Fashionably Late

Punctuality is generally very important and a part of being a well-mannered and respectful person, but there are also some exceptions to this rule.

Adam Lowe,
September 10, 2007

A number of listeners have written in with questions about when it is OK to be fashionably late, so we'll take that as our topic for this episode. Punctuality is generally very important and a part of being a well-mannered and respectful person. Being punctual not only makes it easier to make plans and coordinate schedules, but it shows others that you respect and value their time. So in general, you should strive to be punctual. There are certain exceptions to this rule, but first a few tips on timeliness:

  • If you are meeting friends for a meal at a restaurant, make sure you arrive precisely on time.

  • When meeting someone for a movie, try to arrive at least five minutes early.

  • If you are meeting a friend at his or her home, make sure to arrive on time.

  • If someone is meeting you at your home, be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes before the appointed time, or at least call your friend to advise upon the time of your arrival.

  • If you are going to be more than five minutes late, call the person whom you are meeting and let him or her know where you are and when you'll arrive.

  • If you know in advance that you are going to be late, call as soon as you know to reschedule your meeting time.

  • If you've made a date long in advance, call earlier in the day or the day before to confirm the time you are meeting.

  • If you are meeting someone in a restaurant, shop or other establishment and you are going to be late but cannot reach your friend on the phone, then call the establishment and try to get a message delivered to your friend.

  • If you use a PDA to manage your schedule, you might also write in the time of the appointment (in addition to using the slotted time) if you ever have problems with time zones or mis-entries.

  • For funeral or memorial services, arrive on time.

  • For wedding ceremonies, plan to arrive about 15 minutes early.

  • For work appointments, of course you should always be prompt.

Now there are certain cases where it is OK to be fashionably late.

If you are going to dinner at a friend's house, it is generally OK to arrive about 15 to 20 minutes late. This of course depends on the friends and the occasion. If it's a dinner party with a number of guests, and you know that there will be drinks and hors d'oeuvres before the meal, it is generally acceptable to be fashionably late. In some cases, you may actually surprise your host if you arrive exactly on time, and do not arrive early unless you have arranged this with your hosts. Remember that they may be in their final preparations shortly before guests arrive, and it may be difficult for them to finish getting everything ready and entertain their guests before the appointed time (and they may even expect another 15 minutes to prepare).

If you are going to dinner where young children are involved, it is probably a good idea to be prompt (or just five or ten minutes late) as children have more regular mealtimes and bedtimes. If your dinner is before a workday, then again you will probably want to be just slightly late, as most people will not want to make it a late night.

If you are going to a party, it is generally acceptable to come half an hour late (or even more), but of course it depends on the type of party (for surprise parties, you of course must arrive on time). For large parties that are going on for hours where a meal is not served, it is generally acceptable to drop by for the portion of the party you like, as long as you don't arrive too late. If the party is being thrown by a close friend, however, you should plan to stay for the whole affair and even arrive on time to help get things started.

Remember that customs differ in different regions and that you must use your judgment depending on the situation and the people involved, and it never hurts to ask your host if you are unsure.

So here's hoping you and your guests always arrive at exactly the right time, and thank you for listening to quick and dirty tips for a more polite life.

Send your question and comments to manners@quickanddirtytips.com. The Modern Manners Guy is part of the quick and dirty tips network. Check out the other great shows at QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

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