5 Holiday Dinner Guest Tips No One Taught You

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If you’re going to be a guest at someone else’s holiday party this year, a little awareness and volunteering on your part can help the host relax.

But this isn’t a lecture on etiquette — it’s a cheat sheet for guests who want to help make any holiday party run a little smoother for everyone without getting in the host’s way.

I spent a large chunk of my career in hospitality and entertaining, first as a restaurant cook and caterer, then as a food editor at Martha Stewart Living and Everyday Food. I also love throwing a good party, and holiday dinner at my house can be an eight-hour event. The only way I can throw a big party like that is with the help of my guests.

I also talked to several seasoned hosts — Amy Sins, chef and owner of Langlois in New Orleans; Elle Simone Scott, executive editor and inclusion leader at America’s Test Kitchen; and Adam Roberts, podcaster and host of Lunch Therapyto get some insight on what they enjoy most from their party guests. Here are a few ways you can encourage a good time for all.

Don’t crowd the oven

If you’re bringing a dish to a potluck, don’t surprise your host with a cold casserole. “Please bring your dish warm … there’s never enough oven space,” said Ms. Sins. But if that’s not possible, Sins suggests coordinating with the host a few days ahead to secure a spot in their oven. Alternatively, you can ask if they have a toaster oven that can hold a medium-size baking dish. Or you can bring your own heat, such as a slow cooker. (Wirecutter’s top-pick slow cooker has a locking lid that makes it great for travel.)

You host may have an extra oven in their backyard in the form of a gas grill. This is a great option if your dish is in an aluminum pan or other flameproof container, Ms. Sins said. Set the temperature at medium-low, around 300 degrees, and use a pizza stone (or a couple of bricks) if you’re worried about your casserole scorching over an open flame.

Speak up about your dietary restrictions

I appreciate when guests tell me about their dietary restrictions ahead of time because I want everyone to feel welcome at my table. With enough advance notice, it’s easy to set aside modified versions of dishes. You’re not burdening the host if you mention that you’re, say, vegan or gluten sensitive ahead of time. You may be comfortable with an empty plate in front of you, but your dining companions might feel a little weird about it while they feast.

Offering to bring a prepared dish can let you relax knowing there will be food for you while relieving the host of making something special. Just remember — especially for potlucks and buffets — to make enough to sate yourself plus extra for others to sample.

Skip the flowers

Host gifts aren’t required, but a thoughtful token buys a lot of good will — and future dinner invites. A floral bouquet is a nice gesture, but if the host is in full dinner-prep mode without a spare inch of countertop space, they won’t have time to scramble for a vase. However, a small potted plant requires no immediate attention and is a long-lasting alternative to cut flowers. Check out our gift recommendations for plant lovers.

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But skip the houseplant if your friend has a black thumb. Pick up their favorite Champagne, whiskey or chocolate (We have a few gift recommendations), and tuck it away in a secret spot so the host can enjoy it without having to share with a big group.

Bring ice

The only last-minute text I want to get before guests arrive is “Do you need ice?” And the answer is always yes because there’s never enough ice. If you’d like to be extra heroic, bring a small cooler in case your host’s freezer is packed solid.

Give thanks, again

If you ignore every other tip on this list, you’ll make up for it in spades by thanking the host a couple of days later. “A text or email thanking me for dinner … goes a long way,” Mr. Roberts said. And nothing beats a handwritten thank-you note via snail mail. It’s the best way to show your gratitude long after the last morsels of leftover turkey and pie are gone.

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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.