A READER ASKS: How Late is Too Late?

Dear Lily,
when you invite guests to your house and you state a specific time for dinner, how long after that time has passed do your proceed to have dinner if one family has not shown up while all the other guests are there? For instance, most recently I invited about 30 people over for a birthday party and set lunch for 3pm.  We delayed starting the lunch till 4:00 as one couple (and granted very close to my husband) hadn't shown up yet. However at this point I had 30 other guests there that had been waiting over an hour to eat. Did I mention this couple habitually shows up 2 hours late for EVERY function, most times with no apology or excuse for their tardiness? Secondly when that couple did arrive they apologized stating they thought party was for 4…they showed up at 5:10….still late even if they confused the times (Did I also mention that I sent a reminder two days prior confirming time AND my email was acknowledge by the culprits). What do you do and say? As always, I said 'no problem' and apologized for starting without them but is that correct? They both looked a little offended that we had started eating without them. If they continue, do you address it or do I just say nothing?


Dear Amy,
            as with any etiquette question that is sent my way, I like to start off by establishing what is referred to as the 'proper' etiquette concerning the specific query and then of course, what kind of post would it be if I didn't add in my two cents on the matter at hand?

15 minutes is the typical length of time that a hostess may wait for a late guest for a sit down dinner, 20 minutes if you are dining buffet style. To wait more than twenty minutes at the most, would be showing lack of consideration to many who came on time for the sake of one. When the late guest finally arrives, it is she/he who must go up to the hostess and apologize for being late. The hostess should remain seated and the guest merely greets the hostess quickly in order that all the guests at the table need not stand and disrupt dinner. The hostess must never reprimand or scold the late guest publicly but should say something polite and conciliatory such as "I was sure you would not want us to wait for dinner."

Bearing that etiquette guideline in mind, it sounds like there is a little more to the equation than just a couple showing up late to a party. If this couple, who happens to be close to your husband, habitually comes extremely late to every function you hold, how much friction would it cause between you and your husband if you just stopped inviting them? No one can expect to receive ongoing invitations from a hostess whose hospitality they choose to disrespect. Even the hostess with the best social graces can not continually excuse someone else's lack of good manners, especially when it seems that this etiquette shortcoming could potentially be on purpose. You did nothing wrong by starting without them and definitely should not have to apologize for doing so. If not inviting them is not an option, I would wait until the next occasion arises and like you have done in the past, confirm the time and date with everyone, requesting an acknowledgement from all as to not single out the latesters.
Then you proceed to follow your dinner schedule, regardless of what time they come and you do that over and over and over again. Have your husband answer the door for them and do not get up from the dinner table (guests should stop eating when the hostess gets up and leaves the table so why put a kibosh on the chow for the people who showed up on time) Use the same line mentioned above "I was sure you would not want us to wait for dinner." If they have at least two brain cells between the two of them, they will get the picture (it takes some longer than others to get take a hint) without you ever having to broach the topic and a possibly uncomfortable interaction.

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1 comment:

  1. OMG!!! This is something that drives me nuts! I think tardiness just shows a complete disrespect for everyone else's time. For the family that always show up late, no matter what, I would have just started without them!!