4 Things I Learned from My Indian Parents About Being a Great Dinner Party Guest

published Nov 12, 2022
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Man cutting meat in slices on dining table at home
Credit: Getty Images/ Klaus Vedfelt

When I was growing up, I always had around 50 uncles and aunties surrounding me — related not through blood, but through community. As an Indian, that’s what we called our parents’ friends because, really, they were more like family. 

My mom and dad were constantly getting invited to dinner parties with said aunties and uncles, my brother and I towing along to grub on flaky stuffed samosas and syrup-soaked gulab jamuns. Now, after attending countless feasts, I’ve been able to see (somewhat) past the food and how the occasions are actually a beautiful team effort.

Indian culture is so centered on community that it never falls on just the host to throw a fabulous dinner party. Everyone is constantly helping out, from before the party even starts to cleanup. It’s never asked, only offered. And it always allows for a seamless, laughter-filled get-together that everyone — including the host — can enjoy to the fullest.

Here are the top tips I’ve learned from my Indian parents about how to be an amazing dinner party guest, which work for any and all types of occasions — especially during the holidays.

Call ahead to see what they need.

Once you get your invite and the event date is approaching, make a note to call the host a week or so in advance to see what they need help with. If they’re throwing an al fresco dinner, they might need extra chairs or tablecloths. Maybe they don’t have a dessert in mind and you can whip something up. Small gestures like this can really make the biggest difference. It helps the host get an idea of everything they need and access support to get it all done with ease.

Always bring a treat.

As mentioned before, don’t just ask — offer. The host might refuse any help, wanting their guests to feel cared for and in total hospitality. Or maybe they’re such a pro at hosting that they just don’t need a ton of assistance. Still, it’s always nice to bring a treat regardless. Things that double as a gift and party favor are especially covetable. For example, a bouquet of flowers to top off the tablescape, extra appetizers, or a good bottle of wine never go unappreciated. Plus, it’s a great way to say thank you to the host, not just in words, but in action.

Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock.com

Help serve starters.

When guests arrive at someone’s home in India, they’re often immediately presented with goodies: a tall glass of fresh juice or steaming cup of chai, along with platters full of namkeen — Indian savory snacks like plantain chips and spiced peanuts. The custom stems from a mentality that no one should be left hungry or empty-handed as your guest. It’s a lovely idea that can be applied to any dinner party — because as the first guests arrive, there’s always a lull before the feast gets started.

If you happen to be early, you can help out by serving beverages and starters to give folks something to nibble on and get occupied with as the remaining guests trickle in. The host will likely be prepping main courses or greeting people, so it’s a relief to take some of that excess work off of them and get things rolling while they take care of things behind the scenes. A bonus? It happens to prevent hangriness, too!

Do dishes together.

Any seasoned host knows that the work doesn’t end when the invite time ends. Post-party cleanup is one of the most time-consuming (and, let’s be honest, dreaded) tasks of them all. Knowing this, my mom would always jump to the sink as her friends’ events were wrapping up. She’d start washing dishes — or even join forces with other aunties and uncles — to get as much of the cleaning done as possible. It’s another one of those acts that tells the host: Hey, I know how much effort and love you put into this dinner. You can rest now — we got this part. This beautiful, simple token of appreciation really goes the extra mile. It makes the host feel equipped to throw a party again, and often you’ll get the same favor in return when it comes your turn to host.