|Entertaining widens one's circle
of friends among officials and private citizens of the host country
and other Foreign Service officers and diplomats. It also
facilitates the informal exchange of information. Just as being a
guest at a host country event affords the American diplomat an
opportunity to experience the host country's culture, guests of
embassy officers will expect to experience American culture. When
planning the event, one must carefully consider whom to invite and
how formal or informal the event will be. Also, be aware of the
local customs on reciprocity.
The ambassador fulfills the
obligation for formal entertaining for the mission; however, many
staff members often have entertaining responsibilities as well. The
type of entertaining depends on one's preferences, purpose,
resources, and available facilities. For example, events can be
hosted at one's home, a local restaurant, or club. Representational
events need not be large, elaborate, or expensive. In many
situations, a simple lunch or a backyard barbeque can be more
effective (and enjoyable) than an elaborate dinner or reception.
Whom to Invite
Everyone in the diplomatic and consular community understands the
need to make friends quickly. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable
to invite new acquaintances, as well as individuals one wishes to
meet, even before receiving an invitation from them. When members of
the host government are invited, the event becomes an official
function of the US Mission and international protocol is in order.
Well in advance of the invitations being sent, the protocol officer
and/or senior officers at post should review the proposed guest
A common way to extend an invitation to a formal event and/or
official function is through official stationary cards followed by a
telephone call. Increasingly, however, the invitation is extended
over the phone, and a card is sent as a reminder. Letterhead and
calling cards are seldom used. Handwritten invitations on informals
are a good way to extend invitations without the expense of having
invitations printed. Some posts have blank stock, others do not.
Check in advance to determine if this is an option at your post. As
the RSVPs arrive, the protocol officer may be able to help design a
proper seating arrangement.
The long-standing dilemma when entertaining abroad is the
variation in responses to invitations. Invited guests may accept an
invitation, but not attend. Others may not RSVP at all. Invited
guests sometimes bring uninvited guests or arrive late.
Differences in the country's cultural norms and perceptions of
socially acceptable behavior account for these variations. When it
is crucial to have an accurate guest list, one might telephone the
invitees to ask if they will attend. Differences in the concept of
social time affect the role of the host as well as that of the
guest. Find out whether the time on an invitation will be adhered
to, or taken to mean two hours later. If guests arrive late
according to custom, they will probably also leave late. The only
way to learn these intricacies is by asking at post.
When making the guest list, do not assume that higher-ranking US
officers are off-limits. They often consider it a pleasant change of
pace to attend less formal social functions. To accommodate them,
check with the ambassador's or principal officer's secretary, and
confirm the date to avoid scheduling conflicts.
At most posts, informal entertaining is not only appropriate, but
also the easiest and most representative of the way Americans
entertain at home. Informal events encourage both the guests and the
host(ess) to relax and circulate. Furthermore, if guests feel that
they will not be competing with the gala event of the year, they are
more likely to reciprocate.
Informal parties can take many forms, such as family-style meals,
buffet lunches and suppers, barbecues, picnics and tea parties. The
key to any event is to move the guests around so they can talk to
different people. Accomplish this by serving in several rooms,
planning interactive games or music and dancing.
Buffet style is an excellent way to serve informal meals. The
host(ess) or waiter may serve guests from the buffet, or guests may
serve themselves. Tableware may be part of the buffet service or the
table may be set in advance. Tables of six or eight people are more
conducive to conversation than tables of four. If you choose not to
set up tables, at least clear coffee tables and end tables so the
guests can put down their dishes. A few tables for guests who are
not comfortable eating from plates on their laps is a thoughtful
If using place cards, follow the rules of precedence to determine
who will be placed in the seat of honor (for a man, the seat to the
right of the hostess and for a woman, the seat to the right of the
host). If there is no prepared seating plan, ranking guests should
be invited to sit at the host's table.
Unless there is a receiving line, the host(ess) and his/her
spouse should stand near the entrance to greet guests as they arrive
and also to say good-bye as they leave.
As the host(ess) of a formal event, one may call on US mission
colleagues to serve as "co-hosts." Representational entertaining is
a shared responsibility among officers at post. Formal entertaining
includes a variety of representational events, meetings, and
activities, as well as "black tie" and "white tie" dinners and
receptions. A formal printed invitation should be issued well in
advance, usually four to six weeks ahead. Invitations may also be
extended by a phone call followed by a reminder card.
Prepare a guest list that shows the title or profession of each
guest and make that list available in advance to the mission staff
members who will be co-hosting with you. Occasionally, other guests
or Ministry officials may request the list; it may be appropriate to
provide it to them. It is appropriate to provide the list to the
guest(s) of honor.
One may wish to consult the post's protocol officer for advice in
creating a guest list and seating arrangement. The number of guests,
their names and positions, the purpose of the party, and the shape
and number of tables are but a few of the details which need to be
addressed. Guidelines for seating and service follow, but keep in
mind that they may be adapted to each event.
