Being Fashionably Late: When and where is it okay?

by EPI Staff on September 8, 2009

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.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie September 9, 2009 at 5:55 am

Do people really don’t expect you to be on time?! I don’t think so. I am always 5 minutes early regardless the occasion. It’s just me, it’s the matter of principle, which I do not just for meetings, dinner dates, but for showing up in class and turning in the assignments. I mean, that’s also how I will teach my kids too.

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Ms. C September 11, 2009 at 7:45 pm

As a young hostess I’m always happy when people show up a little bit late. I’m just getting the hang of entertaining and always seem to be running a little behind, and those few extra minutes are often when I need to get the appetizers plated and out on the table before everyone arrives. But I would much rather all my guests be 10 minutes early than even one be a half hour late. Throwing serving plans into chaos is not a good way to thank your host or hostess.

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Susan September 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Yes, I feel that’s a good compromise for the tardy people,and then not too early for the hosts. I am a punctual person too,however, my husband is not. But, I do feel that for a dinner party, dinner club,etc, I think you should be no more than 15 minutes late. But anything beyond that, you should call and let the host know. Honestly, if it’s a formal dinner, it does probably put things behind for the host. I know, it’s happened to me. However, on that same note, you should not arrive early either. That makes the host feel uncomfortable, if you arrive early and they are putting the finishing touches on their party/entertainment, food,etc. However, if it’s a cocktail or any other type of party,etc, you can be more flexible on the time.
Unfortunately, I think society has become to relaxed on their manners.
I remember someone telling me, that if someone is always late for a date, dinner,etc; it just shows they are not respectful of your time and effort.

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Barry Houle September 14, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I respectfully disagree. If the invitation says “dinner at 8″, arrive at 755. And offer to help! If the host wanted you there at 815 or 830, the inviation would have read 815 or 830.

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Susanne September 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Sorry, but I believe that being tardy is rude. You are making people wait for you and the message you send is “my time is more important than your time.” It’s selfish.

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Mary October 22, 2009 at 7:00 am

We have a Christmas party each year and half the guests arrive promptly and the other half arrive 45 min. or so late. I realize it is difficult to juggle activities during the holiday season, but it doesn’t seem fair to the guests who arrive on time. Had they known dinner would be delayed they probably would have liked to take the extra time at home too.
My solution is to have the first course “cocktail style” before we sit at the table. It shouldn’t be as obvious as a salad, but a pasta or other appetizer does work. If some guests miss this course or arrive half way through they won’t be embarrassed, but the other guests won’t feel like they are standing around waiting for the party to begin. Also, the main course, while delayed, won’t be completely over cooked or cold.

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Alisa November 5, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I am surprised to see so many opinions advocating being prompt or even early. Like the original post mentioned, perhaps locale has quite a bit to do with this. I live in NYC – a very polychronic city – and I would never consider showing up on time. Not because it’s “fashionable” to be late, but because it’s rude to be on time. I agree with the original post that 15-30 min. is the right amount of time. Plus, it’s often hard to get a taxi here so no one is expected at a specific time anyway.

Additionally, in many other cultures, being late is expected and it’s considered offensive for guests to put hosts on the spot by showing up at the very moment the invitation reads.

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Chloe November 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I am part of a monthly dinner club. Each month, a different person hosts at a new restaurant, and sets up a nearby location for drinks prior to dinner. I feel this allows everyone to show up for the dinner on time, even if they choose to skip the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

However, one person is late more often than not, and because she has neglected to obtain the phone numbers of nearly everyone in the group, I am often the recipient of her calls. This presents a problem for two reasons. One, I do not always attend dinner club. Two, even if I am there, I don’t think it’s appropriate that she ask me to relay the message to the host every time.

(I used to ride with her to the dinners, but because of my own belief that promptness is mandatory, I chose to decline her offers of a ride and instead take public transportation.)

One of the reasons she is often late is because she ALWAYS drives. Public transportation isn’t as accessible to her as it is to me, but it is still an option.

However, as long as I’ve known her, she’s been late to most everything. I almost regret inviting her to join, but made the mistake of assuming that when she was part of an organized event such as this, she would have better manners.

I have made my ire well known to the others in the dinner club, but everyone else seems to be okay with her tardiness. I have made it clear that as the person who submitted her name to join, I would be the person in charge of asking her to leave, if the need arose.

Although I am obviously still disappointed, as evidenced by this post, I no longer comment on her tardiness. The only reason I can see bringing it up again would be if the restaurants were to once again begin the practice of not seating anyone until everyone arrives.

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Nicole November 10, 2009 at 10:45 pm

As a hostess, I find it very ill-mannered when a guest shows up earlier than the designated time. If I had wanted my guests to arrive at 7:55 instead of 8:oo I would have noted that in the invitation. I am polite to those who arrive earlier, but, again, I do not appreciate it. As a guest, I do not entertain the right to desire the host/hostess to operate on my time schedule. It is also rather distressing when people arrive for a dinner more than 30 min after we have begun to eat and still expect everyone to be waiting for them. To help with this problem over the years I have developed a system that works quite well for me. If the party begins around 7:00 I note the time as “7:00″ in the invitation; people generally realizing that to mean somewhere between 7:00 and 7:30. If I want to serve the meal promptly at say, 7:00 or 7:10 (or what have you) I note that the meal will be served “promptly at…”. This system has served me well these last few years, as I was sick of wondering such things as “should I start without them?… my other guests are waiting” and having to decide who to be rude to! I also appreciate this as a guest because it helps me to understand what the host/hostess desires concerning my arrival.

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Lauren March 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I have been to several 18th parties and most people turn up about and hour to 2 hours late because they drink before arriving. I usually turn up on time or not depending on how well i know the host. If i am a close friend, i will be one of the first to arrive but if i am more of an aqaintance i will turn up late, letting the host’s friends arrive first.
But being on time for parties isn’t much of a big deal with people my age – i mean, imagine 300 guests all arriving on the dot – it would take about an hour or two just to get them through the door anyway.

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Elle July 4, 2010 at 7:16 am

I grew up in New York City, in Manhattan. From the time we were little children etiquette was always a normal part of life. We were taught that one always arrives 10 minutes late as a favor to the hostess, who may be doing last minute things. Arriving on time, or worse, arriving early was simply not done. If you had to drive around the block a few times or just find a place to wait, then that is what you did. Arriving early is considered the height of bad form. The only exceptions were a special event, like a wedding, or when the invitation said “promptly at 8:00″

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Grace April 2, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I am surprised at how many people say to arrive early or on time! The hostess is usually working to the last minute and being caught without completing the last minute additions is embarrassing. Dinner parties at a restaurant are different. There, guests should arrive on time or even a little early.

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Rhonda February 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm

All I can say is that while all of the comments are nice, this question was already answered by EMILY POST at the top of the page ….done….. no matter what others do and say, I think that the way it is answered originally is how it should be done. :) period!

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