Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reggie’s Rules for Popular Party Guests

As the readers of this blog well know, Boy and I had the pleasure of throwing a large and festive holiday cocktail party last month. It was a marvelous gathering, well-attended, sparkling, and fun. We really enjoyed it, and our many guests did, too.

In the meantime I have been doing some thinking about what made the party successful, and what its drawbacks were. I’ve already enumerated the successes in previous posts, and so have nothing to add to them here. But I have come up with some observations that I believe my readers may be interested in as to what I believe guests can do to maximize the pleasure their hosts take in having them attend such a party. It is, after all, a two way street.

Invitation courtesy of http://www.tinyprints.com/

Following these simple rules will insure that you, Gentle Reader, are a popular and sought-after guest, and the beneficiary of numerous repeat invitations for years to come.

1. When you receive an invitation to a party that requests a response, you should do so well-in-advance of the event. Do not make your hosts chase you down.

Boy and I sent out 60 printed invitations for our cocktail party with Rsvp and our telephone number clearly printed at the base of the card (see above). We mailed the invitations at the beginning of December to provide our guests with plenty of advance notice, recognizing that many of them would have busy calendars during the holidays. Approximately half of the invitees—and kudos to them—responded within two weeks. Then dead silence. Faced with 30 un-answered invitations, a caterer asking for headcount, and other unquantifiable expenses, Boy and I then got out our telephone books and started chasing down those of the invitees who hadn’t responded. Not only was this inconvenient and time consuming for us, but it also delayed our ability to finalize plans with service providers during their busiest time of year.  Do your hosts the courtesy of responding.

2. When your host calls you to find out whether you are attending his party, do not answer “I don’t know.”

I recognize and understand that we are not always in control of our calendars at all times. However, if you are not certain of your ability to attend a party then you should decline the invitation. Failing that, but only under extraordinary circumstances, you should give your host a definitive date for when you will let them know one way or the other. The vagaries and whys and wherefores of your calendar are of little interest to your host at this point. He wants to know whether you are attending his party or not.

3. When you haven’t responded to an invitation and your host leaves you a voicemail at your home or on your mobile seeking one, you must do so immediately upon listening to the message, absent an unexpected residency in the IC unit of your local hospital.

Failure to acknowledge an invitation at this point is egregiously thoughtless and unspeakably rude and—to put it in printable words—does the exact opposite of promoting civil discourse with your putative host the next time you chance to see him in public.

4. After accepting an invitation, do not then call up your host the day of the party with a lame excuse about why you are not going to attend. And certainly not just as the party is scheduled to begin.

For large parties it is far better to be a no-show and then call the next morning with an abject apology.  As for dinner parties, just don't do it.  Period.

5. Dress appropriately for the party. Make an effort.

This is more of an issue for men than women, I find. It's fine to show up at a barbeque wearing shorts, but when the pleasure of your company is requested to a large party in a printed invitation you should assume that a certain level of dress is expected. In my house that means, at minimum, men over 40 should arrive wearing a sport jacket or blazer, and women should arrive made up and wearing something festive. In other words: dress for the party. While I didn’t expect all of our guests to arrive wearing cocktail outfits inspired by the characters in “Mad Men” (and was pleased to see that some of them did, actually), I was rather surprised that more than one of the men arrived unshaven, wearing jeans and a casual shirt. Just because this is my country house doesn’t mean that you should consider it appropriate to arrive at my party dressed like a bumpkin or a lumberjack. Consider the type of party you are attending, and dress appropriately.

6. Do not feel compelled to arrive bearing a gift.

Perhaps your mother told you that “nice people” always bring something to a party--an "hostess gift"--but in our case it is really not necessary. For us the pleasure of your company is sufficient.  I certainly won't object to receiving a small gift, but I don't expect it.

7. Circulate and introduce yourself to people you don’t know.

Don’t just stand there speaking only to your wife/spouse/significant other/best friends. Circulate among the rooms and engage new people in conversation. This is a party, not a family reunion.

8. Keep it light.

Leave your worries at home. Conversation at parties should be light-hearted, topical, or amusing.  It is not the venue for describing in detail the miseries of your gallstones ordeal.

