Elizabeth Mayhew was hopping mad. Before her last dinner party, many of her guests failed to R.S.V.P. They just assumed she knew they were coming.
"People have become incredibly lazy and insensitive," says Ms. Mayhew, an assistant to the food and entertaining editor at House Beautiful magazine. "They get busy or they forget about it, and they don't respond to the invitation. It gets to the point where I have to get on the phone and call people up and ask them if they're coming to my party."
This sort of confusion happens all too often today, turning pleasant holiday get-togethers into exercises in frustration. To sidestep these tensions, we collected tips on what makes a good host and a good guest.
* R.S.V.P.: It doesn't matter how you respond -- by mail, phone or voice mail -- just make sure you do it. "People think to themselves: 'What's one more person?' so they just show up without giving the host or hostess notice beforehand," says Ms. Mayhew. "But there's nothing worse than running out of food or plates because you've miscalculated the number of guests."
* Before shopping for a gift, check with the hosts. If they say not to bother, respect their wishes. If you want to take something anyway, experts suggest a bottle of wine. "It's not too expensive or elaborate and if the hostess doesn't want to serve it that evening she need not do so," says Elizabeth L. Post, author of several books on etiquette, including "Emily Post on Entertaining" (Harper & Row, $5).
Neither a gift nor a note sent later is necessary, says Ms. Post; a verbal thank you is sufficient. But a phone call the next day to say how much you enjoyed the evening is always welcome.
* Nix the armfuls of flowers at the door. It's better to send flowers earlier in the day, experts say, or after the party, as a thank you for a special evening. "When people bring flowers the night of the party, they're putting the hostess in a delicate situation," says Judith Re, the author of "Social Savvy" (Fireside, $11). "She probably has her floral arrangement already, and this upsets" the design scheme.
* Notify the hosts beforehand of any food requirements or restrictions. "If I know someone is a vegetarian, I'd try to make something they could eat," says Ms. Mayhew. "It's a lot better than someone sitting there and not eating a thing."
* Listen to the hosts. If they say they'd rather you not help serve or clean up, take them at their word. "I don't want people in my kitchen, washing my good glasses," says Ms. Mayhew. "When I tell friends to sit down, I mean it."
* Try to be charming and friendly. According to manners mavens, guests have a responsibility to talk to other people, including people they've never met. Ms. Post says a good guest is "enthusiastic, congenial and considerate." Also, Ms. Re suggests that spouses or good friends separate during the course of the evening, so they are more likely to talk with other guests.
* Know when to stay and when to leave. Guests, says Ms. Post, should remain at least an hour after dinner, because it's hardly complimentary to the hosts to "eat and run." At a small gathering, she says, try not to leave long before everyone else seems ready to go, since your departure may break up the party.