In this 6-part Q&A series, Domestic CEO and Modern Manners Guy tackle thorny questions about proper hosting (and guesting) etiquette. Today: How to handle latecomers at your dinner party?
Ask the Experts: How to handle latecomers at a dinner party?
Domestic CEO: Hopefully your latecomers have let you know in advance that they will be late. If they are going to be less than 30 minutes late, consider adjusting the service of the food. Can you add some appetizers to the beginning of the party so your on-time guests can munch while you wait for the tardy guests? Something simple like cheese and crackers will create the appearance that you planned for a social hour before the meal. Once the last guest arrives, give them a few minutes to chat and snack, then ask everyone to take their seats and let the meal begin.
If your guests have let you know they are going to be significantly late, suggest that they plan to join the group for dessert only, and keep a little food set aside in case they haven’t been able to eat dinner before arriving. You can set a place at the table for them, but let your other guests know that there will be a few more joining you later for dessert, so they can plan for a few empty chairs at the table.
If your guests have not let you know they are going to be late, and are not there when you planned to start eating, give them a quick call or text to see if they are still coming. Use a caring tone when calling (more of “Are you ok?” and less of “Where the *$@* are you?”). If they are still able to make it, but are just running late, let them know that you will set some food aside for them, but that you are going to start the meal so the other guests don’t have to wait. If they aren’t able to come at all because of an emergency, ask them if they want you to share the story with the group, and wish them well. If they simply forgot, that is Strike One. One more of those, and they can be cut from your invite list permanently.
Modern Manners Guy: Ah, the old latecomer to the party scenario—a staple in the long-storied history of bad party guests. We've all been this person in our lives. The difference is if you do it accidentally—due to traffic or a late work day—or if you are habitually a late person. If it's the latter, then you are the King/Queen of Rudeness! I can't stand when people are chronically late. It’s so incredibly inconsiderate!
If you're running late, just call. Don't act like you can't get to a phone. Everyone has a cell phone these days and if not, use a pay phone. An entire dinner party should not wait for just one person. Yes, give everyone ample time to arrive (the limit of being fashionably late is 30 minutes), but don't wait for the one who is beyond late. We've all been to a party and had to wait. It's annoying. You get hungry, antsy, edgy, it just doesn't work all around and casts an unhappy mood on the entire occasion.
So, as the host, you should just start the party. When the person arrives, they can participate. Don't feel bad because they were inconveniencing YOU. Plus they knew about the event! They knew what you were doing and your hard work and yet STILL found a way to be late. Not cool.
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