I have been dreaming about future get-togethers with friends and family. With more than ample time to scheme guest lists and every detail of several potential gatherings, I cannot wait to execute my plans.

A dinner party in someone’s home is my favorite social event. Enjoying an evening, marked by conversational chatter and joyful laughter, spent lingering over food and drink in an intimate, private setting feeds my soul. Were it up to me alone, without constraints of pocketbook and calendar (or pandemic), I would host a dinner party twice a month, inviting friends old and new to place their elbows on and knees under my dining table.

My experiences as host and guest have taught me that a notable dinner party is not about the food served or wine poured, or whether the table is set with fine china, silver, and crystal. Ultimately it is conversation that makes or breaks the evening, even when the meal boasts culinary delights, expertly prepared and beautifully presented.

There is only one dinner party rule that every host must follow: be, and make others feel, as relaxed and comfortable as possible. If you are uptight, your guests will mirror your uneasiness, conversation will falter, and everyone will be ready to exit before dessert is served.

As much as I love hosting, I also adore being invited to someone’s home for dinner. Because I want to be invited back, I strive to be an appreciative guest. Here are some tips to be a gracious, grateful guest for dinner:

1. Don’t arrive early. Like baby bear, the key is getting your arrival time “just right.” The just-right time to arrive for a dinner invitation is never early, as your host is likely busy (perhaps frantic) assembling the final touches for dinner. A few minutes past the appointed hour is preferred, but never arrive more than 15–20 minutes late.
2. Bring a small gift. Wine is customary, but an edible offering to be enjoyed by your hosts later is another good choice—a bottle of olive oil, some chocolates, a jar of jam, or savory homemade cheese straws. If you want to bring flowers, bring them arranged and in a vase so your host does not have to scurry about to find the right container to display them.
3. Do not touch your phone. Leave your phone in your coat or handbag, away from the table. Resist every temptation to check for texts, emails, a trending TikTok video, or whatever else you think may be more interesting than the topic of conversation at the moment.
4. Be interested and interesting. Get engaged in the conversation around the table. Share a story. Be inquisitive. Show your appreciation for your host.
5. Express gratitude after. A handwritten thank-you note is always appreciated. If you cannot manage that (though you should try really, really hard), at a minimum, send an email, text, or call to express your gratitude within a day of the dinner.

Whether as host or guest, there is nothing better than gathering around a table for a fun night in a relaxed atmosphere. I can’t wait to do it again.      

I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.