If it is not obvious by now, I have an infatuation with Gwyneth Paltrow. Of course I mean this as purely a form of admiration! Her most recent GOOP newsletter was on etiquette.
Q: I never know whether it's proper to serve a bottle of wine that a guest brings to a dinner party or to regard it as a gift and put it away. What's the polite thing to do?
A: “If I'm the host and the wine is better than what I was planning to serve, I'm going to pop the cork! But a host is certainly not obliged to serve what a guest has brought; after all, the host has no doubt planned their menu and given consideration to which wines go best with the meal. A polite guest should know this and not be offended if their wine isn't served. I have a friend who brings room temperature champagne as a host gift so the host knows there's no obligation to serve it.”
Q: I always assumed it was the host's responsibility to ask houseguests and dinner guests about their dietary restrictions in advance, but someone recently told me this wasn't the case. Is it the host's or the guests' responsibility to make a note of dietary restrictions?
A: “An extremely organized host will ask about restrictions before he or she has planned their menu, but it's ultimately up to the guest to alert the host—and only in cases of strict medical conditions or moral or religious convictions. Compelling a host to change the menu or whip up a special dish at the last minute because someone has recently started a gluten cleanse isn't justification.
Someone with dietary restrictions should let the host know with ample time to offer alternatives, as opposed to merely mentioning that they're a hardcore vegan as everyone has just sat down to a bone marrow casserole. Most people I know who are picky eaters have a little pre-supper before a dinner so they're not ravenously hungry. No matter what, it's nice to tell your host that you love the food, even if you don't plan on touching it.”
Q: Conversely, you've neglected to tell your host about a dietary restriction and your host has neglected to ask, and you've been served something you'd rather not eat. Do you say something about it, send it back, or hold on until the end of the course? What to do?
A: “The polite thing to do is move the dish around a bit, so it looks like you've eaten some of it, and then swing by a deli on your way home to pick up some chips. To say something when the food is served is rude to the fellow diners and will make a precarious, awkward situation for the host—and at the end of the day, these sorts of dinners are for conversation, friends and a jolly evening, not just culinary consumption. If this is a larger affair, there may be a vegetarian option, which can be politely and discreetly requested as the meal is served. If it's a smaller fete and you're starving, feel free to discreetly ask for more salad or more bread, or whatever it is that you can eat. An astute hostess will notice if you haven't eaten any of the meat dishes, and would be happy to get you some more veggies from the kitchen. Remember to keep the focus on the dinner vibe and not what you're not eating; there's nothing more jarring than a girl who interrupts a good group conversation to announce she thinks cooked tongue is disgusting. (Even if I agree with her.)”
Q: Is an email thank you note ever appropriate, or is it better to just stick with the traditional handwritten thank you note?
A: “I've always said that handwritten notes on personalized stationary are the hallmark of a lady, but these are modern times and timely emails can be just as gracious. In our instant gratification culture, some hosts prefer a drunken text from the car ride home saying they had thrown a fabulous party more than a handwritten note a week later. (I send an email the night of—before the bloom is off the rose, or rosé, so to speak—but will follow up with a written letter if something was particularly fabulous or personal.) But for gifts, like those given at a wedding or birthday party, when a person has time to respond, only a handwritten note will do.”
Q: How do you make it clear to the guests you've invited for a get-together that you'd like them dressed in a certain way if there's not a written invitation?
A: “Generally speaking, if there's no written invitation, you've either called or emailed the details, and it's appropriate to follow up in the same manner. My suggestion: Ask a few of the more sartorially obsessed attendants what they're wearing, and readily offer your own look. They'll clearly understand the party's tone if you tell them that you're wearing, for example, jeans and a blazer, or your to-die-for, over-the-top YSL Moroccan tunic and metallic espadrilles. Then they'll pass this info on to the others as they scramble to find their own vintage kaftans.”
Q: I asked one of my very well mannered friends the following: Is it essential to bring a gift if you are staying the night/longer at a friend's house? What would a good gift be? And here's her answer:
A: “It could be a small bunch of hand picked wild flowers, some fresh strawberries from the local farm stand, an L.L. Bean beach bag emblazoned with your host's initials or last name, or a cashmere throw but yes, a little token of appreciation is a must if you are staying over.”
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5 weeks ago