‘Dead on Time, as Only the Dreaded Can Be’

Most party guests know how to interpret an invitation. If it says “starts at 7,” that usually means, “The host will be dashing around, attending to last-minute details until 7:15, after which she will be happy to see you.” But not all guests.

This week’s etiquette question comes from a reader named JoanieK, who wrote: “Whenever I have a party, I have some friends who come right on time. They are always the first to arrive. If I say come at 7, they are here at 6:59. Last week when this happened, I was still setting up, and I wasn’t even completely dressed. I said hi, but had no time to chat. When I went to find them half an hour later, when the party was in full swing, they were gone. Did I offend them?”

I wouldn’t worry about it, JoanieK. This is their problem, not yours. The British author Kingsley Amis described too-punctual party guests as “dead on time, as only the dreaded can be.” At best, they’re tone deaf to social cues. At worst, they are timing their comings and goings to suit some vagary of their own schedule. (Maybe your early birds like to go to sleep by 9? Or rushed home to watch “The Batchelorette?”)

It’s the social custom in our culture to arrive a few minutes after the stated start time of a party. If it’s a big party without formal seating—a cocktail party to which everyone on the block is invited, say, or a holiday open house—then it’s perfectly polite to arrive an hour or more after it starts. The only exception to this is if a host asks you, ahead of time, to “please come early,” which means: “Please arrive at the party’s stated start time.”

One way to deal with the overly punctual is to tell them the party starts a little later than it actually does. If you had said “7:30″ and they had arrived at 7:29, you would have been perfectly happy to see them.

How do you deal with guests who come too early?

(Image via RealSimple.com)