Ps&Qs: Use the good plates

Good plates / Good House Guest Use the good plates. Uncrate your mother’s silver. Dust off the crystal. What are you saving those candles for? This is your special occasion.

I grew up in a house with an imposing china cabinet that smelled strongly of wood polish and rattled like a Waterford wind chime when you tip-toed past it. When those tall, hand carved doors were open it signaled party time, and my parents took great care in setting a table to welcome guests.

I’m too clumsy for cut-glass crystal and too impatient for the care of precious silver things, but my one indulgence: a good set of plates. I bring them out for everything from pizza to beef tenderloin. Because it’s not about what is served but rather, it’s about the people who traveled across an ocean or strolled a few blocks to spend time and share a meal with us. In fact, all about that.

Ps&Qs: Bring…something

The season of the last minute barbecue, patio drinks and front stoop hang is on. So, in an effort to keep the good times rolling, remember to arrive with a little something. While most people get this idea of basic contribution and general thoughtfulness, I’m always surprised by people who show up empty handed. And then go on to knock back a six-pack leaving the hosts with zilch.

Last summer, I watched a group of legitimate adults swoop in on a party, wipe out the contents of the cooler and then make their leave. So, perhaps this concept of adding something to the party isn’t one that’s so well understood.

It was once considered in poor taste for a host to serve a bottle that guests presented as a gift. But, that would also imply that your host has a generous stash on hand, and I don’t know too many people with a deep wine cellar in their one-bedroom apartment. So, if you plan on drinking wine or beer, stop off and grab an interesting local brew, bottle of wine or cider that you’d like to share. If you really want to get fancy, come with the fixings for signature cocktails, like white sangria or negroni punch.

If a teetotaler, pick up a bottle of sparkling lemonade or fizzy water. And, if you want to go the extra step, flowers are always lovely too, especially for a dinner party. It’s just the idea of adding something to the party other than your lovely self, of course.

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Ps&Qs: Table Talk

My parents took table manners very seriously. Which is why probably why my sisters and I thought that the poem about the Goops – bald-headed urchins who spilled their soup and gabbed with their mouths full – was so hilarious. The Goops brazenly broke every single one of our parent’s rules (and then some). It’s one of the earliest poems I can remember reciting in front of a classroom, and I can rattle it off now.

I’ve noticed a trend lately of dinner napkins and prim cocktail coasters embroidered with polite reminders of basic etiquette. Have we collectively become that much lazier about our elbows? Has the most basic please or thank you fallen that far out of fashion? Perhaps. Or, maybe it’s a trend right out of my parent’s playbook, that you can’t possibly be told enough times to sit up straight or to finish chewing before arguing a point.

Urban Bird and CoSix, crisp cotton Mind Your Manners napkins from Denver based Urban Bird & Co

Place mats One Kings Lane

Salvaged burlap place mats from One Kings Lane.

Joetta Maue Anthropologie

Daintily embroidered cocktail napkins by Joetta Maue for Anthropologie.


Ps&Qs: Assigned Seats

My friend Charlotte has a talent for connecting people. In fact, before she was even living in New York she set me up on a lady date with a friend of hers when I was new in town and in need of pals. It was a total success.

She has since moved to New York and, better yet, married my dear friend Jim from long-ago high school days. Together they are a generous duo who always bring excellent people together. And Charlotte always mixes up the seating arrangement whether we’re having a cozy dinner in their home or out at a restaurant. She breaks up couples (in a good way), pairs people by interest, and truly has a knack for ensuring that there is never a dull moment around the table.

At a recent gathering at their house I noticed Jim consulting a note as he invited us to sit for dinner. Above is the photo evidence of the seating chart brilliance.

So scramble who-sits-where at your next dinner party or night out, you never know where the conversations will take you.



Ps&Qs:Good Advice

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Food Republic, a food culture destination for men, recently asked me to impart some etiquette and entertaining guidelines for the upcoming holidays. I was referred to as a “lady friend”–a title alone which was was worth the assignment. New moniker aside, I truly had fun dispensing advice on everything from stocking your bar with the right glassware and what to pour in those highball or birdbath glasses.

Following are select posts:

Know Your Glassware

How to Seat Guests

Good Guest Basics


Ps&Qs: Moving Day

About 10 years ago I realized that there wasn’t enough pizza or beer in the world to properly thank friends for lugging my stuff from one apartment to the next. Moving is at best cathartic, but generally it’s chaotic and just not a mess that I want exposed. We moved recently and our wonderful friends and family of course asked how they could help. Aside from extra boxes (thank you Katie!) the answer was coffee.

I discovered this because of the kindness of Erin S. in Chicago on the day we packed up and left that city. Our home––the scene of so many warm, hilarious nights with friends–– was a depressing hollow shell, a daunting cross country drive threatened and stress levels were elevated. Erin showed up just in time with dark, caffeinated sustenance. Bless you.

Our most recent move was only a few blocks away, but still stressful. Our friend and neighbor, Sue, delivered coffee and hung around to offer a very pleasant (and necessary) distraction. It absolutely made our day.

I wish I had learned this secret to easing transitions and helping out on move day sooner. Call me when you move, I promise to bring the coffee.

Ps&Qs: Are you coming or what?

