What This Party Pro Knows About Being a Fabulous Host (or Guest)
By Adam Glassman
November 22, 2011
'Tis the season of mingling, merriment...and awkward conversations. Lucky for you, Adam asked Derek Blasberg, the man he calls a cross between Emily Post and the Kardashians, for advice on making the most of holiday get-togethers. Blasberg, the editor-at-large of Harper's Bazaar and best-selling author ofVery Classy, explains what makes a memorable event, how to be a good host and the secret to getting invited back again and again.
Adam: Let's start with guests. What makes a great one?
Derek: I think the sort of person you want at a party is someone who is self-aware, polite and has a basic knowledge of table manners. And that goes for both men and women.
Adam: What's the rudest thing you've ever seen a guest do?
Derek: Talking [texting or tweeting] on your phone is the worst in any social situation. I went to a lunch during Paris Fashion Week, and I managed to steal a few moments with Lee Radziwill—who I think is perhaps the classiest woman alive—and she said this is her biggest pet peeve too. So I'm in good company.
Adam: But if you're a mother with children at home, how can you be available to the babysitter without constantly flashing your phone?
Derek: If you are going to worry all night, you should let the hostess know that you're coming for cocktails and leaving when everyone sits down for dinner. If you do need to call to check in, people will understand, but excuse yourself from the table and head to the ladies room to do it.
Adam: Do you think it's okay to bring a spouse or a friend to a holiday party if they weren't specifically invited?
Derek: If it is a cocktail party, I think bringing your partner, husband or wife is fine. To a certain extent, when someone throws a party, they expect to have people over. If it's a seated dinner, though, you should check beforehand. Asking to bring your partner is fair. Asking to bring eight friends from college is not. A good hostess will always accommodate extras and stragglers, but she'll never forget who brought them.
Adam: Now what if for some reason you can't show up, and you've already RSVP'd. Should you call ahead?
Derek: Getting last-minute cancellations can put a black cloud over an event before it has even started. If it's a large, casual cocktail party, then I'll often not say anything until the next day. But if you're not able to make it to a small, seated dinner, you have to call the host—there's nothing worse than an empty chair at a table.
Adam: The invitation has called for 8. Should you show up on time? A half hour later? What's appropriate?
Derek: If it's open house style, then all bets are off...just be sure to arrive a half hour before it ends. But if it's a party with a set time, showing up 15 minutes late is acceptable and gives your host a bit of a grace period for last-minute tasks and sprucing up. Anything later than 30 minutes is rude.
Adam: Let's say you show up underdressed, or very overdressed. How can you recover without making a beeline for the door?
Derek: When in doubt, dress up. But if you've missed the mark, smile more and make up for your lack of attire with witty conversation.
Adam: If you're going to someone's house for a party, do you always have to bring a gift?
Derek: If a person has gone out of their way to organize a party and invite you over to their home, it's not that difficult to bring a bottle of wine. I often have a camera on me at parties. I like to bring prints or framed photos that I've taken of the host.
Adam: Speaking of pictures, what are your rules about posting party pictures on Facebook, Twitter or the Web?
Derek: I always ask myself: Is the person who organized the party on Twitter, Facebook, or tweeting from the dinner table themselves? If the answer is yes, game on...just make sure it's a flattering picture of everybody. But if someone is notoriously secretive, it's always better to err on the side of discretion. If there is ever any doubt, ask your host first. Once you put it out there, you ain't getting it back.
Adam: What's a tactful way to end a boring or uncomfortable conversation?
Derek: I've had to "check my coat" or "go to the bar" multiple times in an evening. A polite excuse is an easy way to curtail a lackluster conversation. Often times if you're bored, the other person is probably bored too.
Next: How to avoid the biggest party mistakeAdam: Let's say you're at a seated dinner and you have dietary restrictions—you keep kosher, are vegan or are on a diet. How do you not eat what's being served without insulting your host?
Derek: I'm not one for lying, but there are such things as food allergies. A delicately dropped comment can get you off the hook from eating that piece of pecan pie.
Adam: Is it impolite to send a thank-you note via email, or is it socially acceptable these days?
Derek: Often times I'll quickly dash off an email or text message when I leave a party. A particularly enjoyable evening, however, that warrants a thank-you note or a phone call. I always say a handwritten note is the ultimate hallmark of a classy woman. But an email is better than nothing.
Adam: What is the most common party mistake made by the host or hostess?
Derek: I won't name names, but general cleanliness. I've seen this happen quite a few times: The hostess will call in the florist, she'll have the party catered, she'll hire the chef, but she'll forget to run a duster over the curtains.
Adam: Or the bathroom is a hot mess.
Derek: Right. I'd rather the host put my dinner plate in front of me [instead of splurging on waiters] and hired someone to put toilet paper in the loo.
Adam: Should a dinner party have assigned seating or be a free-for-all?
Derek: For a sit-down dinner, it's up to the hostess, but I often prefer assigned seating because it forces you to meet someone new.
Adam: As a host, how do you handle the friend who always shows up two hours late?
Derek: If it's a dinner party, reserve them a seat on the end.
Adam: Speaking of seating plans, I always find it funny when someone tries to sneak into the dining room early and move the place cards. Is it rude to adjust the seating assignments to ensure you have a better time?
Derek: Obviously your host has thought about the seating chart. I've never been one to move a card—at the end of the day, it's 45 minutes of your life. If you really can't stand your seatmate, sit down late and hop up at dessert.
Adam: Do you have any tricks for getting late-night stragglers out the door?
Derek: It can be considered rude for a hostess to ask people to leave, but if she has others do it for her, it's far more effective. Hopefully, you have a few good friends or a close family member in attendance and you say to them, "I'm exhausted; we have to wrap this up." Typically, they will spread the word and say to the obvious night owl: "Hey, we should go. Will you walk me to my car?" If all else fails, turn off the music and turn on the lights.
Adam: You've been to a lot of events and have written the quintessential book on entertaining for modern partygoers. So what is the worst party you've ever attended?
Derek: A good party is one that is designed to entertain and bond friends. The bad parties I've been to are the ones that are held to impress other people.