Holiday Etiquette


Manners 2.0


by Cheryl Locke

Be a star on the party circuit with these rules of etiquette, pulled from Betty Draper to Oscar Wilde to San Francisco's resident event designers.

One cannot focus on merrymaking when there's fear of infection with every nibble of a canapé. Purell may be as prevalent as mistletoe this winter, but don't let a world pandemic keep you from toasting world peace.

Air-kissing only please! It has slimming and contouring effects and reminds us of another mandate by our most beloved sunken-cheeked denizen of all that is fine, Karl Lagerfeld: "Vanity is the healthiest thing in life."

Besides Kaiser Karl, we have channeled equally famous bon mots from hostesses and scintillating guests on a perfect party.

Muse: Betty Draper (oh, dear, you're truly mad if you're not up on Mad Men!)

Her one-liner: "Only boring people get bored."

Mad Men's housewife par excellence knows a thing or two about boredom. Hostesses would do well to apply her observation and make a point of stacking the invitation deck. Event producer Robert Fountain reserves thirty percent of the guest list for new friends whom his regular social circle has not yet had the pleasure of meeting. A cross demographic of careers, ages, and backgrounds guarantee fresh conversation.

An element of surprise, Robert says, also delights guests. Keep them guessing by skipping the usual string quartet, and inviting the choir at your local church, or the classically-trained violinist on your neighborhood corner.

Muse: Julia Child

Her party prescription: "Life itself is the proper binge."

The woman for whom cream is a substitute for butter knows how to enjoy food and, by association, life. As a guest, appreciate what's around you: be a joie-de-vivre multitasker like event designer Stanlee Gatti. "I can do five things at once," he says, by way of explaining his secret to having a good time. You will find him smiling, admiring beautiful people, eating delicious food, commending the exquisite china, and immersed in deep conversation. "I love a challenge," he adds.

What a guest does not do, according to manners expert and author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette Lisa Mirza Grotts, is ramble off a list of foods she does not like. "Unless you have a legitimate allergy," she notes, "if there's a food you don't eat, fake it."

A considerate hostess inquires ahead of time about her guests' allergies. A combination of small plates, a carving station, and a seafood platter allow something for everyone, points out Robert. When planning portions, err on the side of more. A holiday party during dinner hour should have enough food for ravenous guests, who opted to spend time with you rather than Michael Mina. If you don't plan on stuffing your guests, opt for a cocktail-hour soirée.

Robert also recommends serving a signature drink at the party. A pomegranate cooler, Bloody Mary, or cranberry cocktail could all be named Rudolph's nose. "The kind of drink isn't as important as the name in this case."

Muse: Andy Warhol

His custom: "Employees make the best dates. You don't have to pick them up, and they're always tax-deductible."

With the economy still on everyone's mind, we look to pragmatic provocateur Andy Warhol, who mastered the balance between art and commerce. Affect his blasé attitude on all matters related strictly to finance or making a living. Poor little rich girls, however, and nonprofits should be fervidly embraced-employees at your own discretion. Claudia Ross, CEO of Cross Marketing, agrees on the second item: cocktail banter on one's career should be retired. "We should be talking about the charities we support," she says.

Thankfully, superficial fashion conversations are permissible. Retail is a cause, and an adventure.

Muse: Oscar Wilde

His quip: "The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork."

If the 19th century dandy were alive today, he would be an uber-Tweeter. His wit is perfect for the 140-character micro-blog.

In our modern times, the anxiety over identifying the right flatware for each course has been transferred to choosing the appropriate medium for the message. Does an account of last night's party on your Facebook or Twitter banish you from good society? "I would never Facebook or Twitter," says Stanlee, which would seem to end the debate. But what about messages of the non-gossip variety?

Irene Chen and Matthew Grenby, husband-and-wife founders of e-stationary company Iomoi, acknowledge that cards remain standard etiquette, but digital formats are a bonus for the environment and convenient for guests with iPhones. "Email provides an instant record and a non-obtrusive way to nudge guests who haven't RSVPed," they say. For guests, Evites are equally a non-obtrusive strategy of finding out who is attending the event.

Muse: Emily Post

Her protocol: "The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S's: sincerity, simplicity, sympathy, and serenity."

The etiquette for a memorable evening, like Emily's definition of a lady, comes in a series of four.

Don't throw a party unless it's out of kindness and generosity, says Stanlee.

Treat others the way you want to be treated-the golden rule, reminds Lisa.

Show your appreciation for the hostess' effort with a donation to her favorite charitable organization, suggests Robert.

Most people would find it hard to resist chocolates. We love antioxidant rich Cocoa Absolute at Barneys New York and Poco Dolce's chocolate tiles sprinkled with sea salt.

Follow the above, and a qualified lady it will make you. But, for the too polite, we leave you with Mr. Wilde's warning: "Hear no evil, speak no evil-and you'll never be invited to a party."

Cheryl Locke is a fashion and beauty writer. Her favorite sushi is toro and her drink of choice is a margarita.