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08.21.2003

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08.21.2003: Etiquette Schmetiquette
common-sense manners for real-world living
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dinner-party crashing guests ...
Q:
I love throwing intimate dinner parties. I have a tiny apartment, but I have a table, chairs and place settings for 6. Which to me is just perfect. As I have more than 5 friends however, it becomes difficult to pick and choose who to invite, but I always try to select interesting combinations of people who would enjoy each other's company. Also, I try to have these dinners often, as so that people who weren't invited to one would be able to come to one fairly soon after. The problem arises then, when guests invite their friends along, or ask (sometimes on the day of the dinner) if it would be okay to bring someone (usually a mutual friend). While I would love to have that extra guest(s), it means that I'll have to find a box to sit on, some plastic forks etc. Also
then, I run into the situation where if one person is invited, this other person should be included too. And then it just keeps going... While I do occasionally have larger dinners where indeed we just eat on and off of anything, I would rather have these little parties on a more frequent basis. So what then, is the proper etiquette for limiting my guest lists without having other friends feel excluded? I'd hate to think it's impossible to have a small dinner when I have more friends than chairs but I'm starting to feel like that's the case.

A: My boy has always thought I'm a bit of a freak because I'm loathe to accompany him to any party to which an invitation hasn't been specifically issued to me. It's taken me a long time to learn that amongst my current circle of friends, it's pretty much expected that any invitation to any gathering is a general invitation to bring whomever you think will be up for joining in the fun.

It sounds to me like your friends are just a lot like mine fairly informal when it comes to entertaining, and of the school of thought that more is always merrier. They're not trying to be rude boors; they just don't realize that all gatherings are not created the same, and that it's a very different thing to bring an extra person to, say, a keg-fest than it is to arrive at an intimate dinner party with an uninvited date in tow. So, how do you make sure you get your nice, quiet cozy dinner gatherings without coming off like a party nazi?

Here's what I suggest: real invitations. As in, something specifically created for the event, and involving more effort than a casually mentioned "Why don't you come over for dinner Saturday?" or quickie text email. Paper invitations are lovely (and sadly a rarity these days), but a web-based invitation works fine as well. Make your own web invite, if you're graphics-savvy, or try Evite.com, which not only lets you put together a web invitation but makes it easy to track who's coming and who isn't. The idea is to make your dinner party seem like something special people are less likely to crash formal events than casual ones and to reinforce the idea that you've gone out of your way to invite a select few. Word your invitations so it's clear that the event is meant to be a small affair: "You're invited to a cozy dinner party for six on Friday, Whatever Date! Join us 'round the dinner table for fine food, drink and conversation beginning at Whatever Time. RSVP by Whenever to ensure that I'll have ample time to prepare enough food for the feast." Good luck!

o

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