Miss Conduct

Hands off the host’s stuff

Is this letter writer being a scrooge with centerpieces? Plus, a disagreement over an extra tip.

Lucy Truman

I have 89 guests invited to a family party. What is the best way to let them know that my Christmas party centerpieces will not be given away? Should I make an announcement? Or put a nicely made sign in the restroom saying “Please do not remove centerpieces”? I don’t want to “police” the party, nor do I want to repeat “I handmade the wreath portion of the centerpiece, it took me two months to make 12 of them, and they cost me almost $300” 89 times!

J.S. / Dayton, Ohio

What are you going to do with a dozen Christmas centerpieces after the party is over? Re-purpose them for Valentine’s Day?

Putting a sign in the bathroom is one way to go. Or you can harness the power of gossip: You must know perfectly well that you don’t have to say anything 89 times; just say it once to whoever is your clan’s 24-hour news network. Every family’s got one. And those details about how making those wreaths cost you two months of labor and $300 — that’s golden, that is. Tap back into the game of “telephone” at the end of the event and see how the numbers have grown. Your expenditure and effort will be so inflated everyone will be wondering why you didn’t go the Kickstarter route.


Or you could decide that your money and time are sunk costs, that you don’t really need 12 Christmas centerpieces after all, and that you’d rather send them into the world to grace a dozen different tables during the holiday season as a reminder of your Christmas spirit and family feeling.

My usual Monday morning breakfast crew goes to a local coffee shop where we all buy our own. Last Monday, one of the regulars hosted a small celebration at a different cafe. The host paid the bill, and as we were going, I left a small additional tip at my place. Two friends said I should not do that, and after a short exchange, I relented and picked up the money. I felt it was perfectly acceptable to leave a tip, but they were adamant. Was I breaching etiquette?

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M.S. / Newton

No, you weren’t. I would be curious to hear your friends’ rationale for scolding you. Did they think you were shaming the host by insinuating his tip was insufficient? There is no reason to think that. You were only adding your own extra bit of generosity. (If you are dining with someone who leaves an insufficient tip, make it right while allowing the other person to save face, if possible — but make it right in any case. The finances of wait staff come before the feelings of diners.)

Waiting tables or serving drinks or coffee is hard work that takes a toll on the body, mind, and spirit. Servers are also exploited by a tax structure that assumes an income based on tips, whether or not those tips were ever received. I’m sure your friends meant well — though I really do wish you’d explained exactly what they meant! — but their behavior was ungenerous and silly.

I hope this advice and these opinions provide everyone in your breakfast club with good conversational fodder for tomorrow’s breakfast! Before he moved to assisted living, my father-in-law used to convene each morning with the “Supreme Court” at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and apparently his daughter-in-law was a frequent topic of discussion on Mondays. I should have wired him for sound.

 Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.


NEED ADVICE ON HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING? Write to Miss Conduct at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday, November 20, from noon to 1 p.m.