Don’t laugh at the subtitle “Party Tips.” If I had a dollar for every mistake I’ve made throwing a party, I’d be rich. There really are ways to make your next party memorable in a good way. Here are some questions and answers that sum up what I’ve learned about entertaining others:
• What is the most important thing to pay attention to when hosting a lunch or dinner? Seating, seating, seating! Great food is a party must, but if the guests are not interacting it could spell disaster. Remember the cardinal rule for party seating: Seat talkative guests next to quiet ones. If you seat two introverts next to one another, there will be a guaranteed silence at that end of the table!
• Do you have any pet peeves as a guest or hostess? Parties are supposed to be fun, so it’s always irritating when guests inform me that they have a long list of foods they don’t eat. It is legitimate for a guest with celiac disease to ask which foods contain gluten, or if someone with a deadly peanut allergy to ask if any foods contain peanuts. But a guest should not be annoyed if her host does not offer caffeine-free drinks or tofu egg rolls. The golden rule for guests is that you eat what your host offers unless your allergy is genuine. If there’s a food you don’t eat, fake it: At least try a bite if you can, move the food around the plate, eat the other foods offered you instead and if asked why you’re not eating, just say “I’m saving room for dessert.”
• Have e-vites, email and Facebook changed invitation protocol? E-vites and Facebook are invaluable for large group events, but an email or a phone call is the easiest way to invite guests to a small casual get-together. A handwritten invitation on good card stock is still the way to go for wedding and graduation ceremonies.
• Are there any new rules for behaving at parties? As a manner of fact, the famous poet Oscar Wilde once said “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” The new rules are the same as the old rules. Whether we like it or not, we are judged by our appearance and our behavior, so take some trouble with your appearance and be on your best behavior. When in doubt, remember the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
• Is it okay to talk about plastic surgery at social events? Botox? Laser surgery? Lipo? These are all common terms in today’s society, but surgery is surgery, and any discussion of it at social events is inappropriate, especially at the table. If you are curious, I would suggest calling your friends the next day to find out why she looked so rested, and don’t forget to get the name of the doctor!
• Is there any cocktail banter that should be retired? In general, it’s best to stay about from “bad” topics, such as religion and politics, family issues, personal health, gossip, off-color jokes and politically incorrect jokes and my personal non-favorite, the cost of things. If everyone would follow three simple rules, conversation would be easy: Before going to an event, read the headlines of the day. Current events (aside from politics and religion) are perfect for small talk. Be ready for a conversational lull. The other person will be grateful for you’re filling the silence and will most likely follow your lead: Ask the other person about him or herself. And when that person answers your question, ask a second one about what he or she has just said as if you’re really interested.
• Any wardrobe tips? Is there a fail-safe party uniform? Party dress is dictated by the host, so it all depends on the theme of the evening. If it’s a weekend barbecue, then jeans or even shorts will be in order. The golden rule of dress is that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, or it could appear as an insult to your host. When in doubt, contact the host if you’re unsure.