Metro-East Living

Desserts should be the center of attention during holiday barbecues

Note to readers who asked about whether the American Flag should be flown at half-staff today on Labor Day.

No, it is on Memorial Day, when the flag is flown at half-staff from dawn until noon.

Q: We’re having an outdoor Labor Day barbecue. I want to set up a separate table for the desserts that is away from the main buffet table. My husband thinks that will give the impression we don’t want them to eat dessert so he wants the desserts at the end of the table. I don’t like putting my dessert on top of, or next to my other food on my dinner plate. I think desserts deserve a separate plate and a focus all their own. Which is correct?

A: Although there is no actual rule of etiquette concerning where the desserts are placed, they are the finale to any meal, whether for a buffet or a sit-down dinner. I, too, do not like to add a dessert to my dinner plate filled with other foods. If that is the only way it is served, I will follow that protocol, but like you, I feel desserts deserve a special area of their own or a “center-of-attention” location if at all possible. Besides, like most guests, I prefer to wait a few minutes after the main course to savor dessert. Therefore, if you have the space and another table, I think your plan is better.

Q: I have to attend a lot of social events with my husband because of his job. Of course, I always want to dress appropriately. We attended a business dinner recently and one of the wives at the table complimented me on my dress and then she asked where I bought it. I told her and she came back with a reply of something like, “Gee, that must have cost you a fortune. How much did you pay for it?”

I had hardly met this woman and I was shocked because I was taught never to make a comment like that to anyone, much less ask someone how much something cost. She said it loud enough that another lady at the table turned to listen. I told her it was on sale and I didn’t remember the price, but that it was very reasonable. That wasn’t enough for her, because she asked me what “reasonable” was. Before I could think of something polite to say without answering her question, the other lady said to her, “My dear, whatever it cost, she makes it look like a million dollars, so let’s just leave it at that, shall we.” Her face got red and she glared at me for some reason. My question is this: When someone is rude enough to ask you what you paid for something, do you have to answer them (if you even remember what it cost), or how do you get them to get off the subject?

A: Even though you would like to tell her how rude she is and respond with a “None of your business,” a more polite response is required. Your first response was perfect. Had the other lady at the table not interceded, your next response could have been: “I'm very sorry, I honestly do not remember.” Following the response, pick up your program and refocus on it, which should be a subtle hint to her the subject is closed.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to