Birthday parties are filled with fun and excitement, but how do know you’re being a gracious host? And what are the rules as a guest? Countess Luann deLesseps, star of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City and author of "Class with the Countess — How to Live with Elegance and Flair", and Patricia Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York, weigh in on the dos and don’ts of hosting and attending birthday parties.
Q: Should you mail paper invitations, send an Evite, or is a phone call okay?
Luann: I make cards for the kids to give to their friends. You can definitely send Evites and there’s nothing wrong with making a phone call if you’re pressed for time.
Patricia: Written invitations make it seem more special and all of the details are there for your guests to have as a reference. If it’s an impromptu party, you can call, and Evites are better for teenage parties. Q: Should you always RSVP?
L: Absolutely! As soon as you know you’ll be able to attend, so that moms have all the time they need to be prepared.
P: Yes, it’s the polite thing to do. Q: If parents don’t RSVP, should you call to find out if they’re coming?
L: Yes, I would politely ask if they received the invitation.
P: Yes, you can say, “We weren’t sure if you received the invitation. We would love to have your child come. Will she be able to attend?” Q: Can you bring siblings to a party?
L: You should definitely ask if it’s okay with the host.
P: The child being addressed on the envelope is the child being invited. You should always wait for the host to say that siblings are welcome. Q: Should you have a family-only and friends-only party?
L: It depends on what kind of party you want to have, but I always mix it up. Of course if it’s a paintball party, Grandma isn’t going to attend!
P: It’s totally up to the parents but it depends on budget and the amount of space you have. Q: When the other moms stick around after the party has ended, what should the host do?
L: Start cleaning up to give them the hint that the party’s over. You can say, “It was so nice that you could come.”
P: Be very subtle and say, “Thank you for coming.” And then show them the door. Q: Do you have to go to every birthday party that your in-laws throw?
L: I think it’s a good idea to get on the right side of your in-laws, but if you don’t go, you should absolutely send a gift.
P: No, because you may have a real reason not to go because of work, a previous engagement, or budget. It’s acceptable to say you have a previous engagement. Q: Should you feel obligated to invite your child’s entire class?
L: No, I bring cupcakes for the class and they celebrate at school and then we have a smaller party after.
P: Some schools have a rule that you can’t invite only five children without inviting the entire class. If, however, the school doesn’t have a policy and you only invite part of the class, never take invitations to school. Mail them instead. Q: The price tag on party favors tends to outweigh the gifts. Should you give big gifts?
L: Give what you can afford because you never know what the favors will be.
P: Ask what other parents are spending on presents. It’s a sign of bad manners if you’re too extravagant.
Q: How do you select age-appropriate gifts and is it okay to give a gift certificate?
L: I ask my children, “What do you think your friend would like?”
P: For young children, you should give a gift. A gift certificate is appropriate for tweens. Q: When kids fight during the party, or children misbehave, what should you do?
L: The host should give a warning because kids need to be reminded to behave themselves and be given a second chance.
P: The host should take the child aside and quietly talk to him or her. Q: Should children open gifts during the party or afterwards?
L: My children can’t wait to open the gifts so I always make it part of the party.
P: It depends on the child’s age but if they do, never open them until the end. Q: What if they open something that they don’t like?
L: I have always taught my children that they are to be thankful for everything they get.
P: Try to teach children that even if they don’t like the gift they should say thank you.Q: How do you make sure you have food for children who have allergies, can’t eat gluten, or are vegetarians?
L: It’s great to have an assortment of foods so there are plenty of things they can snack on.
P: The host should have a variety of foods that most children aren’t allergic to. If a child doesn’t like something, they should try just a little bit to not hurt the feelings of the host. Q: Should children send thank you notes?
L: It’s great for children to send thank you notes and I think it’s acceptable today to send an email.
P: Yes, we send thank you notes because it shows our appreciation for the time spent to find a gift that will please us. Countess Luann deLesseps, author of
Class with the Countess — How to Live with Elegance and Flair
Patricia Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York