For certain events, there is absolutely no such thing as being fashionably late. In fact, if you are attending a wedding, funeral, church service or theatre performance, arriving 15 minutes ahead of time is perfectly acceptable. You aren't inconveniencing anyone, because chances are the venue is ready for guests anyway. And there is nothing "fashionable" about causing a loud clang of the doors and sneaking your way into the back row 10 minutes into an event. For such occasions, definitely arrive early.
Being tardy for a business meeting isn't a good idea either. When it comes to a work scenario, people are eager to get things done and to get out of there. If everyone has assembled and you come trotting in five minutes late, you might be met with a good amount of resentment. But you don't want to be too early for a meeting either, as it may appear to others that you aren't keeping busy with work-related tasks. Your best option is to arrive for a meeting three to five minutes before it is scheduled to start. This will show that you're focused on the task at hand.
Avoid being tardy for a dinner party. Your hostess has likely timed each course to be ready at a specific time, and your being late could mean food gets cold or overcooked as a result. Plus, you might come off as a bit of a nuisance to both your hostess and other guests. On the other hand, you don't want to arrive early, as your hostess is likely putting the finishing touches on the dishes as well as on herself. Your best bet is to show up five to 10 minutes after the evening is scheduled to begin. That way everything is ready to go, and the hostess will be pleased to welcome you.
If it's a more relaxed evening of lounging and drinking, your options open up quite a bit. You don't want to arrive so late that some people have already left and are disappointed to have missed you, but your showing up later than when the party is set to begin won't cause the delay of any specifically timed events. If you arrive within a 30-minute window of when the party is scheduled to start, it's perfectly fine.
When in doubt, ask yourself who is hosting the occasion. Would a bride want you sneaking in the back door after she has walked down the aisle? Probably not. But would a fun-loving friend hosting a relaxed soiree of drinks mind if you came 20 minutes after go-time? Not likely. If you aren't sure what the situation calls for, think of what your host would prefer, and proceed accordingly.
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