Life rolls from one season to the next; each with it’s special mix of cocktail functions, theatre engagements, restaurant openings and festivals to attend. Then there are the weddings, engagement and birthday party invitations that (with good etiquette) include the inevitable “Plus One”.
I’m lucky enough to have been a Plus One on more than a few occasions thanks to a broad range of friends with diverse interests in the arts, culture and hospitality. It’s really an honour to receive an invitation, let alone a repeat one! I also get my fair share of Plus Ones to share with friends and family.
There is an art to both choosing and being a Plus One. Some of these simple tips are straight good manners and others are the little things that make a difference (especially for repeat invitations).
The Golden Guidelines.
- Operation Partner-In-Crime.
The perfect Plus One knows two things: your job is to have a good time and to help make sure that your host has a great time. And they should, because they’re with you. Plus Ones are a reliable way of making sure nobody gets left lonely in a corner when everyone’s meant to be having a good time. Whether it’s an opening, a play or a wedding – it’s definitely not just about getting free dinners and entertainment. A Plus One is a trusted associate and someone who will represent the invitee well. You’re the back-up, the moral support and occasionally the arm candy.
- Be on time and on style.
Get the down low from your host on the where, when and the dress code. A great Plus One will be appropriately stylish but won’t stick out awkwardly by being too over the top. Turn up on time and then be prepared to be flexible with the timeline. Always let your host know if you’ll have to leave at a certain time.
- Be as charming as possible.
Not all Plus Ones will be dark and mysteriously good-looking, but we can all make the effort to be charming. For the men, it’s a great time to let your chivalrous self open a few doors and (especially at weddings) be willing to get out onto the dance floor. And never, ever leave with anyone other than the host you arrived with.
- You’ll be a great conversationalist who mixes easily.
Those people who effortlessly form conversations with strangers? They make great Plus Ones. Sometimes it’s helpful to check with your host on the type of people who’ll be at the event and get a steer on what the conversation go-to topics might be. Especially if you’re going to a seated event!
- Treat it like an honour.
The worst thing is to say yes to an event that you don’t really want to be at. Honour the invitation and your host by letting them know if you don’t think you can do a great job of being a Plus One for that event. Especially if you hate musical theatre. It only works if you can enjoy yourself. There’s nothing worse as a host; than hearing at the end of the night your guest didn’t have a good time. Except maybe hearing it halfway through.
- Sometimes you need to run interference or a rescue mission.
Especially if someone is dominating your host in drunken conversation, an awkward conversation or they just look like they are in need of a rescue. Master the phrase, ‘Hi, so sorry to interrupt but can I show you something?’ Well executed, that phrase can rescue many an evening.
- Master your smartphone for the night.
A great Plus One is content to only pull their phone out when they are momentarily entertaining themselves or to post about the event/occasion on social media. The latter is actually considered good manners, especially if you are at any kind of opening or show. It will make your host look good too, if you’re helping to spread the PR word. If you’re at a wedding, the phone is a no-go, unless it’s capturing photos.
- Repaying the kindness.
For an event, opening or other such activity – I always try and at least buy a round of drinks or a light meal beforehand. It’s not expected, but it’s a nice way to engage and warm up beforehand.
- Don’t turn up hungry.
There’s no guarantee that a cocktail and canapes party will actually fill your hungry belly. Or that you’ll have time for a big meal if you’ve only booked 30min between work and a show. There’s nothing worse than starving in the middle of a theatre performance, if the rumbling stomach and grumpiness kicks in.
- Don’t over-indulge on the drinks (free or otherwise).
It’s just not done. Ever. Don’t be that person.
My idea of the Perfect Plus One wants to have a pre-event drink or a meal and leaves me feel pleased as punch to be with them for the rest of the occasion. Capable of making their own conversation and entertain should I need to excuse myself for any reason, they’ll offer great companionship all night and the odd shared glance or in-joke when the small talk gets too much. They’ll be excited to be there (whatever it is we’re doing) and by the end of the night we’ll have a great story to tell.
For the Hosts.
- Choose a Plus One you’ll enjoy spending the time with.
Of course, the length of time makes a difference – a 2 hour cocktail party is very different to 6 hours worth of a family wedding. As a host, it’s important to invite a Plus One that you’ll genuinely enjoy spending time with if the rest of the event falls to custard. The kind of person you can laugh about it with later or swear to secrecy. Choose wisely, especially if you’re taking a first date!
- Forewarned is forearmed.
It might seem over the top, but it’s part of being a great host to make sure your Plus One also enjoys themselves. Give them the right information they need about what to expect of the occasion, how they can help you as a partner-in-crime and any watchouts. While there can be big expectations on a Plus One (see 1 – 10), it’s actually the initial responsibility of the host to ensure you’ve chosen well and made it possible for them to have a great time.
When should you include a Plus One for guests?
Here are some basic guidelines that I would consider common courtesy circumstances to include a Plus One for your invitations.
- Weddings: Yes, if they are an old school friend and someone you don’t see that often. Or, if they are over 30 and single, it’s manners unless you’re confident that they are well-connected to a group of friends that are attending. Consider the seating arrangements and whether or not they’ll be sitting with at least one other person they know. That should be a good guide.
- Engagements, birthday parties – these should all follow the same guidelines as the wedding.
- Whenever inviting work-mates or colleagues to a function, be sure to include partners and Plus Ones. Otherwise you’ll just talk about work all night long.
- Hospitality launches and cocktail competitions: Yes, if there are going to be more than 20 people in attendance.
- PR Events: Product launches, brand launches. Again, anything that is going to have more than 20-30 people, give people the option of a buddy. You’re more likely to get their attendance anyway.
- Theatre/Movie reviews: Nope. It’s nice if you can, but you don’t need to.
- Comedy: absolutely, PR invites should always include a Plus One. Comedy and small scale theatre is so much more intimate and it’s always courteous to include double passes.