Chris Bauer, Kristy Salloum, Jana Wright, and William McDermott at last year’s Glitter Ball in the Congress Hall ballroom Aleksey Moryakov
Holiday Etiquette Guide
SURE, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most stressful time of the year in a lot of ways, too. Figuring out what to buy and for whom. Playing host to family members we barely know, or can barely stand. Planning meals. Stuffing stockings. Listening to “Frosty the Snowman” for the 200th time. And trying to do it all without losing our sense of decorum. Or, at least, trying to do it all without shot-gunning a bottle of high-proof eggnog at the company party. This week, we contacted Tara Rothberg — Dining Room Manager at the Ebbitt Room, author of theetiquettegirl.com, and a Go Jane News contributor — so that we could pepper her with some of our most pressing holiday etiquette questions (turns out, the eggnog thing would not be cool). Hopefully, you’ll find her tips as helpful as we did.
1. Not all Christmas cards are created equal: When it comes to the cards, if you’re going to send them, make them count. “We live in a texting and e-mailing society, and that’s great if, say, you need an answer right away or you’re sending a quick reminder,” Tara says, “but a Christmas card should be more personal than that.” Meaning? Your cards should be of the snail-mail type. (It’s never too early to start shopping for next year’s; Whale’s Tale on the Washington Street Mall carries the cards of at least a dozen different manufacturers, according to “card lady” Eliza Dietz… there are single, boxed, classic, and humorous options, including the iconic one depicting little Ralphie with his tongue stuck to a pole.) Or, if you opt instead for one of those computer-generated photo montages, remember to at least sign your own name. “It makes a difference,” Tara says. Otherwise, your card can feel a bit like one of those mass “Merry Christmas” texts that go out to all 322 people in a person’s address book on the morning of December 25.
2. Leave ego out of it: You know the litanies of accomplishments masquerading as “cards” that arrive every year around this time? The ones with pictures of your friends in front of their new car/house/baby/boat with a note about their recent raise/promotion/trip to Bora Bora? The ones that leave you eating an entire plate of reindeer-shaped cookies while wallowing in your own self-pity? They’re often over the top. “There is sometimes a brag factor involved with Christmas cards,” Tara says. “You have to keep your audience in mind.” Grandma, for example, will be excited to learn that your son is the smartest child in his class, or to learn about some of life’s milestone moments, like a pregnancy or the buying of a first home. But people can go overboard. “Things about a new car or new house don’t necessarily need to be in a letter,” Tara says. “Unfortunately, at this time, some people are struggling, hours have been cut, people have lost their jobs. Others may have lost a loved one. If a list of accomplishments goes to someone like this, it may come across as though you’re rubbing things in their face. A card needs to be tailored appropriately.”
3. Isn’t being thankful enough? No. At least not when it comes to the holidays. “Thank-you cards are a must,” Tara says. “The standard time to send is two days after you’ve received a gift or been to a holiday party or dinner.” But it’s better late than never…
4. How much is too much? Have you seen the giant inflatable reindeer hanging over the balcony above Carney’s? What about all of the lawns now exploding with plastic Santas and singing elves? We asked Tara if it’s possible to over-do the decorations. Should we take our neighbors into consideration when buying a 12-foot abominable snowman? After all, it is the folks across the street who’ll be blinded if we string 90,000 blinking lights across the yard. “There are developments and condo associations that are very particular,” Tara said. “It is your responsibility to learn the rules of your neighborhood or town and respect them. But if you’re not bothering anyone, and a floating reindeer outside of your house is going to bring you happiness, go ahead.” Just remember, like with the cards, to keep the audience in mind. “Keep it tasteful,” Tara says. “No Santas in compromising positions.”
5. Hosting headaches: What do you do if company shows up with an edible gift… are you expected to serve it right then and there? Good news: it’s up to you. Don’t want to be saddled with Aunt Milicent’s fruit cake? Have your guests divide and conquer it. Want that bottle of wine all to yourself? Hide it away before drunk Aunt Milicent gets her paws on it. Just remember to take the giver’s intentions into account. “If a guest says ‘This bottle of wine is for you and your husband because it’s your first Christmas in your new home,’ then it’s obviously meant for you to enjoy privately,” Tara says. “Whereas a huge bottle of grey goose is likely meant to be shared.” (Unless, of course, you’re the type to polish off a handle by yourself, in which case you probably shouldn’t be hosting a party in the first place.) As for what to do when your guest is the one hitting the sauce a bit too hard? “If they’ve gotten completely out of hand,” Tara said, “pull them into another room, give them some food and water while they regroup, and make sure they have a safe ride home. If you have to call a cab, be sure to do it discreetly.”
