For those of you rolling your eyes right now, I challenge you! I challenge to you think differently. Etiquette is not about stuffy pompousness to make people uncomfortable. It is actually just the opposite. In the words of Jay Remer, Canada’s Etiquette Guy, “Putting others first is what etiquette is all about.” Etiquette helps us to help others; and I admit it, I like etiquette and think it is important. Etiquette has guided me through many business and personal functions so that I didn’t make a fool of the person I was accompanying or the people that were kind of enough to welcome me to their function – whether held in a grand ballroom, a conference setting or their home. Etiquette is not just about what fork to use when. No, it is much bigger than that. Etiquette is about respecting others’ time and effort. That is why I was so pleased that Jay agreed to be interviewed for my blog! Thank you Jay!
Jay is absolutely right in his assertion that etiquette is about putting others first. Etiquette gives you the confidence to know that your actions are not putting others off and/or inconveniencing others. So, with Thanksgiving upon us (in Canada), let’s get to the questions for Jay. I know that many others wonder about these things too but are afraid to ask!
Heather-Anne MacLean (HAM): What time should guests arrive for a dinner party with dinner set for 7:00 p.m.?
Jay Remer (Jay): If people are asked for dinner at 7, they should also be given an arrival time. Usually 45 minutes to an hour is allowed for drinks, etc. This way the invitation would be for 6:00. Arriving more than 20 minutes late is rude and disrespectful. People must realize that putting on a dinner party is a lot of work. Guests need to show gratitude. Showing up at an appropriate time is important.
HAM: What is the etiquette around bringing a hostess (or host) gift? Should you always bring a gift?
Jay: Hostess gifts are always appreciated, but bringing one to a host you see frequently can be somewhat relaxed. That said, someone else is cooking your food – thank them with a small box of chocolates or a bottle of wine.
HAM: If you bring wine or food to the host/hostess, should you expect the host/hostess to use said gift that night?
Jay: A frequently asked question. If one brings a bottle of wine as a hostess gift, the hostess can do as she pleases. It’s a gift! If you wish to contribute wine to the meal, call ahead and ask. Don’t assume the host is not prepared, but do offer to help out.
HAM: What is the etiquette for presenting the gift? Should you make a big deal, or do it discreetly?
Jay: A hostess gift can be sent ahead – such as an arrangement of flowers. Otherwise, the gift is given upon arrival, with no fanfare!
HAM: What is the appropriate reaction of a host/hostess to a guest that arrives just in time for dinner and vacates immediately after the dinner?
Jay: A good host never embarrasses a guest – even if it’s a member of the family. There are two suggestions. One – don’t ask them back. They are ungrateful and clearly do not understand the purpose of a dinner party. Two – pull them aside at some point privately and explain that this behaviour is not acceptable. After all, it does annoy a busy hostess who has gone to quite a lot of trouble. If it’s a family member, one needs to wonder where this behaviour was learned in the first place. We do learn the way the monkeys do – mimicking our parents. I am not suggesting that all bad behaviour is taught, but it is important for guidelines to be instilled from birth. So many parents forget to say “No”
HAM: How should a host/hostess arrange the seating? Should it be according to traditional plans that dictate that a woman be to the right of the host, etc.? Or, should it be designed around personalities and efforts to create an environment of conversation?
Jay: In brief, husbands and wives should not be seated next to one another. If possible each woman should have a man on either side of her.
Courting couples should be seated side by side. Children should sit next to a parent. The guest of honour (if there is one) sits to the right of the host or hostess.
HAM: What is the etiquette when it comes to not liking something that is served?
Jay: If the meal is a buffet, do not serve yourself something you aren’t going to eat.
If the plates are presented with food on them, if there is a food you do not like, simply move it around your plate a bit. Do not verbalize any displeasure at the dinner table. Do not hide food in the napkin. Feeding it to the dog is acceptable in my book as long as no one sees you. Do not offer food from your plate to others.
(HAM Note: Provided it is food that the dog should and can eat. For example, never feed a dog chicken or turkey bones.)
HAM: Should people turn off and put away their mobile devices while at (or hosting) a dinner party?
Jay: Yes, unless he or she is a doctor on call or one may be expecting an emergency call. Then the phone can be put on vibrate, but never placed on the dinner table.
HAM: Is there an appropriate response/reaction for a host/hostess or guests should another person be consumed with one’s mobile device? (assuming of course that there is no emergency)
Jay: In an effort to avoid any embarrassing situations, if this is a likely scenario, simply request before the meal commences that cell phones are not permitted at the table. It’s your house (or dinner party) and your rules are what one follows.
HAM: In today’s modern environment, is it still appropriate to send a thank you note the day after a dinner party? If so, would email be appropriate?
Jay: A thank you note is always appropriate. An email is often used and is acceptable, but not preferable. There is no substitute for a hand written note.
And last question (the bonus round)
HAM: Do you find people turning more towards or away from etiquette in our fast-paced world of selfies and look-at-me environment that social media has created?
Jay: People seem to have lapsed into an etiquette coma. Putting others first is what etiquette is all about. This is not an arduous, painful, or unpleasant action. Teach your children good manners from birth – no exceptions! We cannot blame our bad manners on social media. We must bear the responsibility of how successfully we do or do not connect with other people.
Etiquette is not about dinner parties. As I mentioned in the opening of this post, I have relied upon what I was taught growing up to guide me through many, many business functions. Being able to show respect for others in business and social settings is very important. It could be the difference between getting a job or not getting a job. Etiquette continues to matter and can give you the leg up. So, get your etiquette on and show your human side!
For more information, check out Jay’s website: The Etiquette Guy.