In our ever-evolving world, we are all seeking more guidance on modern behavior, aren’t we? Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., our Ms. Social Graces, is here to help resolve your most pressing issues.

Dear Ms. Social Graces,

Lately, I’ve noticed that some people, who are doing carry-out to support their favorite restaurants, are confused about tipping. What do you recommend to help the service industry during these trying times?

Inquiring Tipper


Dear Terrific Tipper,

The best way to help the service industry during these trying times is to consider your many options. While tipping is a personal choice and discretionary, it has been a U.S. custom for decades. There are ever- changing standards and rules for different job positions, and sometimes it’s difficult to say what is best. However, tips have always been important, and during a global pandemic, they are crucial–making a significant difference for many service workers and their families. 

Avoid tip-baiting, where a generous tip is promised on an app and then reduced or deleted entirely after the delivery is completed. Maybe not in the past, but today we tip 15-20% for takeout, curbside, and pickup orders because of the extra time and effort involved with anti-viral precautions for the customer. Deliveries require more time and involve someone coming to your front door or high-rise elevator who has not only the risk of personal exposure but also the potential to transmit the virus to their family at home. 

Guidelines for how much to tip different workers, if you choose: 

  • Baristas: $1 per drink (more if customized)
  • Bartenders: 20% plus
  • Restaurant servers: 20% plus
  • Takeout, curbside, pickup: 15-20%

In closing, my advice is to remember that 25-30% is the new 15-20% when tipping. 


Dear Ms. Social Graces,

Due to the pandemic, we all know that community giving seems to be off. I support many fine organizations already, yet how do you recommend I address the new ones looking for support?

Give, Give, Give


Dear Giving Largesse,

When charitable organizations seek support, think about these guidelines:

  1. Set a budget and respect your own boundaries.
  2. Set monthly, quarterly, seasonal, or annual limits.
  3. Define charitable objectives by selecting a primary charity, then making a prioritized list of favorites. When and if your financial situation changes, you can adjust accordingly.
  4. Give considerable thought to and create an annual, a 5-year, and/or a10-year charitable donation strategy with your partner. Consider your legacy, if appropriate.
  5. Donating to whoever is asking often means losing track of how much you’re giving. It can also distract you from focusing on the great work that your primary charitable organization is accomplishing.
  6. Philanthropic giving is a highly personal decision, so avoid the guilt when deciding not to contribute.
  7. It’s always appropriate to advise others that you and your significant other have an annual charity budget–just as any well-run business operates with a yearly budget.
  8. Consider these six polite ways to decline giving to a good cause without guilt once you and your partner agree on a budget and charitable donation plan:
  • Empathic: My spouse and I admire your organization. Keep up the excellent work. However, for 2020-21, we’ve already allocated our charitable funds to [fill in the blank organization].
  • Short and direct: Thank you for thinking of us. However, we’re committed to the charities we are currently contributing to and must decline at this time.
  • Loyal to a different cause: We’ve been donating to a different organization to make a difference in the lives of [fill in the blank]. We appreciate their accomplishments with the funds we’ve allocated and plan to continue our support.
  • Financial change: We’ve supported your cause for many years, but unfortunately, this year, we have to decline. We hope to continue our support next year.
  • Future possibility: We’d consider donating; however, we are already committed to support [fill in the blank]. We’ll review [your organization] and consider it next year.
  • Supportive decline: Congratulations on your success–it is great you’re making a difference. We’ve already made our contributions for the year, so we must decline.


Our world of modern social interaction has recently been challenged with everything we knew before it. Luckily, our Ms. Etiquette Expert, Sharon M. Schweitzer, J.D., is here to the rescue to solve the challenges that are happening at this very moment

Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

We have been reading so many different opinions. Just what is social distancing, and can I attend an outdoor event with eight people if it’s in the park with a breeze and lots of fresh air? What about after this situation resolves and we move to a new normal?

