Dish Delivery: Proper way to Return Dishes

Q: I have always been told that it is ‘rude’ to return a dish to a person empty. Therefore, when I am returning a dish, say after a holiday meal when others have brought food, and left their dishes for me to wash (just a little sarcism!), I always put something in it. I may put a new dish towel set, or maybe some homemade cookies. Is there an etiquette protocol for this?

A: It’s really a matter of local custom.  In some areas, it is not uncommon to return the dish with some token “gift” while in others it’s not expected.  It’s very thoughtful of you to put something in a dish when you return it, but it’s your choice.  In fact, using your example, after a holiday meal, you could transfer any leftovers to one of your dishes and return the dish to the owner either rinsed out or not.  You could also simply tell that person to take the dish and to keep the leftovers.  As the hostess, it’s your choice.

Unfashionably Late: What Do I Say to Friends Who Arrived Way Off Schedule?

Q: I hosted a small dinner for friends. One of the couples was 2 hours late and said nothing about it (no apology, etc). I said nothing and still have not mentioned it to them. Should I have said or done anything about their tardiness?’

A: It may be that they got the time wrong, for it is unbelievable that anyone would be two hours late without a call or apology. They may have felt they had arrived right on time. You wouldn’t say anything now, but if you invite them again, just be sure you are both clear on the time of the invitation. At the time you could have said, “I’m so glad to see you – we were quite worried about what happened to you because we were expecting you at 6,” to which they would have replied how sorry they were, or that they thought the invitation was for 8.

Tea Time Troubles: Placement of the Iced Tea Spoon

Q: Where do you put an iced tea spoon after you have stirred your tea with it?

A: If there is a plate under the glass, you put it there. If not, you may put it on another plate if you have a place setting. If there are no other plates, you may put it on a paper, but not cloth, napkin. If there are no paper napkins, then you can do nothing but hold it for a moment over the glass until it finishes dripping and put it on the placemat or tablecloth.