SETTING THE TONE

SETTING THE TONE

Every host knows that the secret to a successful event is strategically fusing the energy of the guests. If it is a seated affair, it’s even more important that the mix around the table is fun, festive and even, educational, according to our entertaining expert, Jay Remer.

 

PARTY TIME

Enjoying the camaraderie of one’s friends and family around a dinner table is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Dinner parties serve many purposes, and their success hinges on the guests as much as anything. Once the cocktail hour has concluded, where people sit for dinner depends on the occasion. However, when the question arises, Where shall I sit? it is the host, through his or her seating acumen, who can make or break the brilliance of the party. 

At a private home, club, or restaurant, the host can solve this seating puzzle ahead of time. After all, they’ve invited the guests and know best how they will interact. Planning where people will sit requires skill, which, if not learned during cotillion days, will come with experience. Place cards are always helpful. For a large dinner where multiple tables will be used, a dining chart placed strategically near the entrance to the dining room will allow guests to find their seats more efficiently. I find this useful as it also gives them a glimpse into whom their dinner partners will be. Once I know who I am sitting beside, I can focus on chatting with others during cocktails because there will be plenty of time to converse with my tablemates when seated.

Begin with the principle of alternating sexes around the table (woman/man/woman/man) when possible. With a single table, the host and co-host are seated opposite one another at the ends of the table. If there are unequal numbers of each sex, seating two of the same sex together is unavoidable and perfectly acceptable.  

When more than one table is used, be sure there is a ‘host’ for each table whenever possible. This role includes the host, co-host, guests of honor, and family members. Avoid seating alpha personalities at the same table. In fact, I avoid inviting too many of these socially assertive guests to any party as they have a tendency to dominate events they attend, which can upend the most carefully planned party.

MATCHING MATES

Husbands and wives may be seated at different tables, including formal dinners, but try to avoid seating them together unless one of them is painfully shy or there is some extenuating circumstance. After all, they see one another regularly, and interacting with other guests is the purpose of having a fun party. Conventionally, couples who are dating usually are seated beside one another, although, for me, this is a flexible guideline. If there is a male guest of honor, he would be seated to the right of the hostess; a female guest of honor would be seated to the right of the host.

Given modern partnerships, common sense trumps conventional norms. The overriding principles of proper etiquette are flexible enough to accommodate all guests with egalitarian grace. If a host decides they would like a a different mix other than what tradition dictates, they should follow their heart and act accordingly. This perspective removes all sorts of conventions and allows for the originality that so many party planners crave today.

However, do be thoughtful about your seating plan. It’s common sense not seating people together whom you know have a poor history with one another, have little or nothing in common, who are overly shy or overly talkative. Try to seat people next to those whom they would most enjoy–with interesting backgrounds, professional pursuits, or a unique hobby.

To accomplish this task efficiently, write the name of each guest on a small card. Divide the ‘deck’ into male and female decks. Some people may be more interested in politics, others in sports, others in gardening, etc. Think of this gathering as an opportunity for people with common interests to engage in elusive and lively conversations.

WHAT A CARD

After you have the seating chart sorted, write the names on place cards and band them together by table for placing once the table(s) have been set. Once you have placed the cards, the plan is written in stone. Any guest who thinks they can change their seat assignment is sadly mistaken. Some may quite justifiably consider this to be an egregiously poor lapse in judgment and possibly a short cut to elimination from future invitations.

When hosting a dinner party at a restaurant, be sure to arrive at least twenty minutes ahead of the invited start time. Some people may mistakenly arrive early, so either wait for them at the entrance bar (and have a drink) or go directly to the table and wait for your guests. Do not order a drink at the table until guests are seated. And do not touch your napkin. Your guests should arrive at a pristine table. Always try to give your guests the best view, either one facing into the room or out a window over a stunning vista, not facing the kitchen’s swinging door or viewing the restrooms. Know ahead of time exactly where each guest will sit, and as they arrive, simply let them know. For tables of more than six, I recommend place cards. Following these guidelines will ensure things run smoothly and will reflect well on you as a great host for your next gathering and many more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

SETTING THE TONE

SETTING THE TONE

Every host knows that the secret to a successful event is strategically fusing the energy of the guests. If it is a seated affair, it’s even more important that the mix around the table is fun, festive and even, educational, according to our entertaining expert, Jay Remer.