                                                                                                                                                       Confused in Texas

Dear Texas Curious,

Experts in the infectious disease community have defined these pandemic terms, and we follow their clear guidance. Even after the pandemic, experts predict that the new normal may require some adjusting to because individuals will continue to social distance until a certain comfort level returns. 


Social distancing means creating physical distance between individuals that don’t reside together. In society, it involves the closure of primary and secondary education facilities, non-essential businesses, and postponing large scale musical and artistic events. When in any public space, people must stay six feet apart and avoid all physical contact with people  whom they do not live.


Avoid the confusion about whether it’s okay to gather outdoors with less than ten people. Currently, everyone should limit close contact, indoors and outdoors, to family members only. Unfortunately, this translates to no birthday soirees, no dinner parties, and no playdates. When invited, graciously decline with:  While we would be delighted to attend, we are playing it safe until the current situation resolves, and we can all celebrate without social distancing. Thanks for your kind invitation, but we must decline.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

We received an updated invitation to a password protected video wedding for a well-known philanthropist. We’re just not sure how to respond. It’s still scheduled for August 2020, only not at the original venue. How do we handle this change with social savvy?

                                                                                                                                                         Wondering Wedding Guest

Dear Well-Prepared Guest,

It appears as though the prospective partners have the best interests of their guests at heart. At times, the nuptials must go on. Is there an elderly grandparent, aunt, or uncle who wants to witness the ceremony? Perhaps the best man or matron of honor is undergoing medical treatment or chemotherapy, and end-of-life is near.


We never know what others are enduring, do we? Handle the change with grace by confirming your video presence, purchasing a gift from their registry, or contributing to their wedding fund. Best wishes and congratulations!


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

We’re traveling to England to stay at the estate of friends of friends once all the travel restrictions are lifted. For someone who has everything, what in the world should we bring, or send, as a host gift as a gesture of thanks for their grand hospitality?

                                                                                                                                                             Travelin’ Light


Dear Light Traveler,

Social graces require house guests to learn and know the personal preferences of their hosts. As citizen ambassadors, give appropriate and thoughtful items that are made in the U.S. Elegant gifts for the home, especially from your favorite premium boutique, are always in good taste.


If your hosts enjoy spirits, bring a U.S. brand that they will recognize and appreciate, from a black, blue, red, or gold label. Avoid giving a gift made in England or the U.K. since they can purchase this themselves.




As we begin the spring social season, it is the perfect chance to master more social opportunities. Our Ms. Etiquette Expert, Sharon M. Schweitzer, J.D., is always on the scene to lend stellar insight into any modern conundrums that may arise.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,
What’s the best way to pay a genuine compliment to a colleague without it seeming like I am too friendly, or worse, a participant in sexual harassment?
Gent at The Office
Dear Gentlemanly Behavior,

Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,
What’s the best way to pay a genuine compliment to a colleague without it seeming like I am too friendly, or worse, a participant in sexual harassment?

Gent at The Office                                   Dear Gentlemanly Behavior,

An unintended consequence of the #MeToo movement is that many men are unsure of how to interact with women in the workplace. The headlines highlight all the wrong behaviors without mentioning any positive actions. In a perfect world, men will compliment women for their work accomplishments, as opposed to their appearance. Until we reach that pinnacle, the workforce is left in a conundrum with questions about whether it’s appropriate to compliment a new hair design or jacket. So, consider this approach: “Great plaid coat.” or “Slayed that new haircut.” It’s best to avoid commentary about someone’s body, wardrobe suggestions, or your emotions and feelings about their looks.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,
Since its spring gala season, can you please settle a bet? I say that if we are guests at a host’s table at a non-profit event, we are obligated to buy a silent or live auction item to support our host’s cause. My wife says no. What say ye?

