From dinner parties to houseguest conundrums, as well as children’s behavior and the ubiquitous thank you note, our all-knowing etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, JD is on the scene to help smooth life’s wrinkles

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

When it comes to hosting dinner parties, I love ensuring each guest has a great experience. How shall I handle a couple who attend and leave after the first course, disrupting the flow of the meal? I know this might be common on the coasts, but how can I discourage it here?

Divine Dining

Dear Divine Intervention,

The clinking of fine china, the hum of elegant conversation and the delectable bites from the chef are exquisite; just keep in mind that guests will be guests. At times, they may not exercise the best judgment. Modern manners provide options to prevent this awkward interruption of guests leaving mid-meal from occurring again to the distress of other dinner companions. Host options include excluding the offending couple from future dinners, or inviting them for hors d’oeuvres and drinks or dessert and coffee only. If dinner is planned to begin at 7:00 p.m., arriving at 8:00 p.m. is inappropriate. Regardless of how “common” some claim this behavior to be on the coasts, southern social graces don’t allow for uncouth behavior here, or the rest of the globe for that matter darling.

Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

How does one explain etiquette to children and why it’s important to know? “That’s just the way it is” doesn’t work – at least not at my house. Any advice to convince the little ones that it’s important to be mannerly?

Enamored With Etiquette

Dear Eternally Enamored,

When your children are between the ages of 4-7 years of age, begin the process of demonstrating and teaching them manners. Children learn what they live. Seven (7) is the ‘age of reason,’ when children begin to understand nuanced ideas. After the age of 8, explain why etiquette is important to you, because as their parent and etiquette role model, your opinion and actions will have significant meaning. Ask them what they want to do when they grow up. When they tell you what it is (astronaut, fireman, mother, billionaire, entrepreneur), be sure they understand that their future success depends on the strength of their character. Neighbors, teachers, and coaches will be asked about their manners and leadership. By demonstrating how you’ve been able to optimize opportunities by using your everyday manners, you will open their eyes.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

When hosting summer guests, how should we stock up our refrigerator to accommodate the tastes of a houseguest with special dietary needs and allergies?

Heartily Hosting 

Dear Utmost Host,

When an invited guest comes to visit, it is polite to purchase items that the guest may enjoy. However, a guest with special dietary needs (gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, etc.) or who has allergies must advise the host well in advance. The process of communicating dietary restrictions is complicated. I strongly recommend a phone call with your guest before stocking up the refrigerator. The real-time feedback will help you formulate a plan, since celiac and tree-nut allergies are serious and can be life threatening. Your guest’s responses will help you decide.

The burden of the special diet belongs to the guest when they are staying in another home. Here’s why: they are the expert. They have researched and learned all the rules. They know how to read labels, find hidden sources of gluten, and keep ingredients free of cross-contamination – unless the host has requested the information. Considerate guests with special dietary not only bring their own snacks, they also offer to do their own grocery shopping and bring their own ingredients if they are planning to eat home cooked meals at your home.

Even house guests with no dietary restrictions or allergies bring along their own snacks, offer to take the hosts out to meals, and eat meals out. No guest should expect the host to cater to every dietary need.


Dear Ms. Modern Manners,

Is it ever too late to send thank you notes for a gift or service received?

Belabored and Belated 

Dear Beloved Belated,

Expressions of gratitude are always appreciated, whenever they are received. Some of us delight in receiving them, writing them and helping our family members design their own personal stationery. However, life happens, family emergencies occur and most gracious souls understand that sometimes a social grace may not occur just when expected.

So, if you decide to send belated thank you notes for a gift or service, please do. Imagine how delighted the gift giver will be to read your handwritten words about gifts that they may have forgotten about giving. Especially when you describe just how you regularly use and enjoy their thoughtful gift. “Your gift of crystal stemware is enjoyed every time we drink wine and celebrate. I apologize for my belated note, please know that your crystal has a beautiful home, front and center, in our wine bar and we cherish every stem.” How can they resist this beautifully crafted note?