6. Diner’s dilemmas: Being the guest can be an equally tricky situation to navigate. For starters, there’s the host gift. Tara recommends making something by hand — cookies, pie, or something a bit more unusual, like homemade Epson salts in a mason jar. If you are going to purchase something (plants, candles, and wine are all acceptable gifts), try not to exceed $50. “Anything more expensive than that, and you risk embarrassing your host,” Tara says. If you aren’t sure what the main course will be, a soft pinot noir is a good idea, as it will go well with both meat or fish. Sunset Liquors recommends the Belle Glos Meiomi ($22.99) and Irony ($17.99) bottles. Equally important to remember is the importance of dressing appropriately. “A holiday party is not the time to wear jeans and a football jersey,” Tara says. And for women, it’s also not the time for an outfit that will land you on Santa’s naughty list, if you catch our drift. Finally, it’s never okay to refuse the food your host has put in front of you because “you don’t like it.” So what to do if, well, you really, really don’t like it? “Have a bite or two,” Tara says. “You might say that you’re not a big eater, and you may have to move it around on your plate a little, but at least you’ve been gracious enough to accept what’s offered.” As for dietary restrictions? “It’s completely appropriate to notify your host ahead of time of any limitations.” Perhaps when you RSVP, which should be done within 72 hours of receiving an invite.
7. Hot tip: Nobody wants to be away from their families during the holidays, but many who work in the hospitality industry have no choice. Should you feel obligated to tip your server or bartender more on Christmas day? “Twenty percent is highly appropriate,” Tara says. “It’s not mandatory, but if you’re feeling a little generous or you have an exceptionally large party, and you want to give a little more, it’s a lovely gesture. If there is a server or hostess or bartender with whom you’ve established a relationship over the years, it’s also extremely appropriate to give a little extra.” As for others — lawn mowers, house keepers, post masters, babysitters — on whose services we rely throughout the year, an appropriate Christmas bonus is equal to the cost of one day’s services.
8. The low-down on recycling: It may seem at best cheap, and at worst, lazy, but try to think of this holiday’s inevitable “regifting” as more resourceful. “It’s better to give a present to someone who will use it than to let it sit in the back of your closet all year,” Tara says. Just be mindful of who you’re regifting to and where. “If you give me something,” Tara told us, “I’m certainly not going to regift it at the next Exit Zero party.” Finally, be sure to change the packaging, and for pete’s sake, remove the card!
9. All I want for Christmas: You’ve got young kids. They’re asking for a fat giraffe, a tugboat, and 17 blue crayons for Christmas. Yes, it’s okay to send a holiday wish list to the friends and family who might otherwise be at a loss. Just be sure to include gifts of various price points. And if you happen to receive a wish list on which everything is out of budget? “Then a monetary gift will do fine,” Tara says.
10. Take it away: The Christmas spirit should be around all year long; this does not mean your tree should be. That should come down by the first week of January. Period.
Ring It In
THE long-awaited opening of Convention Hall, a near-miss with the biggest storm to ever hit New Jersey, Terry O’Brien’s comeback as legendary Exit Zero columnist… it’s been a year of big events here in Cape May. And it’s been a year, also, of little events — little acts of kindness that don’t always garner a lot of attention. Doing the job that we do, we have the privilege of researching all the good that’s happening in our neck of the woods.
In this week’s issue, you’ll see pictures from a toy drive that was held at The Crab House at Two Mile Landing in order to brighten the holidays of AI DuPont Hospital’s sick children, and those taken at a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation inspired by a gorgeous nine-month-old named Quinn who suffers from the disease. Last week, we covered the busy elves working tirelessly to package gifts for the Sergeant Bill Alvarez toy Drive, and we wrote about the 63 homeless children who’ve benefited from the work of Family Promise. After Sandy, we interviewed the man who ran the length of New Jersey for storm relief, and the people behind the Cape May Donates effort, which was overwhelmed by support. We saw the community come together in order to ensure the West Cape May Christmas Parade would continue into it’s 47th year. We saw the opening of a new Animal Outreach Adoption Center, which is already saving lives. We saw more Spaghetti dinner fundraisers and beef and beer benefits than we could possibly recount here.
