Shhhh, She’s Not Invited!

Dear Helena,

I’m having a dinner party at my apartment and I’ve invited several coworkers. I’ve made a lot of food, but this won’t be a seated affair. Our office is 60-plus people, so clearly I can’t invite everyone, nor would I want to. What’s the etiquette for inviting coworkers? Whom must I invite? Can I send invites from my company email? Keep in mind that this place is the Gotham of gossip, so everyone is sharing information. Awaiting your wisdom. —Eager Not to Offend

Dear Eager Not to Offend,

If guests are likely to be doing keg stands and skinny-dipping in your pool, you might not want to invite your boss. But don’t exclude him or her just because there will be alcohol present. Getting sloshed with the boss can be a powerful bonding experience.

As for everyone else, you should compose your guest list based on whom you like and what kind of mix of people you want, just as you normally would. The exception is if you’re inviting most of the office and only a handful of people remain. Then you should consider asking the rest too. Marie G. McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, says: “No one will think it odd if you invite a couple of people to an event, but if you have, say, a workplace of 10 people and invite 7 but not 3, that will look a little funny.” So, even though you might dislike that woman in accounting who loves to tell anecdotes about her cats, it’s better to put up with her at your party than hurt her feelings.

If you’re inviting a few close friends who happen to be coworkers, you need not keep your party secret from the rest of the office. But if you’re asking more coworkers and you’re worried that the excluded might be miffed if word got round, use discretion. Invite people via personal email and avoid Evites, which for some reason seem to get forwarded more than personal emails. “Evites can be dangerous,” confirms John Gearty, a software engineer in San Francisco who likes to entertain.

If you want people to keep the party a secret, then mention this to them over the phone, or in person. Don’t ever name names, or gossip about why you’re not inviting someone. For instance: “Randy’s not invited to the barbecue because he’s a vegan, and I don’t feel comfortable with his militancy.” Instead, offer a benign reason for discretion, such as: “I’d love to invite everyone, but I can’t squeeze them into my place.” Gearty suggests a simple: “We’re trying to keep it small.”

You should only take that discretion so far, however. If someone asks you about your weekend plans, tell the truth. Otherwise, a guest may Twitter about your party, write a blog entry, or post photos on his or her Facebook page, and you’ll be busted.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.