9. Enjoy what food and drink is provided, and do not seek special treatment.

Your hosts have gone to considerable effort and care in selecting the food and drink they are offering at their party. Do not ask for red wine or hot tea when none is offered, and do not complain when there is food on the menu that you don’t care to eat. Either choose from the selection of what is being offered to you or abstain from ingesting it. You are not at a restaurant, and the caterer is not there to indulge your whims.

10. Please do not feed my dog.

While Pompey is adorable and a true professional when it comes to procuring treats, please do not feed him cheese and canapés at my party. It can have disastrous consequences, particularly when several dozen of you do it.  Do not feed the pets, no matter how cute they are.

11. Monitor you alcohol consumption.

No explanation needed (as per ~LPC).

12. Know when to leave.

This is a follow-on to the previous admonition. Sometimes it’s appropriate to stay on with the after-party set, if there is one, and sometimes it isn’t. Better to err on the side of leaving early than too late.

13. If, for whatever reason, you are a no-show at the party after having accepted the invitation, you must call the host the next day and apologize.

And the excuse better be a good one, whether made up or true, such as illness, a family emergency, or that your house burned down.

14. Within 48 hours of attending the party, you should contact your hosts and thank them.

Either by telephone, email, or mailed note. It generates good will. Your mother was right on this one.

In closing, while some of my readers may chafe at the number of outlined rules and dismiss them as the ravings of a persnickety stickler for out-moded rules of etiquette, they are, in fact, the considered result of my many years of experience and observations as both a popular guest and a generous host. Each was prompted by a specific incident or series of incidents at parties that I have either attended or thrown over the years.

Following these rules is actually quite simple and straightforward and will insure that both you—as guest—and your host will derive maximum pleasure in each others’ company at parties for many years to come.


  1. Another excellent post. I forwarded these on to my two newly independent, grown "children," with a caveat. I agree with them all, except for the one that says not to bring a gift. I still advise them to err on the side of their mother's advice and always bring a "hostess gift."
    Thanks again Reggie. Love your blog!
    B. Marciano

  2. Thank-you, thank-you for this post. Now how do I send this on to my friends in a subtle way that will not cause offense? I especially like the 'don't cancel at the last minute' rule: I have a friend who does this to me all too often. I am a stickler for thank-you notes (Hand written and sent the next day!)
    Keep up the fabulous blog...

  3. Great list of tips to abide by!
    Did you give a copy to your guests as they left? I think the one's who did not obey the rules need a copy! Ha!

  4. Well, I giggling all the way to the kitchen!
    Excellent advice to the masses who invariably don't know the rules of polite behavior.
    Bravo and party on!

  5. Well said! Excellent list, and it all should be self-evident but ...

  6. Gail, in northern CaliforniaJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    I would just like to add, don't bring fresh flowers (unless they're in a beautiful vase already arranged and match the decor' perfectly ;-)

    Seriously though, flowers are lovely to be sure, but they force the host or hostess to drop everything to get them in water. I wind up taking them out to the laundry tub in the garage where I try my best to get the ends snipped and the flowers arranged in a vase from the cupboard. Meanwhile, other guests are arriving with no one to greet them.

  7. lordy Reggie,Darlington House is a beautiful dream-it truly is beautiful. It all sounds so perfect, just not realistic expectations for other people- I am sure you know that. It sounds as if you had some difficulties tracking your guests-terrible. Much of the formality has disappeared and not for the better. I can't agree with ALL of these because alas I am sadly lacking in several,I think it is always better to call before if you can not attend-lame excuse or not-I am guilty as charged-surely I have been given or given a poor one-it is not for the host to say. I don't want a dud or a sicky at my to do.No second guessing the guest there. I was taught as host to dress well but not too formally or in-trying to bridge the obvious gaps of the guests. I love the sentiments, but can't go along, however an invitation to Darlington House would put me on my best behavior, xo-pgt

  8. PVE: Indeed, there are certain people I know that I think would benefit from having these printed and laminated for regular perusals...

