Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flexibility is the Key to Good Wedding Etiquette

As a veteran of the hospitality industry, one of the hats which I enjoy wearing the most is that of wedding coordinator. During a recent weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of assisting at two weddings. One was a small casual affair with under 40 guests, with a minimal size bridal party and was held outdoors at the Treadwell Inn overlooking beautiful Saint Andrews harbor. The reception was also held on the premises and the whole event wrapped up in two hours. Everyone had fun, the weather cooperated and the relaxed atmosphere made for a stress free upbeat celebration.

The other wedding was a more structured formal affair performed at the Catholic church. There was a large wedding party including a flock of three ring bearers and five flower girls. There was also a bell ringer, ushers, groomsmen, a best man, and a maid of honor. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of moving parts to this wedding and making sure everyone was in place at the appropriate time and in the right order was a slight challenge. There is never any guarantee when eight small children are leading the procession will go off without a hitch, but they were all so excited to be dressed up and at a wedding that they performed like seasoned professionals.

These two very different weddings shared the common denominator of the need to be flexible to ensure a successful event. I have always been a big proponent of making contingency plans for any event whether it be a wedding or a dinner party. Planning helps avoid unpleasant surprises. It also gives a reassuring air to the whole event. If everyone involved knows where they need to be, when to be there, and how to get there, most unexpected elements are removed.

Weather is a consideration for outdoor weddings. Be sure to have a back up plan. If you have one, the sun will shine; if not, it will pour with rain. Other important considerations arise in direct proportion to the number of logistical details are involved in the event. For example, don't forget the rings or the boutonnieres. These small yet essential articles need to be on a list along with every other thing you can think of.

At the rehearsal, it is really important to remember such things as the length of the train on the bridal gown and how many times it will need to be adjusted. Be sure that pews are reserved for anyone in the family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and anyone else whom you wish to have special seating.

Weddings are celebrations and incredible shows mostly because of the importance of the event in the couple's lives. They are also legal affairs and therefore there are certain vows which must be exchanged and papers signed. Outside of these firm parameters, there is a lot of leeway as to the rest of the ceremony and the reception. This day belongs to the bride and groom. They should make most of the decisions regarding the details. This is not the purview of the mothers of the bride or groom, nor is unsolicited input from overbearing sisters appropriate. This is not to say that help will not be requested or that some boundaries will need to be respected. This is where the experience of a good wedding planner can come in very handy and be well worth the investment.

There will almost always be last minutes emergencies. Rarely are these impossible to handle but an emergency kit with safety pins, hemming tape, spot remover and tissues will come in handy. The most important ingredient is a calm, cool and collected attitude. This helps to make any event a success. Be prepared to handle unexpected wrinkles and do so with compassion and grace. Let's not forget that we are all human beings and surprises are bound to occur. We aren't perfect, and we hopefully have enough common sense to get us through mishaps. This is a good time to be ready to employ it.

Weddings come in all shapes and sizes. There is no right or wrong way to design them, nor is one style more correct than another. There are guidelines which support an entire industry of weddings. Wedding planners follow more traditional customs and know how to create the dream wedding of in bride's mind.

Respecting the institution of marriage is the cornerstone of any successful ceremony and reception. If a wedding is planned with the same values which make a happy marriage, you're going to be off on the right foot. These values include compassion, respect, and kindness.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Etiquette of Being Right

Lively debates are exciting, provocative and educational interactions which challenge our intellects and enrich our lives. They also test our character and reveal our true inner spirit to those around us. Why just this past week I was engaged in such a debate. I had finally grown weary of the US debt crisis and the media debacle in Britain which dominated and clogged the news channels round the clock. Surprised and mesmerized as so many people seemed to be with these crises, there are others who both saw these events coming and mentally filed them under "this too shall pass".

Thankfully, my trusted British colleague William Hanson coincidentally wrote a blog about the use of the word 'pudding' in England vs. the word 'dessert' used in the US (and most of the rest of the world for that matter). This respite from world events and woes was somehow just the frivolous relief that I needed. I decided to respond to his rather hard line opinion that 'pudding', not 'dessert' is the correct name of the course by politely throwing down the gauntlet. This resulted in an online debate which circled the globe. As with any proper debate, it is the strategy employed that will buoy one side or the other, both sides knowing full well that there is no absolute correct answer at the end of the day. What did impress me was the way in which we went about this intellectual sparring match - politely, humorously and resolutely.

Let's face it, who won this debate is not as interesting (and no, I did not lose) as the dynamics at play. It got me to thinking about how we go about being right in our daily lives and how we get into debates, which we for some reason often times call arguments. Unlike the column I recently wrote about agreeing to disagree and what is involved there, here I want to take a look at actually winning an argument or debate without making the other person feel deflated or completely wrong. Sometimes we do win debates and doing so in a civil way is an important skill, the significance of which seems to have all but evaporated. Going around with a puffed out chest is the sure sign of a bully, not a fair player.

