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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: How To Be The Best Guest

Thursday, June 04, 2015


Party time dos and don'ts for being a guest this summer at any kind of party. From a potluck barbecue to a formal wedding, good etiquette is about politeness and helping other people. Summertime party questions to Didi Lorillard are summed up in the best q-and-a of the week.

What are the dos and don’ts for being the best guest? We’re going to a wedding this weekend and then the following weekend to my boss’s house for a barbecue. After that we’ve got a cocktail party which is an engagement party. In general, what should we remember to do and not do?  

~TGW, Providence

Guests who may possibly wish to be invited back, want to know how to be the best guest. The ideal guest is a self-sustaining one.

As soon as you know your plans — whether you are able to attend or not — respond to the host directly or simply follow the cues for replying to the invitation. When there is a cut-off date for the RSVP, be sure to answer promptly.

Otherwise your hostess will have to phone to find out if you’re coming in order to get an accurate headcount for the caterer and/or bartender. Or just to know herself how much food to prepare.

When responding, make it clear as to who is replying by giving your first and last name, as well as the name of your partner or date when you are answering for both of you. A guest should never invite another guest without asking the host. 

Should your plans change, let your host know ASAP, so he doesn't get stuck paying for your two empty place settings. (Caterers are given a headcount in advance to insure there is enough food, and have to charge your host for your dinners if you are a no-show.)

On the other hand, if you arrive with an unannounced date, you may find there is no seat at the dinner table for her. It is even more humiliating for your date than it is for you. What if she is suddenly the 13th guest and the host only bought 12 lobsters?

Don’t assume an invitation includes your whole family — or your dog. You don’t want to be embarrassed by showing up with your small children only to find there are no other children their age at the party — or that your host is allergic to dogs. Having to leave Fido in your car on a hot summer night is a bad idea.

Check ahead of time when you’re not sure. If the invitation — whether it is for a  wedding or a potluck cookout — isn’t addressed to your whole family, then the entire family is probably not invited; even though you are bringing the coleslaw and two bottles of wine.

Again, check ahead even if the host has a child your child’s age. You can't just assume you can bring Junior because the host’s child may be away at a sleepover or boy scout camp.

Figure out the dress code ahead of time. Out of respect for your host and/or the guest of honor, dress up as opposed to dressing down. Even if it is a cookout or potluck picnic, wear your nicest appropriate clothes and shoes.

Whenever in doubt wear a tie and jacket. When the dancing gets hot, you can always take off your tie and fold it into your jacket pocket before leaving the jacket on the back of your chair. The older the host or guest of honor, the more respectful it is to dress your best.

When the invitation suggests Black Tie or Formal Attire, the dress code for a man is a tuxedo — or in summer a white dinner jacket with tuxedo trousers. A woman should wear a long dress or a dressy cocktail dress or evening slacks and top.

Black Tie Optional means if you have a tuxedo, wear it. If not, your best dark business suit will do. Your host is being considerate by offering you the option of not having to rent or borrow a tuxedo.

Examine the invitation. The more formal the invitation card, location and time, the dressier the dress code for the guests. Usually the later in the day the start time, the dressier the party. A lunch picnic is far more casual than a five o'clock cocktail party. Even in the summer, after six o'clock is time for party clothes. (Guys would not wear button-down collars after six, and don't have to wear socks with loafers.)

When the event is hosted at a restaurant or private club, the dress code rule Jacket and Tie can apply — especially in the evening when all male guests are required to wear a jacket and tie. If you show up without one, you will be loaned the use of a either or both for the evening.

What to bring as a hostess gift? For parties in an informal setting ask ahead of time, “What can I bring?” Or when you arrive ask, “What can I do to help?”

Make suggestions, “I can pick up some ice-cream or cold beer.” Don’t arrive empty handed especially when you’re bringing a date or family. You would not bring anything room temperature that is normally served chilled, because there may not be space in the fridge.

