What This Party Pro Knows About Being a Fabulous Host (or Guest)
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 mistake