A gentle reminder for helpful guests.

There is no place more sacred to a Southern hostess than her kitchen. While she may present a picture of unflappable poise as she flits about the party serving her guests, there’s a good chance that she is a little less composed when she steals away to the kitchen to prep those last-minute appetizers. Here are three unspoken rules to keep in mind the next time you find yourself in someone else’s kitchen.

1. You should not be in the kitchen without an explicit invitation from your host.

No matter how close you are to the hostess, you cannot assume that your perching on the countertop with a glass of wine “to keep her company” is welcomed. Nor can you assume that your jumping in to help toss the salad or prepare the potatoes is appreciated. Sometimes, all that help proves no help at all. Instead, upon your arrival, you can ask your hostess, “What may I do to help?” You can also suggest something more specific like, “Would it be helpful for me to fill the glasses with ice? Could you use a hand with the ham?” If your hostess does not provide you a task or declines your offer, she’s likely not just being polite. She has things handled in the kitchen, and it’s easier for her to continue with her own workflow than to bring someone else into the mix. In that case, do not insist on helping her and stay. out. of. the. kitchen.

2. Keep unsolicited opinions to yourself.

Congratulations! Your host has invited you into the holiest of sanctuaries and given you a task. In your own kitchen, you make the rules, but in his, he decides the way things go. Unless he asks for your opinion on the roux, you should keep your thoughts to yourself…even if you know it would thicken up more quickly with another pinch of flour. Don’t take charge, either: You can play dictator around your own island.

3. Leave things cleaner than you found them.

You should never leave your hostess’s kitchen in a state of disarray. Once your task is complete, tidy up your workspace. Tuck away any ingredients that are no longer necessary; put dirty dishes in the dishwasher (ask your hostess about her system—people are very particular about this, you know); and clean the counter. This makes for smoother, more efficient meal prep (no clutter!), plus it will save your hostess some time when she cleans up at the party’s end.

For those of us who aren't skilled in the cooking/baking/candlestick-making department, a bottle of wine may seem like an obvious choice for a hostess gift. That said, showing up to a dinner party with a bottle of wine can cause quite the etiquette conundrum for your host. Here's how to avoid any awkwardness, whether you're attending the party or hosting it.