When the party is potluck, be sure to communicate with your hostess to find out if another guest is already bringing coleslaw. Would she rather you brought potato salad? Find out how many guests are coming to assure your decadent chocolate cake that serves twelve is indeed large enough.

Upon arrival, be sure to greet your hosts and thank them for inviting you. Be a self-sustaining guest. Not a needy guest. If it's raining, find a place for your coat and go look for the bar introducing yourself to other guests along the way.

A guest with food allergies should eat ahead of time and not expect her host to drop everything to make her something special. Leave your dietary needs at home or bring a small container of prepared food for your personal use -- that does not have to be heated up.

If you don’t know anyone at the party, be a self-sufficing guest by introducing yourself and your partner. “Hi, I’m Didi Lorillard and this is my husband Rod Stewart. We’re related to the groom.” Or "The host is our neighbor." Stating your connection with your host or guest of honor is a sure way to initiate chitchat.

Even though it is polite to go through a receiving line at a formal wedding, it is not mandatory. But be sure to talk to your host or the wedding couple later. Waiting in the receiving line, however, does give guests the opportunity to meet and chat with strangers informally.

Circulate and circumnavigate to figure out the seating for dinner. Is there a table card directing you to sit at table number 6? If so, is there a place card with your name on it?

At a wedding, for instance, a good guest not only talks to the host and/or guest of honor, but asks them to dance. He also talks to the person on his left and the person on his right while seated or standing in the buffet line, receiving line, or in line for the restroom. Take advantage of opportunities to get social informally.

About a gift. For an engagement party, shower, and wedding find out from other guests where the couple have registered their wish list and send a gift from the store registry, which will have the recipients address. Ahead of time, type in at least one name to a bridal registry search, such as TheKnot to find options for a gift in your price range.

How much to spend on a gift? To find the optimal amount to spend, roughly estimate the cost of hosting you and your partner for the event. So, if that estimated cost is $75 per person, a couple would spend $150 on a wedding present. (For instance, a wedding could cost the host anywhere from $75 to $1,000 or more per person.)

Obviously, a guest who was a student, retired or unemployed, would not be expected to send a wedding present. A thank-you note would suffice.

Arriving with a boxed gift at a large wedding is dicey. Cards detach from wrapped packages and go missing or end up on the wrong present.

Is a gift mandatory? No. But be sure to send a thank-you note to your host or a handwritten note or card to the wedding couple or birthday boy wishing them well.

It is not always possible, but if it is, be sure to thank your host before saying good night.

Can I give a toast? Who gives a toast? A better question is: should I give one? Probably not, unless the occasion is truly  informal. If you do, make it as short as possible.

For a formal event certain guests are handpicked to stand up and raise their glass to give a toast. Toasters are often chosen ahead of time so that there are not too many toasts that go on way too long. A good host doesn’t want to bore guests who won’t get the often subtle nuance of a toast.

When to leave? When the invitation states a timeframe arrive shortly after the arrival time and leave a bit before the end time. A good guest never overstays his welcome -- no matter how good of a time he is having. You never want to be the last guest to leave the party.

At a three-hour cocktail party, where a meal is not being served, don’t stay more than two hours.

The timeframe for a cocktail party is more about having guests pop in and out, and seating is not a priority because the intention is to encourage guests to circulate. Never sit down, because you can get stuck without an exit plan talking to a bore. 

A good host not only makes a point of introducing guests to other guests they may not know, but he also makes an effort to stand by the exit to make sure those who are driving don’t need a another cup of coffee before hitting the road.  Friends never let friends who are high drive.

About tipping. The only time you are prompted to tip is at the end of a party where there is a vendor handling the valet parking. Tip the valet who brings your car a couple of dollars.

Within two weeks after the party, be sure to have your thank-you note written and mailed. If the invitation came through an email or text, then you can thank your host with a return email or text. However, thank-you notelets are always more memorable.  


Do you have a dilemma about love, family and life in general for Didi? Go ahead and "Ask Didi."  If your Question is used, we can withhold your name and/or location.


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