How to avoid a party foul—and how to recover when you make one.

By Penny Wrenn
Updated October 15, 2015
Broken vase with flowers
Credit: Dual Dual/Getty Images

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Broken vase with flowers
Credit: Dual Dual/Getty Images

1 You knock over a vase.

Apologize. (“Oh, my goodness! I’m sorry!”) Then assist with damage control. (“Where can I find a dustpan to clean this up?”) The host will probably tell you not to worry about it, but send a note and a gift anyway. “You don’t have to replace the damaged item by price point,” says Gottsman. “But it’s a nice gesture to let her know that you felt bad.” For a minor infraction, like spilling a drink, just help clean up. That is, unless the drink ended up on some guy’s shirt. In that case, offer to pay for the dry cleaning. If he resists, let it go.

2 All the food violates your diet.

“When you go to a cocktail party, you should anticipate that you may not be able to eat the food,” says Gottsman. Her advice? If, say, you’re vegan or allergic to popular foods, like gluten and dairy, never show up at an event on an empty stomach. For a dinner party, let the host know of your restrictions when you RSVP, but tell her that you’ll bring your vegetarian casserole for everyone to try, says Rossi. “That way, you’ll have something to eat without putting her on the spot to cook specially for you.”

3 Oops, you really put your foot in your mouth.

Don’t pretend that it didn’t happen. Acknowledge it and laugh it off, says Rossi. So if you spaced and called Tracy “Trixie,” say, “It’s been a long day. I have your name up here in my gray matter somewhere—I just need a little help recalling it.” For a touchier matter (asking “When’s the baby due?” to an unpregnant woman or “How’s the wife?” to a recent divorcé), stick with “Please forgive me,” then change the subject. Adds Farley, “If you realize your error the following day, let it slide, but make sure you get it right the next time.”

4 Seriously, you don’t want seconds.

When she has the serving spoon hovering over your plate, start with a compliment to soothe her ego, says Rossi. “It was so delicious, but I’ve already eaten more than I should.” And if she asks again, don’t cave in. It’s not rude to turn down seconds, says Gottsman: “If your host is sensitive about that, that says more about her than it does about you.”

5 You’re dying to take home leftovers.

Unless the host offers, forget it. “There’s no appropriate way to ask without making the host uncomfortable,” says Gottsman. And dropping a hint like “I’d bet that stuffing will heat up well tomorrow” never sounds as subtle as you think. It might get you the food you want, but it will probably also make you look, well, kind of desperate.