Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to be the Perfect Party Guest: An Interview with Mindy Lockard of Gracious Girl

Since the holidays are here and there are so many parties being thrown, I wanted to discuss the importance of being a good party guest. Mindy Lockard, a renowned etiquette expert and founder of Mindy Lockard Gracious Living, which includes seminars and etiquette training, is also the author of the Gracious Girl blog. Mindy was so generous to provide her tips for making sure you're always the perfect party guest at any soiree you attend. 

1.  Only your name is on the invitation, but you’re dating someone new or have a friend in town. Can you just bring them along or should you call the host first?
As a host, you plan for and invite a guest list. The rule of etiquette is if it’s just your name on the invitation, you’re the only one that should attend. Just you. A gracious host can invite another person for you because it’s no fun to go somewhere alone, but if it was just your name on the invitation, it’s just you who should be attending.
A good host realizes an event is not about us. We entertain to treat other people well and give someone something special to enjoy for a few hours, so if they can facilitate it, the host will allow you to have the opportunity to bring someone and feel comfortable.

2. What time should you arrive to a party?
Arrive 5-10 minutes after the time stated on the invitation, especially if you are going to someone’s home for the event. Do not arrive early if it’s at a home. This is inconsiderate because the host may still be making the final touches to the event. Arriving 20-30 minutes after the stated time on the invitation is very rude.

3. When should you leave?
You always want to be socially aware at parties. Monitor the flow of traffic and when people start to leave.  You don’t want to be the first or last to leave. The host has created an event to come and enjoy, not a drive-by party. Go to the event to enjoy yourself, relax, and be respectful of the host.

4. Should you always offer to help the host or hostess during the party? Or to clean up afterwards?
If you know them really well, always communicate ahead of time if you’re offering to help clean up. During the party, if they need an extra hand, offer. Don’t stay afterward to clean up unless you’ve expressly stated that you intend to stay. Some hosts may just want to do it themselves without help.

5. If you’re allergic to the food your host has chosen during a seated dinner, how do you politely handle that situation?
Handle it in advance. If you’re responding “yes,” tell your hostess about your allergy. A week in advance is a sufficient amount of time. It’s not a hostess’ responsibility to know your dietary restrictions.
If just being near the allergen makes you break out (for example, if your peanut allergy is so severe that its presence in the air makes it hard for you to breathe), communicate those concerns to the hostess. Only then should you speak about it. Otherwise, move your food around on your plate, but do not talk about it. 

6. What are your tips for making sure you don’t become “overserved” at an event?
Always go into an event with a full stomach, especially for women (since we may have been busy doing other things throughout the day such as getting our nails done, picking up the kids, etc.).
It’s okay to start with water! You can say to your host, “I’m going to start with water then get that cocktail.”
Go into the event with a decision: “I’m going to have two drinks.” Be mindful of that and know your limits! Eat a little bit throughout the night.
If you are with someone who has been overserved, get them a cab. Send them home. Don’t let them stay and make a fool out of themselves. 

7. What do you suggest guests do to make sure they mingle at the party?
Set some goals before you go into any party. These parties can be amazing for your professional goals. You can expand your network and meet some really interesting people. Say to yourself, “I’m going to meet two new people” or “I’m going to remember the names of five people.”
It’s called “working the room” because you’re actually supposed to physically go through the room to cover the floor. Go to every room and talk with people.
Etiquette calls for everything to be to the right (exit your chair from the right, etc.). Mingle to the right in a counterclockwise motion.
It’s okay to bring other people into conversations. A cocktail party is not the time to have exclusive conversations…be inclusive! All you have to say is, “Hey, we were just talking about…” and then the person joining the conversation knows what’s going on and can contribute. More people feel they can work a room if they feel they can enter at any time into a conversation. In a party situation, everyone should be able to enter into a conversation at any time. Save the intimate conversations to have over coffee.  

8. What are conversation topics to avoid when talking to other guests?
The general rule is to avoid “The Terrible Four: Religion, Sex, Money, and Politics.” Change the subject gracefully if it gets touchy. Use “It’s off topic, but that reminds me…” to change the subject.

9. What are some hostess gifts you like to give?
I like to give a mixture of handmade and store-bought. My favorite to give is amaryllis and paperwhite starter kits as well as handmade chocolates. Celebrate your local retailers and artists and buy gifts from them, especially at the holiday season. Calendars are great for Christmas and New Year’s to give as hostess gifts.
A hostess gift is a thank you for the invitation and the effort that your hostess has put into the party. A thank you note afterward is for the event itself. It lets your host know that you enjoyed yourself. 
Be mindful of your hostess. Flowers and wine get tricky. Find out a little about the party and have something sent ahead. I’ll buy a fun vase and then have it sent to the hostess so she can use it at her party.
You don’t want to bring a bunch of flowers that she has to cut right away. If you bring wine, don’t expect her to use it. You give a gift without expectation. She can drink it when she chooses.

10. If you have several parties you’ve been invited to on the same night, how do you gracefully exit and move on to the next party?
Stay a respectful amount of time. If necessary, tell the hostess beforehand that you have a prior time commitment (especially if it’s a seated dinner). Ask if it would be okay to only stay a little while or if it would be better for her if you regretted.
Know what the event is (cocktail party, seated dinner, etc.). Stay between one to two hours. When exiting the party, remember less is always more. Say, “Thank you for a wonderful party. We will see you later.” Don’t overly apologize for having to leave.
Overall, try not to overcommit. Understand the nature of the event. Pick which is most appropriate to go to first and which is most appropriate to go to last. Stay an hour and a half at minimum so you can mingle and work the room. Communicate your thanks graciously and then exit gracefully.

11. If you could sum up how to be the perfect party guest in one sentence, what would it be?
Arrive ready to mingle.

12. What is the biggest faux pas you see constantly occurring at parties?
Conducting exclusive conversations. We tend to stay in our comfort zone and stick with our friends at a party. That’s not what a party is about. It’s about meeting new people, making introductions, moving in and out of conversations. The lack of interest to engage is the biggest faux pas I see.

Thank you so much for your time, Mindy! It was such a pleasure speaking with you! 

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