Do you think "punctual" means "fashionably late"?
A tardy entrance isn't impressive -- especially to your host, who spent time and energy planning. "Stumbling in when a dinner party is in progress is just rude," says event producer Craig Goldstein, owner of E Squared Concepts. It also throws the chef off schedule. Goldstein advises arriving within 10 minutes of the starting time.
Do you corner familiar faces?
Don't ignore them, but don't ignore everyone else either. Introduce yourself to new people (and in the process, new experiences). After all, "why bother leaving the house if you're going to hide in an antisocial huddle?" asks Liz Lange, fashion designer and experienced party host. "A good guest mixes and mingles."
Do you weigh down conversations?
It's easy to unload, especially with friends, but parties aren't the place to do so. They're supposed to be fun and festive, says Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting and author of From Clueless to Class Act. Translation: Save your stories of potty-training troubles or sinus infections for another time.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO...A FORMAL DINNER
Come with an appetite. Hosts take pride in their cooking; the worst thing you can do is not eat. "If you don't like the food, pretend," Lange says. Nest Fragrances founder Laura Slatkin advises alerting your host of any food allergies or dislikes the day you're invited.
Act interested. Formal sit-downs mean long talks with the same people. "Ask questions that go beyond the surface," Smith says. Engaging your seatmates in meaningful chats shows you're thoughtful and curious about them.
Bear a gift. Lange likes unbaked cobbler: The dish is a gift, and the host can serve or freeze the cobbler. Randy Fenoli, fashion director of Kleinfeld Manhattan and star of TLC's Say Yes to the Dress, opts for local touches, like honey from a nearby farm.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO...A COCKTAIL PARTY
Keep your spirits in check. "It's not the time to try new cocktails," Goldstein says. "Stick with ones you've had before, or you won't be able to gauge your limits."
Be a lively conversationalist. When someone asks what's new, don't just say, "Nothing." "No one wants to talk to someone boring," Smith says. Be it about a trip you're planning or a book you just read, come ready to chat.
Show your gratitude. Whether you stayed for an hour or a weekend, write your host a thankyou note afterward, says Slatkin, who hosts many events in her New York City home. Even a simple e-mail is a sign of appreciation.
IF YOU'RE GOING TO...AN OVERNIGHT STAY
Keep PJ's PG. Walking around in a negligee is never a brilliant idea, Goldstein says. Appropriate attire should be a no-brainer, but just in case you've packed anything risqué, take it out of your bag. Like, now.
Know when to disappear. If your host is preoccupied with a phone call or heated discussion, that's a cue for you to slip away. And respect "their hours of operation," as Fenoli puts it. If they go to bed early, don't crank up the TV volume after dark.
Do your own thing. The more comfortable you make yourself, the more comfortable your host will be. "You might run out to pick up the Sunday paper or to the grocery store for breakfast items," Lange says.