Walking into a room full of festively dressed total strangers who will all stare at you and judge you mercilessly is really intimidating for many people. ‘Tis the season of holiday parties, and invariably there will be the One: that one party where you know and adore the host but very few other guests, if any at all. Dreading a party is no one’s idea of a good time, so here are a few suggestions to help you through.

1. Do not show up empty-handed. This is just basic party etiquette, but it will keep your hands occupied and give you a task when you walk in, ensuring that you don’t feel lost. It also gives you a minute to scope out the party. If it’s a cocktail party, absolutely bring booze to share! Don’t be stingy—get a bottle of something decent enough that you would drink it, but not so nice that you will be guarding it all evening.

2. Have an “out” time. In reality, you’re going to go home, wash your face, and wish there were a new episode of whatever it is you’re into while settling for watching Elf until you fall asleep. But instead of admitting your antisocial ways, you should say that you’re meeting friends for a drink. This way, you’ll have an escape route that doesn’t involve a British crime drama on Netflix.

3. Stand up straight and SMILE. Duh you’re a little nervous, but fake it already. Scowling and slumped over makes you look intimidating to strike up a conversation with, so look friendly. This means stay away from spinach and artichoke dip, mulled wine, and peppermint Oreos, all of which will (or at least ought to) make you self-conscious of those pearly whites!

4. If this is an eating and drinking party, wear something loose that you feel comfortable in. You do not want to be tugging at a shirt you’ve never worn before because you ate a few extra meatballs. Or all of the meatballs, and all of the wine.

5. Don’t show up so hungry that you don’t have a free hand to greet people. You don’t want to have to practice the delicate dance of holding a glass, plate, and napkin, while trying to dive into the platter of meatballs that you’ve been eyeing since the moment you walked through the door. Pace yourself. Patience will pay off.

6. Leave your phone in your pocket or purse for the entire evening. Wear a watch if you need to keep track of the time, and remember that Googling something is not a conversation. Not to mention that standing next to the cheese pretending to do things on your phone is just a terrible disservice to a lovely cheese. Don’t stress, @thefatjewish and the rest of your Instagram feed will still be there when you get in your cab.

7. Think Cady Heron and observe the party like a nature documentary (#eatenalive): Find someone outgoing who clearly knows a lot of the guests and introduce yourself. Play the “I don’t know anyone here” card and let them introduce you to some new party-goers.

8. Position yourself somewhere that is not a corner, but not a high traffic zone where guests are just trying to angle around you and no one is stopping to chat. Next to the cheese or the booze is a solid place to drop anchor for a bit and talk to people. It also provides immediate conversation, and either guest can walk away comfortably. Ask someone about the cocktail they’re making, or offer to make one for someone else. Inquire about the cheese. Asking questions will make the time fly by, and who knows, you may just meet your new best friend.

9. Avoid overconsumption. Don’t nervously sip/gulp your way into embarrassing yourself in front of party guests simply because you don’t know them (yet). You will see them again, and you will regret it, so rein it in!

10. Include everyone! When you finally find someone interesting to talk to, do not be selfish—rope more people into the conversation. If you see another guest casting glances around, welcome that person into your conversation.

11. Which reminds me: Never sit down on the couch. You won’t get back up, and then you’re stuck there with a potentially opinionated person who loves rock climbing and Dane Cook, and no one new will come save you because you’re sitting on the couch.

12. Compliment people! We are very vain, self-loathing animals so stroke our ego with a compliment as your opener. It wins more friends than “So what do you do?”

13. Follow TSA rules: If you see something, say something. Or do something. Give your host a hand, set a good example, and if you see a bunch of empty cups piling up, grab and toss them. Or refill the chips. The host will appreciate it, as will the guest who was wondering if there were any more Doritos.

Now you are free to leave! Don’t linger; just say your goodbyes and thank-yous to the host, and remember: Don’t be the last person at the party!

Images: Vintage Christmas Party from quotes.lol-rofl.com; Guests carrying wine from She Knows; CHOW’s Turducken of Cheese Balls; CHOW’s Spiced Brandy-Pear Punch

Vanessa W. Simmons is a former cook living in San Francisco, helping to run a food business. She’s probably hungry, but if not she could eat.
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