05 August 2011


A friend from a forum that I frequent sent me instructions on proper etiquette when hosting or attending any type of formal party. (Think dinner party, tea party, luncheon, etc.).

Here, I'm going to insert the basic instructions of the guest and how the tea party should go, so one doesn't seem uncouth or barbaric if ever to be graced with an invite to such an occasion.

Tips for Tea Parties

Since it is a tea party, it's okay to eat with fingers. However, if an item is particularly messy (has a runny filling), then use a fork. If you have on gloves, remove them.

Tea Parties are usually not big meals (unless it is a High Tea) so you should be mindful that it is a light snack. Do not overfill your plate .

For scones or muffins, break off a bite-size piece, then put a small amount of jam or butter on it. If Devonshire or clotted cream is available, a small amount can be dabbed on after the jam. This thick cream is for scones, not for the tea.

Take bites of the tiny sandwiches. Never stuff the whole thing in their mouth, even though it's small.

If using sugar, be careful to not dip the sugar tong or sugar spoon into the tea.

Stir sugar and/or milk with their teaspoon, then place the teaspoon on their saucer. Stir slowly and quietly to avoid clinking or making too much noise.

When drinking the tea, they can hold the cup and saucer near their chest, then take the teacup off the saucer and bring it up to their mouth to drink. Hold the teacup normally. Do not stick the pinky out when drinking tea, it is actually considered BAD ETIQUETTE.

If the tea is hot, leave teacup on the table to cool. Do not blow on the tea.

Hopefully, the tea will be served from teapots, rather than having individual tea bags, which can get very messy. If there are tea bags, then there should be a small dish at her place setting on which she can place the used tea bag.

Being a Good Guest

Respond promptly.  Your host needs to know numbers so she can arrange for enough food/drink/tickets/whatever for the event.  If no one on her list is going to be able to make it, then she needs to know to pick another date or cancel.  Every day you hold up your response, you’re making her planning more difficult.  Do you want to wait awhile to see if a better offer comes in?  Remember:  You are not special.  Just like everyone else needs to decide on an event when they are invited, so too do you.  Holding out for a better invite is rude, and trust me, your host will notice every day that goes by with silence. If you do arrive a little early, you may offer to help. Offering to help is great, but if the host says "no thanks," stay out of their way, especially if it is in the kitchen! Do not insist. Do always offer some help at the end of a meal. Just another set of hands for 10 minutes will be a great help.

If you say you’re coming, then come.  If you say you aren’t, then don’t.  So you wake up the day of the party and you’re just not feeling like it, huh?  Well, the host probably won’t even notice one person missing, will she?  Wrong.  She’ll notice.  She’ll notice when her food has been sitting out for an hour and none of her guests have shown up and she’ll be very aware of the work and money that went into the uneaten food and undrunk drinks.  Remember that there are always going to be people out there who act rudely and don’t show up—you’ll only be adding to those numbers. 

Maybe you thought you would have other plans, but now you don’t—surely the host would like a nice surprise guest?  No.  No, they won’t.  Unless this is a college party and no one cares how many people show up, showing up to a planned party that you have not RSVPed for (or have previously sent your regrets) is just as rude as not showing up when you said you would.  You’re going to throw your host into a frenzy of trying to figure out where to get enough food to cover the extra mouth and may be causing other problems where numbers are a concern.

If you need to cancel prior to the party, do so as promptly as possible and with a good reason.   Every day that passes from the point when you said you were coming and the point when you say you’re not, is another day that the host has made plans or bought supplies.  While it may seem completely reasonable to you to decline a week before the event, for a well-prepared host that is already deep into their prep time.  If you know you’re not going to make it, tell your host as soon as you can to save her money and work. 

 Giving a valid reason increases the chances that she will not permanently delete you off her list of future guests for being unreliable (yes, it is more than possible to lose out on future invites simply by not showing up to one event—haven’t you ever noticed that the number of invites you get decreases every time you don’t show somewhere?).  Quick hint—be honest.  If you can’t be completely honest, be reasonable with your excuse.  

Attending the Party/Event

Arrive promptly and do not arrive early.  There are few things worse than having a guest show up early.  What seems like a tiny little extra hour to you seems to the host to be the horror of having people show up before her house is cleaned, her shower is taken, or the food is cooked.  Please remember that all the things that you take for granted at a party/event—that the host is welcoming and warm, that there is food aplenty, that things run to schedule—are all being set up behind the scenes by your host.  Making her work harder by throwing off her schedule is mean and you will definitely be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Show up with a small gesture of thanks from the offset.  The host is not trying to pay her rent off of the backs of her guests, nor do you need to empty your pockets to provide host gifts.  But a gesture of appreciation for her work and hospitality is still expected and will go a long way towards making her feel that her effort and expense was all worthwhile and appreciated.  Fresh flowers, a simple bottle of wine, chocolates, or small household item such as candles are all safe bets for small gifts that will be appreciated. 

If you’re travelling or otherwise don’t want to have something to carry, arrange to have something delivered in advance.  When the party is small, casual, or with a friend who you have previously hosted, it is sometimes acceptable to forgo the gift—though you should err on the side of coming with a small gift if you’re not one hundred percent sure.  There is really no acceptable reason for showing up empty handed if you’re spending the night or multiple nights at someone’s house, however.  None.