Gala Going                                                          Dear Gala Goer,
One theory supports your wife’s position that hosts invite guests to charitable events with the hope that they will develop an interest in the charity that blossoms into building a donor relationship–without an expectation, that guests will buy an auction item or write a check that evening. When a host invites someone, there isn’t a fee for accepting. The host’s gala table covers all guest costs unless a prior agreement is made to purchase the table seat. The charity may request a contribution with an auction or compelling verbal appeal. However, a substantial portion of their revenue is earned through table sponsorships. As a guest, if you’re feeling generous, contributing will please your host. Consider the alternative: if an auction item purchase is always expected, then potential guests may be tempted to decline fundraising invitations, or worse yet RSVP yes and then decide to stay home the night of the event.

The alternative position is that accepting an invitation obligates the guest to donate at the charity event. Some argue that the donation was already made, and the guest is offered the tickets as a “gift” because a percentage of the ticket price covers the event costs. Therefore, the host has the right to expect the guest’s support with a donation for the ticket value (or an amount they can afford.) These hosts believe that the guest’s contribution demonstrates the guest’s thanks and good faith and allows the guest to secure a reciprocal opportunity to call in the favor later for their own cause. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?

Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,
My dear friend, who is on a tight budget, yet loves to support the community, often asks to borrow and switch gowns. Not only do I not want to, since we’re close, yet different sizes, but also want to retain my individual style. How do I politely refuse?

Gowned & Ready                               Dear Gowned For Glory,
Setting healthy boundaries with friends and family is a life-long endeavor. New requests seem to arrive daily to borrow clothing, attend expensive soirées, or host events. Remember that people-pleasing is also known as “the disease to please.” Saying yes when it’s healthier to say no can cause resentment that undermines a friendship. Avoid doing this disservice by saying no since gowns are investments to you. By declining, one can protect the gown’s investment. A stained gown can ruin a friendship. Consider responding to her request with “thanks for the offer to exchange gowns, what a compliment. However, I don’t lend my clothing to anyone.” Offer an alternative such as shopping online or going gown shopping together. Avoid implying a lack of trust–instead remind her that you’re typically a generous lender of sporting equipment (“Yes, absolutely you can borrow my golf clubs”), but gowns and clothes are off-limits.




As we begin the new decade ahead, we can all brush up on our skills to make every social situation as seamless as possible. Our Ms. Etiquette Expert, Sharon M. Schweitzer, J.D., is on the scene to lend sage wisdom for any modern conundrum that may arise.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

My fiancé and I just became engaged.  My mother is insistent that I register for good china, and I know we’ll never use it, making it seem like a waste. How should I proceed, since my parents are also paying for the wedding? 

Bride To Be


Dear Future Bride,

Best wishes and congratulations to you and your fiancé. Consider this advice:

  1. Encourage open communication with both sides of the family early in the engagement, especially with your parents. Set a time to explore your mother’s insistence on registering for china. Highlight the family customs you and your fiancé are honoring in your wedding, clearly explaining your thoughts. Showing parental respect goes a long way, especially when your family is paying for the wedding. Remember, you will be sharing holiday meals for years to come.


  1. Compromise. Graciously coordinate with your family. Respectfully state that although this is your wedding, you plan to honor the important customs of your mother during the wedding. Summon up your best diplomacy skills, compromise, and remember, you can’t please everyone, all of the time.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

How should my younger children address new adults that they meet? By their last names, like Mr. Van Huntzel, or by their first name, using a prefix, like Miss Caroline? 

Naming Honors

Dear Naming Necessity,

Younger children learn how to acknowledge and address all adults properly when they practice at home with you through role-playing. Use proper titles with your younger children, such as Mr., Mrs., or Dr., and first or last names. In the south and southwest regions, using the first name with a title is common. For example, Ms. Kristin or Mr. Jason. Pretend to be different people and ask your children to respond to an introduction with correct titles and pleasantries such as “Hello, Mr. Thompson. How are you, Ms. Aldrich?” The next time your children meet an adult, encourage them to use the greeting. Some children are hesitant near adults so gently prod with “Courtney, remember Ms. Kristin? Will you say hello, please?”


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

Can you please share your top three, interesting-as-heck, conversation starters that are appropriate for dinner with just-met dinner partners?

