Dinner etiquette goes beyond elbows off the table and a "thank you" at the end of the night. Here are a few things to be mindful of before you ring the doorbell.

As you're scanning your inbox, a subject line catches your eye—"You're invited!" Panic sets in. It's been a while. The past year and a half hasn't allowed for much social opportunity, and you feel a bit out-of-touch with basic etiquette. Whether it be a black-tie soirée or a come-as-you-are catch-up, head into your next dinner party confident you know what to avoid.  

1. Don’t show up early

A dinner party is just about the only thing you shouldn't show up early for. Although being late is deemed disrespectful in most cases, a slight lag might be appropriate and just what your dinner host needs to get final preparations in order without distraction. Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, EatingWell's associate nutrition editor, affirms this by saying, "I'm usually getting ready right up until the time I tell people to come over for dinner, so early birds are a little stressful!"

2. Don’t show up empty-handed

A host gift serves as a meaningful gesture and can be as easy as swinging by Trader Joe's for your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, crafting up a mason jar full of paperwhite bulbs or putting a bow on a few reusable containers. Bringing a gift is an important step in acknowledging the time and energy your host put into executing a successful party spread. Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell's senior food editor, says her aunt's go-to token of thanks is a subscription to EatingWell Magazine—a gift that keeps on giving! 

3. Don’t bring a plus one (without warning)

"The more the merrier" doesn't necessarily apply to dinner guests, especially when unaccounted for. This avoidable mistake puts your host and plus one in an awkward predicament and may cost you an invitation back. "If you want to bring someone, don't," Malcoun says. "Your host gets to decide the guest list. Or, if you must bring someone along, please ask first!" Showing up with unwarranted guests makes every host's biggest fear a potential reality—running out of food. 

4. Don’t keep your shoes on

We get it—white ankle socks aren't always the most flattering compliment to a silk blouse, but it might be the sacrifice you need to make to snag a spot on the next guest list. Unsure of shoe protocol? Avoid the awkward uncertainty upon arrival and ask beforehand. If you know you're walking into a shoes-off household, match your socks accordingly or pack a pair of house shoes to slip on once you're through the door.

5. Don’t take over the kitchen

Even when good intentions are there, jumping into the kitchen can feel like an invasion of privacy to your host. If food preparation is still in swing, refrain from offering comments or opinions until dinner is served. And keep your hands to yourself—no matter how hungry you are. Breanna Killeen, M.P.H, RD, EatingWell's test kitchen and editorial operations manager says a major pet peeve of hers is when guests pick at food in the kitchen before it's table ready. And after asking, if your host could use an extra hand in the kitchen, be sure to wash up before helping out.

A couple welcoming another couple to an at home dinner party
Credit: Getty Images / Hinterhaus Productions

6. Don’t wait to bring up food allergies

It's inevitable. Allergies or preferences are bound to come up as you politely pass on dishes you know your body can't handle. "If you have a food allergy, let your host know ahead of time," Killeen says. "There is nothing worse than somebody arriving and not being able to eat anything. I would much rather know ahead of time." Most hosts are more than happy to accommodate, so make them aware of allergies and preferences ASAP following your RSVP.  

7. Don’t dig in right away

It's dinner etiquette 101—wait until everyone at the table is served before chowing down. Alex Loh, EatingWell's assistant digital editor, was taught this rule at a young age. "It's a simple rule, but it's polite to wait until everyone has food", Loh says. "Plus, it's a good idea to wait until the host has been seated. After all, they've put in all the hard work and you should enjoy the meal together." To really impress, take this simple manner a step further and wait for the host to initiate the first bite. 

8. Don’t take “sit down” too seriously

Being a guest doesn't mean you're off the hook for clean-up. Let's face it, commands to "stay seated" are usually an empty gesture. Help your host clear the table and get their home back to its pre-party state. But, be sure to not get in the way of their usual clean-up routine or pester them with questions for directions. Keep your eyes peeled for ways you can serve without a command. "If you see something that needs to be done, try to help," Malcoun suggests. "Does their kid keep driving them crazy? Read them a book or otherwise entertain them. Is the bar out of ice? Ask where you can refill it."

9. Don’t expect to leave with your hands full

To-go boxes are a hard no when it comes to dinner guest etiquette. If the host offers, sure, take them up on it! But don't ask if you can take leftovers in hopes of a quick heat-up for tomorrow's lunch. The same goes for host gifts. A gift is a gift—no takebacks! "If you bring a bottle of wine and it doesn't get opened during the meal, still leave it with your host," Penelope Wall, EatingWell's digital content director, says. "Unless they tell you to take it with you."

10. Don’t simply leave your “thanks” at the door

Call it old fashioned, but a thank you note is a necessary gesture that sets you apart. A follow-up text or email will do, but sending it snail-mail style takes your "thank you" up a notch. Drop it in the mail a day or two following the party to be sure your heartfelt thanks isn't chalked up to an afterthought.