Q: I’m always punctual, so recently, when I was invited to a dinner party that was set to begin at 8:00 P.M., I planned to arrive on the dot. But a friend of mine who was also invited says that no one expects-or wants-me there exactly on time. Should I follow her advice?
A: Yes, since your friend appears to know how things are done in your neck of the woods. The general rule of thumb for dinner parties is arrive 10 to 15 minutes after the time designated by the host. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, however. In some areas, particularly rural parts of the country, you are expected to be prompt, while in a number of cities, arriving between 15 minutes and a half hour after the party starts is merely considered “fashionably late.” Showing up later than that isn’t good form, though-you don’t want to interfere with the host’s serving plans. Cocktail parties are a different story entirely. They’re typically held between certain designated hours-often from 6:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.-and people are usually expected to stay for at least an hour. But since food and drink flow freely at these events, guests can too.