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We've arrived at what I like to call the “festive season.” From casual fire pit get-togethers to bustling Christmas parties, many of us can look forward to a variety of invitations over the coming months.

At times, the excitement surrounding these events mixes with a sense of uncertainty. Should I bring a gift? When should I arrive, and how long should I stay? Will I have enough things to talk about? While rules governing hospitality have become more fluid over time, certain social cues and courtesies still leave an impression.

Many of us could probably think of one or two people we know who are great hosts. Through subtle gestures (such as taking people’s jackets, promptly offering refreshments, or stimulating conversation within the group), they make everyone feel welcome and send them home feeling special. The good news is that a guest has just as much an opportunity to return the favor. 

Here are a few ideas for being a thoughtful guest and enhancing a fun social event into an opportunity to express appreciation and friendship.

Don’t arrive early.

The phrase “fashionably late” is sometimes tossed around as a joke, but in all honesty, I’ve found that from the host’s perspective, a late guest is much better than an early one! 

Think about it: Before your expected arrival, your host is spending time preparing for the party by tidying the house, prepping food, or even choosing an outfit. Arriving early might express your eagerness and excitement for the event, but it also might intrude on your host, who is trying to have everything ready before you arrive.

It’s true that if you do arrive early, you can always offer to help. Many hosts will welcome this help, but still, having a guest arrive unexpectedly early still causes some disruption to the host’s role. After all, the plan was that when you arrived, they could welcome you to a party, not put you to work. And if a host doesn’t want to put guests to work, an early arrival puts on the pressure to hurry through final prep work in order to be an attentive host.

Hosting is a gift to you, the guest—the gift of a pleasant and relaxing time. By receiving it without protest, you allow your host to feel the satisfaction of giving it. So unless you have made arrangements ahead of time to come early, allow your host the time and space to welcome you when ready.

Accept the festive beverage.

Ever had a host repeatedly ask you if you want something besides water to drink? Or encouraged you to dive into a snack spread? Hosts may do this to break through the polite deference that guests often display at first, but many times, they simply enjoy seeing guests enjoy a treat!

Your host has put significant thought and work into preparations, hoping to create an enjoyable experience for guests. And after putting together a cooler of assorted sodas and hard seltzers, it’s a little deflating to have everyone opt for “just water, please.”

With this in mind, one of the best ways you can show appreciation is to enjoy the treats prepared precisely for the guest— for you! You don’t have to go overboard and sample everything, regardless of your typical eating and drinking habits. But if there was ever a time to treat yourself, it’s now! It will almost certainly make your host smile.

Bring a small gift just for your host.

It doesn’t need to be a housewarming party for you to bring a little something to greet your host. Even a little physical token of appreciation goes a long way in expressing and building friendship.

Your gift doesn’t have to be complicated—a bottle of wine, a box of cookies, your latest loaf of banana bread. When choosing your treat, you don’t have to know your host’s favorite thing, but consider what you do know about them. For instance, if you’ve never seen them drink don’t bring wine.

Whatever you decide to bring, make it simple and easy to handle so that it won’t distract your host from tending to the other guests. For example, if you’re bringing a bouquet of flowers, consider cutting and arranging them in a vase ahead of time so that when you hand it to the host, she can easily place it on a table.

Another thoughtful gesture in bringing a gift is to make clear that it’s specifically for the host, not for the party (which would mean it would really be for the guests, including you!). When you present it, try saying something like, “This is a little something for you and your family to enjoy another day. I hope you like it!” That way, you communicate that you’re not expecting them either to offer you your own treat or to switch up their menu plan, since they might already have a bottle of wine open or a pie in the oven.

In general, unless your host is expecting you to bring something for the party, it’s safe to assume that she doesn’t need any additions. With that mindset, your gift becomes all about treating your host, and that’s a thoughtful gesture anyone will appreciate!

Know names.

Whenever my parents are on their way to a party, they always go through the names of the people they know will be there and remind each other something about them. My husband and I have taken up the practice, and we’ve found it to be a very good one!

It’s always embarrassing to walk into a home and forget the name of your host’s spouse, kids, or other friends whom you’ve met several times before. Try preparing ahead of time by asking your spouse or a friend to remind you of any details that you’re fuzzy on. Peruse the guest list if there is one, and try to remember a few names to greet and chat with. Give social media a glance to get ideas of what to ask about, such a daughter’s recent graduation, a recent vacation, or a new job.

With those details under your belt, you’ll find that conversation with your host and fellow guests flows more easily, which creates a more enjoyable environment for everyone.

Know how to exit.

There are different approaches to leaving a social gathering, from the unnoticed “Irish exit” to the personal good-byes for each guest.

How you take your leave partly depends on the type of event and how much of a hurry you’re in. But in any case, you can’t go wrong with saying goodbye to—you guessed it—your host.

Even at a large party, seeking out the host for face-to-face thank you and good-bye is a gesture that speaks volumes. It expresses your appreciation for not only the party but also for the host as a person and for your friendship.

If you are one among a crowd of guests, the timing of your departure is mostly up to you. If it’s been at least an hour or two and you’re ready to go, feel free to thank your host and slip out.

Exiting a smaller gathering (such as dinner with just two or three couples) requires closer attention. Some hosts might excuse themselves to put the kids to bed or prepare for an early morning and politely call the evening to a close, but don’t assume that they will. After all, it might make a host feel awkward to shoo out the guests, so the expectation could very well be on you to wrap things up.

Stay for as long as conversation flows, especially if your host is actively encouraging it. But if you start to notice a lull, or if something else starts to demand your host’s attention (a fussy baby, a pile of dirty dishes, an unconscious glance at the clock), take it as a cue to call it a night.

Your exit announcement might sound something like this: “Well, this has been a wonderful evening, and I hope we can do it again sometime. Thanks so much for having me!” With that, you’ve acknowledged it’s time you headed home while also expressing affection and gratitude.

These simple practices can elevate the experience of a social gathering from being just another guest at a party to building a personal connection. By trying them out, you might very well find that you’ve not only made your host happy but also deepened a friendship, all while having a great time!