In light of recent events — we know the horrific Newton shooting has cast a shadow on this Christmas — it would be easy to lose faith this holiday season. But the truth is, there IS good happening all around us. Over the course of 2012, we’ve witnessed compassion and camaraderie from our Cape May neighbors in great measure. It is with this in mind that we look forward to celebrating the end of 2012, and ringing in 2013.
We’ve compiled a list of local New Year’s Eve happenings, because it is our hope that you, too, have plenty in which to rejoice come December 31. Here’s to a year full of even more big, exciting events for Cape May and, perhaps even more importantly, here’s to a great deal more of those “little” events, too.
Cape May Brewing Company: It’s $25 to attend, and by the time we went to press, half of the tickets had already sold, so you’re going to want to jump on this. The evening will include live music, a Champagne toast and food, and beer will be offered at a discounted price. “We don’t want a jam-packed mega-party,” said owner Ryan Krill. “We want something a bit more mellow, so we’re capping it off at 60.” As for why to come? “How many New Year’s eves have you spent in a brewery?” Fair enough.
Rio Station: It’s Terry O’Ke with Terry O’Brien in the bar from 9pm to 1am. Need we say more? His show is, as the kids say, the bomb.
The Merion Inn: Finding a sitter can be one of the greatest struggles on New Year’s Eve, but not to worry; the Merion Inn’s first seating this evening, beginning at 4:30pm, is a kid-friendly, a la carte one. The 7pm and 9:30pm seatings will include a prix-fixe menu. Jazz musician Barry Miles will be tickling the ivories all night long.
The Red Store: Chef Lucas Manteca will be putting out an eight-course tasting menu on New Year’s Eve, for $85 per person. “There is no better way to start a new year than to finish the old one with good company and good food,” Lucas says. Cheers to that!
Peter Shields Inn: Dinner and dancing… what a romantic way to ring it in. “We clear out the lobby, which has a wooden floor, so it’s perfect for dancing,” said owner Jeff Gernitis. Vocalist Patrice Jegou, a retired figure skater and a two-time recipient of the Calgary Opera Company Scholarship, will provide the entertainment, accompanied by a bassist, drummer, and piano player. Tickets are $95 or $130 (The “prices heat up as the night does,” Jeff says). The following day is brunch, from 11am to 2pm, but “it’s brunch the Peter Shields way.” Meaning? You’re looking at a combination buffet/three-course sit-down meal. Reservations are $40 for adults and $20 for children.
Glitter Ball: In the beautifully decorated ball room at Congress Hall, you’ll dine on delicious cuisine and dance to live music. If you’d like to have more Champagne toasts than advised by the Surgeon General, that’s okay, too… hotel room packages are available.
The Ebbitt Room: It’s a three-course dinner hand-crafted by Chef Anthony Micari, the soundtrack to which wll be the live entertainment of charming pianist Paul Sottile, Jr. (We’ve never hear a request he couldn’t play.) There’s plenty that’s familiar to choose from on this menu (cod, lobster bisque, slow-roasted rib-eye), and plenty that’s more adventurous, too (We’re looking at you, sea urchin amuse bouche).
Home sweet home: You may opt to avoid the crowds and traffic this holiday by hosting your own get-together, in which case, we recommend ordering take-out from Depot Market, which is now taking orders for the holiday. For a special treat, you might also want to look into the Seaside Cheese’s extra-aged congac belavitano cheese. It was specially ordered, and they’ve only got 10 pounds of it to sell.
Wherever you end up (don’t forget that Cucina Rosa, Marie Nicole’s, The Harbor View, Tisha’s, and Axelsson’s Blue Claw are all taking NYE reservations now as well), be sure to drink responsibly and get home safe. Other than that, party like it’s 2013.
Exit Zero Burns Supper
It will be here before you know it. On Thursday, January 24, we will once again host what promises to be the event of the winter season at the Ugly Mug. We are, of course, referring to the Ninth Annual Exit Zero Burns Supper, which pays homage to the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns. It’s a sell-out every year.
A bagpipe brigade, whisky cake, some of Rabbie Burns’ best poetry, and delicious haggis (and fish and chips for those who don’t want to try Scotland’s national dish) make this a night worth marking your calendars for. Reserve your tickets early; they’re already selling. You can do so by giving us a ring at 609-770-8479, or by visiting ezstore.us.
Tickets are the same price as they were the first year — just $30.
Finally, a very Merry Christmas to all of our readers and advertisers!