The Country Life guide: How to survive a dinner party

With the festive party season looming, here are our top tips for getting through a large social occasion.

As with all social occasions, your mother will doubtless have instilled in you from an early age the need for good behaviour at all times. However the temptation to stray when faced with a soiree compiled entirely of friends of third cousins once removed and their respective partners, dogs and children (most probably in that order) is nothing short of colossal.

Here are some top tips for taking up the gauntlet with panache, finesse and most importantly, a degree of enjoyment.

Dress to impress

If nothing else it gives you something to talk about, as an eye-catching outfit on a lady, or a dashing ensemble on a gentleman is a great conversation starter. Quite apart from the gleaning of approval though, you are bound to feel more confident in your finest attire than in a pair of old slacks and compulsory brogues, or indeed (heaven forbid) jeans and a t-shirt.

Man in black tie

Having said this comfort is important, and fidgeting your way through the meal in a too-tight waistband won’t help anything. Similarly being too over-dressed is blush-worthy, but it is better to be seen to have made an effort.

Drink in moderation

Whether driving home or being the lucky recipient of a lift, when faced with nerve-inducing introductions and hours of polite conversation, not drinking a carafe’s worth of wine will stand you in good stead.

en primeur

Tempting though it may be to calm the jitters or indeed relieve boredom, the consequences of over indulgence will only come back to bite you later in the evening, and no-one wants to be remembered as ‘the one with the loud laugh and the dishevelled hair’.


Admittedly this sounds utterly bizarre, as smiling when you’re not really in the mood is nothing short of painful. However it is incredible how instantly a smile can make a difference; you are instantly more approachable, you appear to be enjoying yourself, which will please your host, and it actually can make you feel better.

A word of caution though; this isn’t to be taken to the extremes, and grinning in the manner of a pantomime character will only make you look mildly unhinged.

Play the alphabet game

This is a bit of a last resort, but when seated between those who you appear to have very little in common with it is a gem – and you never know, once the conversation starts flowing you may well be more alike than you first suspected. The game is a very simple one, and can produce some hilarious results – just work your way through the alphabet, picking a subject of conversation for each letter.

For example, angling followed by the state of beekeeping and an innovative recipe for cowslip wine…it helps to pick something you actually know about or indeed have an interest in though! Do also be aware of not coming across as too off-the-wall, however tempting anteaters, ballistic missiles and candyfloss may be…

Have fun!

Above all remember that the idea of a party is to enjoy yourself – so take a deep breath, think happy thoughts and get stuck in!