    Gail: I agree whole-heartedly on the flowers issue. Never arrive at a party with a bunch of flowers, have them delivered the day after. Also, no need for you to drop everything and arrange such flowers if guests bring to your house. In the future I suggest simply putting them in the laundry tub and leaving them there until the next day.

  9. Thank you for taking the time to make this thoughtful list. I would make one addition, however, Do not arrive early, unless specifically asked to do so by the host! That is absolutely maddening to the Mister and me.

  10. While my rules aren't precisely the same, they are as direct.

    Keep up the good fight.
    For good and attentive hosts/guests everywhere.

  11. LA: You will always be welcome at Darlington House, regardless of admitted imperfections (although I am sure they are but mere trifles compared to what I've seen at this particular rodeo).

    T&C Mom: I agree -- early arrivals are strictly verboten, unless pre-cleared with the hosts. And even if pre-cleared, such arrivals must be prepared to find said hosts in midst of last minute frenzy with absolutely no time to focus on such arrival, much less get them a drink.

  12. HI REGGIE-

    You are the nicest person. And Reggie, you are fastidiously correct. You are adorable, and everyone loves your company.
    Let me see that I got this right:
    You sent out the most enticing invitation that most people would long to respond to-- and potential guests disappointed you.
    Thirty people were not up to snuff--so this blog post sounds a little like venting.
    This seems to suggest you are jesting somewhat. Yes? No?
    I cannot believe your all guests committed the following sins that you would like corrected:
    not responding
    feeding the dog
    getting drunk
    not responding to a call about not responding
    bringing cut flowers of the wrong color or hideous arrangement
    bringing ghastly scented candles as welcome gifts
    saying they were vegetarian when you offered delicious morsels
    asking for hot tea
    turning up their nose at your Champage
    Yammering on about ill-health and diseases
    Staying too late--and knocking over your gate post in their drunken attempt to depart.
    It sounds like a Katherine Hepburn or Cary Grant comedy of errors.
    What to do?
    I am sorry to read your words but wondered if you jested a little. You sound put-out rather than over-joyed with happiness that you gave the party, that friends came, and that a good time was had by all.
    I agree with most of your points.
    On the other hand: there is another way of looking at this.
    While some people adore being invited, come to the party, and do all the right things, I think there are more people who are in the 'not sure' category or in the 'ambivalent' category or the 'nervous at parties' or 'afraid they might not know anyone' or 'don't know what to say'.
    A thought: perhaps make the party list backwards. Instead of thinking 'I'll have a party for 60 people' or 'I'll invite 20 people' make a list of the people you adore who are great party goers. Known responders to RSVP requests. Drop the others.
    Invite outgoing social people. Nix the 'maybes'. Invite social people--or people whose job makes them social (you know, the vicar, the owner of your favorite restaurant, a doctor, a book author, your favorite journalist, a decorator or two, your lawyer or a favorite musician. Outgoing people.
    Invite the optimists, the doers, some unexpected people who are generous and thoughtful, throw out those who won't decide until they've asked their spouse, or can't make up their mind, or are waiting for a better invitation.
    Reggie--I wish I was not so very far away. I would definitely come--and I usually respond the moment I receive the invitation. Yeah, or nay, I respond...and thank the host. I have a friend who always sends a gift (a great book) in thanks. I like that.
    Reggie-continuing conversation. Much to discuss here.
    cheers, DIANE

  13. I expect my guests to know these things, but sadly some of them do not.

    They don't get a second chance, I'm afraid, unless they are a major "contributor" to a party.

    The purpose of "good manners" is to make life easier, for everyone. It's not out of social snobbery or to adhere to etiquette for the sake of it. Those rules are much stricter, and are largely unknown or overlooked today, (such as writing to say whether you will attend an event, sending out the correct invitation cards etc).

  14. DDS: Didn't I say we had a lovely time? I do admit I was venting a bit, though. The thing is I thought we were inviting our more social friends and acquaintances, at least the ones who supposedly "know it" when it comes to parties. And 90% of them were great fun; it's the 10% of stinkers and wall flowers that truly confuse...

    Columnist: One of the pleasures of such experiences is that one's guest list is, indeed, shorter afterwards!

