5 Party Etiquette Basics from Montgomery’s “Miss Manners”

Missy Jones of Montgomery, Alabama, remembers with gratitude her childhood introduction to proper etiquette. On Saturdays she would go to the local department store and take a long escalator ride upstairs where she learned how to set a table, make proper introductions, and answer the phone—all based on the classic tome White Gloves and Party Manners. “We learned so much and had so much fun! We felt like such little ladies,” Missy recalls on her blog, Our Neck of the Woods.

Photo of young girl at an etiquette lesson
Missy Jones at her early etiquette lessons. Those early experiences inspired her to launch Miss Manners and Little Miss Manners in Montgomery.

As her daughter entered elementary school, Missy looked for similar expert instruction, but found no results. Undeterred, she turned to her friend Nancy Itson, and the pair launched Miss Manners*, their own series of modern etiquette courses. To make things especially fun, they began using festive parties as a platform for passing on an appreciation for gracious living.

This is not about knowing which fork to use,” Missy explains. “It’s giving these girls the tools they need to feel comfortable and act appropriately in various environments.

Missy recalls that her own childhood lessons were further confirmed as an adult working as the public relations director for a university. There, Missy says, business-protocol workshops were crucial to her success in planning galas and dealing with distinguished figures.

Today, Missy and Nancy arrange gatherings at least quarterly. From RSVPs to thank-you notes, invitees learn how to be courteous guests. The goals of the curriculum include training students to carry themselves with poise—no matter the situation—and learning how to use cordiality to put others at ease. Although the agenda always incorporates a lesson, craft project, and refreshments, the theme makes each fête unique. When instructed on slumber-party decorum, for example, the young ladies wore pajamas and embellished pillowcases during a pancake brunch.

Learning to serve is Little Miss Manners’s primary focus, so participants also help host their own parties. For an upcoming event, the girls will honor the elderly women of their local congregation, handling everything from preparation to cleanup. As the preteens graduate, some will stay on to assist with meetings and mentor newcomers.

Although it has been suggested that the program could become a profitable enterprise, for Missy and Nancy their greatest reward comes from investing in those closest to home. “These are the daughters of my friends and family,” Missy points out. “They are special to me, and I love doing this for them.”

Photo of young girls at a party
A group of Miss Manners students learning proper etiquette while enjoying a summer party.

To help pass on their lessons in gracious etiquette, Missy and Nancy are sharing their “Basic Party Etiquette Checklist for Children.”

  1. As soon as you receive an invitation to a party, check with your parents about whether you are free that day, and then immediately call the hostess to RSVP. Put it on your calendar and begin the countdown to the special day!
  1. Look at the invitation to determine the proper attire for the party. Is it a pool party? Tea party? Western barbecue? Dress appropriately.
  1. Take a small gift for the hostess to let her know how much you appreciate the invitation and her hard work in preparing for the party.
  1. During the party, be sure to be friendly and respectful to the hostess and to other guests. Say “please” and “thank you,” and stay with the group and follow the activities the hostess has planned.
  1. Before you leave the party, be sure to thank the hostess for inviting you. Follow up with a short, handwritten thank-you note within a week.

“These tips show the hostess you appreciate being invited and that you’d like to come back again one day,” Missy assures her students.

Continue to follow the activities of Miss Manners on Missy’s blog.

*Note: Missy and Nancy’s program has no affiliation with syndicated columnist Miss Manners.