From the same crystalline reasoning that has convinced Miss Manners that business parties are cruel, cynical and -- watch out, business world, here comes the insult -- inefficient exploiters of time and money, she will now tell you how to give a successful one.
Please spare the remarks about who is calling whom cynical. Noting how many others toil in their columns to improve your morals, Miss Manners tries to confine herself strictly to dictating how things should be done, rather than debating whether.
She cannot help airing her distaste for the very premise of business entertaining, which is that if you give free drinks and the appearance of disinterested conviviality, you will confuse your associates, clients and competitors into giving you an advantage they would not concede were they doing their business properly, which is to say to their own best advantage.
This premise has given us a society in which workers are supposed to surrender the time -- nights and weekends -- that should rightfully be theirs for the pursuit of happiness, and huge amounts of money are devoted to items -- food, drink, theater tickets, presents, trips -- that Miss Manners believes would more profitably be spent in improving the businesses' products or services.
Mind you, she is only mentioning this in order to tell you how to perform this shameful activity well. If you keep in mind that the whole idea is to make other business people think your motivations are strictly social -- that is, that you like them and enjoy being with them for personal reasons only -- you will understand how this is most skillfully accomplished.
Businessmen already realize that the more luxurious this type of partying is, the more successful it is. If people are entertained more richly by businesses than they would ever be by friends, they are grateful for opportunities to enjoy what they might never experience in private life.
But what the host businesses often fail to realize is that the more social the occasion looks and feels, the better this whole charade works.
You want your targets -- uh, guests -- to be flattered into believing that you value them for their personal company rather than their company position. You want to disarm them of their business sense and persuade them that social attitudes such as loyalty, generosity and kindness are more appropriate attitudes toward you.
Therefore, you should begin by making your invitations look social. Formal ones not only have the advantage of promising luxury but also create more of a feeling of social obligation than the logo-covered, machine-addressed, frankly business types.
Address them to people's houses, if possible, rather than their offices, always using correct names and those of spouses or whatever the equivalent is in each person's life on the date of the party. Invitations that look transferable don't flatter anyone.
Making people dress up for evening occasions helps fool them into believing that these events are unrelated to the day's business dealings. Site, food and drink, and manner of service should be chosen to resemble those of an individual (with a party budget the size of a corporation's) entertaining his friends for the sheer pleasure of it.
Rather than trying to lessen the guests' share of social duties -- showing that you don't expect a correct response to your invitation, allowing a guest to be represented by someone else, or failing to have some sort of receiving line to greet people and hosts obviously available to be thanked upon departure -- you should create the clear expectation that amenities will be performed.
For example, a host-to-guest call saying, "I don't know whether you received my dinner invitation, but I very much hope that you and your husband will join my wife and me," etc., warns people that you are not to be treated like -- well, like some big impersonal business that is to be exploited with no return.
Far too many people now use their own friends that way, and will attend parties bringing their own guests without permission, failing to greet or thank their hosts and feeling utterly lacking in an obligation to return the hospitality.
That Miss Manners considers truly shocking.
But if a business goes to all the trouble and expense to entertain people, and does it in such as way as to allow them to feel no particular indebtedness -- that is just plain stupid.
Q. What are the appropriate arrangements in a four-seat opera-house box? When we arrived at the ballet, the other couple had taken the two front seats. This relegated my guest and me to the rear seats. Should the others have taken either the left or the right side of the box?
A. The proper arrangement of box seating is ladies in front and gentlemen behind. Miss Manners supposes this is based on the presumption that ladies are (1) shorter and (2) more interestingly dressed than gentlemen. Not all customs are philosophically defensible, and Miss Manners does not want to hear the obvious but irrelevant information that there are some ladies who are taller than their gentlemen and less interesting for the rest of the audience to look at.
If there is not that convenient social pattern to follow -- if all people are of the same gender, for example -- couples should still divide the box from side to side, rather than front to back.