Between birthdays, housewarmings, and “just because” cocktail parties we attend a lot of events. The hows, whens and whats are not always clear as far as guest expectations. We went ahead and talked to the expert of planning and entertaining, Wilkie founder Colin Cowie! Unsure when to arrive? What to bring? Colin answers all of our guest etiquette questions right here, right now!
What are your thoughts on host gifts?
When it comes to bringing host gifts I like to bring things that are really appropriate. Timing is really important to consider. Take a bouquet of flowers for example. If I’m going to someone’s house for a dinner party, I send flowers either before the dinner or after the dinner, but i suggest never arriving with a big bunch of flowers. The host or hostess will then have to then step away from her hostess duties and start snipping stems, finding a vase and then will feel obligated to display the arrangement. A bouquet beforehand, or afterwards with a thank you note is the best way to go.
What sort of gifts would you suggest?
You can never go wrong with a bottle of wine, champagne or tequila. It’ll always be used and appreciated. Sign your name on the bottle so that your host will remember you when they toast and use your gift.
There’s no such thing as too many fragrant candles. There are amazing options from $20 all the way up to $300. You can find something on that spectrum that will work for your occasion.
If you have a friend who’s a big gourmand, bring them a new cookbook or possibly some infused olive oil with vinegar. Olive oil today has become about as collectable as bottles of wine!
I don’t know about you, but I’m always using and re-purchasing my spices. A chic spice kit would be a great gift for a friend with a new apartment, or someone you know spends a lot of time in the kitchen.
What are your thoughts on bringing a dessert?
Unless it’s a very casual meal, don’t arrive with a tart, baked good or anything you expect to be served. The host has probably already planned to serve a certain dessert and your addition will only interfere with their entertaining plan.
Any advice on arrival time?
A good guest arrives on time—I don’t believe in being fashionably late. I believe in and arriving when I’m asked to. I also prefer to be overdressed than underdressed. It’s much easier to take off a tie or lose a big pair of earrings than looking for them last-minute when you really need them.
A good guest will also arrive with an armful of good stories to tell. They’ll make sure they get to speak with everyone at the table and will use the bathroom during cocktails before sitting down for dinner and will never get up from the dinner table until the host gets up at the end of dinner.
Cell phone usage: when is it ok and when is it rude to whip it out?
I believe there is no such thing as a cell phone at the dinner table. It’s a distraction and an uninvited guest. Once one person brings out their phone it’s almost like permission for everyone else at the table to do the same! Unless you’re a doctor or a parent with kids with a babysitter, the phone should be kept in your pocket on vibrate.
One of the fun things I do when I’m out to a restaurant with friends is take all the phones together in the bread basket. Who ever touches their phone first gets to pay for dinner! It’s a great way to keep all of your friends present.
Etiquette on bringing an extra person?
It’s an absolute “no no.” Chances are if it’s a sit down dinner, the host has most likely already planned for the number of people she invited. She may also have a finite number of place settings One extra person can throw everything off. In my opinion it’s forward and disrespectful to do.
In the same manner, if you RSVP for 2 people and only 1 is going to make it, you need to let your host know, not an hour before, but as far in advance as possible, and with enough time for her to make an alternative plan. Every time you add or you lose a guest, there’s a domino effect to the seating at the table. Particularly when you’re dealing with multiple tables. I find that the culprits who make the biggest etiquette mistakes around dining are those who never entertain! They don’t understand how much time, effort and energy it takes to put on an event.
When it comes to cleaning up, what are guest expectations?
I think that if you’re at a very casual dinner at your friend’s apartment, by all means, offer to pour the wine, offer to get up and help take dishes to the kitchen. You shouldn’t be filling the dishwasher, but you can do the light chores that will make it easier on your host. this way they’re able to be able to spend more time around the table and not glued to the kitchen stove or sink.
What’s the best way to thank your host for a great evening?
I say you get 10 points for writing a thank you note and popping it in the mail the next morning, 8 points for picking up the phone and calling them personally, 6 points for an email and 4 points for a text.
If you really want to show your gratitude away, send a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. One of the things that I really like to do is to leave my personal stationery at my local florist. That way when I dictate the note to the florist, the gift really feels as if it’s coming directly from my desk.