You Are Invited – How to be a good host or guest
by Ellen Easton
The party season is upon us. Spring is in the air. April showers invite a good pot of tea with friends. May and June are the months for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations and wedding festivities.
Some celebrations will be small, while others will be large in scale. Planning the prefect party is one thing but being a good host or guest is another.
The evolution of social etiquette has not been without purpose, for without rules and protocols there would be no order. Proper etiquette is not meant to be intimidating, overwhelming, nor pretentious, quite the opposite. When one understands the rules there are no misunderstandings, no insults, no one is left out, nor made to feel uncomfortable. When we are made to feel welcomed and appreciated, a good time is had by all.
HOST: Send out written invitations six weeks prior to an event. Be specific about arrival and departure times. Provide written directions if the event is to be held at an out of the way location. If your guest has, in turn, a houseguest that has requested to attend your event, if you are able to accommodate them, do so. If not, politely decline. A long explanation is not necessary.
GUEST: The invitation has just arrived in the mail. What do you do next?
Whether one is invited to an afternoon tea, any other dining event or special occasion, there are protocols that apply and should be followed.
All invitations require an R.s.v.p. What does R.s.v.p. mean at the bottom of an invitation? Répondez s’il vous plaît is French for, “Respond, if you please”. Whether your answer is yes or no, always respond promptly to an invitation, preferably in writing- hand, email or text, but at the very least by telephone. If the invitation requires a hand written response, do so in a timely manner. Do not leave your host guessing, be courteous and reply. No surprises please.
Do inform your host at the time of your R.s.v. p. of any food allergies that you may have. This will allow your host to accommodate your menu needs without being caught off guard. However, do not expect your host to change the menu on your behalf. There is a difference between having food preferences and medical needs. With the exception of life endangerment issues, do not impose on your hosts by burdening them with your dietary requests. As in Gone With The Wind, do as Scarlet O’ Hara did prior to the BBQ; eat something at home prior to the festivities. As a last resort, ask your hosts if you may bring something along that does not require special preparation in the kitchen that may be served to you instead of the planned menu. You are not obligated to consume any food or beverage that does not agree with you. Simply leave it on your plate without calling attention to yourself. If your host is persistent, firmly but politely decline their offer.
Never impose on your host, one either accepts the invitation as is or respectfully sends one’s regrets. If you have not sent an R.s.v.p, certainly do not plan on just showing up. If you have accepted, mark your calendar and be certain to attend. Once you have accepted an invitation if for any reason you are unable to attend notify your host to cancel. Never be a no-show. Always arrive on time but never too early. There is no such thing as being “ fashionably late”. Being late is an insult to the host or hostess and disruptive to the flow of the event.
When one is invited as a guest to an occasion, it is rude to ask one’s host/hostess if they may bring along another guest.
Unless included in the original invitation, do not ask your host if you may bring your children, pets or another guest.
The correct manner in which to handle an invitation when one has a visiting houseguest is to inform your host that as much as you would like to accept the invitation you must send your regrets due to your visitors, but to please think of you again in the future. Do not be disappointed if your request is denied. Only if your host, in turn, then suggests that you may bring your guest to the party is it correct to do so. It would not be out of line for you to offer to cover the costs for your additional guest.
When someone has extended an invitation to you never ask your host to change the venue.
GIFTS AND THANK YOU NOTES
HOST: Do not expect, nor request unrealistic gifts. Do not expect a guest to give a gift beyond their financial means. A gift brought to an occasion is not expected to be used or served at the event. Please remember to write a thank you note for any gifts you do receive.
GUEST: Bringing a gift to your host is not mandatory, but a nice gesture to show your appreciation. If you do bring a gift to your host, be certain it one that is appropriate to the occasion to which you have been invited. Do not give a gift in your own image or preferences. Do not ask the recipient what gift they would like to receive unless you are prepared to give it. Do not expect your host to serve or use your gift at the event, as most likely the menu and decor have already been planned in advance.
DÉCOR and MENU PLANNING
HOST: Be respectful and aware of your guest’s dietary requirements. Be certain to serve a menu that will be inclusive to all of your guests. Do not expect, nor force your guests to consume foods or beverages they do not wish to taste. The décor should not interfere with the movement or interactions of your guests. Table centerpieces should be kept low, in order for your guests to see one another across the table. A centerpiece should never block another’s view. Contract with the venue, in advance, on behalf of your guests for hidden extra charges such as coat check and parking fees.
PLACE CARDS and PARTY MANNERS
HOST: Be thoughtful of how and where you seat your guests. Keep the interests and personalities of those you have invited mixed with a balance. Introduce your guests to one another and engage them in conversation. When at a seated event serve from the left side and clear from the right side of the table. Remember, after the third person has been served, do ask your guests to begin eating. When music is present, make certain everyone, male and female is asked to dance. Never allow any of your guests to be a wallflower. During a dining event the music should only be in the background as to not strain the conversation or interfere with the taste of the foods.
GUEST: Never- ever remove the placement of your place card at a seated event. If you are not happy with your seating arrangement notify your host before you take your place at the table. If nothing can be done to accommodate a replacement, grin and bear it.
Be a charming guest. Do not wait for a formal introduction; introduce yourself to the other guests. Engage others in conversation without being controversial. Do not monopolize the conversation, especially the hosts or guests of honor. A party consists of many people and no one is there to exclusively entertain you. Gentlemen, never allow a lady to be left out of the festivities, engage any unescorted lady in conversation. If there is music present be certain to extend an invitation to dance.