First of all, accept victory gracefully. There is no reason to gloat. Gloating is little more than an attempt to elevate your self worth at the expense of someone else's. Although we do this unawares, we can nonetheless be quite hurtful. Secondly, smirking and making side remarks under one's breathe are rude and disrespectful as well. Grace is all about quiet inner satisfaction and not about broadcasting your triumph boisterously for all to hear. Remember that whatever small victory you may claim, it is more than likely yours alone. Few others will particularly take note as it does not affect them anyway.

One final note about being right. It's all an illusion most of time. Rarely is anything absolute. I recall the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye (the father) tries to balance the pros and cons of his daughter's desire to marry in a non-traditional way. This conversation with himself goes back and forth a number of times and in the end no absolute conclusion is reached. Therefore, the debate resulted in a draw. I also recall studying the history of modern man and remember that for many hundreds of years the world was believed to be flat and the earth was the center of the Universe. We humans don't know anywhere near as much as we give ourselves credit for. We are always making new discoveries to disprove theories which have stood the test of time and reason for centuries. This will never change. So just when we think we have the answer and are sitting smugly smiling inwardly that we have scored a victory of sorts, graciousness appears more quickly and we are reminded that being right is a temporary state and we may well be face to face with the flip side of the coin before we know it.

Enjoy the sweet taste of being right no matter how big or small the contest. Tempering this with a heavy pinch of humility shows respect for your opponent and will actually make you feel the simple joy that kindness provides.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Etiquette of the Ideal Traveller

There is nothing that I enjoy more than traveling. I love exploring new places, revisiting favorite haunts and enjoying the company of old friends wherever they may be. Having owned and operated an inn and restaurant for eight years I have also seen the hospitality business from the viewpoint of the proprietor as well as that of a guest.

As I have mentioned before, one of the keys to a successful vacation or even a short visit is to have a plan. There is an increase in the number of travelers who like to "wing it" on the road, and I am all in favor of that. For some people it adds to the suspense and adventure. For others it allows a flexibility which a series of reservation would preclude. A plan, however loose, does help avoid disappointment and nasty surprises. Knowing vaguely where you want to end up for the evening gives you somewhat of a goal to shoot for. Although it is advisable to call ahead at least a day or two for accommodation reservations, walking in unannounced can often lead to a reduced price. If you do have a room booked, one thing to remember, especially when staying at small inns or bed and breakfast establishments, is that often there is no one on duty round the clock. If you are going to be late, call ahead and let someone know. If you must actually cancel at the last minute, expect to pay for your booking anyway. Remember that if a popular in is full and turning away potential guests, a no show is real money out of the innkeeper's pocket.

Well run establishments will often ask you what time you will to arrive or explain that someone will be avvailable to check you in until a certain hour. This enables innkeepers to have appropriate staff on hand and to settle you in to your room. They will also likely ask if you are traveling with pets or small children. Be up front with them. Surprising hosts with extra people in your party is unfair, disrespectful, and likely to lead to disappointment. The old adage 'the guest is always right' does not apply here. Do not assume that there are smoking facilities, that pets (even the most perfectly behaved one which do not shed or bark), or that there are cots or pull out sofas. Even though guests are paying customers, they are not entitled to having unreasonable requests catered to. If you have special needs or requests, by all means discuss them with the manager or host in advance. Most are willing to accommodate guest requirements if at all possible. That is after all what the hospitality business is all about.

One of the benefits of staying in smaller establishments is the fact that the innkeepers are likely to be familiar with local attractions and have eaten at the local restaurants. This makes it possible for them to make considered recommendations to fit your tastes and pocketbook. Larger hotels can tend to rely on temporary staff, especially in resort towns, and may therefore be less familiar with the local attractions. Local businesses will often place brochures and other collateral information about their establishments with the local accommodations. Availing yourself of this information can really assist you when it comes to getting the most out of your visit.

When deciding where to stay in a certain town or region, if you have clear ideas of what you want to see or be near, inquire ahead of time. For example, if you may require a pharmacy or even access to a medical facility, see to it that you will not be in for a surprise. If you are traveling with small children or pets, make sure that whatever services you might anticipate such as a bay sitter or a grooming shop are available. Likewise, if you want to be in a pet free, adults only place, ask about this when you are making your plans. Careful planning can make a real difference.

Good service is also to some degree a function of gratitude. If you are staying somewhere and you like your host, your room, your meal or the service in general, be sure to comment about your experience. Thank you is always appropriate. Innkeepers and their staff really appreciate it when guests show their gratitude. I advise leaving a cash tip in your bedroom for the housekeeper, whomever that person may be. Anywhere from $2 to $5 per night is appropriate. If an accident occurs in your room such as a broken lamp or a stained carpet, let the host know before you leave so that the problem can be addressed quickly. If you approach travel as a two-way street where both the innkeeper and the traveller are in this activity together, your time away from home will be more enjoyable.