Just Behave

Just Behave: Step Up to the (Correct) Plate

Our etiquette expert answers your questions.

BY September 5, 2018


It seems to happen every single year at the social functions: Guests are seated at big round tables (eight or 10 people), and someone will use the wrong bread plate. It then throws off the entire table. Is there a proper way to make everyone use their proper bread plate (on the left)? Or should I just ignore it? It seems to me that if people can afford a ticket to a social event, they certainly should know proper manners. Am I being too petty? —Rebecca, Naples

Dear Rebecca,

Ignorance is not bliss here. You want to be buttering up your table mate, not his or her hand. Just as you make certain to dress properly for a fancy dinner, gala or business function, you should pay equal attention to following the rules of dining etiquette. If need be, take lessons from the Emily Post school of etiquette or another authority on the use of cutlery and place settings. Man (or woman) may not live by bread alone, but you’ll get dark looks or worse by reaching for the wrong plate. If you’re attending a classy event, then act that way. No, Rebecca, you’re not being petty.


My husband hates going to social events where we don’t sit together. He’s not great at small talk and prefers to sit by me. We’ve attended events in the past where the host and hostess sit us at the same table but not next to each other. Should I request, in advance, that we sit next to each other?  I’m afraid he’ll quit going to these if I don’t make it happen. — Jenny, Bonita Springs

Dear Jenny,

It’s called a social event with the expectation you’ll be social. Can you possibly coach your husband in advance on topics for conversation with others? It’s not acceptable to insist upon a certain seating arrangement or, heaven forbid, to change seats at a formal gathering. The organizers usually spend a considerable amount of time figuring out who should be seated next to whom. It’s very flattering that your husband loves talking with you, but he needs to get out of his comfort zone and join the rest of the world for a few hours of relating to others.


Every season brings so many options for attending social events. I wish I could attend them all, but it’s simply not possible. A friend seems irritated with me because I’m not attending the one she is chairing. I could go, but it’s the night after a big one I’ve already committed to, and I know I’ll be tired. What should I do? — Jessica, Fort Myers

Dear Jessica,

As the chair, she’ll be busy that night and might not even miss you. Why does she want you to be there? If it’s for assistance, you could offer to help prior to the event. If it’s for support, you could give a financial donation. Surely, as a friend, she should respect your reason for being too exhausted to make two events on successive nights. I bet she wouldn’t be happy to see you nod off at her event’s most glorious moments.

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