Things Emily Post Taught Us That We Really Oughtta Do

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
December 31, 2013

It’s resolution timmmmmme!

You told yourself you were going to host more dinner parties in 2013, AND THEN YOU DIDN’T DO IT. Welp, that’s what 2014 will be for, then: you, the gracious and unflappable host. That’s also what Emily Post is for: to help you become said host. We scanned the “Hosts and Guests” chapter of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition and plucked out its most useful tips, adding our own notes. Here are some things that even bona fide hosts have forgotten about, things that really do make all the difference.

See? You’re already ahead of the game.

Make Matches
"Plan a guest list of congenial, compatible people," writes Post. We agree: you don’t have a dining room—or, if you live in a major metropolitan area, a coffee table with bum-sized bits of floor surrounding it—big enough for all of your friends, so make smart choices. Our rule of thumb is to invite six people, each of whom knows the host and one other person in attendance. (Hooray for mingling within the comfort zone!) Also, assign seats if you want to. It shows you took care, thinking about which of your guests would get along swimmingly (or spark good debate). Guests, if you switch up those place cards, we’ll have to play a game of “What did the five fingers say to the face?” with you. Answer: “SLAP.”*

Tell It Like It Is
In other words, inform your guests of the essentials. They are: when and where the party is, why it’s being had (even if it’s “just for the hell of it,” this can be helpful), when and how to respond**, what to wear, and what, if anything, to bring.

Remember, It’s Your Party
You had this really killer cassoulet in mind for the menu, and invite someone who happens to mention he’s a vegetarian. But you can still serve that cassoulet, because (all together now) it’s your party! Either have enough veg-friendly food on hand to give him a proper meal, too, or say, “Shucks! This won’t suit you, then. Maybe next time, when I’m making mushroom udon.” (Then remember to make that mushroom udon.)

Be What You Want to See
Your mood sets the tone, so be welcoming and be relaxed.

Really! Relax.Accidents like spilled red wine or a broken glass will happen. “The truly good host is gracious and unflappable, no matter what happens,” writes Post. “The more you take things in stride and handle them gracefully, the better your guests will feel.”

But, Like, Don’t Shrug Off Everything
You open the door to greet a couple you invited, and there’s a third hungry human with them.*** “Oh! Hello, Jane,” you say, graciously shaking her hand. Remember, you’re unflappable. But you did plan this dinner for six, and this was a pretty thoughtless move by your friends, so you can take action tomorrow. Writes Post: “It’s okay to call the couple the next day and let them know how much you enjoyed having Jane at the party, but that if this kind of situation comes up again, you’d really appreciate a call ahead of time.” Another scenario in which you can lay down the law: Your last two guests are late, but the food is almost ready. “Wait 15 minutes, then start without them,” writes Post. Preach.

As Britney Said, You Call the Shots
Your guests are looking to you to signal when to sit for dinner (call them over to the table), when to start eating (raise your fork), when the meal is over (get up from the table, maybe offer a nightcap in the next room), and when the evening is over (close down the bar, turn off the music, start cleaning up, or just friggin’ yawn). Communicate these things to them and all should go smoothly.

Happy hosting, people.

*Same goes for messing with music. The host is curating this evening; let her. Even if you think Cocteau Twins are too goth, when “Heaven or Las Vegas” is on the playlist, it’s not your call to skip the track or voice your distaste.
**Guests, it’s basic courtesy to do this within two days. “Waiting until the last minute or until your host calls for your answer implies that you don’t think much of the host or that you’re waiting for a better invitation to come along,” writes Post. 
***Don’t be this couple.