Am I Drinking Too Much?

Dear Helena,

At dinner parties, if the hosts don’t offer, is it OK to ask for another drink? And if your hosts do offer but are not drinking, or not drinking more than a single drink, how much is it OK to drink? And, conversely, if you have guests who don’t drink, or don’t drink much, how much is it OK to drink? —Tentative Tippler

Dear Tentative Tippler,

As a guest, you should never have to ask for a drink. The host should put a drink in your hand within five minutes of your arrival. Thereafter he should ask if you want another whenever your glass is empty, or put the bottle within easy reach so you can refresh your drink yourself. As a side note, if you do pour yourself another splash, you should always ask others present if they want one too. It sounds so obvious, and yet people don’t always do it.

If your host lets you get thirsty, there are two possible explanations: Either he lacks basic hosting skills, or he’s sending you a message of some sort. If the former is the case, you’re probably better off going home and having a nightcap there. This may sound harsh, but the way people take care of guests can tell you a lot about them. I’ve noticed that sensitive and giving folks are always quick to take care of guests’ drinks, whether that means pouring more wine or bringing out a pitcher of water. Hosts who don’t notice their guests’ empty glasses are often a touch self-absorbed.

If, on the other hand, your host is sending you a message, then it’s likely you’ve had enough to drink or the party’s over. Either way, you shouldn’t ask for a top-up.

I’ve made it pretty clear that keeping the drinks flowing is Dinner Party 101. But if you’re the host, how do you know how much booze to stock? Chowhounds have done the math already. You can find various drinks calculators online. Or you can use the caterers’ rule of thumb: According to Chappall Gage, general manager of Susan Gage Caterers in Maryland, you should allow three to four drinks per person for a seated dinner.

As a guest, if you’re worried about running out of alcohol, bring two bottles of wine instead of the more typical one. To prevent your host from stashing your offering in the cupboard, just mention that you’re extremely excited about trying it.

Guests and their hosts certainly need not drink at the same pace, because people have different tolerance levels. However, if someone is not drinking at all, whether guest or host, you should limit your intake to three drinks. As I’ve explained before, it makes for better dinner conversation if everyone present stays on roughly the same chemical wavelength.

It’s better to overestimate how much alcohol to have on hand rather than having to run out to the store in the middle of the party. But as the host, if you notice you’ve run dry and you want the evening to continue, you should slip out to the corner store. (Only do this as a last resort though, and don’t announce where you’re going, because people might feel bad and tell you not to. Just ask one of your friends or your partner to entertain the guests in your absence.) Running to the store might seem like a hassle, but it’s better than digging out that dusty bottle of peach schnapps you bought in 1998.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.