Late Dinner Guests Revisited

Empty Place at the Table

I was honored to be in written conversation regarding late dinner guests with an Etiquette Blog reader. He wrote:
“This past holiday season my wife's sister and her husband hosted an informal dinner party for family (themselves, my wife and myself, the hosts' daughter and her husband, and two other adult relations). Everyone was present in a timely fashion, except for the daughter and her husband. Right about the time the meal was taken from the stove and being plated, the daughter called and said she and her husband would be late.  he hostess kept the prepared food on the kitchen counter under foil. The dinner was not presented for serving until the late couple arrived nearly an hour later. By this time, the food was tepid, at best; cold, at worst.”

Taking in his concerns, I edited my blog post, “Dealing with Late Guests,” to address them.   But I realize there is still more to be said on the topic.

Though etiquette has no police force, it requires individuals to step up to the plate of personal responsibility.  When someone has communicated that they will late, solutions need to be considered in the actual moment.  Etiquette is situational, contextual, and relational.

How to Handle Late Dinner Guests

Late dinner guests can throw quite the curveball when it comes to a freshly cooked meal.   And this is one of the reasons you are not obligated to wait for late comers to arrive before serving your meal.

Here are two ways to handle the situation:

  • If you have help in the kitchen, instruct the servers that they should be ready with “late plates,” so that when the late guests come to the table, they will be served food to the point where the rest of the diners are.

  • If you are without kitchen/serving assistance and considering the ever-present possibility that guests might be late, have a kitchen counter area where the guest(s) can be directed to get their food and bring it to the table themselves.  A welcoming, “Come on in and get some food and join us!” would be nice.

A bold possibility might be to present the problem to the group of guests who have arrived. “Friends, it looks like the Johnson’s will be about a half hour late. Please help us decide what to do. Should we wait and risk our food being not quite perfect, or should we proceed to dinner and offer a cheer when they arrive?”

It is vital to remain upbeat, kind, and welcoming.  After all, there are times when being late is unavoidable.  You might invite them in with a “let us catch you up on the conversation so far!”   However, it is advisable not to include the guests’ being late as a conversation topic once everyone is gathered.  As the host, take the lead on the conversation to ensure everyone’s comfort.

“We don't want any adventures here, thank you! … Make you late for dinner!”
~ Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit; JRR Tolkien

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