The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 31 October

Can you throw a two-tier party at which some guests stay for dinner and others clear off ? Thomas Blaikie adjudicates
Dear Thomas,
I went to a most enjoyable drinks party the other day but it was rather spoilt when I realised that some people were invited to stay on for dinner but others, including me, were not. Rude or what?
Eve Garratt, Cardiff

Dear Eve,
This sounds old-fashioned. I tried it myself in the 1980s. The main thing was it didn’t work. Even in those days the practice of never leaving parties was entrenched. The second-rank guests, uninvited for dinner, wouldn’t go away. The two-tier system may be more familiar at weddings where remote acquaintances, who perhaps don’t know the bridal pair, only their parents, are asked to the reception before the sit-down dinner, not the dinner itself.

In the old days (ie, the 1950s) drinks parties were at 6pm but guests had to dash home for dinner at 8pm or their cook would be furious. So at least you could guarantee a prompt retreat and a smooth transition to dinner for those invited to stay on. In the case of weddings, some were invited to the church but not the reception. Instead, tenants, staffƒ and the ‘village’ would be entertained some days later by the mother of the bride. They were admitted to the drawing room and oƒffered one of the middle tiers of the wedding cake. These days, how many of us have tenants or retainers or even a drawing room?

I know that wedding givers agonise over how not to exclude anyone and the ‡financial outlay is horri‡fic. Some guests may blithely accept that they only knew the bride when she was two and they’d rather be there than not, even if it means no dinner. You can’t invite anyone who has travelled far or who is even remotely a relation on this basis, though. But I say, get rid of the sit-down dinner. Just have a lavish reception, then you can have more people. While I’m about it, the dancing afterwards: why is it always only for the young? Why can’t we have a conga or Strip The Willow?

Another approach is to make a very thorough video of the wedding and show it to those you couldn’t invite later on.

Back to drinks parties. Avoid a dinner afterwards for a select few unless you know your other guests well enough to tell them to clear off. The only justi‡fication would be if there were a particular purpose for the function, say to celebrate the hanging baskets in your town – so people who’ve made a particular contribution get special treatment. Otherwise, forget the old-world pre-dinner drinks party. Start at 7.30, put ‘canapés’ or ‘substantial canapés’ (a bit common but informative) or even ‘food’ (very common) on the invitation. You’ll be lucky to see the last person out before midnight.

By the way, it’s common to say common.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Twice recently I’ve arrived but not arrived. But it’s vital to know precisely when the moment of arrival has occurred. Some friends have recently opened the Canada Water Cafe (do go). Parking my bike about 10 yards in front of it, I was in full view of those friends but had I really arrived? Had they seen me and had I seen them?

The late Queen Mother would have known exactly what to do. Arriving in Canada (as opposed to Canada Water) at the age of 81, she took her time descending the aircraft steps – a good two minutes, in fact. The greeting party were at the bottom, bags, gloves and court shoes at the ready but Her Majesty contrived not to notice them until the last minute when she was suddenly overwhelmed by surprise that they were there. Arriving at one’s country friends’ is perhaps more challenging than a town arrival. They might be in the garden and see you come up the drive or track. But both parties should ignore each other until the last possible moment. You can’t go on waving indefi nitely. It’s a waste of time.