School has long been out, the heat is on, and it's time for parties. From hosting a family barbecue to attending a summer celebration, mind your manners for optimum summer fun.
• How should I handle an unannounced guest or guests who didn't RSVP? Graciously! If you're throwing a cocktail party, you're in the clear. If it's a sit-down dinner, figure out how to accommodate the unannounced guest(s).
• I'm hosting a cocktail party. Is it okay to ask guests to bring a bottle of wine or an appetizer to share? The word host implies that it's your party and you're supplying the food and drink. Instead, invite guests to a potluck dinner. You provide the main course and ask the guests to bring the side dishes and beverages.
• What should I do if guests offer to help clean up after a party? If you need help, it's perfectly all right to let your guests give it. Otherwise, simply say, "Thank you, but you're my guest. I promise not to do dishes at your home."
• Is it okay for me to throw my own birthday bash? Absolutely, especially for decade birthdays (30/40/50) complete with your favorite foods, decorations, and party favors for guests.
• How can I politely inform guests that their children are not welcome at my decidedly "grown-up affair?" If the event is held in the evening, this implies no children. However, if you are worried that some guests might bring children anyway (especially to an afternoon party), send a follow-up email to all guests reminding everyone to book their sitters.
• I'm throwing a housewarming party; can I mention gift preferences on an invitation? Mentioning a gift preference on an invitation or any other time is in poor taste. Guests should be able to bring whatever gifts they like to thank you for hosting the party. Some hosts might even want to specify "no gifts please" on the invitation so guests don't feel obliged to bring something.
• How can I politely remind guests to turn off their cell phones before dinner? Either pray that a phone goes off just before everyone sits down so you can make your big speech. Or, you could have someone call you on your own cell phone just before dinner, then make a big production of turning it off. Your guests should get the hint!
• I've got a new beau. Is it okay to bring a guest with me after I've already sent a solo RSVP? By all means, if the invite said "and guest." Just be sure to call the host to revise your original RSVP. If the invite does not state "and guest," think of all the interesting people you may meet?
• I've been invited to a party but I really don't want to go to. How long do I have to stay? Either send your regrets when you RSVP, or let your host know ahead of time that you will be leaving early. If you must leave early, plan to stay long enough to greet your host(s) and mingle.
• Do I need to bring a hostess gift with me to a party? What the heck is a hostess gift anyway? A hostess gift is given in appreciation for being invited to an event. While hostess gifts are never mandatory, they show good manners. For most events, a bottle of wine, candles, or soap is appropriate. Gifts for children are always appreciated.
• Elbows on or off the table? Elbows are okay on the table in between courses or when there is no food or plate in front of you. It's not a good habit, but socially acceptable.
• What if I'm allergic to what the host is serving (or I just don't like it)? A thoughtful host will ask ahead of time if anyone has food allergies. If, however you don't like lamb or salmon, grin, bear, and pick at it! If your host asks whether you don't like the food, a safe response is: "It's delicious, but I want to save room for dessert."
• I don't drink alcohol, and I sometimes feel awkward at parties. What should I do when someone wants to pour me a drink? Many people don't drink alcohol, so there's nothing wrong with asking for a soft drink or mineral water. It's nobody's business, but if someone asks, simply say: I don't drink, I'm on a diet, or I just feel like a glass of water!
• Is it okay to propose a toast at a dinner party? By all means, but only after the host has given the toast of welcome. Giving a toast to thank your host is perfectly acceptable.
• Is it okay to wear jeans to a formal dinner party? If the invitation specifies "formal dress," jeans should not be worn. If you're not sure of what to wear, check with the host before the event. It's better to be overdressed than underdressed, which would be an insult to your host.
• There are a bazillion forks, spoons, and glasses on the table in front of me. What are they all for? Always begin with the utensils and glasses farthest from the dinner plate and work inward toward the plate with each course. When in doubt, watch the person next to you or across the table from you.
• When I'm assigned a seat at dinner next to someone I can't stand, is it okay to swap the place cards so I can sit by Mr. Dream Boat instead of Chatty Kathy? Would you want your guests to swap cards at your party? Probably not. Think the Golden Rule.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.AMLGroup.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She currently writes for the Healdsburg Patch and the Nob Hill Gazette, and she has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.