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How to Be a Good Guest or Host at a Catered Party

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California and is reprinted with permission of the author.

Being a good guest may seem simple. But talk to anyone who has hosted a catered party, and you may find out you haven't been quite as good as you thought. Here are few pointers to keep you on everyone's guest list:

  • RSVP as soon as you know whether you can attend the party. In any event, do not delay beyond the date RSVPs are requested. A hand-written note on the RSVP card will earn you extra points.
  • If illness or an emergency arises that prevents you from attending, let your hostess know immediately. Even if your meal can't be canceled, your hostess will be able to redo table seating in advance rather than being surprised on the day of the party.
  • Read the envelope and see who's actually invited. Unless the party is hosted by your mother, don't ask to bring extra guests.
  • If you're dropping children off at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, ask the hostess in advance what time you should pick them up.
  • Keep your kids under control. Life-cycle events are family occasions, but a screaming child can destroy a celebrant's concentration and spoil the enjoyment of the guests.
  • If a gift is being brought to the party, make sure the card is securely attached. When there are three cardless gifts and five people unaccounted for, there's no graceful way for a hostess to find out whom to thank. Or, better yet, send the gift ahead. Miss Manners writes that gifts should never be brought to a wedding reception.
  • If a couple of months have passed and you haven't received a thank-you note, it's OK to call the hostess to make sure the gift was received.
  • Don't rearrange table seating. Your hostess has put a lot of time into planning who sits where.
  • Don't walk off with a centerpiece.
  • Unless you've cleared it with your hostess first, don't skip the service and just go to the party.
  • Although some rules of etiquette say you have one year to send a gift, don't wait that long.
  • Extra high marks go to guests who write or call the hostess after the party to say how much they enjoyed it.

The flip side of being a good guest is being a good host or hostess. Here are a few tips:

  • Be honest. If guests ask if they can bring extra people to the party, don't say yes unless it's really OK. If it's not, explain why.
  • Arrange for baby sitters. Put together a list of people your out-of-town guests can call if they want sitters at the hotel. Arrange for a sitter at the synagogue for children who may not be able to sit through the entire service. Prize-winning hosts arrange in advance to pay the sitters themselves.
  • If out-of-town guests have to get from their hotel to the synagogue or the reception, either arrange transportation for them or make sure you give them good directions. Don't assume directions provided by the hotel are correct.
  • Let your guests know what's happening. Enclosing a letter with a bar or bat mitzvah invitation explaining the service and social events will be appreciated.
  • At B'nai Mitzvah services, children usually sit together. Ask a friend to sit nearby to monitor their behavior.
  • Make sure the entertainment will be suited to all your guests. While adults are eating, a DJ can entertain teens. (Teens will finish their meals in about 15 minutes.) If there are going to be younger children at the party, hire someone to entertain them with games or art projects.
  • Avoid temptation. Kids will suck helium out of balloons, break open glow-in-the-dark jewelry and stick bubble gum on every imaginable surface. Try to stay one step ahead of the children when choosing decorations and favors.
  • Set up a gift table at the party that is away from the door and out of the way, and appoint people to guard it.
  • Thank-you notes should get out as soon as possible. Make them personal. Remember, a lot of thought went into buying the gift.
  • Whatever the occasion you're celebrating, friends will help you get through it. Send a note and a little gift to everyone who's lent a hand.
  • Be gracious. No one is expecting perfection. Don't let the little things ruin the day for you or your family.
Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
Ronnie Caplane

Ronnie Caplane is a lawyer and freelance writer based in Northern Calif.

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