, will not suffer a full-blown allergic reaction but may find that the offending ingredients irritate the digestive system and cause discomfort. It is tempting, if you are blessed with a robust constitution, to be dismissive of a growing list of food intolerances, but good manners dictate that you take these issues seriously. Check with guests beforehand and if you unsure take the precaution of offering oat or almond milk or gluten-free alternatives.

4. Food Poisoning

No host wants to see guests running from the table, retching and clutching their stomachs. Poisoning your guest is probably the worst faux pas of all. Take some simple precautions: cook meat well and, if you really want to play safe, avoid shellfish and molluscs – if there’s just one bad one in the batch everybody’s life will be a misery. Remember you should only cook whole joints of meat rare; never leave burgers pink.

Practise basic food hygiene measures: wipe down surfaces and chopping boards with an antiseptic spray, keep food refrigerated, adhere to freezing and defrosting guidelines, never serve food beyond its sell-by date.

5. Inadequate Supplies

Realising that you’ve run out of booze or butter half-way through the evening and making a quick dash to the 24-hour supermarket is deeply discouraging. Your guests will be irritated by your disorganisation and may even feel insulted by your lack of forethought. Avoid this faux pas by making comprehensive shopping lists before the event. Always over-cater – it is hard to know how much your guests will eat and drink, and leftover food and extra drink will come in handy the following day when you really don’t feel like cooking.

6. Poor Timekeeping

It is important that you keep events running along smoothly and that you work out your timings well ahead. Leaving your guests with aperitifs and a handful of nuts for a couple of hours while you have a meltdown in the kitchen because the main course is still a work in progress is a real faux pas. Inevitably, hungry guests will drink too much, and tempers might become frayed as a result. By the time you serve the main course, your fine cuisine and excellent conversational skills may be of no account because your guests will be feeling too fractious to enjoy them. Always try and serve food within an hour of your guests’ arrival.

7. Drunk and Disorderly

Hosting an event can be stressful and it’s tempting to enjoy swigging the cooking wine as you stir your sauces. But it’s a real faux pas to get drunk before your guests arrive, and scarcely preferable to lose the plot during the evening.

As a host you’re in charge of the event and your cooking and entertaining will soon deteriorate if you hit the bottle. If you don’t want the evening to descend into anarchy drink moderately and alternate alcohol with water.

8. Guest Gaffes

While you may not wish your evening’s entertainment to be bland and boring, it’s risky to court controversy. So, take a long, hard look at your guest list beforehand.

Think carefully about inviting ex partners, estranged partners accompanied by their new love interest, people who have fallen out in the past, people at opposite ends of the political, cultural or religious spectrum. For example, an ardent atheist, paired with a crusading Christian, might get the sparks flying, but it may take all your social skills to keep the conflict light-hearted and entertaining. 

9. Do Unto Others…

If your guests arrive at an informal supper in full evening regalia, are horribly late and start swigging the lemon-scented water in the finger bowls and eating the outer leaves of the globe artichokes, what do you do?  It’s a real faux pas to comment on other people’s mistakes and misjudgements. Gloss over their errors, don’t make a fuss, and if the occasion demands embrace their errors yourself.

10. Stay the Course

Hosting a dinner party can be an exhausting business and you may well want to wrap it up early and take to your bed, but as the host it is your duty to take the lead from your guests. You will inevitably have to take the dirty dishes into the kitchen, but ostentatiously clearing the entire table, then clattering around at the sink or putting on the dishwasher is a real faux pas, since it clearly conveys your desire for your guests to be gone.

Try moving your guests into a different room or seating area for coffee and liqueurs: this will subtly signal that the end of the evening is approaching. If you find yourself stuck at an ungodly hour with an obstinate hanger-on, you need to take executive action: offering to order a taxi, proffering a spare bed, or simply announcing that you are going to bed.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.