Being a guest does not just mean showing up and chowing down. It requires graciousness, conviviality and an appreciation that someone has...

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Being a guest does not just mean showing up and chowing down. It requires graciousness, conviviality and an appreciation that someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to entertain you. So, behave. Here’s how:

• Always respond promptly to an invitation.

• Do not bring uninvited guests without asking the host — and understand if the response is, “Sorry, please don’t.”

• When you accept an invitation to dinner, alert the hostess of any food restrictions or allergies; assume the host will have something vegetarian. If you simply don’t like what is served, move it around the plate discreetly.

• If you must cancel after accepting an invitation to a small dinner, do so as soon as possible. A “better offer” is not an acceptable excuse.

• A hostess gift is always a lovely gesture. Flowers, however, can be a problematic choice, especially if they are not already in a vase; you don’t want the hostess to have to scramble to find one. A nice alternative is to send flowers the next day.

• If you bring a bottle of wine, do not expect it to be served. The host may have already gone to some trouble to choose wine to complement the meal.

• If there are place cards on the dining table, do not switch them around. And make sure you talk to the person on either side of you.

• Do not start arguments. Lively debate, yes; rants and tirades, no. And don’t start talking about what diet you’re on.

• Turn off your cellphone, pager and other electronic devices. If you need to stay available for a babysitter, put the phone on vibrate. And if you must answer a call, excuse yourself from the table.

• An offer to help clear the table between courses is appreciated, but do not insist. The host may want you to stay seated; when guests leave the table, the momentum of the party can wane.

• Ditto for pitching in to wash dishes. Many hosts would prefer that guests not busy themselves in the kitchen.

• Avoid the temptation to snoop in the medicine chest or anywhere else in the house.

• If you drink too much to drive safely, do agree to be put in a taxi or driven home.

• Send a thank-you. Handwritten is best, e-mail is acceptable, a phone call the bare minimum.