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How to Be a Good Guest

Dan Mathieu and his partner Neal Balkowitsch ought to know a thing or two about how to behave at a party. In 10 years of co-owning and operating Max Ultimate Food in Boston, averaging more than 400 catered events each year, Mathieu figures they’ve served Bostonians over half a million high-end meals. It’s holiday party season, and whether you’re a guest or host, you want to make it a memorable night. Mathieu has some maxims that might help.

Q: Do you like giving parties? Not professionally but personally?

Oh, you want to know about the love-hate of a professional party-giver giving a party? Every year my partner and I throw a good-sized Christmas party. Every year, I say, “I don’t want to do it.” And every year, on the morning after the party, I think, “I just gave the greatest party ever.” You have to push yourself to give a party, because parties keep communities together. Everyone looks forward to our holiday parties because for many of them it’s the one time in the year they see each other. Holiday parties are about tradition. The economy is chilly, and people aren’t giving as many holiday parties as they used to — even the number of simple parties at home is down. It’s a shame because people look forward to being invited to a party.

caterers Dan Mathieu (left) and Neal BalkowitschQ: What makes a party special? What makes it work?

The real secret is for the host to plan ahead, to do everything ahead that you can, throw in a couple of surprises, and then relax and enjoy the party. The host or hostess sets the tone. And if they are working all the time, it’s no fun for the guests.

Q: Do you have any “party rules” or suggestions for how to be a good guest?

Yes I do! First, when you are leaving a good-sized party, never say goodbye. It’s a party killer! And it means that by the time the host has said “hello” to everyone, they have to begin saying “goodbye,” so for the host the whole party becomes a series of hellos and goodbyes. Just get your coat and quietly walk out. Send an e-mail thanking the host the next day.

Q: What should you bring to a party?

Never bring cut flowers to a party. The host has spent a lot of time making the room look nice and your flowers are a distraction. They have to run around find a vase, make room for it on the table. If you like flowers, send a bouquet the next day that matches the décor with a nice note. Actually — don’t bring anything to a party! Send a gift after, or before. The process of accepting a gift and deciding where to put is another distraction for a busy host. A bottle of wine? My theory is that there are just 20 bottles of wine circulating around the party circuit that pulse from house to house but never get opened.

Q: Great stuff! Anything else?

I’m just getting started! One: RSVP. It is the most important thing a guest can do — and do it on time. A host should never have to chase down a guest to see if they are coming. Two: Show up on time. Being half hour to an hour late is not cool. If the invite says 6 p.m., get there as close to 6 as you can. Three: Most parties have a three to four hour life span. Staying longer than four hours is not cool.

Zester Daily contributor Louisa Kasdon is a Boston-based food writer, former restaurant owner and founder of She is a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, the food editor for Stuff Magazine and has contributed to Fortune, MORE, Cooking Light, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.

Photos, from top: A holiday party. Credit: Nikada /
Dan Mathieu (left) and Neal Balkowitsch. Credit: Matt Teuten

Zester Daily contributor Louisa Kasdon is a Boston-based food writer, former restaurant owner and  the founder and CEO of Let's Talk About Food, an organization that engages the public around food issues in our world. Kasdon was the food editor for Stuff magazine and the contributing editor for food for the Boston Phoenix.  Winner of the MFK Fisher Award for Culinary Excellence, she has  written for Fortune, MORE, Cooking Light, The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor, among others.