It’s always good to have a friend to ask about good manners.
Even more if, like me, you come from another country with another culture and, well, let’s be honest, in your experience, more often than not a gathering means a big plate of pasta to share and that everyone will clean the dishes while finishing a bottle of wine, rather than picking the salad fork with a respectable air on our faces and waiting for everyone to sit…
So, ok. Good manners are as simple as being respectful in any situation, Met Ball dinner or crepe party at G’s, but there are some moments when you’re in need of a precise answer. “Should I bring flowers the night of (yes I know it sounds like an HBO TV show with a hot murderer in it but let’s get back to our subject) or send them the day after? Or the day before? Or bring a bottle of… Aaaaargh!”
Well, see, in these moments, I have Jeffrey Caldwell. Jeffrey is awesome, handsome, elegant, and a very good friend of Chris that became a friend of mine. He also is the Director of Strategic Branding and Events at Architectural Digest and he knows everything there is to know about etiquette in our modern world.
So, I thought I’d share the love and the science! Let’s start with our questions about dinner, and don’t hesitate if you have any questions, Jeffrey is here for you !
Jeffrey Caldwell | Director of Strategic Branding and Events, Architectural Digest
My family is certainly not one of the fanciest, nor particularly formal. However, manners and etiquette were instilled in my brother and I from an early age by our family and friends. I remember hearing and observing a multitude of instructions, rules, guidelines on how to behave in various situations. Manners and etiquette are about respecting and caring for people and being courteous and thoughtful in ways that make others feel better, appreciated, considered, and valued.
As I have grown up and spent over a decade living in New York and working in fashion and publishing, I learned that knowing the rules of the game empowers you to also know how and when to break them. Etiquette should not be a gilded cage restricting your life, instead it’s about thinking of others’ comfort and well-being. You learn good manners from being the recipient of another’s good manners, leaving a mark on you that will likely find its own unique way into your behavior and customs.
If you’re a host…
When throwing a dinner party, your main responsibility is to ensure your guests are having a great time. Whether catching up with old friends or meeting new ones, you’ve brought people together for an entertaining experience which all should be able to enjoy. No pressure, though.
Who to Invite
Depending on the intention of the evening, you should assemble an interesting group of people that either already enjoy each other’s company or would enjoy the company of those invited. When putting together a guest list, consider shared interests; similar professional or leisure pursuits; and complementary personalities to make for a fun gathering that will allow everyone to contribute and glean something from the night.
Where to Sit
It’s a relief to arrive at any dinner party and see place cards at the top of each place setting. Quite simply, the guests shouldn’t worry about a thing. As the host, you’ve already devised a plan. For many reasons, a seating arrangement makes for a far more enjoyable evening. If nothing else, it helps avoid the awkwardness of people floating around the table trying to figure out who to sit next to.
Dealing with Dietary Restrictions
If one of your guests has a serious allergy, it is their responsibility to alert you to the situation at least a few days in advance. Should an uncharacteristically particular person insist on something else to eat, you can have a couple solutions at the ready:
1. Make an extra green salad, which you can lightly dress with a variety of vegetables or fruit.
2. Quickly boil some water and whip up an al dente pasta topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil and basil leaves.
3. De-friend said person. After all, the host is meant to enjoy their soiree too!
Wrapping Up the Party, gracefully
If the dinner party is going well, guests won’t want to leave. Hopefully the evening will continue, games will be played, decibels will rise and a dance party might ensue.
However, if you’re ready for bed, “Closing the bar” is the universal way to signal it’s time to go. Once that happens, most people get the picture. Whether or not they continue to the club is their decision…
If you’re a guest…
What to Bring
It’s nice to bring a small gift or gesture to your host or hostess (and even nicer to receive!). The gift can be as simple or extravagant as you want to share. A contribution to the bar, a coffee table book on a subject the host enjoys, or a tin of caviar is always a hit!
Don’t bring anything that would require the host to divert attention away from the party. The popular gift of flowers would make the host feel compelled to cut and arrange them when they are likely focusing on other things. If sending flowers, have the florist deliver them the morning of the party or the next day.
When to Arrive
Depending on the party, arriving 30 minutes late is considered acceptable. If it is a large party where people are expected to come and go, don’t worry about the tardy factor. However, the courtesy of an RSVP (and sticking to it) is both polite and greatly appreciated.
I still believe in setting a table the old-fashioned way, alternating male, female all the way around the table. In my opinion it provides a sense of occasion. In the past and in more formal dining rooms, the gentleman wouldn’t sit until all the ladies had taken their seats. Now, a good rule of thumb is to remain standing until both your dinner partners have been seated. If you’ve never met, introduce yourself and put those ice breaking skills to use.
To ensure you spend equal time talking with both your dinner partners, engage the person to your right during the first course and then shift and speak to the person on your left during the main course. If you notice someone around you is not part of a conversation, extend your conversation to include them. The goal is to be inclusive of the other guests and help create a festive atmosphere, which will make for a memorable night.
Remember, knowing the rules makes it easier to know when to break them. The most important thing is to not worry too much, let your conversations and interactions flow naturally. Enjoy yourself and the company of the others that have been assembled by the host, likely for very good reasons. Cheers!