Budding Conversationalist

Dear Dining Companion,

A meal is such a wonderful way to spend an evening, and if we are seated next to someone we don’t know, it’s a terrific opportunity to learn more about the world. How about if we go with three categories from which to choose that will enable completely comfortable conversation with just about anyone…



What’s your favorite travel destination?

If you could pick one country to travel to, which would you choose and why?

Do you have travel plans? Will you share your destination?

Would you rather travel during a vacation or have a staycation?

What’s your favorite part about travel?

If you’ve  traveled a lot, has it changed who you are? How?

Are you someone who likes group travel? Or, solo travel?

When you travel, do you follow guidebooks or blaze your own path?



Do you think we as humans will invent anything that makes time travel possible?

What do you think will be the greatest invention in the next 25 years? 10 years?

Do you think technology makes our lives simpler or more complicated?

What discovery do you think has transformed our world the most?

What’s your favorite invention of all time?



What are you currently reading? Who is the author?

What’s the last book that you read, and what did you think of it?

Who’s your favorite author? Why?

Do you read fiction? Or do you prefer nonfiction?

Do you read paper books? Or, use an e-reader, or listen to audiobooks?

Have you built a library in your home? Do you gift books to friends and family?




Since we all attend so many weddings, that means there are numerous social situations that are unique. Join our very own etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, J.D. as she helps us navigate the nuances for this special time in your life when you are in the spotlight.

Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

We’ve decided not to invite kids to the wedding, but my fiancé’s mother really wants us to invite her grandchildren. Can we bend the rule or is that playing favorites?   

         Plays By The Rules

Dear Rule Requester,

Deciding whether to invite children is one of the most difficult guest list questions. Once a decision is made, it’s best to stick with it. Graciously coordinate with both families. Respectfully state that although this is your wedding, you plan to honor what is important to both families during the wedding. Summon up your best diplomacy skills, compromise and remember, you can’t please everyone all of the time. Your fiancé’s mother and her grandchildren will be your new family and you may want to respect their wishes. Consider the following to avoid playing favorites:

Due to space limitations, we are hosting an adults-only wedding. The only children attending are immediate family or our wedding party. If anyone needs help with making arrangements for childcare, please let us know and we will do our best to assist.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

My family has set our wedding budget based on our initial guest list, but now my future mother-in-law wants to invite 30 more people. What should we do?

Best Guest List

Dear Guest Handler,

Marriage is about bringing two people together to create a new family. Creating and encouraging open communication with both sides of the family early in the engagement and wedding planning will set the stage for excellent communication during your marriage. Discuss the invitation, location, catering and budget; are there certain people from each family that must be invited? What does your fiancé think? If finances are an issue, will your fiancé’s family contribute? Having an awareness of family customs and showing parental respect goes a long way, especially when this family will become your new extended family.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

Recently, we had a falling out with a friendly couple during our engagement. Can we dis-invite them?

Friend Indeed


Dear Friendly Persuasion, 

Etiquette experts agree that this must never occur. However, life happens. Friendships dissolve, crimes are committed, and indiscretions are discovered. Predicaments the bride and groom cannot fathom surface that can cause anguish on both sides. Yes, it’s true that it’s your wedding and you can invite anyone you wish. However, inviting someone and then rescinding that invitation requires contemplation and diplomacy.

If you have the fortitude to rescind a wedding invitation, then you have the courage to do so in person or by phone. Sending an informal text, email, or instant message is insensitive. Words on a screen cannot convey the compassion necessary to deliver the message. When it’s an indiscretion or something criminal, it’s difficult and there are two sides to a story. Yes, there are times when a person can be asked not to attend a wedding as the best solution.

Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

We don’t want guests to take pictures during the ceremony. How do we stop them from doing it without confiscating their phones?

