Monday, August 31, 2009

Companies with Class

I have worked with hundreds of companies throughout the years and I have always noticed firms who have class. They pay special attention to their employees, their clients and customers, follow up with communication, make you feel as if you're their only client or customer, go the extra mile and so much more.

Last month I had the opportunity to present a business etiquette luncheon seminar to interns who were selected for a summer internship by a leading independent asset management firm headquartered in Los Angeles. It is truly one of the most coveted and prestigious internships in the country.

The luncheon was held in the corporate dining room and the attention to detail with the place settings, seating arrangements, incredible menu and agenda was an unbelievable experience. The Public Relations Department prepared exquisite place cards, menus, handouts and name tags. It was truly a professional, informative and fun experience. The interns were so appreciative to have been able to attend and they all mentioned to me how much they've made incredible contacts through their internship with this outstanding firm.

My main contact at the firm was unbelievable. She returned phone calls and e-mails immediately, went above and beyond the call of duty to assist me with my requests, was extremely organized and when I arrived was incredibly welcoming. I felt like I was her only client. The other staff members I worked with were also efficient. This firm follows through on their mission statement and they are, without a doubt:

The #1 Company with Class

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who pays for the restaurant bill?

It's a dilemma. You go out with co-workers or friends and you order something inexpensive and drink iced tea and they order steaks and beer or wine. How do you split the bill?

#1 Who ever does the inviting pays. If you invite a colleague, friend or relative to a meal YOU PAY.

#2 A group of your co-workers decide to go to dinner after work. You split the bill evenly and you only had a small salad and water and they ordered steaks and wine or beer. You're out of luck. Bring plenty of money.

#3 You invite friends to celebrate a birthday luncheon for a friend or co-worker at a restaurant. Let them know ahead of time that you're all splitting the bill evenly. You can do several things:
* Let them know the menu ahead of time and figure out the cost so you can tell them exactly how much money to bring. Collect it graciously as my sister-in-law says. Don't call attention
to the bill paying. If you're the guest, just keep talking and pretend you don't see the money received. It's inappropriate to collect money in front of your guest. Have them give it to you BEFORE the meal. When the bill is presented, excuse yourself from the table and pay at the front desk.
* If the above doesn't work, excuse yourself and go to the front desk to calculate how much everyone owes. Write it on a slip of paper and when you return to the table you pass it subtly to the people. Then they have to give you the money. This is awkward and not recommended.
* Entertain at your club so no money is exchanged and they send you a check. The problem is if you're not a member of a club it will cost you a lot of money to join. It's less expensive to take care of the situation at a restaurant.
* Always bring extra money because no one is good at math and you always end up short. Don't count on that vacation to Hawaii.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The art of conversation

The secret is four words:
Ask questions.
Be interested.

I sat next to Henry Kissinger at a White House dinner party when I was 21 and I think I was a good conversationalist because my father taught me to "ask questions and be interested" in what the person had to say. Don't ramble on about yourself; your dinner partner will love it if you extract interesting information from them and are genuinely enthusiastic. My friend Kim is unbelievable because she knows how to get people talking about themselves; plus, she's so engaging that people want to talk to her!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hostess gifts for summer parties

Summer entertaining is fun because it's relaxed, casual and by the pool, beachfront, patio, deck, garden or even a kitchen party. When you're invited, remember to bring a hostess gift; it does NOT have to be expensive. Last week we had a welcoming party for relatives who live in Europe and throughout the U.S. for dinner on our patio. My sister-in-law is absolutely the best at gift-giving; goes to great lengths to give the perfect personalized gift. She lives in St. Louis and brought Bissinger Chocolates - popular in that city - and she knows I love chocolate. And, because I enjoy cooking she also brought special spices from Penzy. She was our houseguest and brought gorgeous serving pieces for entertaining. The other thing that is important is the presentation: how it's wrapped. I do not wrap; I should hire my sister-in-law. My house is filled with gifts from her from etiquette books she's sent me, monogrammed stationery, pottery she has made personally for all of us, personalized jewelry, etc. That's the only reason I married her brother. I like gifts from her. She's invited back.

Other summer hostess gift ideas
Here are my favorite stores:
Julienne Fine Foods and Celebrations, San Marino, California
Motif, Pasadena, California
Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, California
Crate and Barrel
Pottery Barn

Always ask to have the gift wrapped or at least a bag with tissue and ribbon.

(1) Monogrammed cocktail napkins from Motif in Pasadena, California (already wrapped and everyone needs cocktail napkins - have them put tissue in their beautiful store bag). They also have a personalized wine stopper (already available with the host's initial) that I have given to clients and a monogrammed cheeseboard with knife which is very unusual. Allison is my personal shopper and she always knows what my needs are and has the best suggestions. She also mentioned the San Pasqual dressing they have which I love and you buy the candied walnuts to accompany it; they're from Marstons restaurant, Pasadena.
(2) Fun apron if your friends/clients grill a lot (we call it a barbecue in California but my relatives elsewhere call it grilling).
(3) Trays or glasses and pitcher for lemonade/iced tea. Non-breakable is great for outdoors.
(4) If it's a party at their home at the beach a cute frame with shells around it - take a picture that night of all of you and e-mail it to them for the frame
(5) I once gave beach towels for the family with each of their names on it and it was a hit
(6) If your guests are from out-of-town, a book on where you live. I have given a lot of copies of "Hometown Pasadena" written by Sandy Gillis and other writers. When you have visitors it's a great gift to guide them around the city.

