How to Not Be the Person Everyone Hates at a Group Holiday Dinner

'Tis the season for a big-ass Christmas blowout with friends. We've rounded up some tips from hospitality industry vets to help you navigate it like a pro.

Pro panel: Sarah Simmons (City Grit), Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch), Jeffrey Tascarella (NoMad). Courtesy Daniel Krieger Photography.

Pro panel: Sarah Simmons (City Grit), Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch), Jeffrey Tascarella (NoMad). Courtesy Daniel Krieger Photography.

The coming weeks mark the year’s peak season for group dining, as holiday get-togethers kick into high gear and old friends swarm back into town. While it’s meant to be a period of good cheer and merrymaking, those big, blithe Yuletide and New Year’s feasts seem to have a way of disturbing the peace. For hosts, the troubles start as early as the invitation itself: The New York Times recently noted the death of the RSVP. And when people actually show up, there’s a minefield of faux pas to consider. We’ve all groaned as some miserly table-mate insisted on itemizing the check rather than splitting it evenly. And we’ve also given the stink-eye to some libertine wine drinker who expected us to defray the cost of her hangover.

With this in mind, we asked a few hospitality pros to weigh in on how to be a decent host and guest this holiday season: Sarah Simmons, whose City Grit supper club started life as a dinner party inside her apartment; NoMad GM Jeffrey Tascarella; and Andrew Carmellini, who designed parts of the menu at his forthcoming Lafayette specifically for groups. Read on for their thoughts—and a few of our own.

If you’re organizing, take charge.

Be clear, if not gruff, about your terms as a host. Let your guests know when dinner will be served and whether spouses and other plus-ones are welcome. Once you know whom to expect, make sure you’re in communication with the restaurant about any dietary restrictions and special requests. If you’re a particularly boisterous crew, consider a private dining room instead of a table in the main dining room. On the big night, a good toast is never unwelcome—we’ve always been partial to this one.

Commit and show up.

We blame Facebook events for the dissolution of the formal invite and dutiful reply. But even if your presence was requested via text message, a response is expected and appropriate. Keep your word: Arrive on time if you’ve agreed to come, and don’t crash the party if you’ve declined. “Restaurants usually have a lot of tables for two and four people but a very limited amount available for groups larger than that,” says Tascarella. “Hosts should definitely contact a restaurant beforehand if their party is swelling outside of that safe zone; conversely, if your party size is dropping out of large-party territory, letting us know will help us fill those big tables while we still have a chance.”

Consider the server.

If the venue allows party hosts to arrange set menus in advance, take advantage of that option to ease the burden back in the kitchen (and help streamline things when the check comes). Otherwise, be gentle on the staff. “Taking orders for a large party takes a lot of time,” says Tascarella. “If your seven friends are ordering another cocktail, take a look at yours, and jump on board if you’re going to need one in the near future. Don’t wait for the server to return and tack yours on.” And although gratuity is often included for large parties, it’s always a good idea to give a little extra, especially in December. “Around the holidays it’s nice to tip the service staff a bit more,” says Simmons. “They are working longer hours and don’t get a lot of time off during the Christmas season.”

Next page: Boozing etiquette and the dangers of “bro-fiving” at the table…

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