Social Media-Free

Dear Social Studies,

While there are several steps that can be taken to reduce photos, no one can guarantee that Aunt Gertrude won’t snap a photo for your grandmother. So, consider the following steps to reduce the paparazzi in your circle:

1.     Host an electronics free wedding

2.     Post an announcement on your wedding website

  1. Include a note with the written invitation
  2. Decide against a wedding #hashtag
  3. Print a notice in the program
  4. Post a sign in your style similar to the following:

Welcome to our unplugged wedding. We invite you to be fully present during our ceremony. Please turn off all gadgets and enjoy the ceremony with us.



As our social obligations increase this time of year, it may seem like we have less time for the niceties of life. However, according to our ETIQUETTE EXPERT Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., here are some ways to be more thoughtful about those around us.  


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

Our upcoming travels are taking us on a European river cruise where we will delight in culture and devour goodies while wandering through the regions’ markets. What is the best way to politely barter while attending these markets?

Packed With Passport

Dear Packed & Ready,

Ensure you do your research on the specific cultural norms in each of the countries that you will be visiting on your cruise. Learn if bartering is indeed culturally appropriate in particular provinces. If so, incorporate the three P’s into your bartering strategy: personable, polite and private. Don’t reveal how much you are willing to spend, be friendly and always utilize kindness. Respect is universally understood.


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,                                                                                                               
I work in a small office and I adore my colleagues. My wedding has been a major topic of conversation between them, it seems. Do I have to invite everyone?                                                                    

Marrying Soon

Dear Married In The Future,

In the U.S., at the heart of every guest list is a congenial, compatible group of people. If you are friends with your coworkers and are social together, then it is appropriate to extend an invitation. If you are only inviting select coworkers to your wedding, you may discreetly ask them to keep it quiet at the office or workplace. You are in the best position to know whether this will remain quiet. Avoid being surprised when word of the guest list leaks out as it usually does. 

If you do wish to invite colleagues, consider the option of having a standby list or a “B” list. If you have a limited number of guest spots, send the “Save The Date” communication several months or a year in advance to the priority or “A” list Then, send the “official invitation” (by mail, website, or email). When the RSVP deadline arrives, have a friend or family member designated to begin the process of contacting and following-up with all guests who haven’t RSVP’d. Today, guests often fail to RSVP.

After the “A” list has been confirmed, extend invitations to colleagues on the “B” list if space is available. Be sure to wait until all “A” list guests have been contacted or confirmed. In some cultures, like much of Latin AmericaAsia, and specifically India, the social obligation is much stronger to include colleagues, leadership and supervisors, and business associates―including those of the bride and grooms’ parents. Depending on the culture and customs, social ramifications for failing to invite coworkers may cause a loss of face for both parties, and or personal offense. 


Dear Ms. Etiquette Expert,

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern dating, all these new terms surface. I think I know what “ghosting” is, but how do I know if I’ve been “uncuffed” or if I’ve “benched” someone?

Dating Awkwardly

Dear Awkwardly Seeking,

Modern dating is complicated enough without all of these new words for how a date may conceivably disappear from the scene. Let’s define a few terms that indicate that you just aren’t that into him. Keep in mind that from an etiquette standpoint doing any of these things demonstrates a lack of maturity and poor communication skills. Hopefully you aren’t dating anyone who does this…

Benching is when you like your date well enough to keep seeing them, but not so much that you want to “lock it down with them.” So, you keep your options open with them while continuing to date around.

Cuffing is short for handcuffing someone you have been seeing. Winter is viewed as “cuffing” season when the romantic holidays occur and cooler weather encourages couples to stay indoors binge-watching shows and cuddling together. Being “uncuffed” means you are now single.

Ghosting occurs when your friend or the person you’re dating suddenly cuts off all communication with you, with zero warning or notice before hand, hoping they will get the hint that they’re no longer interested. A ghoster will avoid one in public while simultaneously ignoring their phone calls, texts and on social media. It’s extremely confusing for the recipient.

Breadcrumbing is the brutal act of send flirtatious, but non-committal text messages aka “breadcrumbs” with the goal of luring an intimate partner without expending much effort. It’s also called “leading someone on.”