What if someone invites you at the last minute?

(1) Ask if you can bring something for them to serve that night, i.e. a bottle of wine or dessert. If they say no, which I have said to guests (and my neighbor Caroline never lets me bring anything but of course I do) then just show up on time, enjoy the party and write the thank you note!
(2) If you want to bring them fresh flowers from your garden that is a very nice gesture but bring them in one of your vases already arranged; otherwise, they have to take time out from their guests and prepare them in a vase.
(3) Run to your nearest bookstore and get the Zagat Guide on the area they live in (Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, New York, etc.)
(4) Go to your nearest market to get an hors d'oeuvres - even a vegetable tray but arrange it on a nice platter. Stop by Julienne and get their fabulous terrines with crostini to take.

Don't arrive empty-handed! And remember, write a thank you note!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Funeral Etiquette

YES, THERE IS FUNERAL ETIQUETTE. I've been to many funerals/memorials recently. What can you do? How can you help? What not to do? Here are some suggestions that I have observed over the years speaking on manners and questions/comments from friends and clients. I'm known for my sense of humor but I am serious about my comments on this topic.

#1 Write a note to the family. Even if they don't remember you sent it, you'll feel good about communicating with them. Over the years my extensive research on etiquette has said to send "ecru-colored or white blank notes" and yes, I've done that and bought them from Tiffany, Crane, Mrs. Strong's and other high-end stores but if you're at a store and find a sympathy card just buy it. Or, use any stationery you have. My late mother, Phyllis Hillings , a journalist, author, speaker and my role model, would always say how people would write a note but then not mail it. She said "be unique and write a note but be more unique and mail it." What to say in the note? Notes are so special. See #3.

#2 If you arrive late to the mass, service, memorial, don't make a "show" and go to the front because you want everyone to see you; you will not make a good impression. If you end up just being able to go to the reception/gathering, don't say "sorry I couldn't be at the service." Just express your thoughts for the family.

#3 What to do for the family.
Write a note as mentioned in #1. What to say even if you never met their relative? My neighbor Monica wrote us a beautiful note. It said, "Chris and I are praying for your family. We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother-in-law. May you all be blessed with happy memories and the solace of your family. Our love always." I think that is a wonderful way to word a note. My friends Linda and Robertine send notes all the time for our birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, condolences, etc. How they remember or have the time I'll never know. I'm so appreciative of their thoughtfulness.
Find out if someone is arranging dinners for the family and offer to drop off takeout or cook if you would like to help. Send them an e-mail or call them and say it will be there at a certain time and drop it off on the doorstep. Find out if they have any dietary requests or allergies. DO NOT RING THE DOORBELL and expect them to invite you in. My neighbor Caroline is the best cook and brought over dinner for two nights. My friends/neighbors were incredible with notes, mass cards, plants and roses. One of my best friends, Dana, dropped off an orchid the minute she heard about my relative's passing and I was so moved by her kindness. It was so unexpected but so appreciated.
If it's a close family member or friend, offer to help write condolence notes. It's overwhelming. I just did this for the daughter of my husband's brother-in-law and I bought the stationery, put stamps on them, sat down with her, she wrote the notes, I addressed them and then I mailed them. It was a great feeling of relief for her. I also contacted his law firm, associations/firms/boards her father served on as well as his college/law schoool because we knew people would want to be informed of his passing. Or, offer to be at the home to answer phone calls, help with any errands, etc.

#4 How to you respond to people who sent you a note or a gift? It's nice to acknowledge their comments/gifts/charitable contributions by sending a note. Yes, the charities send out notes but you need to send a note as well even for a condolence note. There are pre-printed notes from companies saying "the family of..." but at the bottom you need to write a handwritten note on the card. Again, mail it; don't worry about the proper type of stationery.

#5 Be a friend. My friend Susan has helped me so much in every way and when my mother passed away she came over to my house in a minute. At my mother's service she brought our young daughter a silver"tussy" with flowers. So unexpected. The gift of friendship is priceless. Everyone needs a friend like her.

Bottom line: Do something now for your friend/neighbor/relative/client/customer/co-worker. It's your special attention, time and the warmth of your words and gestures.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Business Card Etiquette

Where are your business cards right now? At the bottom of your briefcase with the uneaten crackers? In your purse with lipstick stains or torn and bent? Crumpled on your dresser?

Your business card is your calling card; it tells everyone who you are. Present a professional image by keeping them in a business card case or leather holder. Many men will keep them in the pocket of their jackets only to realize that when they need one, the jacket is still at the cleaners. Have several that are handy in your portfolio, briefcase, purse or glove compartment. And carry them with you at all times; yes, even to your child's soccer game, ballet recital or to the black tie dinner. And definitely to the golf course!

