Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Random Rant: It's Time To Dust Off The Big Ol' Etiquette Book

I was Facebook messaging with a friend the other night. It was late. She had just finished cleaning up after a gathering she hosted earlier in the day. She was exhausted, frustrated and swore up and down that she'd never host another backyard barbecue again. I asked what happened. For the next 20 minutes, she typed sentence after sentence about the stream of events. She ended her much needed rant with, "Am I old fashioned? Is this why I'm feeling the way I do?"

Nope. It had nothing to do with her being old fashioned and everything to do with people being rude and inconsiderate. 

In a nutshell, she invited about 20 people. Almost 30 showed up. Only a few guests showed up with something to contribute to the buffet style meal. A handful remembered to bring their own adult beverages despite the BYOB note on the invitations. No one helped with setup. My friend was running around ragged. She was the last to eat. She ran out of beer and wine. When it was time for the guests to leave, people helped themselves to a plate of food to take home. No one assisted with cleanup.

After hearing about her afternoon in its entirety, I truly understood her stress. I have hosted dozens and dozens of gatherings from holiday parties to cookouts and I've been in the same boat as my friend a multitude of times. I could honestly feel her pain.

With the summer season here, it's a good time to dust off the etiquette book. If you're invited to a backyard barbecue or summer party, please keep the following in mind.

1. Don't show up empty handed. Ever. I mean that with every ounce of my being. Just. Don't. I can't stress this enough. Can you tell?

2. Don't ask. When I receive an invitation to attend a barbecue or other festive affair involving food and drink, I never ask, "What do you want me to bring?" Why? A lot of times people are reluctant to speak out and say, "It would be really great if you could bring..." Instead, they say, "Nothing. Just bring yourselves." To put the host's mind at ease that I would be more than happy to make a dish, I'll say something like, "I would really love to bring a dessert, but I don't want to duplicate anything you're making or someone else is bringing. How about I make a blueberry pie or cookies or a lemon bundt cake? Which would you like?"

On a side note, if you ask, "What would you like me to bring" and the host says nothing, that does not give you permission to show up empty handed.

3. Put a little thought and time into it. When someone plans and hosts a gathering, there's a lot of planning, work, food prep and expense involved. Unless the host specifically asks for this, contributing a bag of chips and a tub of store-bought dip is unacceptable. Put some thought into the dish you're bringing. Spend a little time making something delicious that will be enjoyed. Trust me, the host will appreciate it.

4. Don't assume it's okay to show up with a handful of friends. Nothing irritates me more than guests arriving with people who weren't invited. You're being invited into someone else's home. Have some respect. Assuming that it's okay to have a few of your friends to tag along is rude. If it's absolutely imperative that a friend or two accompanies you, talk it over with the host first.

5. The host and other guests are not your personal babysitters. If you're going to bring the kids, whether human or the ones with fur, it's your responsibility to keep an eye on them and tend to their needs and wants. If you can't do that, don't bring 'em.

6. Offer to help. There's always something you can do to help out. Again, it's all in how you present it. Simply asking, "Do you want me to help" is putting the host on the spot. More than likely, they'll feel uncomfortable putting their guests to work. I either jump right in to assist or ask, "I'd love to help you. What else needs to be done?"

7. Leave what you bring. No, not the kids. The food. If you bring a vegetable platter and dip or a plate of cupcakes, don't take the leftovers home. Those are to be left with the host of the party. Let them enjoy the leftovers for the next few days. No host feels like cooking for a couple of days after having a big party.

8. The host shouldn't be left with hours of cleanup when everyone leaves. By the time the party or barbecue is over, the host is tired. Pitch in and help with cleanup. Do the dishes. Put all the food away. Pick up the trash. Wash the windows. Anything.

9. Ask before taking a doggy bag home. Just because there is food leftover doesn't mean it's a free for all. I can't tell you how many times I've had guests help themselves to leftovers to take home without asking. Yes, even those few who showed up empty handed. It's rude. If you'd like to take a plate of food home or a cupcake or two, ask the host first or wait until it's offered.

10. Boozy etiquette. When the invitation states BYOB, it means just that. Bring. Your. Own. Booze. It doesn't mean bum a beer from the host or other guests. If the host is providing adult beverages, you should always bring a little something to contribute to the open bar. A bottle of wine. Seasonal ale. A bottle of their favorite spirits. Alcohol is expensive and stocking the bar for a crowd can be just as expensive, if not more, as the food.

11. Keep your eye on the host. I know, this sounds a bit odd, but hear me out. In the past, I've hosted several large parties. One was a family holiday party. The 2 others were outdoor summer barbecues. It's very easy to get caught up in rushing around and making sure everyone is all set and doing this or the point where I almost passed out. I hadn't eaten. I hadn't kept hydrated. It happens more times than we realize. Keep an eye on the host. Keep 'em fed and hydrated.

12. Extend a little gratitude. Whether it's a handwritten thank you card, a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine, in the day or so after the party, extend some gratitude and let the host know how much you appreciated being included in the festivities.

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