6 Questions You Should Never Ask at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say
You might not realize it, but these questions are actually considered rude.
A dinner party offers a wonderful opportunity to break bread and reconnect with friends and family. But whether you know it or not, the questions you ask other guests around the dinner table can make or break the experience.
Meredith Corning, lifestyle expert and the founder and owner of Meredith Events, advises staying away from sensitive topics like religion, politics, and money.
"It's always good to remember that you have no idea what is going on in someone's life, if their day has been good or bad, or if they're grieving or celebrating—so it's important to remember to ask questions with that empathy in mind," adds Jenny Dreizen, modern-day etiquette expert and COO of Fresh Starts Registry. "I'm a fan of open-ended questions, which allow people to reveal as much or as little as they desire and keep the conversation moving rather than create conversational roadblocks."
For the sake of keeping things civil, safe, and comfortable for all, here are some specific questions you'll definitely want to avoid asking at your next dinner party.
"Have you lost weight?"
It probably goes without saying that you should never ask someone if they gained weight. And while you may think acknowledging someone's possible weight loss could be complimentary, it's actually just as rude.
"Questions about someone's appearance changes can be seen as intrusive and may make guests feel self-conscious or embarrassed," says Nicole Del Valle Rose, an etiquette consultant and founder of Poised & Proper.
The reality is, you never know if someone's lost weight is intentional—it could be due to an eating disorder, medical condition, depression, or other issue. Bringing attention to it puts that person in an awkward situation where they're forced to share personal details they may not want to discuss. As a general rule, avoid commenting on anyone's body—full stop.
"There are so many more interesting things to discuss than someone's weight loss," says Dreizen. "Ask them what's been new with them instead. If they're proud of their weight loss and want to discuss it with you, I promise they will bring it up."
What do you do for a living?
While you may not realize it, Corning says this question can make it sound like you're sizing someone up. Some people may be out of work or not particularly proud of their job. Instead, Corning suggests asking, "So tell me, what's your superpower?"
"This sort of framing will likely position you to find out what their career is without seeming basic and haughty," she explains. "It allows the person to be more creative with their answer and is a sincere question with the underlying tone that you are interested in who they are rather than what they do."
"Are you dating anyone?"
Asking anyone about their love life in a social setting is one way to make them immediately uncomfortable, says Del Valle Rose.
"When it comes to hosting a successful dinner party, it's crucial to create an atmosphere that encourages connection and comfort among your guests," she tells Best Life. "This means steering clear of prying into their personal lives."
If it's a close friend, you can always ask them about their relationship status when you're alone—but spare them the embarrassment of bringing it up around a dinner table with others present.
And while we're on the subject, Dreizen recommends avoiding the question "Why are you still single?" which has an inherently judgemental vibe.
"I heard you had [XYZ illness or condition]—how are you doing?"
Surely, if you heard a friend or family member is or was sick—whether with COVID-19 or a chronic condition—you might want to ask them about it because you care about their health. However, etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts says a dinner party is not a suitable setting for these kinds of topics.
"Never dampen an upbeat mood of a party," she explains. "Conversation should be light and enjoyable."
If you're genuinely concerned, ask the person about their health in a more private situation—like on a personal phone call.
"How much did that cost?"
You likely know by now that asking someone about their salary is a big no-no. While you're at it, steer clear of any other questions related to money and finances, says Grotts. The cost of someone's home, recent vacation, or car is simply not your business.
Instead, Del Valle Rose recommends asking them about a recent memorable experience. "Travel is a universally captivating topic," she tells Best Life. "Encourage your guests to share their travel stories, dream destinations, and cultural experiences. This not only keeps the conversation lighthearted but also offers a window into their interests and perspectives."
She also suggests asking guests about their hobbies and passions or upcoming events to find common interests and keep the conversation fresh.
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"Why are you so quiet?"
"We all have different social speeds," says Dreizen. "Some of us are chatty, some of us are observers, some of us are neither or both. We have no idea what is going on behind someone's eyes. If they're being quiet, they do not need you to point that out or badger them about it."
Instead, Dreizen advises trying to personally engage the person. You might find that they open up when given the opportunity to interact one-on-one. Since food is a topic almost everyone loves talking about, Del Valle Rose proposes asking the person about their favorite cuisine or sharing a recent memorable dining experience.