Dinner Parties and Damaged Dishes: What to Do When Something Breaks

Staff Writer
Should I replace it or hide it? Advice for guests and hosts
Dinner Parties and Damaged Dishes: What to Do When Something Breaks
Veer/Wessel Du Plooy

When entertaining, there are two secrets to a host’s success: An ability to bring together people and create lasting memories, and the foresight to see — and resolve — problems before they arise. Once a week, our resident experts Mindy Lockard and Coryanne Ettiene will weigh in with helpful advice to help the modern host tackle even the stickiest of situations with grace. Have a question you want answered? Send us an email with your dilemma, and then check back every week for new tips and advice.


This week’s question:

At a recent dinner party, a guest started to help me clear the table. I welcomed the help, but noticed that she was careless with my dinner plates and chipped a few. She is a new friend and I don't want to spoil our friendship over a damaged plate, however it was a family heirloom. What should I do?

Coryanne: Sadly, there is no surefire solution to your dilemma. There is a tradition that if a guest were to break something, the host should go break something, too, in an effort to diffuse the situation. But as the plate is an heirloom, the choice is yours.

If I was the guest, I would immediately offer to take the plate in for repair, inquire about a replacement, offer up my firstborn (OK, not really, but you know what I mean), or anything to make the situation right with my host. As a host, it is important to remember that you should be prepared for broken plates, stained coffee cups, and damaged serving spoons. Not because guests are destructive and don’t respect valued possessions, but because accidents happen. If damaging this set is something you want to avoid in the future, I would keep it off the table and opt for another set that has less sentimental value.  

Mindy: There are so many wonderful aspects to entertaining and yet there are a few risks we take, too. Risks that include spills, stains, and chips, I'm afraid. A gracious hostess would say nothing, with just a smile and an “it’s OK.” Not through her teeth, but with a true, generous spirit. And a gracious guest should offer to replace it and deliver on their promise. Just be sure that if the guest does offer to replace it, and you're interested in them doing so, that you make that clear. To say “no, no, it's fine” when you really expect that they follow through sends a mixed message.


About Our Experts: Mindy Lockard is The Gracious Girl and offers traditional etiquette advice with a modern gracious twist. Coryanne Ettiene believes entertaining at home should be an everyday affair; she shares contemporary advice for modern living at Housewife Bliss.

Click here to see more tips and advice from our experts. 

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Click here to see what not to do at a dinner party.