Dear Miss Manners: My husband’s sister has decided to throw their mother a semiformal dinner party to celebrate her milestone birthday. The venue will be a trendy, sophisticated restaurant. The hostess has reserved the restaurant’s private dining room for the party. A deposit has been placed, and invitations have been sent out.
Most of the attendees (including my family and myself) are traveling from out of town to attend. The guest list is under 40 people. I just learned that the private room will only accommodate about 70 percent of the guests who have RSVP’d thus far. The hostess said guests who do not fit in the private room will be seated in the restaurant’s main dining room.
It seems rude to seat guests (especially those who traveled from out of town) in a different room than the guest of honor. They will not be able to hear any speeches or toasts, nor see the cake-cutting. The room is not even large enough to have all of the guests mingle after dinner.
I am afraid that her mother will feel embarrassed and that some of the guests may feel slighted by their seating assignments. I don’t think the hostess realizes this situation can hurt people’s feelings.
Should I say my family is willing to be seated outside the room to free up four seats in the private room for other guests? Or should I keep my mouth shut and sit where I’m told?
Because the guest of honor is not your mother and the hostess is not your sister, the safest course of action is either not to intervene or, as you suggest, to volunteer to give up your own seats.
Every right-thinking host and hostess tries to avoid unequal seating because of the consequences you anticipate. When it cannot be avoided, the hostess should apologize, make provisions so those excluded can see and hear, and ask close friends to sit in the second room, possibly designating one as an auxiliary hostess.
What your sister-in-law is thinking eludes Miss Manners. Why go to the trouble of inviting guests if you have no intention of looking after them? Fortunately, you cannot be accused of rudeness if you sit this one out.
Dear Miss Manners: My aunt and mother raised me to believe that, “If you can’t stay, then you don’t go,” meaning it’s rude to say to the host/hostess: “I can only stay a little while. I have another party to attend.” When one commits to attend a gathering, one does not leave early to attend another.
And right your aunt and mother are, even if one can — if you do not overuse it — tell the hostess how sorry you are to have to decline her invitation because you are already committed for a later time that day. If the hostess spontaneously answers that she understands and would rather have you for two hours than none, Miss Manners will not object.
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©2022, by Judith Martin