Do you have any suggestions for encouraging people to R.S.V.P.?
Become an etiquette aficionado with Martha's advice for navigating even the stickiest entertaining situations.
It's unfortunate that people need encouragement at all, but rules of etiquette can only be observed, not enforced. It's perfectly acceptable, however, to follow up your invitation with a phone call once the R.S.V.P. date has passed. To keep the conversation pleasant, you might simply say you wanted to be sure the invitation didn't get lost in the mail. Another option is to make the R.S.V.P. for regrets only, which means only those invitees who can't attend will need to reply. This may result in a slightly less accurate guest count, but it will save you the aggravation of having to chase after replies. Other than that, all you can do is set an example by responding to invitations you receive in a timely fashion.
How do friends and family celebrate the birth of a second child?
Strict etiquette holds that friends and family shower the mother-to-be only the first time around, because gifts given generally provide the parents with the items they'll need for children who may follow. But good reasons arise for breaking the rules: If many years have passed since the birth of the first child, or if the couple already have a boy and know they're having a girl (or vice versa), they may need some new things. If they move to a different community or the mother-to-be changes jobs, it's fine for new friends or colleagues to throw her a baby shower. For close family members, it doesn't matter how many babies have come along; they're bound to want to celebrate. If you wish to invite more people, have a lunch or tea instead of a shower, and request on the invitation that guests bring only themselves, not gifts.
What is the correct way to lay out food on a buffet?
There are no rules governing the layout of a buffet, but an efficient setup and well-considered menu choices will keep food fresh and guests happy. Stack plates at the head of the table and silverware and napkins at the end. Arrange the table so guests can access food from both sides. Start with the main courses; for accompanying condiments, put one bowl on each side of the serving dish. Next come the sides; rather than using spoons and forks, provide nice-looking tongs, which will allow guests to serve themselves easily while holding a plate. For hot foods, heat platters first. Place cold foods on ice. (Don't put all the food out at once; refresh the buffet as needed.) Keep dessert in the kitchen until after the main meal.
I am English and serve cheese after dessert. Some of my American friends serve cheese first. Who is right?
There are nearly as many ways to eat cheese as there are cheeses. Your friends would be right in France or in high-end U.S. restaurants that have adopted the French tradition. In those settings, the grand cheese cart is wheeled out before the Napoleons grace the table. But in England, cheese -- often Stilton paired with port -- comes after dessert. And in the U.S., a sharp cheddar and crackers may be eaten with predinner cocktails. There's no right or wrong way to serve it. You could offer dessert and cheese at the same time so guests can have them in whatever order they choose.
Is there a polite way to encourage guests to take off their shoes in my house?
There's no need to be shy or apologetic about asking guests to remove their shoes. Lots of people follow a shoes-off policy in their home -- and not just in bad weather. So absolutely mention your preference to first-time visitors. When people arrive, say "We usually take our shoes off inside. Do you mind doing so?" You may find you don't even have to. When guests see others' footwear by the door, they may take the hint. You can also offer slippers or flip-flops. But if your guests seem uncomfortable removing their shoes, don't make an issue of it. Let them keep their shoes on.
What's a fitting gift to thank hosts for a weekend visit?
All tokens of appreciation should feel special and maybe even a little indulgent. But unless you know your hosts extremely well, they shouldn't be too personal. Consider something to eat or cook with. Choose something from a favorite purveyor in your town, such as preserves or local honey, or fill a basket with ingredients for a delicious yet simple meal. If you have a garden, bring some of its bounty. If you've known your hosts awhile and are sure of their tastes, pretty objects for the table, such as candleholders, are an option. Packaging should be beautiful but doesn't have to be showy or elaborate: Think parchment or tissue tied with twine. Then once you've settled in, pick a quiet moment to offer your present.