Do have good table manners. When in doubt about the proper table service, remember to use the place settings from the outside of your plate towards the inside of the plate. Never place your napkin on a chair. When leaving the table, place your napkin to the left of your plate. Gentlemen please stand when elders or a lady approaches or leaves a table.
When one is a guest in a public establishment, do not order the most expensive items on the menu. Do not order extra food items from the menu. When one is a guest in a private home, if at a seated affair, do try to taste everything on your plate. Never play with your food. If a food is not to your liking simply leave it on your plate.
Never remove or take home the table décor or centerpiece without permission from the host. Your host may have to return them to the venue, party planner or may have already designated where they are to going after the event, i.e. a hospital or charity.
Never take it upon yourself to order any alcoholic beverages by the bottle. Only your host has the right to order alcohol by the bottle. Whether it is a private or public occasion, a good guest will never consume more than two alcoholic beverages at any one event.
If I do not know anyone at the party, without feeling awkward, how do I join in the fun? A good host to make you feel comfortable and should make the effort to introduce you to a few people. However, if you are left to your own devises, first observe the room. Look to see who seems to be a friendly group. Walk over and say, “Hello, my name is ____. You seem to be having the most fun, do you mind if I join you?” If they say they are engaged in private conversation or turn out to be not as friendly as originally thought, move on to another group. You can also ask the host to introduce you to someone friendly. At a seated affair it is easier, simply introduce yourself to the person on both your left, right and across from your place setting.
Why must hands be washed before sitting at the table? Dining is a shared, social experience. To keep germs off of the tableware and out of one’s mouth clean hands are a must.
Why, when seated, does the napkin go on the lap? The napkin is placed on one’s lap to protect one’s clothes from being soiled. When leaving the table place the napkin to the left of the plate, never on a chair. The reason being is that a soiled napkin can damage the chair or one’s clothes when being reseated.
Why can’t I talk with food in my mouth? The first reason is a piece of food could slip down your throat causing you to choke. Second, is it is very unpleasant to look at another with food in their mouth. Third, when one’s mouth is full, one cannot properly pronounce their words, making it difficult to be understood by others. Always chew with your mouth closed. Never chew gum at the table.
Why is it rude to interrupt when someone else is speaking? In a social setting everyone must have his or her own turn to speak. Unless another is literally monopolizing the conversation, it is indeed very rude to interrupt another. Wait until there is a pause in the conversation to join in. If you have a tendency to be shy, in advance, prepare a few topics of conversation. Avoid religion and politics, unless you wish to see fireworks!
What should I do if my child or an elder with dimished capacity becomes loud or obstreperous at the party or table? First try to quiet your child or elder. Remind your child or elder to use their “indoor” voice. If your child or elder cannot behave, say excuse me and quietly remove the them from the room or table until they calm down. In drastic circumstances, it may become necessary for you to excuse your family and leave the party/table altogether.
What is a place card? A place card is used to designate where one is seated at an event. A guest should never move or change a place card as it is rude and an insult to the host or hostess. A place card may also be used at a buffet to identify the foods and beverages being served.
What is a menu card? A card used to display the food and beverage items being served at a specific event. Often a souvenir one may take home as a memento of the occasion.
HOST: Provide clean bedding and towels, bedside tissues, books and current reading materials, television, clock-radio, telephone if available, writing paper and pen, Wi-Fi if available, drinking glass, bottled water, new soap, toothpaste, disposable razor, Band-Aids, and basic medicine cabinet toiletries. Inform your guests, in advance, of your schedule. Allow your guests access to late night snacks or early morning breakfast. Allow your guests time for a quiet zone. If your home or building has special amenities such as a computer, swimming pool, tennis court, hot tub, Jacuzzi, gym, etc., inform your guests of their availability. Provide any special instructions and have proper insurance coverage accordingly. If a guest abuses or overstays their welcome by all means, ask them to leave.
GUEST: Do bring an appropriate house gift. Do NOT bring any pets or children unless you have been invited to do so. DO not smoke or drink alcohol on the premise unless you have been given permission by your host to do so. Do not talk on your host’s telephone without permission and do pay for any long distance calls. Do not assume any special amenities of your host’s home are yours for the taking; wait until they are offered for your use with their permission. If you are a guest for more than three days offer to buy groceries for the home or invite your hosts out to lunch or dinner. Be considerate of any noise you may make that could disturb other household members. Keep the volume of any electronic devices contained to your own room. Keep your bedroom and bathroom clean. Empty your own garbage and pick up your towels. Keep the lid to the toilet seat closed. If you are sharing a bathroom do not monopolize the time, nor use up all of the hot water. Be a considerate guest and offer to help around the house and kitchen. If your host has any household staff be generous when leaving a tip for them, especially if they performed any extra tasks on your behalf at your request. Once again, do not wear out your welcome. Do write a thank you note within twenty-four hours of your departure.
THANK YOU NOTES
Always call the next day to thank your host. A written note should follow. A hand written thank you note, once the tradition, is now a welcome touch. While not obligatory, especially if a host gift was already given, if within your budget, sending a thank you bouquet of flowers is a welcome gesture.
A considerate and good guest will always be invited back!
2018 Text and Photos ©By Ellen Easton- All Rights Reserved
Ellen Easton an afternoon tea, etiquette and lifestyle authority, in addition to her TEA TRAVELS™ writings as an author, columnist and guest lecturer, is a consultant to the hospitality, food, retail and special event industries, specializing in corporate training, Afternoon Tea, menu planning, recipe development and the design of related products, whose clients have included the Waldorf=Astoria, The Plaza and Bergdorf Goodman.