Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: Dinner Etiquette

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: dinner etiquette.

Nicole Cliffe: Saying nothing and doing nothing and asking about any food allergies preferences before you host them again sounds great. And the last part isn’t even necessary!

They just didn’t eat something.

Daniel Lavery: AS YOU KNOW I have been reading “The Rituals of Dinner” by Margaret Visser lately

Nicole Cliffe: Oh, of course.

Please, go on.

Daniel Lavery: and am like, elbow-deep in it

it’s so good

The passage I’m thinking of will take me a minute to find, hang on, sorry

Nicole Cliffe: I am reading one of the million true crime books about people in the Hamptons murdering each other, I am in no rush.

Daniel Lavery: Okay, I found it. It’s on the subject of unspoken dinner-party norms:

“We ourselves expect guests to contain their appetites…No matter how slow the hosts are about giving us something solid to eat, we as guests must never complain, or even look as though we are aware of the delay….The fundamental rule of all dinner-time politeness decrees that guests do not come for the food alone, or even appear to do so.”

Nicole Cliffe: Glorious.

Daniel Lavery: That’s the impossibility of this kind of situation! There is no immediately-obvious way, short of an allergy or major dietary restriction, to flag to your host that you can’t eat something

I’m just now imagining being at a dinner party and saying something like, “I’m still hungry”

and I just…shudder

Nicole Cliffe: IMAGINE

Daniel Lavery: not because it’s a bad thing!

it’s a normal thing to say in a restaurant, or in my own home to myself

but I just cannot imagine saying it at a dinner party

Nicole Cliffe: your guests do not want you to acknowledge this occurred

Daniel Lavery: there was no real option available to them and it’s not your fault

that’s just North American dinner-party norms

Nicole Cliffe: I would have hidden the remnants under something in the trash but probably they thought there was a garbage disposal.

Daniel Lavery: right, they’d probably be very embarrassed to realize they hadn’t hidden the food effectively

Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely. I absolve you and them of all blame or responsibility, LW.


Daniel Lavery: everyone did great, feeding people is so fraught

you had a ton of dishes so you know they didn’t leave hungry

but again, that’s what’s so hard about dinner parties! I’m imagining now someone leaving my apartment from a dinner party still hungry

and I just BLENCHED

Nicole Cliffe: they can get a hot dog on the way home


yeah this is just one of those unfortunate things where no one did anything wrong but etiquette is sometimes so constraining

Nicole Cliffe: there is no chance they were hungry if there were numerous dishes and also they might have been slightly unwell!

Daniel Lavery: I don’t think it’s likely to happen again

Nicole Cliffe: they might have had a late lunch!

Daniel Lavery: it sounds like in all the OP’s years of hosting this never happened before

so I don’t think you have to worry it’s going to become a regular thing

maybe they got a piece of gristle and it put them off their food for a minute

Nicole Cliffe: Has no one ever shoved their spinach to the side in their home before? It’s honestly FINE.

also, you sound like a gracious hostess

Daniel Lavery: this does feel like it could be a great scene in a Barbara Pym novel

Nicole Cliffe: temporarily having the bad idea to ask and then SUPPRESSING IT

oh yes

Daniel Lavery: “Afterwards, as I was clearing the plates, I noticed Rosamunde had left an entire joint under the bread-knife.”

Nicole Cliffe: oh this could be in Brat Farrar

Which is Tey and not Pym

But very similar

Daniel Lavery: I would read an entire novel that was just stream-of-consciousness of the thoughts of a hostess cleaning up after a dinner party


I mean she had a maid but


We’re making so many classy references today

People should know how many good books we read.

Like that Connecticut man who said you should put “rarely ill” on your resume during that weird informational interview you had in your 20s

Daniel Lavery: OH MY GOD


he DID say that to me! I had not even volunteered any information about my health to him!

Nicole Cliffe: I will never forget it

I think about it every day

truly the worst informational interview ever given

Daniel Lavery: “But my best advice is for you to marry someone in finance, and then write books about horses that no one reads. That’s what my daughter does, and she’s very happy.”

What a character!!!

Nicole Cliffe: I picture him as the “quack quack” guy from the John Mulaney temping story

That is my exact mental image


Daniel Lavery: I bet that guy has never cleaned up after dinner in his life

Nicole Cliffe: he thinks little birds and mice do it; like Cinderella’s dress

He MIGHT grill steaks in the summer but I doubt it

I want to make a study of his entire life

I think about him all the time

I really do

That piece was exquisite

Daniel Lavery:

thank you

Nicole Cliffe: HE TASKS ME, DANNY

I think one of the reasons I am so well-suited to be your best friend is that I NEVER forget anything that has ever happened to you.

Daniel Lavery: THANK you.