You’ve been invited to a dinner party at someone’s home. How exciting! You got the gift, dressed well, but when exactly should you be knocking at your hosts’ door?
Should you be early, on time, or should you even arrive late at a dinner party?
Don’t be early. It’s disrespectful. Don’t be right on time, either. It’s best to arrive about 5 to 15 minutes late. This gives your host a bit of time for the finishing touches and allows other guests to arrive as well so that you aren’t alone at the party.
Keep reading for the details and reasoning…
Ah, good ol’ dinner party etiquette. You might be wondering, does it even exist?
Of course it does, especially if you want to leave a good impression. You might go as far as sending fancy thank you notes the day after, but our society is still holding on to a certain level of expectations.
Think about it –
Someone is inviting you into their home and laboring over a stove to create a meal. Wondering if you *should* be late (to look cool, normal, or whatever else is on your mind) just isn’t fair to the host. And quite frankly, it has an air of disrespect.
So this question must be rephrased to something like, “At what time should you arrive at a dinner party to show the most respect to your host?”
It’s certainly an odd way of phrasing it, but by phrasing the question in this manner, you’ll get closer to the answer. Let’s dive into the different scenarios and how that would play out in most cases.
Arriving on Time
If your host tells you their party starts at 7 pm, you show up exactly at 7 pm, right?
Actually, it’s kind of the wrong thing to do. Emphasis on kind of.
Pay attention to how you were invited and the exact wording used. If you received a written invitation with something like “dinner starts at 7 o’clock” written on it, then the host is trying to tell you that you’d better be seated at the dinner table exactly at 7 o’clock on the dot.
That’s because it’s a formal (very expensive!) party that has a strict schedule.
You better get on board with the rest of the crew, or else the host will feel like you’re ruining their party and wasting their money with every minute more that you’re being late.
But for the majority of the other parties, you want to be a little late.
If your host is going about it in a casual way, they probably don’t want you knocking on their door at 7 pm exactly. You’ll be the first one there and will actually catch the host off guard if they’re still doing a few of the finishing touches in the kitchen.
It’s not a crime to arrive on time and it will be forgiven and forgotten the moment the other guests start trickling in. If you’ve arrived on time, just park your car, sit there for an extra minute or two, and then go in. But don’t go driving around the block, it just isn’t necessary.
Is it rude to show up early at a dinner party? YES, absolutely.
If you want to knock on the door 10 minutes early, despite being told clearly at what time the party is starting, you might as well not show up.
Unless the host explicitly told you it was ok to be early (for example, to help them set the table), then just stay away.
Do whatever it takes to wait. Sit in your car and pretend to be taking an important phone call, or pretend like you didn’t see their house number and keep circling around the block.
People are sensitive nowadays about inviting people into their homes. Don’t encroach on your host’s private space by catching them still trying to put on make-up or whipping up dessert. Some guests also like to use their level of closeness as an excuse to show up early.
Just because you’ve known the host for a few years doesn’t give you permission to knock on their door at a time they clearly told you not to. They worked hard getting this evening together, don’t throw them off their plan.
5 to 15 Minutes Late
This is the ideal time to show up at a majority of dinner parties. It gives the host a few extra minutes to catch up with the finishing details and to relax. It’s also a safe time for you from a social perspective.
There will already be another car or two in the driveway, giving you someone to socialize with once you walk in.
And even if you see no cars yet, go ahead and walk in. You showed up at a great time and will set a great example to the guests who will come much later. Have confidence – you’re following the proper etiquette.
Two side notes on this –
#1: If the party is during a time when the traffic is light and people generally are more relaxed and have more time to get ready (for example, on the weekends), or if the party involves opening of big gifts, show up closer to the 5 minute rather than the 15 minute mark.
Guests are more likely to show up closer to the time invited if they have more time to get ready. They also want to grab a good parking spot if they know they have a huge teddy bear and a ton of balloons to drag along.
#2: Those close to the host (read: close family members and lifetime best friends) who typically have been quite punctual so far are given more leniency. If you belong to this group, don’t worry too much if you’re 20, or even 25 minutes late.
But if you’re just an acquaintance, you’ll have to overcome a bit of social awkwardness when you arrive and work much harder during the evening to leave a good first impression.
30 Minutes Late
You’re pushing it if you’re this late. You’ll get a few odd looks, but will be forgiven.
But don’t just show up at the door, looking clueless.
Call the host and tell them two things. First, tell them you’ll be late, as a sign of respect. Limit your excuses, don’t go on and on about them. Second, tell the host to start serving the food without you.
That way, you admit your mistake and show that you still care about the others at the party.
Then, be humble when you show up. Don’t make a big entrance – your priority should be not to disturb the flow of the party. If there is an activity that has already started, wait for it to finish first. Don’t complain if the others have already eaten and you’re given a reheated plate.
Do your best to catch up. Eat quickly and eat less, and then just get with the program.
One side note on this time frame –
I’m talking about traditional sit-down parties here. If the party is a combination of cocktails and dinner party, don’t worry if you’re 30 minutes late. Some parties do one hour of cocktails, followed by a dinner.
For those kinds of parties, arriving around the 30 minute mark is just fine. But you’ll know explicitly if you’ve been invited to this kind of party. Otherwise, assume you’re late.
1 Hour Late
Honestly, you’re a goner at this point. Call your host (don’t text them) and ask them what you should do. Offer to not even show up if it will inconvenience them.
Don’t wait to call them at the last minute. Chances are, if you’re going to be an hour late, you’ll know it well ahead of time. Your host will read through it if you call them 5 minutes before the party starts.
Don’t be surprised if you never hear from them again if you’re just an acquaintance at this point. Call well ahead of time and be humble if you want to save the relationship.