If you are hosting a party, a dinner, a brunch, a cocktail function, or any other event in your home, it can be disconcerting to have a guest arrive before the stated time. On the flip side of that, you should feel flattered that this guest decided not to wait to enjoy your company! Nonetheless, if early arrivals are not your thing, here are some great tips for how to deal with this situation easily and gracefully with proper etiquette while continuing to get everything else ready. You'll come across as the perfect host without additional stress.
Rules of etiquette for arrival time
According to US etiquette, it is acceptable to arrive for a party from 5 to 15 minutes after the stated time, but never early. However, if a guest breaches this rule of etiquette and arrives early to your party, it is not your job to point this out. Instead simply follow the guidelines below and rest assured that you will come off well to your guest while still carrying on with the party preparations.
Your overall game plan for early arrivals
Your game plan is to welcome the guest and get him or her seated (or help you get things ready) but do not start the party yet. This may mean not putting on the music yet, and don't offer party food until the designated time or when another guest shows up.
The early guest should certainly be warmly welcomed into your home and given a drink, but they need not control when your party starts! Besides, it can then be confusing for you to keep track of what you are doing if you are offering food while still getting things ready. Here are two easy ways for you to handle this situation shown below.
Here we go: imagine the doorbell just rang and it's 15 minutes before time and things are not ready yet. Firstly, don't stress. Simply feel grateful that your guest is so enthusiastic about the party!
Option 1: If you do not need or want help getting things ready
Welcome the guest and say:
"It's so great to see you! Things should be ready in about 15 minutes [or whatever number of minutes your guest is early]. In the meantime, why don't you sit down and relax in the living room and I'll get you a glass of water. Ice or no ice?"
This way, they will get to sip something while waiting for the party to start - but it won't interfere with your party preparations. Only the most churlish guest would be dissatisfied with this. If you have a coffee table book handy, bring it out for the guest to leaf through: you'll be able to concentrate on getting things ready while being assured the guest has something to do.
Option 2: If you want to involve the guest in the preparations
Early arrivals to an informal function can actually be a source of practical help, particularly if you are running behind or if the guest is social and gregarious - they'll probably want to help.
Firstly, assuming that the guest is not infirm or elderly, simply be up-front about what you'd like for him or her to do. Welcome your guest and say:
"It's wonderful to see you! I'm so glad you arrived a little early - I could really use some help. Come into the kitchen, I'll get you a glass of water. Here, I'll just put the lettuce out here next to the sink, if you could please wash that for me while I deal with the rest of the food, that would be great thanks."
Some guests actually feel put at ease and more of a part of things when they are helping out, especially shy guests. So don't feel bad about putting early guests to work. If the person really doesn't like it, odds are that he or she will simply arrive at the proper time for your next event!
Try not to feel too negative toward those who arrive early
Yes, it can feel awkward to have a guest show up when you haven't yet done the last-minute vacuuming, or you have your hands full. But try not to feel too negative toward your early guest. Some people do find it difficult to time their journey accurately and not everyone will be thoughtful enough to drive (or walk) around the block to kill time if they arrive early.
In particular, remember that those with very young children or babies, the elderly, or those traveling longer distances or catching public transportation may have a harder time sticking to a precise arrival time. Furthermore, an extremely shy party guest may feel very awkward walking into a room full of people and may actually try to arrive early. This doesn't make it any easier for you, but it's something of which to be aware as a host.
It's your party, your event - be welcoming but do not be a doormat
As a host, a big part of etiquette is setting your guests at ease. It simply means being friendly and welcoming - that does not mean waiting on them hand and foot. As host, you can be expected to manage the overall sequence of events at your party - this includes "managing" the early guest. Even if you are not an assertive type and instead your early guest has a dominant personality, it is your event and your party: don't let yourself get railroaded into starting things early or running around after your early guest.
As host you can be expected to make decisions on what to do; use this to your advantage. Be genuinely glad to see your guest and warmly welcome them, but don't let them throw you off-course on your preparations.
Extra sanity savers when faced with early arrivals
- Don't make the mistake of feeling obliged to "entertain" your early guest by making small talk or starting conversation until you are done getting things ready. Of course, do not ignore your guest - by all means respond to what they say, but don't feel like it is your job to initiate the conversation if you are still getting things ready. There will be time enough at the party for conversation.
- If you have someone who is regularly showing up early to your events, they probably won't stop doing it on their own. In this case you will just have to accept it as "one of their little quirks" and go with it - just use the same tactics outlined here as for any other early guest.
- If your guest is more than 15 minutes early, you may want to update your guest after, say, the first 10 or 15 minutes, just to let him or her know what is going on. This keeps him or her feeling "in the loop" while still letting you continue getting things ready. For example, you could say "The other guests should start arriving a little after 7 o'clock. I'm still getting things ready and hope to be done with that in another 10 minutes. I think you'll very much enjoy getting to meet the Joneses when they arrive."
- Be welcoming, but never apologize to an early guest that you are not ready. It's not your fault your guest was early!
Enjoy your event!
In conclusion, if a guest arrives early to your party, dinner, or other event, simply feel flattered that this person was so eager to be there. Just deal with the practical details as outlined above, and you'll be certain to come off as a superb host. Above all, be in a positive frame of mind yourself and you will fully enjoy your event. To help with your party preparations, you may also like to take a look at our dinner party playlist recommendations.