- December 15th, 2010
We are all guilty of a few etiquette indiscretions once in a while. It seems, however, in the digital era of meet-ups via twitter (tweetups), business by blog, and “friending” on facebook, the rules of the game are changing. Can you remember the last time you received a hard-copy embossed, formal invitation to anything besides a wedding?
Just because you didn’t receive a paper invite to dinner doesn’t mean the rules should be left by the wayside in the way you RSVP, attend, and follow-up an event, even if it’s as small as a dinner party for four. I have been meaning to post about dinner party etiquette for some time, and the holiday season- replete with festive fetes- is the perfect time for all of us to bone up. What follows is a list of some key etiquette points, though it’s by no means exhaustive. I also polled friends for their pet peeves. Remember, this list is subjective and opinion-based; I’d love to hear what irks you, and especially what nuggets you wish to preserve from your bygone Miss Manners lessons.
1. Be consistent. Just because you’ve established familiarity with someone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate their invitation to dinner as much as if it were a new host. If you would bring a bottle of wine and dessert on a first invitation, continue the equivalent pattern instead of lapsing into a slap-on-the-back and a “thanks for the food, dude.”
2. If you are the host of a dinner party, it is polite to ask your guests if they have any dietary concerns. It would be an uncomfortable shame all around to make prawns for a guest who is allergic to shellfish, so ask before you prepare to save everyone embarrassment. Personally I welcome diners’ nuances as a challenge. If someone comes over who is gluten-free, it helps me get out of my typical pasta-every-night-of-the-week routine.
3. If you are invited to a dinner party, ask what you can contribute to the meal. If the answer is nothing, bring a beverage (typically a bottle of wine) nonetheless. You do not need to break the bank on a hostess gift, however if you’ve made something recently or find something particularly suitable to your host, by all means go ahead, though this certainly goes above and beyond and need not be repeated every time as the bottle of wine should.
4. Take your hat off at the dinner table. #statingtheobvious
5. Reciprocate. Not everyone has the means or desire to host ten-course soirees, but it is a nice gesture to welcome those into your home who have previously welcomed you into theirs. If you don’t enjoy cooking, invite people over for a theme night such as take-out sushi complete with sake and an anime film. Heck, you can even have people over for bakery-bought dessert and a glass of sherry. Most of all don’t worry about being judged. Your friends will love the gesture and the good time more than they will mind your tiny apartment or non-matching glassware.
6. This should go without saying, but complement the chef. Even if you don’t like it. I’m not condoning dishonesty, but surely you can find something nice to say, after all, he has slaved for hours in the kitchen to present you with a meal that is a representation of his friendship with you.
7. Ditch your cellphone. Don’t answer it at the dinner table under any circumstances. If you need your phone for emergency reasons, keep it on vibrate and check it surreptitiously if it rings. Only take EMERGENCY calls, and do so out of earshot of other guests.
8. Close your mouth when you chew. Do not talk with your mouth full. This is a really big one for many people I polled. Seems like common sense, but I guess you’d be surprised, what with some of the horror stories I’m hearing.
9. If you do receive a mailed invitation to a party that you subsequently attend, it is polite to send a written thank you rather than verbal or via email. If much time has passed and you continue to forget to do so, an email will suffice. If you attend a non-formal invitation dinner, you do not need to send a written thank you, but an email or even phone call is in order. I have been informed by several friends that if you are sending a written thank you and you are part of a couple, each part of the couple should sign his own name rather than one person writing the entire note. It is apparently a matter of respect. I envision Betty Draper making Don Draper sign thank you’s at the end of a long day with bourbon in hand and lipstick on his collar.
10. If someone brings a bottle of wine, open it unless they explain that it’s for another time.
11. Do not bring an additional guest unless you receive permission from the hostess.
12. If you are going to be more than 10 minutes late, call or text. 15 minutes early is even worse!
13. Hold your tongue if you have the urge to name-drop. It just makes you sound like a climber, and baby, you’re already at the top!
14. Do not constantly attempt to one-up others. As in: Oh, you broke your ankle? That’s nothing; I broke both my ankles while in Tangiers on a Special Forces mission to recover 90 kilos of heroin.
15. Rely on the invitation for details about the party rather than contacting the host. Only bother the host if the information you need is not contained within the invite.
Now tell me- what are some of YOUR etiquette matters of the heart? One final question: is it ok to TWEET at the table? You tell me!