On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I made a special effort to create a festive table for our small dinner group. I posted an image of it on Instagram as we waited for guests to arrive.
But I forgot that one invited couple was supposed to be a surprise for the other. Before anyone set foot in our door, my eagle-eyed friend checked her feed and called me. “Why is your table set for six people?” she asked. “Who else is joining us?”
In this age of 24/7 tweets, snaps and Facebook tags, entertaining can be a minefield of innocent oversharing, hurt feelings or spoilers. And it’s not going away. Hosting or attending any social event these days has digital implications, whether you grew up sharing your life on multiple platforms or just stick to Facebook.
“Everyone accepts the fact that social media is here to stay and we can’t be so sensitive. It’s just added another layer to socializing and interacting with people,” says Carla McDonald, founder of the Salonniere ( thesalonniere.com ), an online magazine dedicated to entertaining. McDonald, who has attended hundreds of glitzy parties, also hosts plenty at her Austin and Nantucket, Mass., homes.
In the design world, a constant stream of Instagram posts of artful coffee table vignettes, perfectly puffed chocolate souffles and abundant flower arrangements are dishy postcards from beautiful lives. “Posting photos of dinner parties is just part of life now. Everybody does it,” says Michael Devine, a New York designer of fabric and china and author of “An Invitation to the Garden: Seasonal Entertaining Outdoors.” “Right now our Gramercy Park place is going to be in a magazine, so we have to ask guests, ‘No photos, please.’ ”
Devine says some online postings may disappoint friends or followers who weren’t invited to the party. He calls it “the Princess Diana problem.”
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be both public and private at the same time. You have to decide,” says Devine, who also likes to entertain at his Kinderhook country house and writes a lifestyle blog (thedevinelife.blogspot.com). “But culturally, I think we are working through this.”
Joseph Ireland, a Washington designer, says people are used to regularly sharing things that they find stylish and interesting. “These days, people want to show off what their ideas are or what inspires them. But I think it’s probably better not to mention where you are,” Ireland says.
All this focus on food, tablecloths and china has created an interest in the art of the party. “I think it’s upped the party game,”McDonald says. “As people plan their parties, they think of visual vignettes that are fun and also a photo opportunity. It has made people more aware of the visual components of a party, creating an Instagram-worthy cocktail setup or buffet.”
Devine says the pressure is on. “Not only are we doing a table setting so everyone enjoys it, you also have this other layer. The flowers have to be perfect because the camera is not as forgiving as your eyes are. There are little things you don’t want in a photo that you can get away with in reality.”
We want to help you navigate your party postings in consideration of your hosts. Here are some tips from McDonald on social-media etiquette.
No phones at the table. “I think a cellphone is like a cigarette. If you are going to use one, you need to excuse yourself from the table and go outside,” McDonald says.
Be respectful. No photograph is worth making someone angry or upset. It’s not worth ruining a friendship over an Instagram picture. Always err on the side of good manners.
Ask first. “I think when you are in someone’s home, you should ask permission to take a photo,” McDonald says. “There are always nice ways to ask, such as ‘This is so gorgeous. I am going to post this, if you don’t mind.’ ”
No children. Make it a policy never to photograph or post pictures of children without explicit permission.
Learn from a bad hair day and move on. “If you look bad in a photo, just untag it quietly,” McDonald says. “If I think I look bad, I always figure that I need to get a facial or maybe get some more sleep.”