Being offered refreshment is not your opportunity to make special requests.  If your host asks if you would like water, juice or punch, then asking for a soda will be one quick way to see a look of frozen awkwardness.  Take what is offered with graciousness and gratitude.  A good host will do her best to accommodate a guest who has a special request, but considering the first principle of you are not special and if you have special needs and simply cannot go an evening without your soda, then bring it with you—and make sure you have enough to offer the host and other guests.

When you attend the party/event, attend the party or event.  You thought    you would be up for it, but on the day you’re just not in the mood.  It happens.  You know what you do?  You fake it.  You put on your jolliest smile and get in there making good conversation and mingling because we have the second principle to follow:  The host is not your parent.  It is not your host’s job to jolly you out of a bad mood.  It is not her job to figure out how to make a room full of miserable people talk to each other or have a good time.  Of course she will do her best—it’s what hosts do—but sending out invitations did not gift her with magic. 

    It is unreasonable to expect a party to bring your mood up if you’re the one in the room bringing everyone else down.  I know that the tendency is to think of social events as being something we’re given, but they’re not—socializing is something in which we must take an active part.  In the same way that going to a job interview with a headache will see you still putting your best foot forward, so too should you go into a party doing your best to make conversation and take part.  If you spend the entire party sitting in the corner sulking because the you lost your soccer game earlier, you will forever brand yourself as a Bad Guest who shows up and ruins the party for everyone else. 

        Shake it off and take part—it’s the very definition of being a good guest.  If your host has events or activities planned, be up for it—why else go to a party or social event if you’re not willing to take part?

Basic Table Manners

Electronic devices

Turn off or silence all electronic devices before entering the sitting down at the table. If you forgot to turn off your cell phone, and it rings, immediately turn it off. Do not answer the call. Do not text, and if you have a Blackberry or iphone, do not browse the Internet at the table.


Place the napkin on your lap after being seated. As needed, use it to gently wipe or dab your mouth. Before drinking from a glass, dab your mouth. Lip marks on glasses is unsightly, but can be avoided if the person wearing lipstick, lipgloss, or lip balm first blots their lips with the napkin before drinking from the glass.

Remember that a REAL napkin is not discarded like a tissue or paper towel, so try not to do things that would stain or ruin the napkin. Your should not have to replace them after you are gone.

During a restroom break, place the napkin to the left of the plate. This lets your server or host know that you intend to continue the meal when you return. At the end of the meal, the napkin is placed neatly to the right of the plate (not refolded, but not crumpled either). This is a sign to your server or host that your plate may be taken away, as you are finished eating.

If the dinner includes a sit-down meal, wait until everyone is served before eating. If you are a guest, wait for the host to begin. If dining at a buffet, then you do not have to wait for all the guests at your table to be seated. However, you should wait until at least a few guests have seated themselves at your table before digging in.


If unsure which utensil to use, remember "outside in." The outer most utensil is used first. Once used, the utensil does not go back on the table, but is placed on the plate. When finished, the knife and fork are place side by side (parallel) on the plate with handles at the 3 or 4 o'clock position. Soup spoons are placed on bowl's service plate when finished; teaspoons placed on the saucer.


You can place your wrists or forearms on the table, or hands on your lap. REMEMBER no elbows on the table.


Keep legs next to your chair. Do not stretch legs out or cross your legs as they may bump others under the table.

Bread or rolls

When eating bread tear off a bite-size piece of bread before buttering.

Sit up straight, do not hunch over your plate.

Chew with your mouth closed.

Do not overfill your mouth with food. Wait several seconds before taking the next bite.

When removing items from your mouth it is best to take it out the same way you put it in (fork or fingers). Do no spit food into a linen napkin, as it will have to be washed.

If you need to remove gristle, bone, or an olive pit from your mouth, then remove it the way it had entered (i.e. fork or fingers), and place it discreetly on your plate.


Avoid uncouth conduct such as talking with mouth full, burping, nose blowing, picking at teeth, grooming or putting on makeup at the table. Instead, excuse yourself from the table and go to the restroom.

Always say thank you when served something. Do not double dip. When appetizers are served, everyone should have their own small plate on which to place any dip, chips, crackers, cheese, nuts, etc. The host should have serving spoons for condiments, which should take care of any double-dipping.

Don't make any rude comments about any food being served. It will hurt someone's feelings. Always try a little of everything, even if you don’t THINK you’ll like it. The exception is if you do not eat something because of allergies or religious/cultural beliefs, or dietary restrictions. If you don’t like something, finish that bite (if you can) and then just leave it on the plate. Do not make a big deal by making a noise, telling someone else you don’t like it or making a face. When eating at someone's home or a guest of someone at a restaurant, always thank the host and tell them how much you enjoyed it. At least say that you liked the dinner or mention a specific item that was particularly tasty, i.e. the dessert was great. Again, someone took time, energy, and expense to prepare the food, so show your appreciation.

Sorry for the long read, but there will be even more to come in future post!

1 comment:

  1. I remember doing all of this in my etiquette classes when I was in elementary school...such a bother.