7 Ways to Deal with Difficult Guests

Advice for dealing with any dilemma, from family feuds to the elephant in the room

For some hosts, planning the perfect party means hours of preparation, laboring over the small details when setting the table, and putting together just the right guest list to ensure everything is a success. But what to do when conversation comes to a screeching halt or the a fight breaks out around the table? Whether its three grown siblings dueling over who gets to take mom and dad’s antique furniture, or your two younger children arguing over something (typically) petty, when you entertain often it’s bound to happen. But will you be able to prevent these disruptions from leading your party away from superstardom and towards disaster? 

You can find difficult guests at cocktail parties, too. Like when your ex walks into a mutual friend's get-together — with his/her new girlfriend? A good host should surely recognize the problem, be able to artfully appease both guests, and ensure that both have an enjoyable night. Or consider the guest who brought along another friend (who you've come to learn is more of a tagalong than a social savant). This person might mean well but struggles with a bad case of social anxiety and clings to your guest’s side like a lint ball all night. So how to do come to your guest’s aid without insulting the awkward friend, or help that uneasy guest find a conversation of their own? Do you just let that friend follow your guest around like a sad puppy all night?

As a host, if drama in an unwelcome guest at your party, it's up to you to resolve the situation. There is an old adage remains true today: “As long as you are having a great time, your guests will too.” But not if one of your guests begins to enjoy their vodka or wine a little too much and starts to disrupt your otherwise enjoyable party. No matter the issue, gracefully turning your next modern-day guest drama around and rescuing your dinner party can be easy when armed with the right information. I'll cover seven common situation you might encounter — but if you have one that is stumping you, comment below and we'll be sure to send you our tips!


1. The Fighting Couple

There is nothing more uncomfortable than when a couple begins to feud at your party. Here, the best defense is to quickly lighten the mood by asking one of them to help you in the kitchen and gracefully re-guide the conversation on to something light-hearted. Ask them about their weekend away, their children’s plans for the summer, or plans for an upcoming project.  A cooling off period will help put the party right back on track.   

2. Enter the “Ex”

Cocktail parties are full of unexpected guests and none is more unwelcome than the notorious ex (especially with a guest in tow). Your role as host is to ensure that all your guests are mingling and enjoying themselves. Before the two exes have a chance to meet face to face, swoop in like an attentive host and offer the arriving ex a cocktail before introducing him/her to guests across the room. Then go back to your guest, the other ex, to make sure s/he is happily engaged in conversation with another guest.


3. The Conversation Killer

A good conversationalist knows to avoid topics like religion and politics and to instead focus asking fellow guests about their interests. Yet more often than not, the conversation may take on a life of its own and veer down a controversial path. If your dinner conversation turns sour, use humor to mellow the mood, or invite a distraction by moving the discussion away from the troublesome topic. If you anticipate the conversation becoming heated, employ some pre-planned table topics (or a strategically planned game) to get the conversation back on track. 


4. The Elephant in the Room

As the host, there are two schools of thought for dealing with the issue at hand. If whatever is hanging over you and your guests’ heads is disrupting the tone of your party, sometimes it is best to get it out into the open and quickly address it. Then take your guests’ minds off the issue with a fun activity or game — humor goes a long way towards getting the party right back on track.

The second school of thought is to suffer through it and hope it disappears (which is better suited to smaller elephants).




5. Family Feuds

The best defense against family tension and flaming tempers is to be prepared, play offense by re-directing the conversation, and enlist the help of those around you. And if all else fails, remind everyone why you are together, what the occasion is, and how much it means to you — sometimes a little sugar-coating can go a long way in these incidents (especially with younger children). 


6. The Wallflower

Many of us have a socially-awkward friend that hovers on our guest list with a “do we or don’t we invite?” mark. I say invite them and do you best to bring the wallflower to life, but not at the expense of your other guests. If the wallflower is extremely awkward and requires your full attention, limit their invites to smaller gatherings where they are more likely to mingle and engage with your other guests rather than cling to your side. 


7. The Tipsy (or Drunk) Guest

The best defense against a drunken guest is to keep an eye on alcohol consumption and start serving lighter cocktails if you suspect that the guest needs to slow things down. However if you are past the point of no return, avoid confronting your guest. It will only embarrass them, or worse yet, drive them to prove how sober they are. Instead, ask them to join you in a cup of coffee and something light to eat (a little toast with butter will help). A little conversation and a distraction from the alcohol will save your party and your guest from any embarrassment (and it doesn’t necessitate you calling them a cab, locking in the guest room, or putting them in a cold shower).

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