MATCHING MATES

Husbands and wives may be seated at different tables, including formal dinners, but try to avoid seating them together unless one of them is painfully shy or there is some extenuating circumstance. After all, they see one another regularly, and interacting with other guests is the purpose of having a fun party. Conventionally, couples who are dating usually are seated beside one another, although, for me, this is a flexible guideline. If there is a male guest of honor, he would be seated to the right of the hostess; a female guest of honor would be seated to the right of the host.

 

Given modern partnerships, common sense trumps conventional norms. The overriding principles of proper etiquette are flexible enough to accommodate all guests with egalitarian grace. If a host decides they would like a a different mix other than what tradition dictates, they should follow their heart and act accordingly. This perspective removes all sorts of conventions and allows for the originality that so many party planners crave today.

 

However, do be thoughtful about your seating plan. It’s common sense not seating people together whom you know have a poor history with one another, have little or nothing in common, who are overly shy or overly talkative. Try to seat people next to those whom they would most enjoy–with interesting backgrounds, professional pursuits, or a unique hobby.

 

To accomplish this task efficiently, write the name of each guest on a small card. Divide the ‘deck’ into male and female decks. Some people may be more interested in politics, others in sports, others in gardening, etc. Think of this gathering as an opportunity for people with common interests to engage in elusive and lively conversations.

 

WHAT A CARD

After you have the seating chart sorted, write the names on place cards and band them together by table for placing once the table(s) have been set. Once you have placed the cards, the plan is written in stone. Any guest who thinks they can change their seat assignment is sadly mistaken. Some may quite justifiably consider this to be an egregiously poor lapse in judgment and possibly a short cut to elimination from future invitations.

 

When hosting a dinner party at a restaurant, be sure to arrive at least twenty minutes ahead of the invited start time. Some people may mistakenly arrive early, so either wait for them at the entrance bar (and have a drink) or go directly to the table and wait for your guests. Do not order a drink at the table until guests are seated. And do not touch your napkin. Your guests should arrive at a pristine table. Always try to give your guests the best view, either one facing into the room or out a window over a stunning vista, not facing the kitchen’s swinging door or viewing the restrooms. Know ahead of time exactly where each guest will sit, and as they arrive, simply let them know. For tables of more than six, I recommend place cards. Following these guidelines will ensure things run smoothly and will reflect well on you as a great host for your next gathering and many more to come.

 

 

SPRING’S NEW PURPOSE

SPRING’S NEW PURPOSE

Out with the cold and in with the warmth that spring ushers in, along with a philanthropical spirit in entertaining, according to our special occasion etiquette expert, Jay Remer.

There is nothing more anticipated, or welcome, than the first real spring fling of the year, is there? The winter palette of muted colors and heavy fabrics, of comfort food and gravy, and frigid temps and indoor entertaining all make way for an eruption of bright and cheery pastels, a cornucopia of fresh, bountiful fruits and vegetables, and the warm feeling of the sun’s glow on our faces. This year, more than ever, we need to muster up whatever courage it takes to swing into full party mode. After months of challenging news stories, we need to bust loose and celebrate life. Spring welcomes rebirths of all kinds, including hope, compassion, and civility.

When Henry Francis du Pont entertained, his priorities differed considerably from the norm and reflected more his own personal preferences. So, number one on his list was the flowers, which were abloom in his garden. From there, he then went on to select the pattern of china that would fit most elegantly with the floral centerpieces. Then, the menu, including wines, was his final consideration. He also recorded in a ledger who attended each of his many dinner parties, who they sat next to, and what the menu was so these details were never duplicated at future parties.

The privileged du Pont was lucky to have such choices. Today, we often prioritize things differently than in his time. I choose the menu first and then work out the tablewares and decorations after. The start of planning any great party is to have an occasion to host the event in the first place. There are many life events we enjoy celebrating annually, and since we all love any excuse to throw a party, why not come up with an entirely new idea this year?

One innovative idea is to pick your favorite small, local charity–one that is out of the mainstream but could benefit significantly from a fundraising party. To give it a brighter spotlight and raise awareness, consider putting it together with a sporting event–golf or croquet, anyone? If the charity supports an animal cause, why not have one of your pets host the event? I’ve hosted a number of these intimate fundraisers–each one with its own flavor. The result is a genuinely fun time and a feeling of satisfaction from having made a difference. Amidst all the frivolity that we enjoy injecting into our lives, we must remember that most people don’t live this experience, and we have a responsibility to acknowledge this… and assist whenever possible. I’ve always been one to seek out the weakest link and turn it into a pillar of strength. Entertaining can be a great catalyst in achieving this.

