Heather Cunningham, of East Patchogue, had three wedding invitations awaiting her RSVP as of March 12. The nuptials are set for April 23 and May 21 on Long Island and May 1 in New Jersey.
Considering each event, Cunningham, 32, founder of the resource Brides of Long Island, wondered the same things: Will other guests take safety seriously? Will everyone wear masks? Will people respect social distancing?
Similar thoughts occurred to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, president of the Etiquette School of New York who’s spent the past 12 months at her home in Southampton, when she received an invitation to her niece’s spring nuptials in Annapolis, Maryland. She also thought: Will everyone be fully vaccinated?
They’re not alone with their queries and experiences. As the weather warms and the vaccine rollout continues, party planners on Long Island expect to see the return of weddings, backyard bashes and other gatherings. Along with etiquette experts, they share advice for how to handle invites and other situations sure to arise.
What is the right way to RSVP "no" without offending the host?
"In any circumstance, whether it’s a pandemic or not, you do not owe a party giver any sort of explanation about why you are not attending," says Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette ace who’s known professionally as Mister Manners. "You don’t have to justify your nonattendance."
Napier-Fitzpatrick echoes that advice and adds, "Etiquette is showing respect for other people. You must RSVP. A lot of people don’t and that’s extremely rude."
What to do if you're the only one masked at a party?
"Always respond politely if others try to pressure you into removing your mask. It is acceptable protocol to respond with ‘I am more comfortable wearing a mask, but thank you for your concern,’" says Dianne Marsch, director of the Etiquette School of Manhattan.
"Don’t let the majority make you feel uncomfortable," adds Farley, who hosts the podcast What Manners Most and found himself in this situation at a wedding last October. "Don’t feel the need to defend yourself. On the other hand, especially in a festive setting, don’t lecture people. It was not my place at all to grab the microphone during the toast and tell everyone to put on a mask."
If you’re the host, what information should you include in an invitation?
"The person having the party should tell everyone the precise parameters — what the rules are — about masks, social distancing and so on," says Napier-Fitzpatrick. "There should be no surprises for guests after they arrive. Right now, everyone should follow CDC guidelines. We still don’t know all there is to know about this health issue. Start small and invite people you know well enough to also know if they’ve been vaccinated."
If you’re hosting a party, what’s okay to spell out?
"It is acceptable protocol to inquire if the guests have been vaccinated before participating in the special event such as a wedding," says Marsch. "The host can even request that they bring a copy of the vaccination results with them, which is protection for everyone, if an outbreak should occur later. It is acceptable protocol to request guests, who haven't been vaccinated be tested 48 hours before attending the wedding and to bring the results with them. It is acceptable protocol to inform everyone that masks will be provided at the door, and to please wear them except when eating."
How do you deftly navigate COVID conversation?
"There’s no getting away from the topic, and that’s going to be the case for a long while," says Farley. "And that’s entirely appropriate. It’s more interesting than talking about the weather. But if you feel like you’ve been done right by the pandemic and your portfolio has never looked brighter or you never missed a paycheck you need to be mindful that your experience is likely not the position of others at the gathering. Be very careful to avoid a ‘What’s the big deal’ attitude."
"It is important to be aware of those who may have lost a loved one during this pandemic," adds Marsch. "If a guest begins to share the loss of a loved one, be a good listener, don't interrupt, and offer genuine caring, consideration, and condolences."
How do you serve a safety conscious meal?
"Come up with a menu that’s COVID-conscious, says party planner Andrea Correale, owner of Elegant Affairs, in Glen Cove. "Instead of passing platters, opt for individual servings instead of communal grazing. As you begin to gather you may want to rethink how you present appetizer favorites like antipasto. We present those in single-serving cones."
"When you do have a get-together people are thinking about how to have a cocktail party that’s safe and that doesn’t include big piles of food with dipping sauces," says Ashley O’Neil, 43, a party and event planner in Southold. "It’s making us all get more creative. We’re modifying menus to include things like miniature crudite cups. A dedicated bartender is a way to handle drinks. Guests feel more comfortable when they see you’ve gone through the process of thinking of them."
What's a safe way to greet guests?
O'Neil says people are still doing the elbow tap or a distant blow of a kiss. It all "depends on the relationship with the person they are greeting."
Farley says a "friendly smile and a cheerful elbow bump, which we've all gotten the hang of by now," will suffice. "A good host will also ensure that the arriving guest is introduced to at least one or two fellow guests, along with providing thoughtful conversational entrées."
Is there a way to politely disinvite someone due to concerns?
"It’s very hard to do that," says Napier-Fitzpatrick, adding that some situations merit that. "If someone says they’re getting vaccinated and decides not to, that's one of them."
How do you handle it when a guest doesn’t wear a mask or follow explicit protocols?
"Prevention is the key," says Farley. "First of all, you really want to curate your guest list. This is not a time for cattle calls. Yes, it’s been 12 months of isolation. Yes, we’re all eager to interact. Start small and intimate. As a host you want to create an environment that’s intimate, that’s safe, that’s comfortable, and that’s not possible to do at this point with large numbers of guests."
Can you tell the host you’re bringing a date?
"No. This is definitely not the time to be bringing an unannounced plus one when the host has no doubt carefully curated the guest list. Actually, that’s never okay," cautions Farley.
If sweatpants become your daily uniform can you wear that to a party?
"Dressing up and dressing the part shows respect to your host and adds to the festivities," says Farley. "Unless it’s a pajama party, throw on something festive."