I love hosting dinner parties. Seriously, I live for them and can't wait to plan the next one. Because I plan carefully, I want people to show up on time. I certainly don't expect everyone to sit down and eat right when they get there, so I usually serve something small with cocktails while we wait for everyone to arrive.
But what do I do about people who aren't just 30 minutes late, but an hour or more? If I invite you for a meal at 7:30, is it really too much to expect you to be ready to sit down to eat at 8:30? Being late to a dinner party is so disrespectful. What's wrong with people? Do they hate me? I've had it up to here. I'm ready to quit hosting and just make nice dinners for myself, to eat alone while watching Netflix.
Ready to Eat
Dear Ready to Eat,
As I'm sure you know, this isn't a new problem. And I can't make your guests show up on time, but I may be able to help you find some peace.
I don't want you to eat alone while watching Netflix, although I personally enjoy that on occasion. And I'll agree that, yes, your tardy friends are rude. But I also think they like and respect you.
Can you stand a story about my college shrink? (I promise not to share it at your dinner party.) I was 19 years old and relished my weekly hour-long visits with a therapist, the perfect time to vent without being labeled a gossip. A few weeks in a row, I ranted to my shrink about a friend who would make plans with me on Friday nights, then cancel at the last minute, claiming she had too much homework, not enough money, or both. In a fairly dramatic fashion — I didn't want to bore my shrink, and I suspected my problems were pretty unproblematic — I raged about how rude she was, and how she had no respect for me or my time. Surely she knew about the homework and her low bank balance before Friday at 8 p.m. Dr. Y gently interrupted.
"Do you like her?"
"Is this the friend you always enjoy seeing when you run into her by chance and end up going out?"
"Stop making plans with her. Wait until you see her, and have fun."
I give Dr. Y major props for making this obvious suggestion so kindly. Twenty years later, I still take it to heart. Learn what you can expect from people and ask yourself if that's enough to make maintaining a friendship worth it.
You like your tardy friends, or you wouldn't keep inviting them over to share what I'm sure are wonderful meals. But you know what? They're not going to show up on time. They aren't doing it to annoy you, and they're probably a little in awe of your hosting skills. They like you.
Keep hosting your great dinners, and follow these three steps to keep your friends and your sanity.
Be honest with yourself about who'll be there on time, and who will hurt your feelings by missing your perfectly plated scampi and showing up just in time for after-dinner amaro and espresso.
Try clarifying your expectations.
"I'd love to see you Friday night at 7:30. Can you be there by 8:30 at the latest? That's when we'll be sitting down to eat and I like to serve my Wellington as soon as it's ready!" Chances are your friend has no idea how crazy-making his lateness is. Have you ever showed up late to a coffee date with him? I bet he hardly noticed. If he's a close friend, consider going a step further and letting him know that it hurts your feelings when he's late. But what if you take this step and he still doesn't show up on time? Do you want to keep this friend? If so, read on.
Host a different party.
Dinner parties and late people don't mix. When it's obvious that your (funny, sweet, delightful in every other way) friend is incapable of changing her poky ways, stop inviting her when time is of the essence. Don't invite her to a restaurant that won't seat you until your whole party is there. Don't invite her to the theater, and remove her from your dinner party list. If you're already capable of hosting dinners, your party game is strong, and you can host other kinds of gatherings. It may be time to plan a more casual drop-in. Your late friend will be party mayonnaise when she shows up a couple of hours in, and gives your party a second wind with her charm. And you can text her and ask her to bring more ice or creamsicles or whatever else you need to keep the party going.
It's not your job to provide a dinner party experience for someone who doesn't follow the rules. Lateness has consequences, and one of them is not getting invited back. But I want y'all to stay friends, okay? You can make it happen. All you have to do is adjust your expectations and have even more parties!