How could anyone resist sending in this response card from PearTree Greetings?

I’m not sure why, but responding to invitations seems to be a courtesy that is falling away. Sure, we’re all busy, but so is the person kindly extending an invite, planning a party and holding a spot for you at a table.

We had a party not too long ago and while most responded, there were still a few who did not. Some of those we didn’t hear from showed up (pleasant surprise) and others did not (we get the hint, you don’t want to hang out with us). It was a casual thing so not a big deal either way, but for anyone who has ever orchestrated something that requires a definitive head count, response is important.

It only takes a moment, especially with an electronic invite. However, I realize that if I don’t reply when I first view an email or Evite, it tends to get buried in a string of emails. That is until I remember it and sometimes after the requested respond by date. Super bad guest etiquette.

Emily Post suggests getting back to your host within a day or two of an invitation. Polite, but also practical so that it doesn’t get lost on the to-do list. For anyone in need of a refresher course, here is the complete guide to invitation etiquette according to Ms. Post.

Any outstanding invitations awaiting your reply? Drop your hosts a line today.



Ps&Qs:Renew the Social Contract

At a party one night, I was chatting with a woman about one of the larger ideas behind GHG, the belief that we’re all guests here, so we should strive to be more thoughtful and respectful everywhere, be it someone’s home or on the subway.  It resonated with her, because she thinks that we’re losing sight of our social contract––the basic rules of courtesy, conduct and human interaction. The woman’s brother and his girlfriend, who both work at a coffee shop, jumped in and added that many people have just flat out forgotten their manners.

At the risk of sounding prissy (and old), I agree. The couple went through a list of behavior that they observe every day at their job: customers yapping on their phone while ordering; nary a please or thank you; and blatant-I’m-more-important-than-you line jumping, to name a few. Part of the problem is that in our increasingly electronic, virtual, blinking-screen world we tend to treat humans as just another automated service too. I admit, I’ve been guilty of the phone thing. In a reflex reaction I took a call while standing on line at the pharmacy, and I still wasn’t off the call when I reached the counter. I felt like a complete jerk.

It doesn’t take much to renew this social contract either.  A courteous hello, thank you or even a smile––you know, the basics. So, until we are all replaced by robots, put your call on hold, take a minute to acknowledge the human on the other side of the counter, in the toll booth at the ticket counter and be grateful that we are man and not machine (yet).


Ps&Qs: Guest Chef?

Today’s very good question comes from a very funny comedian friend of mine. I’m sure he smoothed over this situation with lots of humor, but I’ve added a few ideas too per his request.

Q: My old friends P & T live in upstate New York in a big house in the Catskills. They gave me and my fiance an open invitation to visit anytime to get a break from the city.  My good friends G & D had also been wanting to leave the city, so I asked P if we could bring them along.

It was a great trip and we all got along––but there was a small hiccup. On Saturday afternoon G (who has restaurant experience as a sous chef) insisted upon handling the shopping and cooking dinner on Saturday night as a thank you to P & T.  While well intentioned, I could sense that P didn’t like being strong armed by G and essentially booted out of her own kitchen.  She relented graciously and let her guest cook. Thoughts? Advice for the next time this happens?  Good ways to handle this?

A: I try to tread lightly when first navigating in someone else’s kitchen. For some this territory is more personal than the bedroom. You know the type: they bristle as you search their drawers, tense up at your technique and can be absolutely pushed over the brink when the dishwasher is loaded the “wrong” way. For as generous as my mom is, she was the “everyone out of my kitchen” type cook. With three kids underfoot I can’t blame her for staking claim to at least one area of the house, and because of this I have sympathy for P.

However, I also applaud G’s efforts to make a big show of appreciation for P’s generosity. Perhaps next time G could still cook, but make a meal that is less the main event than dinner. Ease in with breakfast, brunch or a generous cocktail hour spread (complete with  cocktails that only a bartender with a vest and waxed moustache seems to build). For very low-impact kitchen use, offer to pack a creative picnic lunch (and gift a multipurpose market basket like the one shown above) for a group hike or day trip.

Or, avoid your host’s kitchen entirely by showing up with a few things you made at home. A coffee cake, nuts, granola or some other treat that can be enjoyed during the weekend by everyone. It’s a guaranteed way to impress without the mess or power struggle.

Ps&Qs: Make a Reservation

One of my favorite gifts for friends who invite me for an extended stay is to treat to a lovely dinner out. This might seem like a last minute cop-out, but with a little planning it’s really quite thoughtful. You get to spend time together, experience your host’s town from another perspective and no one has to worry about the dishes.

I research places––linger-over-everything-and-really-catch-up-spots––on Zagat, Urbanspoon, Eater, The New York Times (Dining & Wine and Travel sections), or a local magazine or city paper. I like to offer a few options before making a reservation. Nothing like booking at a top steak joint only to discover that your friend is now a vegetarian. Perhaps there’s a new place they’ve been wanting to try, but just needed an occasion. Well, here’s the opportunity.

Also, If you’re staying with someone who won’t let you pick up the tab for anything, this is a way to sneak in a little something. Pick up a gift certificate for a excellent restaurant and leave it behind for them as a thank you. By the time they can even try to argue, you’ll be halfway home.