Another twist to a spring fling that can require more courage than comfort is hosting a party with guests who likely don’t know one another. There are always newcomers in town, and this is a great way to include them in the mix, even if you haven’t met them yet yourself. Spring, a time of rebirth, is perfect for building new relationships. You will be delighted and inspired by how well these events work at building a stronger community, too. Build a guest list that includes friends from different demographics. Networking has far-reaching positive results and what better way than a party to meet new people and make new connections.

Finally, for some of us, a party that incorporates our favorite things, from flowers to food, may be something we’ve been putting off long enough in deference to the latest trend, formal obligations, or special requests from others. Why not have it all your way for a new twist? Organizing such a party allows us to color outside the lines and indulge ourselves in honestly considering what our favorite things actually are. Who are our favorite friends? Pondering these favorites is guaranteed to brighten your day. Toss them all together and enjoy the magic.

 

FÊTE ACCOMPLI

FÊTE ACCOMPLI

Revisiting the etiquette of the 70s and 80s is something we all may want to do these days in the haste of Insta moments and fleeting social media personas, according to our international etiquette expert, Jay Remer.

We are living in extraordinary times where our fast-paced lives place unexpected stresses on us as individuals, on our communities, and on society as a whole. Fortunately, traditions and social mores help us find peace and a sense of safety. They ground us within our comfort zone by guiding us with a flexible set of principles and rules that ensure respect in our interactions with others and avoid rudeness – intended or unintended.

Although this dynamic is still in place, the world has changed in a number of significant ways that requires us, in order to maintain a civil society, to make adjustments to some of the old guidelines and to create new ones as our lifestyles evolve.

How we entertain has changed. How we communicate has changed even more. Diversity and inclusivity are becoming desirable goals for organizations, communities, and even entire countries. Equality in the workplace, government and every other segment of society have been appropriately and significantly boosted by the MeToo movement, echoing the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.

When we entertain, many of the old formal rules have been relaxed. We no longer have the staff once required to allow for elaborate dinner parties. Private debutante parties have been replaced by cotillions and assemblies that are shared by several young ladies. Large society weddings have been replaced by smaller affairs, often planned and paid for by the bride and groom.

Handwritten invitations, thank you notes, and RSVP’s have been replaced with emails and text messages. Coupled with the fact that face-to-face communication is no longer the preferred way to exchange ideas, I would caution that this slide towards less personal connections is dangerous. Just as a lack of gratitude can give way to entitlement, a lack of personal contact leads to isolation–a worrisome epidemic today. Because connecting with one another is critical to our very survival, protecting these pathways is important. Giving thanks should never grow old. How we give thanks may change, but the requirement doesn’t. 

Practically speaking, the guideline I recommend for responding to an invitation is when you receive an invitation by email, send your RSVP via email. If you receive one via the postal system, you should reply likewise unless otherwise indicated. RSVPs are important; and people who ignore them risk being removed from future invitation lists. After all, hosts must know how many people are attending their event.  

Giving thanks will never grow old. How we give thanks may change, but the requirement doesn’t. As a guideline, if you receive an invitation by email, send your RSVP via email. If you receive one via the postal system, you should respond likewise unless otherwise indicated. RSVPs will never grow old either, although many people have not been taught about this—people who don’t respond risk being removed from invitation lists. Hosts must know how many people are attending their event for the same obvious reasons they always have.

With a more relaxed and egalitarian lifestyle, the transition from old rules to retooled flexible guidelines can be confusing, annoying, and even overwhelming. We need to remember that one of the original needs for etiquette was to keep representatives from different cultures from offending one another inadvertently. We, as human beings, have an inherent desire to be respected. If we commit to following The Golden Rule and engaging our common sense, we will avoid most of the pitfalls along the way.

However, there will always be rules that need to be taught. This is the responsibility of parents. Setting a good example is important. Bad habits are formed in exactly the same way as good habits. For parents who realize that they are clueless about these rules, then they must take the time to learn them. Etiquette need not be elusive or elitist. After all, etiquette is essentially how we interact with the world. If we want to be accepted (and who doesn’t), we need to keep abreast of current acceptable behavior trends. Respect never goes out of style.