Party etiquette Q&A

Etiquette questions answered

Lisa Mirza Grotts

Forks on the left, elbows off the table, cell phone stowed away and a gift in tow? There's so much to remember when hosting or attending a party. Here, etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts answers some commonly asked etiquette questions from hostesses and guests.

Hostess etiquette


Q: How should I handle unannounced guests or guests who didn't RSVP? Graciously! If you're throwing a cocktail party, you're in the clear. If it's a sit down dinner, time to shuffle place settings to accommodate the unannounced guest.

Q: I'm hosting a cocktail party. Is it okay to ask guests to bring a bottle of wine or an appetizer to share? The word 'host' implies it's your party. One way to get around it is to host a 'potluck' at your home. Try offering up the main course and have the other guests bring side dishes (including wine).

Q: Is it okay to throw my own birthday bash? My friends just don't have the same party planning panache that I have. Absolutely, especially for the decade birthdays complete with party favors.

Q: How can I politely inform guests that their children are not welcome at my decidedly grown-up affair? Some of my friends bring their tots everywhere. If the invitation states evening, this implies no children. If, however you are worried about a particular guest, send a follow-up email to all guests reminding everyone to book their sitters.

Q: I'm throwing a housewarming party; can I mention gift preferences on an invitation? The only gift should be the presence of your guests. They will bring along hostess gifts as a thank you for hosting the party. It's nice to say 'no gifts please' so others will not feel obligated to add to the money tree.

Q: What's the biggest party faux pas that you've personally witnessed? Party crashers, and I don't mean at the White House. Black tie, sit down dinner crashers!

Q: How can I politely remind guests that they need to turn off their cell phones before dinner, or I'll trample their texting fingers? Pray that a phone goes off during dinner so you can make your big speech.

You've done your job, ready to see what etiquette your

guests should be following?


For the guests


Q: I've got a new beau for the holidays, is it okay to bring a 'plus 1' with me after I already sent a solo RSVP? Certainly if the invite said plus one initially.

Q: I've been invited to a party I really don't want to go to, how long do I really have to stay? Either send your regrets in advance or stay long enough to be polite. Let your host know ahead of time that you will be leaving early.

Q: Elbows on the table or elbows off? When is it okay to lean? Elbows are okay on the table in between courses or when there is no food in front of you. All leaning will do is make you fall backwards and break something.

Q: What if I'm allergic to the what the host is serving (or I just plain old don't like it)? A thoughtful host will ask ahead of time if anyone has food allergies. If, however, you suspect what you're about to eat will make you sick, by all means tell your host. Better safe than sorry.

Q: I don't drink alcohol and when I feel awkward when I decline and others start asking why I'm not drinking. How can I respond to them when they give me that look that means they think I'm hiding something? No explanation necessary. Simply have the beverage poured for balance at the table. If a toast if offered hold up your glass and pretend to drink!

Q: Is it okay to propose a toast, even if the hostess didn't ask me to? The toast of welcome is normally done by the host, but if the event is informal, by all means. How nice of you to thank your host.

Q: Do I need to bring a hostess gift with me? And what the heck is a hostess gift anyway? A hostess gift is a gift that you give the hostess to show appreciation for their hard work and generosity. While hostess gifts are never mandatory, showing up empty handed is in poor taste.

Q: Is it okay to wear jeans to a formal dinner party? If the invite does not state the dress code, ask your host ahead of time so you're not the only one in jeans when all the other guests are in evening gowns and tuxedos.

Q: There are a bazillion forks, spoons and plates in front of me. Which set is mine and what are they all for? Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. The fork courses will include salad, the main course and dessert. The spoon will be for soup and the knives for salad and the main course. Remember to work from out to in for each course. When in doubt, look at the person across the table from you.

Q: My hostess assigned seating for dinner, but I really can't stand my seat partner. Is it okay to swap the place cards around a bit so I can sit by Mr. Dream Boat instead of Chatty Kathy? Would you want your guests to swap cards at your party? Probably not. Think the Golden Rule.