The Butler Is In: Tips for being a good guest, host at parties

There's a right way and a wrong way to throw a party, and there are rules for the guests as well. Our etiquette consultant explains proper party procedures.

'You never want to be both the first person to arrive and the last to leave.'

Sure, it looks like fun. But that's only because the hosts and all the guests know the best etiquette when attending a party. Our expert shares his tips. ((DinnerPartyYVR))

The Butler Is In. CBC P.E.I. has launched a summer series featuring certified protocol and etiquette consultant John Robertson, who will guide us through how to do things the right way.

John Robertson advises hosts that you can't enjoy your own party too much, you have a job to do. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

Robertson spends his summers in Murray Harbour, and is a professionally-trained English butler.

This week, he has some tips for how to throw a great party — and how to be an equally great guest.


1. R.S.V.P. - this means you

"First thing is to let your host know if you're coming. R.S.V.P. means please respond, and please respond promptly. Otherwise it looks like you're waiting to see if you get a better offer," said Robertson.

And if you say you're going, don't change your mind and not advise the hosts.

"I think that's very, very, very shabby. If you've responded to a dinner party, the only excuse not to go is if you're dead. And in that case, your executor should go and sit in for you," he joked.

"You can't R.S.V.P. you're coming and then not show up. Do let the host know you're not coming."

2. Know when to show up

Being the first one there can be a little awkward, but being fashionably late is not always polite, especially if you're too late.

"If it's a dinner party or a party where there's going to be food served at a certain time, you're really only looking at arriving within 10 minutes. Someone's got to be the first, maybe it's a good friend, you don't have to worry about it. There's always going to be someone last to leave. You never want to be both the first person to arrive and the last to leave."

3. Should you take a host gift?

"A small, thoughtful gift, yes. Nothing grand, but don't arrive empty-handed. Wine is a really easy out."

Robertson also suggests a scented candle, a box of chocolates, arranged flowers, but not loose-cut, that's too much work for the hosts when they're already busy.

4. Be a great guest 

"Great guests contribute. They introduce themselves, they mingle, they have interesting conversation to make, they don't just see their best friends and go off into the corner and talk about the same things they talk about in the grocery store."

5. Can you have too much fun?

"You mean too much to drink! Yes, there is, everyone knows who it is, after that last drink you can't hide it anymore," said Robertson.

Drinks are part of the fun at most party, but it's not polite to cross the line, says our expert host. (iStock)
Adult beverages are part of entertaining today. But you don't want to be the one to overindulge, especially if you're driving."

6. Don't sneak out

"When you leave, you want to say goodbye to the hosts, you want to thank them for their hospitality. Some hosts don't make that very easy. You should go find them if you're leaving early, to say goodbye and say thank you."

Don't drag it out either, it's not the time to start another conversation. Say thanks, good night, get out.


1. Have it together

"The first responsibility of a host is to be organized," said Robertson. "You're responsible for their welfare and their enjoyment. Have enough food, enough furniture, like chairs and glasses. Be organized ahead of time so that once the guests arrive, your duties switch to being a relaxed and gracious host, putting guests at ease and making sure they are enjoying themselves."

2. Make sure the guests are comfortable

Be at the front door to greet them when they arrive. Make sure they have someone to talk to, and that they have a drink in their hands. "It's always a good idea to have an interesting, non-alcoholic drink option available."

3. Don't have too much fun yourself

"It all starts to fall apart when the host forgets he or she is the host and they start enjoying their own party like they're a guest," explained Robertson. "You're in charge, you've got to keep it moving no matter how relaxed your schedule is. If you're barbecuing, the barbecue needs to be lit, food has to be put out. If you want people sitting next to each other or away from each other, have a seating plan."

4. Know how to end a party

"By the end-time on the invitation, be around the front door. People will see that, and they'll get the idea the party is breaking up. A good trick is to close the bar. When the bar's closed and the hospitality stops flowing, people have the idea it's time to go home."

Robertson knows one hostess who, at the end of the evening, asks everyone to gather in the hall for a group photo, and when that's done, she starts handing out their coats.