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If you are invited out

General rules

Some British people may invite you out as a sign of friendship and also so that you are not on your own.  You should not invite yourself to a meal unless you have got to know the Chocolate Cakeperson very well.  It is not normal to ‘just turn up’ at someone’s house.  If you need to call to collect something or see someone, either write or phone first to arrange a suitable time.  An invitation for a meal, or visit to an event or historic sight should not be taken as an invitation for an intimate or long term friendship.


Some people may not know what you like to eat, so try to help them as much as possible by explaining the things that you do and do not eat.  Tell your host the things you do not eat the week before they prepare a meal for you.

Arrival & gifts

When you arrive, try to be punctual.  If you are delayed, always phone to tell your host you will be late.  Do not arrive too early either, 5 or 10 minutes early is about right.  Your host will normally indicate where you should sit.  In most cases (especially when you do not know your host very well) it is usual to take a small gift, such as a box of chocolates or flowers.  Your host will normally ask to take your coat and hang it up until you leave.

Can I bring my children?

If you have children, it is always advisable to ask your hosts in advance whether they are expecting them for the meal or not. If they are coming, you may like to tell your hosts the sorts of things that they eat.  If your hosts don’t have children, it may be helpful to take a book or toy for your children to play with.

Seating & eating

If the meal is served at a table, you should wait until you are called to sit down.  The meal will either be pre-served on a plate, or bowls will be passed round from which you help yourself.

If there are several knives, forks and spoons at your place at table, always start with the ones furthest from your plate and work in.  Often, the fork and spoon for the dessert will be placed at the top of your plate.

During the meal, try not to eat faster than your hosts.

Always wait to be offered more food, do not just take it.  Only if you know your hosts very well should you help yourself.  However, if food has been served from a bowl, and you see your neighbour’s plate empty, it is polite to ask your neighbour if you can pass anything to them.  Do not serve your neighbour, just pass them the bowl.

If you are offered more, and you would like to take it, always accept the first time that you are offered.  If you refuse the first time that you are offered more, your host will think that you are full or do not like the food and you may not be asked again.

The way you place your knife and fork will indicate to your host whether or not you have finished.  This is illustrated in the sketch below:

Not yet finished
Part way through the meal
Finished eating
I have finished - please clear my plate

What if I cannot eat the food?

If anything is served that you do not know, feel free to ask, especially if you are vegetarian.  If you cannot eat anything (especially if meat has been served and you are a vegetarian, or if you think that you may not be able to eat it) please tell your host.  They will usually understand, but remember, mistakes sometimes happen, Empty plate especially if your hosts are not used to having international visitors.

Clearing away

It is polite to offer the host help to clear away and wash the dishes after the meal, although you should not be surprised if your offer is refused.

Should I return the hospitality?

British people enjoy having guests and will not expect you to invite them back for a meal.  Do not feel that you have to invite them.  However, if you have a suitable room or flat, and enjoy making a meal, then you will find that a return invitation would normally be considered a privilege by your British friends.  Try to remember that they may find certain foods too spicy to eat.

Images: welcoming international students
in Guildford