Have you been given an invite to a formal party and are you dreading the fancy, formal do?Whether you love or hate fancy affairs, the key is to learn what you should expect before you go and plan accordingly, then just remember to be courteous while you’re there. I personally love fancy affairs, because the rules that surround them, while stuffy and obstinate to many people, are so regimented that once you know them and follow along, you can relax and enjoy yourself without worry or social awkwardness.
With a little knowledge and some common sense, you can even enjoy them. Here’s how.
Plan Ahead, and Learn As Much As Possible in Advance
for how many people will attend their event with more than enough time to plan, trust me, they’ll thank you, and the event will be better for you having done so.
Dress appropriately, if for no other reason than to respect your host. You don’t have to throw on a suit and tie unless you know the event will be formal, but there’s no excuse to show up to a social affair looking less than professional. Sure, if you’re just headed to a friend’s house to watch the game, no one cares, but if you’re headed to your boss’s house for a dinner party, or you’ve been invited to a dinner hosted by a local civic society, you should at least put on a pair of pressed trousers and maybe a
RSVP as soon as possible (at least within the first week.) It should go without saying, but if an RSVP is required, make sure to send one as soon as possible, preferably within the first few days or the first week of you having gotten the invitation. This makes things easier on the host or planner, and lets them get a feel
jacket or button-down shirt or blouse. It shows tact and class, but it also gives the nod to your host that you appreciate and planned for the event.
If you’re unsure of anything, ask your host. When you RSVP, get any questions you may have out of the way. If you have an invitation from your boss to a dinner party at their house, ask them at work when you give them your RSVP what the general dress will be like, are you guys kicking back and having beers, or will there be other people from work there? If you see that the event is taking place at a banquet room or a private dining room at a nice restaurant, it’s a sure bet that it’ll be a dressy affair. Still, if you’re not sure, ask for details.
Remember, the invitation should have all the information you need for the event, but if it doesn’t, remember, asking questions is a good thing, especially beforehand. The person planning the event obviously wants the affair to be a success, so they’re likely more than willing to answer your questions.
Arrive On Time, Bring a Gift (if Necessary), and Make the Round. When it’s time to head out, make sure you give yourself enough travel time. The more formal the event, the closer to the start time you should arrive. If you’re headed to an informal affair where you know everyone will be standing around with plates and will serve themselves, you can play it loose, but I’d suggest not being more than a half-hour or so late. If it’s a dinner party and everyone will be seated, make sure you’re on time (or call ahead if you won’t be) so you don’t hold up the meal for everyone else.
Whatever you do, try not to show up early unless you’ve been asked to, the planner or host is probably scrambling to finish up and make sure everything is just right. The last thing they need in those last moments is their first guest at the door while they’re changing clothes, tidying up, or finishing the place settings.
Also, if you’re going to someone’s home (or any event where it’s called for), bring a gift, like a bottle of wine, (if that’s okay). It may seem like common courtesy, but common things are surprisingly uncommon, especially if no one’s ever told you. A small token like a bottle of wine shows your host that you appreciate the invitation. Don’t expect them to use it that night, but it’s just a gesture to say thank you.
Finally, make the rounds when you’re invited in or first arrive at the event. If it’s a seated dinner and there’s some time to talk before dinner, offer to lend the host a hand if they need one, and talk to the people who are there with you. It is a social affair, after all. You’ll have a better time for having met some new people or caught up with friends, and your host will be happier that things are going off smoothly. Try not to sit in a corner with hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine staring at your phone.
Mind Your Manners
Know Your Place Settings to Avoid the “Which Fork Do I Use?” Conundrum
Formal affairs will have more on the table. Glasses for red and white wine, a water goblet, bread plates, soup and salad bowls, if the affair is really fancy, you may even have multiple plates and flatware for different courses, like a salad fork, cheese fork, dinner fork, and dessert fork, a soup spoon, a tea or coffee spoon, and a dessert spoon. The image above is a good example of what a formal dining affair may look like, although the more formal the event, the more there may be on the table (or, if you’re being served, you may be brought different utensils at different points in the meal). The image below however is a more informal affair, with the usual fork, knife, maybe two spoons, and a couple of glasses involved. There’s also the “family dinner,” which is a place setting you’re likely used to, with a napkin on the plate and one set of flatware.
What. It’s not a butter spreader; it’s called a butter knife. Let’s not make up unnecessary names, people. Whichever type of event you attend, the rule is generally that you
As the night progresses, keep an eye on when things wind down (or when the event is scheduled to end), and make sure you’re not the last person out. You don’t want to overstay your welcome (unless you’re asked to stay, of course). Before you leave, make sure to thank your host (or hosts, if there are more than one), and take your leave. If the event is huge, make the rounds and hit the important folks who put everything together, or the guest of honor. If you have to leave in a hurry, designate someone you use your utensils from the outside in towards the center. That means that whatever dish you’re first presented with usually calls for the fork and/or spoon or knife the furthest away from it. When you’re finished with that course, leave the utensils on the plate or just next to it so they’ll be removed at the end of that course, and move in to the next set. It may seem daunting, but even if you have no idea whether the fork second to the left is for soup or salad, relax, don’t worry about it, and use it when it’s that fork’s turn. It is good to know that soup is generally eaten with a spoon, rather than a fork.
Have Fun, and Don’t Forget to Thank Your Host
Do make sure you have a good time, too. The reason the host or organizer is throwing the event is to celebrate, or give everyone the opportunity to get together and celebrate a specific cause, event, or person, whether it’s the holidays, a charity dinner, a campaign dinner, or just a friendly dinner party. No one has a party because they want everyone who attends to be miserable.
trust to pass along the word that you have to leave, but follow up with the host later to thank them for the affair. Obviously if you’re at a large, anonymous event, you don’t have to say goodbye to anyone, but it’s always a good idea.
It may seem like the rules of etiquette are dense and imposing, but their intention is quite the opposite. By creating a set of social standards everyone can agree on, you remove the worry and doubt that comes with being in a situation where you want to relax, have fun, get to know some new people, and enjoy a nice meal or glass of wine with the people who invited you. Since the rules are (ideally) universal, knowing them lets you put yourself on autopilot and focus instead on being in the moment and having a good time, not on whether or not your napkin is in the right place, or whether it’s time to eat yet. Consider it a little structure or guidance, and as long as you look at it that way, you’ll have a better time.