As the new year sets in, a new optimism accompanies it. So why not let our Ms. Social Graces, Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., handle a few conundrums that might happen in today’s modern society?

Dear Ms. Social Graces, 

Some dear friends in our pod like to entertain, and we are often their guests for dinner, which we also reciprocate. The host asks us to arrive at 7:00 pm, yet we usually don’t sit down to eat until much later―9:30 pm. Since I don’t love eating that late, how can I express that we’d like to eat earlier, closer to when we arrive, or should we skip the invitation altogether?

Ready For Dinner

Dear Deserving Diners, 

Concepts of time vary across cultures. However, in the U.S., we tend to be a fairly prompt society. We have certain expectations when we receive and accept business or social invitations based on the invitation’s formality level.

Reciprocal dining arrangements, dining cohorts, or pods tend to develop an organizational culture of their own over time. If this pod consists of three to four other friend sets, it would be insightful to know how they handle drinks and dinner timing and formalities. The times for drinks and dinner are printed on the written invitations with formal dining, yet this differs from informal gatherings. However, even informal events may set a time for drinks, with a separation of an hour for the meal. 

Several options present themselves. You may RSVP immediately and graciously decline the next invitation without giving a reason. However, it would be inappropriate to tell them that serving dinner two and a half hours after arrival is too late. Another option to consider hinges upon whether or not several friends in your pod share the same mindset. If so, consider collaborating with them to develop a workable cocktail hour at 6:00 pm, with dinner at 7:00 pm or 7:30 pm. Then, reinforce this culture among the group. The late diners may then get the message and follow course. Or not. These kind folks may just be night owls… 

Dear Ms. Social Graces, 

On Zoom or other group video calls, how can I present my best self as the pandemic continues? Does lighting or background matter in the scheme of things? 

Ready For My Close-up

Dear Close To Technology,

Presenting our best selves online is essential, especially when screenshots of all the participants pop up on other platforms like LinkedIn. There is a myriad of factors to consider. However, we will address the two you have inquired about when on a Zoom, Skype, or other group video call.


  1. Background: Stage your video area and limit distractions
  • Since our homes are inherently less equipped for professional meetings than our workplace, scout out the best location for calls. 
  • Remember, when dialing in, other participants closely observe more than just your appearance―they’re curious about your personal space and home design. So before joining the meeting, confirm your camera doesn’t capture stacks of unopened packages, piles of unwashed clothes, or a home office in a state of complete disarray.
  • Avoid being an exhibitionist. Using video as a venue to showcase an art collection or wine cellar is inappropriate. Consider selecting a solid color background, such as blue.
  • When you can’t alter your home environment, discreetly hide your room using Zoom’s virtual background feature. Consider taking advantage of their option to upload a personal photograph or create virtual backgrounds with Canva templates designed for Zoom.
  • Limit distractions. Silence or turn off mobile devices, ringtones, and applications running on your desktop. Avoid disrespecting yourself and others by not constantly averting your eyes to check messages. Mitigating distractions keep the virtual meeting focused and interruption-free. 


  1. Lighting: An extremely important factor 
  • Natural light from a window close by that shines on your face is the first and best option. A light accentuates and brightens your skin and features creating a flattering video image.
  • If it’s cloudy or there’s no sunshine, place a lamp with a bright bulb in front of you and above your tablet or laptop to avoid casting a shadow. There’s also the option to invest in a lighting source online―there are numerous reasonably priced products.
  • Turn off any light source behind you and close any window treatments or blinds. The goal is to avoid backlighting.
  • When wearing glasses, avoid the brightest setting on your laptop or monitor to prevent a reflection in the glasses, which can be distracting.