When you receive someone's business card, take it with both hands if possible; look at it and say the person's name. This is another way of helping you remember a name. Then, don't just throw it on the table, put it away in your case. And don't write on the back of it while talking to someone, i.e. "obnoxious - bad hair day." Can't you find another way to remember them?

So, did you find your cards?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dining Manners 101

My friend, Debbie, a talented interior designer, invited me to lunch today and yes, etiquette experts make mistakes. We dined at Gale's restaurant in Pasadena and I was salivating over the menu. I always tell my clients not to order anything difficult to eat or with a lot of sauces should it end up on your shirt/blouse/dress. Did I follow my own advice? NO! I wanted to order the lasagna because I had heard it was fabulous and it was incredible (as was the salad before it). The delicious sauce immediately ended up on my expensive blouse. However, I was smart. I had worn a gorgeous shawl my colleague Linda had given me and was able to cover my mistake. Did Debbie notice? I hope not.

Rule #1 - Don't order difficult/messy foods if you're trying to make an impression
Rule #2 - Always bring a shawl/sweater just in case!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Invitations - mistakes

What is wrong with using the following on an invitation?
(1) Please RSVP
(2) hors d'oevres
(3) At the home of Susie and Rick Martin, 110 Upland Terrace, Riverdale, Michigan 59043
(4) Regrets only
(5) 476-0000

(1) It's redundant. You're saying "please please." Use please reply or RSVP. It is French for Repondez s'il vous plait (please respond). If you don't hear from the person and it's three days before the party, it's perfectly proper to call them and say "Caroline, I hope you're coming. I have to give the caterer the final count." Usually the answer is yes!
(2) It's spelled incorrectly. Do you know the correct spelling? This is incorrect on 75% of business and social invitations I see.
(3) If it's a local party/event/fundraiser, you don't need the state UNLESS you're inviting people from other states. You never put a zip code in the body of an invitation.
(4) Never use this! You'll never know how many are coming and honestly, it's like saying "I don't care if you show up or not!" Just say please reply because this way you have to hear from everyone. If you feel you have to put a date to reply by that's up to you but I wouldn't.
(5) Always put an area code.

Note: I like to vary my guests at parties I give so I don't invite the same people every year. The second year I hosted one particular theme party, a former guest called me to say, "Pamela, I didn't receive an invitation to your party. Did you forget to invite me?" I, of course, said "Paige, I hope you can come. It's......" She brought me a fabulous hostess gift so it all worked out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How do you remember names?

I forget. Seriously, it takes work to remember someone's name; names are very, very important. People have always told me that I'm very good at remembering names so I'll share with you the tips that work for me.

(1) When someone introduces themselves to you, repeat their name immediately.
(2) Try to make a mental image of their name when they say it, i.e. Susan Capwell, SC. Now, if there is a roomful of SC alumns it could be a problem.
(3) If someone is walking toward you, smiling like they know you and you have NO CLUE who they are, hold out your hand first and say, "Hi, Pamela Hillings" and 99% of the time they will say their name. Repeat their name immediately.
(4) What about that 1% who don't say their name (I just walk past them). If you don't try to find out who they are then you'll never know the next time. Just say "I remember seeing you at the awards dinner for Paul Johnson. Please tell me your name again?"
(5) When you do find out their name, use it in the conversation a few times. It's very powerful.
(6) Never walk up to someone and say "I bet you don't remember who I am?" I'm inclined to say, "You're right, I don't. Next." But that's not very polite. People would do this to my mother in receiving lines when she was a Congressional wife. But she was very gracious and handled the greeting beautifully.

Just remember: don't forget.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Can I e-mail a thank you note for a gift?

I'll give you a hint and it's two letters: NO. If you receive a gift, you should handwrite a note; it's much more personal. If you tend to procrastinate, at least call the person or send a quick e-mail thanking them and then follow up with a note. Exceptions: for hostess gifts (they are thanking YOU for the dinner/party) or again for a gift where people are thanking you, i.e. you took over dinner to a sick friend and they had someone drop off flowers for you. Call them - always acknowledge receipt of a gift. People will come up to me at my seminars and say "I read that you have a year to write a thank you note for a wedding gift." You could be divorced by then! Write it as soon as you can. The last page of our book says "Be unique, write a thank you note. Be more unique, mail it."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Graduation gifts

It's that time of year to honor members of your family or friends who are graduating. While a gift is never required, a card is a nice gesture if your budget doesn't permit buying gifts at this time. You can always send a gift later. However, if you want to send a gift, find out the graduate's favorite store. Or, send a check. If you prefer to give something rather than money or a gift card, have an item personalized or select a piece of jewelry. For the college graduate, a monogrammed leather business card holder is always appreciated. Even if the college grad might not have a job at the moment, they can create a business card with their information for "networking" purposes. Regifting? If you must, make certain it doesn't have the year you graduated on it!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

National Manners Week

Have you returned that phone call today?

Have you written that thank you note (don't you want a gift next year?)

Have you paid someone a compliment today?

National Manners Week is May 11-15 but you can be polite after that, too.