Etiquette Questions Answered

Forks on the left, elbows off the table, cell phone stowed away and a gift in tow? There's so much to remember when hosting or attending a party. Here, etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts answers some commonly asked etiquette questions from hostesses and guests.

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For the guests

Q: I've got a new beau for the holidays, is it okay to bring a 'plus 1' with me after I already sent a solo RSVP? Certainly if the invite said plus one initially.

Q: I've been invited to a party I really don't want to go to, how long do I really have to stay? Either send your regrets in advance or stay long enough to be polite. Let your host know ahead of time that you will be leaving early.

Q: Elbows on the table or elbows off? When is it okay to lean? Elbows are okay on the table in between courses or when there is no food in front of you. All leaning will do is make you fall backwards and break something.

Q: What if I'm allergic to the what the host is serving (or I just plain old don't like it)? A thoughtful host will ask ahead of time if anyone has food allergies. If, however, you suspect what you're about to eat will make you sick, by all means tell your host. Better safe than sorry.

Q: I don't drink alcohol and when I feel awkward when I decline and others start asking why I'm not drinking. How can I respond to them when they give me that look that means they think I'm hiding something? No explanation necessary. Simply have the beverage poured for balance at the table. If a toast if offered hold up your glass and pretend to drink!

Q: Is it okay to propose a toast, even if the hostess didn't ask me to? The toast of welcome is normally done by the host, but if the event is informal, by all means. How nice of you to thank your host.

Q: Do I need to bring a hostess gift with me? And what the heck is a hostess gift anyway? A hostess gift is a gift that you give the hostess to show appreciation for their hard work and generosity. While hostess gifts are never mandatory, showing up empty handed is in poor taste.

Q: Is it okay to wear jeans to a formal dinner party? If the invite does not state the dress code, ask your host ahead of time so you're not the only one in jeans when all the other guests are in evening gowns and tuxedos.

Q: There are a bazillion forks, spoons and plates in front of me. Which set is mine and what are they all for? Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. The fork courses will include salad, the main course and dessert. The spoon will be for soup and the knives for salad and the main course. Remember to work from out to in for each course. When in doubt, look at the person across the table from you.

Q: My hostess assigned seating for dinner, but I really can't stand my seat partner. Is it okay to swap the place cards around a bit 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.

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Comments on "Party etiquette Q&A"

Bruce May 09, 2012 | 11:14 AM

I am able to pull off wearing jeans to a formal cocktail or dinner party. One of my favorite outfits is dark jeans, a cashmere turtle neck, black sport jacket and fancy dress shoes. I compliment this attire with a liberal dab of my finest cologne and aftershave. This sartorial combination has never attracted negative stares at a formal occasion - in fact, quite the opposite.

Sonny July 24, 2011 | 8:09 AM

We were invited to a luncheon & asked to help the hostess cook for the luncheon. Upon a few guests arrival, the host was still working from home & hosting a pool party for the kids at the same time. We did the cooking as asked but then one guest was asked to do all the cooking for the kids. This other guest made comments to other guests but the hostess felt it was such a blessing to have others to take over while she began to prepare for the luncheon. The guest that was asked to cook kept saying, "doesnt' your job know you are having peopel over? The guest asked to cook for the kids hasn't contacted the host by any form since that day. The rest of the guests are now being grilled as to "why" the guest that had to cook for the kids hasn't contacted the host since that point. What is the appropriate etiquette for this informal luncheon and a host who places their responsibilities ont their guests shoulders.

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