Etiquette Basics for Guests and Their Hosts

Etiquette BasicsIt’s that time in early January when the rain soaked days are dark, Christmas lights are being removed and stored for another year, and as the doldrums of winter are descending, the mind wanders.

With the flurry of holiday parties and gifting behind us, I decided to reflect on the customs of courtesy and etiquette. Social manners that were expected in times past seem no longer to be exercised in the day of emails, texts and voicemails. And yet, from a purely practical perspective, wouldn’t life be more ordered and less stressful if everyone knew the “rules” and followed them?

Evite and other online invitation websites have by and large replaced invitations that are sent in the postal mail, but as an envelope with a stamp on it is hard to ignore, an email invitation can often be overlooked. Worse, rather than the recipient just planning to get to it later, a digital invite can end up in one’s junk folder, never to be seen.

The advantage to sending an invitation from a syndicated website is that the party host can see if the invitation has been read, or not. The website also may send reminders as directed by the party host or hostess.

Personally designed digital invitations sent as an attachment to a group email, even when sent “bcc,” also frequently end up in a junk folder. Or, if the recipient doesn’t recognize the sender’s email address, there is sometimes fear of opening an attachment from a stranger.

Would a personal phone call or text be a better way to invite a group of friends to a party? Easily erased or ignored texts or full voice mailboxes add to the frustration and confusion.

Etiquette BasicsIn a perfect world, everyone has indeed received the invitation no matter how it was sent. If the invitation included an RSVP, the recipients now have an obligation to let the sender know, one way or another, whether they will attend.

RSVP is a French term “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “respond if you please.” Most people who send an invitation expect their guests to let them know whether they are coming or not. Is it time for us to get rid of the “RSVP” and simply say, in English, “Please let me know if you are coming”?

According to the etiquette expert The Emily Post Institute, this is the most basic of etiquette faux pas, and the source of the greatest level of frustration for those who are planning an event.

I had the pleasure of writing an article some time back about a hostess who always sends her invitations by mail, and if she does not hear from her invitees by a given date, she follows up with a phone call.

She said, “I want my guests to know how important they are to me. There is no guarantee that they received the invitation, or that a spouse may have opened it and it got waylaid on someone’s desk.”

Putting ourselves in the shoes of a party host helps us to realize the importance of responding to an invitation. How is it possible to plan enough food, tableware, seating, etc. if a host does not know how many guests to expect?

In the case of another type of event for which attendees are expected to reserve a seat, a presenter must know how many handouts to have available. Or the sponsoring organization may need to know how to plan for seating and refreshments.

Once you, the guest, have verified whether you plan to attend or not, if that status changes, it is incumbent upon you to notify the host as soon as possible. Of course, life intervenes and situations change, but a simple phone call, email or text allows the host to make last-minute changes in seating arrangements or food quantities.

As a host, if someone notifies me they are planning to attend and then don’t show, I am concerned some terrible fate befell them. As I only host people I care about, this is a concern to me, so I follow up to make sure all is OK.

Sometimes there are humorous results, as one guest posted the event on the wrong day on her calendar. Another thanked me for my concern about what caused the absence.

So, once the party is in full swing, guests are arriving with bottles of wine — sometimes just a bare bottle, sometimes in a wine bag. To serve or not to serve?

Often, a guest will say, “This is just for you” – and that answers the question. Some guests are fussy about what they drink and bring a bottle they hope you will open, and they may present it as a bare bottle.

The most polite way to handle that situation is simply to say, “Would you like for me to open this”? Rather than stashing it away in your own wine rack.

When gifting a bottle of wine, it is best to put it in a wine bag or attach a little tag to it so your host knows where it came from. The host may wish to thank you for it in the future.

Also, don’t expect your host to open a bottle, as specific wines paired may have already been paired with the food being served. If you would really like for your host to open the bottle, then ask for it. Perhaps say something like, “I would love your input on this wine since we both enjoy pinot noir.”

Speaking of thank you notes, it is not necessary to write a thank you for a hostess gift, especially if as a host, you were able to thank the giver in person. A handwritten note of appreciation for a nice party or dinner is always appreciated, but between family members or very close friends, a telephone call or email will suffice. Everyone loves to know their efforts were appreciated, so kindness and gentility is never overblown.

The bottom line as far as etiquette is concerned has to do with simply treating others as you would wish to be treated. Be polite. Say please and thank you. And remember to RSVP!