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Party Time

The Edmontonians
July 2000

Knowing the proper way to attend a party is just as important as knowing how to host a party. Here are some suggestions for your successful party.

If you are the host:

Plan well in advance. Is it going to be a seated dinner party (most expensive), a buffet-style luncheon (less expensive), a cocktail party (less food expenses, more drink expenses) or a wine and cheese party (safest if this is your first). Figure out how much money you want to spend, and what is the maximum number of people you wish to entertain.

Send out your invitations and hope for a quick response. Unfortunately people nowadays don't seem to know what RSVP means: "Respond, please", in French - one of our official languages. If your guests are well mannered, they respond fast. If they are not well mannered, they may not respond at all and still show up.

Let your guests know what you expect them to wear. It is just as uncomfortable to be overdressed as to be underdressed. The hostessí attire should never be fancier than her guests. Wear a long, but not too elaborate, hostess gown, for example.

The day before the big event, do your shopping and your cleaning. As far as chores are concerned, I have a list in the order I need to do them. This way, I know that when I have reached end of my list, I have covered all the aspects of my party. Be sure there is a guest towel and enough toilet paper! Have as many hangers available as invited guests. Is the garbage can empty, or do you have to take time away from your guests to do mundane things like that instead of entertaining them?

My grandmother used to say: "The maid peels the carrots, the hostess entertains." You are the carrot-peeling maid until an hour before your guests arrive, after that you are the gracious hostess. The gracious hostess does not peel carrots!

Lay the table with architectural precision, it should look as festive as you can possibly make it: the food tastes better. Have every bowl and utensil ready in order that you need them, including coffee cups, sugar, spoons, empty bowl for the cream, absolutely everything, so that no time is wasted looking for things. Remember, you are there to entertain.

Select the music, air out the place, get the drinks and the ice ready, turn the lights to desired strength.

If it is a seated dinner, have place cards, or a little 'map'.

Be ready an hour early. My parents have had the odd occasion when a guest showed up exactly one hour before due time. (Swedes are very punctual - he just got the time wrong.) If this happens, understand that the guest is very embarrassed. Involve him in your activities, make him useful. He will really appreciate you for that.

If the host is male, he opens the door and lets the guests in. The hostess greets the guests and does her best to introduce them to at least one person. A good introducer does not just say the two names, she also adds something about the other person, for example, "I know you are both avid downhill skiers" or "I know you both have boys the same age" or something that will facilitate a conversation.

If it is a seated dinner, polite people will wait for the hostess to sit down. The hostess must sit down, must start the dinner and eat a few bites. The host or hostess makes the first toast, welcomes guests, and then leaves the table if absolutely necessary.

What if your guest has had a glass too many? You could offer to have him stay a little longer or overnight, to call a taxi, or have another guest drive him home. If you are not intoxicated yourself, you could drive him home after the last guest has left. What if he refuses and gets into his car and drives off? Well, what I have done is call the local police and tell them that a party guest decided to drive against my advice. I described him and his route, and they took it from there. I chose preventing a tragedy over inconveniencing him, or even possibly losing a friend. And, according to Ontario law, I am responsible even if he is an adult.

If you are the guest:

An RSVP should be immediate, even if there is a cut-off date. Give the host time to invite someone else if you cannot come. If the attire is not indicated, phone and ask.

Check what the occasion is. Birthday party: get a card. Dinner party: fresh cut flowers for the hostess is your safest bet.

If it is a seated dinner party, be on time. When you arrive make sure you greet both the host and the hostess; if they are not readily at the door, find them.

Always be prepared to have an extra hand available for an introduction. Do you have to balance a plate, a napkin and a glass? If you can't do that in one hand, see if you really need that plate, or transfer your glass from one hand to the other. See if you can get a glass with a stem that is easier to balance. Practice this at home so that it comes with ease when you actually need this trick.

What do you do if someone is standing there whom you would like to meet, but the host is not around to introduce you? Go to her and say "I don't think we have met; my name is Peter Corn" and hope that she says, "Cathy Smith", and offers her hand. Then you can say "How do you do", or "Pleased to meet you" and shake hands. So what are you going to talk about? Well, the one common element are the hosts. Ask what her connection to the host is. See if you can start a conversation around that topic. Ask what her passion is. All too many people don't like their 9-5 job, they just do it for the money. But if you ask someone about their passions or activities you will see how even the shyest person comes alive. By the way, no one wants to hear about your extra pounds or that you are on a diet again, especially during dinner.

If it is a seated dinner, wait for the hostess to sit down. Wait for her to touch her utensils first: it does not matter how hungry you are. The first toast is reserved for the host; don't touch your glass until then. Utensils are in the order that you need to use them; eat from the outside in. If you don't know how to eat a particular dish, watch the hosts. They would never serve something they don't know how to tackle. At the dinner table you are responsible for the conversation with the person on your left, on your right, and right across from you. Find out their hobbies or interests, and they will love you for it. Be a good listener. Watch out for loaded issues; remember you have to sit with these people at least an hour and a half. And always leave some wine in your glass in case there is a thank-you speech and toast.

If somebody suggests that you don't drive, listen. At that point, you are probably not in a good position to make that judgment.

Don't forget to write or call to say thank you.

Adeodata Czink is president of BUSINESS OF MANNERS, a Toronto-based company providing seminars in international etiquette, formal dining, and social graces. E-mail at