Local philanthropists share their black tie event etiquette tips.
As kind and humble as our Black Tie community is, we all have our pet peeves.
We talked to local philanthropists who have attended their fair share of galas and luncheons throughout the years and asked for their event etiquette do’s and do not’s. The answers were varied, from dinner etiquette to socializing to remembering the reason for the affair, but all boiled down to one key element: being respectful to others, whether that’s your tablemates, the organization or the friendly face next to you, is the most important lesson to take to heart.
Here’s some of our favorite answers:
“My gala pet peeve: endless meaningless conversation. I’m all for complimenting a pair of cute shoes or admiring a fabulous dress but if conversation with fellow guests fails to arrive at why we are gathered there, it’s a major loss for the evening. I love discovering why people choose to support an organization: what experiences from your personal life motivates them to give? How are you involved with the nonprofit? Would you tell me a story that moved you to want to grow with this nonprofit? This level of conversation knits you closer to your neighbors and the organization you came to celebrate, which hopefully begets stronger, longer-term relationships with both.”
— Britt Riner
“When invited to attend a charity event as a guest, I appreciate the high regard the host has for the charity’s mission and try to always make a donation. When asked to sit down so a program can begin, I try to be respectful and sit down when called the first time. Wrangling guests to sit is like herding cats.”
“Programs that leave no time to visit with your guests. It’s best to intentionally put a break in the program … and keep the sound at a lower level, which also lets guests cruise around the room. Even worse is a program that opens its doors starting with many speakers, then asks for your support, then finally serves you your meal. It’s time to go home!”
— Sally Schule
“Introduce yourself and be inclusive. Sarasota is full of interesting people with impressive careers, generous hearts, and different perspectives. I love walking away from a conversation with a new acquaintance and some food for thought.”
“I absolutely cringe when I hear someone on the microphone shushing guests to be quiet.”
— Roger Capote
“A gala season pet peeve of mine is when a committee has chosen to make the evening a theme, painstakingly executes that theme, and then an attendee blatantly chooses not to embrace and incessantly criticizes it throughout the evening. We all understand limitations on dress or that things come up which may keep you from donning your best hat or finding a masquerade mask, but on occasion you hear that one person talking loudly about a theme being silly or hating the color green. It’s fine to have those opinions, but the committee has worked hard, other guests are enjoying it (and love green!), and the incessant commentary can put a damper on the evening for everyone. Wear what you’d like and then have the confidence to be off theme. It’s OK to skip the grass skirt at a luau, but be a gracious guest while doing it.”
— Erin Christy
“When attending a gala or event, sometimes you are seated at a table with people you don’t know. A nice thing to do is to try to introduce yourself to your table mates before everyone is directed to sit, or a quick walk around the table to introduce yourself if all are seated at the table, as opposed to a quick hello across the table.”
— Terri Klauber
"Not moving from the reception when you are asked to be seated. As an event planner, we have a lot to fit in the program – and we spend a lot of time running around trying to get people to sit down in time."
— Laura Stuart Wood
"I always find it’s so incredibly hard to actually finish a sentence when you see people at events because before you get mid sentence you lock eyes with someone else and it’s onto that or vice versa. Shame on us because we all have manners. To me, it’s such poor sign of our etiquette to each other. Especially since we probably just saw each other sometime that week at another event or shopping. I’ve been better about reminding myself to lock eyes with the person I’m talking to so we actually engage and make a connection, then you naturally move on. Revolutionary, I know! Keep your phone in your pocket while talking to people. Of course, pull that smartphone out for a selfie or memorable moment when needed and share the event.
— Tatyana Sharoubim Stewart