A rogue text chime during a wedding ceremony. An errant cell phone alarm during a bar mitzvah. A guest not-so-discreetly thumbing a phone under the table during a dinner party.
If you've ever planned a big event, you're probably familiar with these and other disturbances from devices. In January, the Pew Research Center reported that 90 percent of American adults own a cell phone, with 29 percent of respondents describing their phones as "something they can't imagine living without."
No matter the type of party, people will want to bring cell phones to it. But that doesn't mean you have to accept them as inevitable uninvited guests.
With the rise of so-called "unplugged parties," in which people are asked to leave cell phones at the door, and the budding awareness of just how much time we spend in front of screens, asking people to forfeit using their precious devices for a few hours may not be such a crazy idea after all.
To help us navigate this tricky request, etiquette experts Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, and Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, shared their insights with The Huffington Post about how to unplug your next big event. While, etiquette-wise, guests should defer to what the host wants, just remember one caveat: You can't control every variable, and part of what makes parties fun is the unexpected.
Now that you know you're entitled to an "unplugged party," here's the polite way to go about pulling the cord:
Let people know an event is "unplugged" before they arrive.
Perhaps the worst thing you can do is to catch your guests by surprise. Make sure to let people know that your party is device-free before they show up, so they can plan accordingly. "The sooner, the better," Whitmore said.
Or, if you prefer, make a quick, pleasant announcement at the start of the event or during a toast. Gottsman recommended keeping the tone light and the phrasing positive: "We welcome everyone and we request that everyone be present with each other. We just ask if you would kindly consider unplugging this evening."
Be 100 percent clear about what you want.
Since our phones do so many things, it's best to be absolutely clear about what your event's device policy is. Make sure to let guests know if devices are banned outright or if it's just a matter of silencing cell phones. As for posting photos of the event to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another channel, be clear about what you want your guests to abstain from. It's not uncommon these days for a groom's "first look" of the bride to take place while he's mindlessly checking Facebook before the wedding ceremony.
"If you absolutely don't want anything posted, you need to respectfully and politely make it clear," Gottsman said.
For weddings or other large events, she recommends posting a notice on the event's website: "We're asking that you please make this an unplugged event. We request that you kindly turn off your cell phones during the ceremony and don't post any pictures of the bride and groom until we've posted first."
Don't put the request on the event's invitation.
"You'd never put it on the invitation," Whitmore said. "It's like putting where you're registered on the invitation. That's just not appropriate." Rather, you can put the unplugged request on the event's website, in the printed program or in a special insert you've added to the invitations.
Don't ask guests to leave cell phones at home.
Nowadays, few adults in the U.S. are willing to leave the house without their cell phones. "I think that comes across as punitive and somewhat demanding," Gottsman said of such a request, noting that most people will probably ignore a total cell phone ban, anyway.
"Many of them have kids; they're not going to relax," she said. "They feel like they're helpless without that cell phone, and there may -- goodness forbid -- be an emergency."
Think of a fun way to spin it.
Don't forget that parties are supposed to be fun, so try to keep the tone of the request light and any reminders of the unplugged rule positive. You don't want to spend your evening surveilling your party like a grade school principal looking to catch kids chewing gum.
Gottsman suggested mixing up the phrasing and thinking of interesting ways to slip in your request. "You could say, 'Casual wear and come unplugged,' 'We're turning our cell phones off and having some fun' or 'We'll be dancing the night away without our cell phones,'" she said. If you take this casual approach, though, it would be wise to elaborate later in more detail.
Never call out a guest for violating the unplugged rule.
No matter what you do, no matter how clearly and politely you communicate your wishes, someone will have a plus-one you specifically told them not to bring. But don't chastise plugged-in guests in front of the party -- that's bad manners, too.
"You might want to say something after the fact or pull the person aside politely and say something away from your guests if it really bothers you," Whitmore said.
Remember: This isn't really about devices. It's about people coming together and having a good time, whatever the event may be. Keeping this in perspective may be the best way to keep devices in their proper place.
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