Both the guest of honor and other guests must know who has the
place of honor. In the United States, the place of honor for a man
is at the right of the hostess; for a woman, it is at the right of
the host. However, in some countries, the place of honor is at the
left of the host/hostess. The host and hostess can sit at opposite
ends or across from one another at the same table. They may also be
seated at separate tables. If so, each chooses a co-host or
co-hostess, creating two more seats of honor. Co-hosts and
co-hostesses are usually ranking guests or colleagues from the US
Mission. After the guest of honor and the host(ess) or co-host(ess)
are seated, the arrangement goes by rank, gender, and nationality.
As a general rule, couples sit across the table from each other, not
side-by-side. Several examples of possible seating arrangements are
illustrated below. To seat 8, 12, 16, or 20 people without two men
or two women sitting together, the hostess sits to the left of the
seat that is properly hers. ("W" represents a female guest; "M"
represents a male guest.)
Sample Seating Arrangement for Eight
Sample Seating Arrangement for Fourteen
The most common arrangement places the host and hostess at the
head and foot of the table. ("W" represents a female guest; "M"
represents a male guest.)
Sample Seating Arrangement for a Men's/Women's
Luncheon or Dinner
For same-sex events with only a host or hostess, a better balance
of rank may be achieved by designating a co-host and having the host
and co-host seated opposite of each other at the center of the
As a general rule, an even number of men and women alternate
seats at a table. In American homes, foreign guests take precedence
over Americans of comparable rank with the exception of the
Ambassador of the United States. The Ambassador is seated as a host
or hostess to avoid seating precedence conflicts. This courtesy also
applies to the ambassador's spouse. If an unequal number of men and
women (or individuals of more than one nationality) are in
attendance, alternate both the sexes as well as the nationalities.
One possibility is to seat the host(ess) and the guest of honor
opposite each other in the middle of the long sides of the dining
table and then alternate from there. The husband of a high-ranking
female official is seated commensurately; do not demote him. When
many high-ranking officials are expected to attend the event, if
possible, seat them in a manner such that many hold a seat of honor.
An excellent way of doing this is to use round tables. Using round
tables is also helpful in minimizing disruptions if place settings
must be removed at the last minute.
Place a seating chart in the entrance hall so that each guest may
find his/her place before entering the dining room. Although rarely
practiced today, men might be given a "take-in card" which
designates a particular woman to escort to the table. Place cards
are used when there are more than eight guests. Place them above the
plates with the names and titles visible to the guests seated at
either side. For the benefit of the guests across the table,
consider printing the names on the back of the cards as well. When
there are many tables, a table chart is often used to assist guests
in locating their table.
One waiter for every six to eight guests is generally sufficient.
Guests may be served in sequence around the table or women may be
served before men. If guests are served in sequence, the woman on
the host's right is served first. The man to her right is served
next, and service proceeds counter clockwise so that the host is
served last. If women are served first, the woman on the host's
right is served at the same time as the woman to his left. Two
servers then proceed clockwise around the table to the women and
then to the men. If there is only one server per table, the
direction of service should be reversed after each course so that
the same guests are not always served last. Local customs for
serving should be observed.
As mentioned above, seek advice at post about the local customs
on toasts and drinking in general. Usually, toasts are made with the
dessert course. At the end of the meal, the host or hostess makes
the first move to leave the table. Guests then follow in order of
precedence. Coffee may be served in another room.
For suggestions on menus, table settings and decorations, consult
an etiquette book or a cookbook designed for entertaining.
At formal receptions, a receiving line enables the host and
hostess to greet each guest personally. Usually, the host stands
first and the hostess stands second. However, the hostess may defer
to guests of honor and stand after them in line. To stand in line
and receive guests with a drink or cigarette in your hand is
An official staff member may introduce each guest; guests may
also introduce themselves. All US staff members should help the
host(ess) attend to the guests by "taking them off the line":
greeting them as they finish the receiving line, accompanying them
to the refreshments, and integrating them into conversations.
At the end of the event, the host should be available near the
exit to say good-bye to guests. At an event hosted by the
Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission, Public Affairs Officer, or
agency head, staff members should stay until all foreign guests have
Being a Guest
Certain guest responsibilities hold true whether you are
attending a formal international event or a local party.
If you are a parent, you may be reluctant to leave your children
behind when attending social functions. However, in most cases,
children may not accompany their parents. Most social events for
business or pleasure will not include children. If the event does
include children, the invitation will make it very clear.
The tradition of toasting is practiced around the world. In most
countries, a guest who is being toasted remains seated and does not
drink to the toast. The honored guest makes a reply by standing and
offering a toast to the host and hostess.
Leave a party at a reasonable hour, no matter how much fun you
are having. Leaving early is better than overstaying one's welcome.
But be aware that in some countries, a reasonable hour may be very
late by US standards. It is best not to leave prior to the departure
of the senior official of any nationality. Do not leave before the
guest of honor or the senior representative of your mission leaves,
especially if you are helping to host a US event. Be sure to thank
the hosts before you depart, keeping the farewells brief.
You should thank your hosts in writing or by phone the next day
unless the event was a very informal event or a very large
reception. Thank-you notes are hand-written and signed without
courtesy titles (i.e., Mark Roberts, not Mr. Roberts). If you feel
the situation merits a more elaborate thank-you, let local custom be
your guide for an appropriate response.