A successful party isn't entirely in the hands of the host. In fact, according to Charles MacPherson, the people on the guest list have an equally important role to play. We grilled The Marilyn Denis Show's resident butler on how to be a good–and gracious–guest.
Brett Walther: What are a guest's responsibilities?
Charles MacPherson: A good guest needs to come prepared with topics to talk about. That means reading a magazine and watching the news so you can contribute to conversations about more than the weather. You don't have to be an expert on every subject—whether it's Wimbledon or the opening of a new art exhibit in town—but being aware of them gives you a common ground for discussion. You have to be able to be interested in what people are talking about in order to be interesting to talk to.
BW: What makes a great hostess gift?
CM: People have gone over the top with the whole hostess-gifts thing, and it's become unnecessarily stressful. How much should you spend? Should the host open it now or later? Are you making other guests who didn't bring a gift uncomfortable? If you want to give a hostess gift, send it before the event: a little fresh flower arrangement with a note saying, "I'm really looking forward to having dinner with you tomorrow night." Or, on the following day—not three days after the party—drop off a thank-you note with a box of chocolates. And, remember, the difference between a good thank-you note and an excellent thank-you note is personalization: Mention something specific about the event that you appreciated. Instead of just saying, "Thank you for the lovely evening," add, "I really loved that pear-and-cheese crostini you served." It sounds so much more sincere.
BW: Let's say you've just arrived at a cocktail party. Do the shoes stay on or come off?
CM: The first thing you do is quickly have a look around. When I walked into Marilyn's house, the floor looked so pristine and the carpets were a light colour, so I asked if this was a shoes-on or shoes-off party. As a guest, there's nothing wrong with asking a host if you're ever unsure of something.
BW: Is it tacky to bring a pair of "indoor shoes" to a party?
CM: It's great to have that option—particularly in bad weather—but don't assume that just because you've brought indoor shoes that you can wear them. Some hosts don't like women to wear high-heeled shoes indoors because they might damage their carpets or wood floors, for instance.
Hosting a fancy sit-down dinner? Charles the Butler shares the secrets of professional place settings.
This story was originally part of "Guest Assured" in the November 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!