  15. Oh My! My invitation must have been misplaced in the mail, or surely I would have answered sooner.....

    Seriously, I agree on most points, and it's a shame that they even have to be made. But on the matter of dress...oh dear, oh dear...I think that's a battle lost in the country nowadays.

    Up in this part of the world, it used to be easy. One wore a blazer to cocktails, period, no question. Then, over the last decade, that has changed dramatically, even amongst the people who 'lead' (and who are what you refer to as the people who should know.) A typical party will have men in khakis and polos, jackets without ties, jackets with ties, sport shirts, and the occasional jeans. In a blazer and tie, even at the 'nicest' parties, one now risks being overdressed. For myself, I'd rather see my friends in a festive mood, whether or not they're dressed down. Otherwise, I wouldn't invite them. And yes, women definitely do better in this department, nevertheless.

  16. My, my...How come I'm late to this party?! As a hostess who has given many a cocktail and dinner party in her heyday I only have 3 rules, respond promptly, dress appropriately (men, this means YOU!) and be charming, the latter being the most important and the one on which you will be graded for future invitations. Don't worry, when an inappropriately dressed guest arrives at your party and sees what's in store, it is he/she who is embarrassed..I guarantee, it will never happen again given a second chance.

    As to feeding the dog...Lucy is in the same camp as Pompey...dogs will be dogs (perhaps an appropriate title for this post)this one is not enough to nix a sucker guest!

    I think what happened, in this case, is you invited a lot of new friends and neighbors whom you didn't know very well and vice versa. I don't think it would have happened had the party been given for old friends at your home in NYC.

    P.S.Beautiful invitation, although the telephone format (Klosters?!!) sounds a tiny bit snobbish, but very Reggie

  17. Thanks for the list. I'm in agreement w/every point! It is amazing how rude even close friends can be in the struggle to maintain some kind of social civility when it comes to parties. I also think you should add - please don't come if you have a contagious condition. That's truly rude. It's clear America's social skills are in a downward spiral! All we can do is keep at it. I do still cringe when I turn my head at the opera and see people dressed like refugees. I'm really enjoying your new blog! All the best to you-

  18. This was all bracingly candid, Reggie.
    You are admitting to mixed feelings about party giving and your
    words struck a chord. No, not merely a chord~an orchestral blast.
    It made me aware of my own love-hate relationship with being
    a host. Those last minute 'phone calls from guests unable to appear
    (who cares at that point, or has the time to discuss it?), the guest who doesn't shave or change his tattered jeans, etc. But my real bugaboo is the guest who rearranges the seating, with no thought as to its effect on the traffic pattern or the balance of furnishings.
    It has happened time and again and I just want to clobber those

  19. Every one of my friends has been guilty of almost everything on your list (except drinking too much). I now fully expect to chase people down to get an answer, remind them not to feed the dog and freeze the extra food prepared for those who say they are coming and then don't show. I had to make an emergency vet trip after my Christmas party two years ago - brie and my Boston Terrier's pancreas are not a good combination. I would cross the offenders off my guest list, but there would be no one left.

  20. Dear Mr. Darling,
    While I must agree we exist amid lamentable social circumstances, I do say you have quite the catalog of requirements for guests of Darlington House. I would be careful before qualifying all as proper etiquette as some simply fall within "preferred behavior" versus that which is acceptable and proper. In fact, etiquette is grounded in making others feel comfortable, even if they arrive underdressed, ask for red wine, or spill Scotch on your antique settee. Those exhibiting class and decorum should make the offender feel at ease regardless. Granted, I'm not privy to the activities of the evening and therefore may only assume that you carried yourself in a manner befitting a gentleman.
    Unfortunately due to the steady decline in formality, many people do not understand how to act with civility and courtesy even though it requires little effort. Etiquette appears ornate and cumbersome to many and therefore all semblance of protocol is dismissed. It is comforting, though, that people such as yourself still exist in our casual society.

