Cocktail Party Rules and Faux Pas

“Bah, humbug!” you might say. It’s
party time again and ’tis the season
to be merry. Several cocktail parties
as well as the annual office Christmas bash
loom and you may be working up to a panic.
You need to learn quickly how to dress up and
behave yourself. The idea behind any cocktail
party is to bring congenial people together to
mix and mingle. Cocktail parties can be
eminently enjoyable events if you follow some
basic rules.
Here are some guidelines and faux pas to
consider before donning your party shoes:
The RSVP: When an invitation is received, it is only polite
to answer it within 24 hours if possible. The invitation
often includes a self-addressed, stamped envelope, making
the task of returning it even easier. If an envelope is not
included, call or send a note of acceptance.
Faux Pas: Responding late or not at all. Keeping your host
guessing about whether you are attending is considered
very bad form. RSVP is French for Repondez s’il vous
plait—please reply. Do so.
DRESS CODE: Cocktail parties come in several different
forms. The cocktail buffet requires either semi-formal or
casual elegant attire. A stand-up cocktail party is usually
semi-formal cocktail dress or evening suit for women; suit,
shirt and tie for men. Cocktail receptions are usually more
formal and can be sit-down or stand-up. Social events are
reverting to more formality and dressing up is fashionable
Faux Pas: Dressing inappropriately. If in doubt, it’s
perfectly acceptable to call the host and ask about proper
attire. Leave the jeans in the closet this time.
ARRIVING LATE: Be prompt or fashionably late, the
latter meaning within 15 minute of the appointed time.
The host, however, should never be late for her/his own
party. S/he should make sure to be there in person to greet
guests. Everything should be ready and food prepared,
ensuring guests’ comfort from the time they walk into the
Faux Pas: Arriving hours late, too early, or not showing up
at all.

MIX AND MINGLE: It’s all about mixing and mingling. That may be your hot-button
issue. You may find it uncomfortable or downright difficult. This is the chance to meet new
people and make connections. Whether you
like it or not, it’s all about small talk, and small
talk is not only important, it’s also something
of an art. Have some topics prepared. Catch up
on the news, theatre, movies, concerts, travel,
the latest designer, or what The Donald is up to
now. Light and lively topics provide fun and
stimulating conversation. Pluck up your
courage, smile, and speak to as many people as
you can. Extend your hand, introduce yourself and make
sure you maintain eye contact during your conversations.
Circulate and make the rounds before heading off to the
buffet table.
Faux Pas: Standing in the corner as though you haven’t a
friend in the world or talking business and trying to make
a big deal. This is not the time. And avoid discussions about
sex, politics and religion, or any subject that carries a lot of
weight or emotional overtones.
EATING AND DRINKING: In moderation, please.
Take small portions from the buffet table and keep the
alcohol to a bare minimum. Wine spritzers work well.
Avoid salty, greasy or sweet foods that tend to make you
thirsty. Choose foods rich in starch and protein that stay in
the stomach longer and slow down the effects of alcohol.
Faux Pas: Drinking to excess and dancing on tabletops.
Piling the entire buffet table on your dinner plate as though
you were a lumberjack chowing down at the logging camp.
SAY GOODNIGHT, GRACIE: Pay attention to the fact
that the party is winding down. Never overstay your
welcome. Find your hosts and thank them, then depart.
If you want to be invited back, sing for your supper! Be
witty, charming and entertaining. After all, you weren’t
simply invited to eat and drink, but for your pleasant
Shannon Smith is Canada’s leading image strategist and president of
Toronto-based Premiere Image International. She travels extensively
throughout North America presenting customized training programs
to corporations and individuals in personal brand development.
Shannon Smith can be reached at:

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