    Modern Traditionalist

  21. My, my I seem to have struck a chord here. Let it be understood that Reggie is, of course, always welcoming and charming to whomever he invites to his house, however they may be dressed or comport themselves. He also understands that not everyone is always on their best behavior at all times, always on top of details, or necesarily as "up" as he has become over the years as to the nuances of what being a popular party guest involves. He also admits that he has slipped up himself on occasion, drank too much, talked too loudly, monopolized conversations, fed the pets, and arrived wearing the wrong clothes with nothing in his hands to give to his hosts. But Reggie continues to strives for self-improvement and wishes to help others learn from his own, past mistakes and benefit from the knowledge he has accumulated.

    Please note that the title of this post is "Reggie's Rules for Popular Party Guests" with guidelines focused on those of us who wish to be considered an addition to our hosts' parties and remembered as being a "must-invite" for future invitations. Like anything in life, achieving popular party guest status, as opposed to its alternative, requires consideration and thought, and yes--effort. But in my book that is a small price to pay when the reward is a standing invitation to my generous friends' festive gatherings.

  22. I LOVE your "rules", one more than the other..... BUT, I have also now read all your comments, and enjoyed them as well.

    ...the gift for the host, that's a MUST!

  23. Reggie,

    I enjoyed this post and the ensuing comments so much. My husband and I love to entertain and normally give three or four large parties every year. We are blessed to have a home large enough to accomodate these events and the finances to be able to pay for them.

    My question is this. What is a guest's obligation to return the favor? We have friends who have attended our parties for years (and I do mean years) and we have never seen the interior of their homes much less been invited to a party there. I would love to see a post on this topic.

  24. Hello Anon 7:03 --
    Thank you for visiting and for your comment. This is, indeed, an excellent question and one that I and Boy have at times asked ourselves. I will most definitely put together a future posting as to my understanding of what reciprocity is appropriate under such circumstances as you outline. Thank you and I look forward to sharing my views on this topic when I am able to commit them to writing.

  25. Hi Dear Reggie-

    This was a genius post.

    My only regret is that I am now living with the image of one of your guests blithely and unwisely giving your beloved dog a chocolate--and puppy throwing up on your Oushak at midnight, just as the last guest left and you had collapsed onto your Chippendale. And then you leaping up for Dog Patrol.
    I know you are a fabulous host. Invite me any time. I will sing for my supper--and I promise, no Godiva for dog.

    cheers and laughter, DIANE

  26. DDS: Glad you liked it and thank you for your comments. Rest assured that Pompey wasn't sick that evening, just a trifle slow on his feet the next morning -- along with his owners!

    I had lots of fun with this posting and appreciate all of the commenters' observations. Many thanks to all...

  27. We must be related--I grew up with the same set of party rules, and I still follow them.
    On the flip side, what I find incredibly rude, is when someone (during a sober conversation) tells you that they are having a party on a certain date, say they hope you'll be able to attend and they'll mail out an invitation. One that never arrives.

  28. Reggie...
    I agree, a great post. I have the same pet peeve as "Anon. 7:30". We give several large parties and some small dinners, but NEVER an invite back. I think some of our friends are intimidated by the whole process of entertaining. But really, I find it is no trouble to roll out a party for 30-60. (And I don't have it catered.) If the menu is right most things can be done ahead. One day to shop, one day to cook. If you keep the silver polished and the napkins ironed, if you have a dishwasher for clean up and a freezer for the leftovers (from the no-shows) it is no big deal. I learned from my mom.

  29. None of these rules should be news or complicated. Yes, I need to know if you are coming. I need to know how much food to prepare. Just tell me. That is not too much to ask.

    If I tell you it's a "dress up" party, that means NO JEANS. NO TENNIS SHOES. Please shave.

    Your rules are perfect and logical. The only people who would think otherwise are those who have never thrown a party. Bless their hearts.

  30. Hello Gold Digger: Thanks for your comment, I believe you nailed it, bless your heart!
    Rgds, Reggie

  31. Well other than the calling the host after the party, I am living up to your party expectations. I like to think a thank you as I am leaving is sufficient, as most of my party going is with individuals I see frequently. As for the comments about not bringing fresh flowers, I disagree. Fresh flowers only require being place in water at the moment, not arranging.

    My rules for popular guests are much simpler: be neat with your food and drink.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

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