Q. Hi Jordan,
Do you have any suggestions/secrets/tips/tricks for cleaning up broken glass gracefully? I mean, I usually just grab a dustpan and tell everyone to “WATCH OUT!”, but I feel you may have some better etiquette for a hostess to employ.
A. I have both been the breaker and the cleaner-upper many, many times, and it’s true: you’d think it’d be the one who shattered the glass who’s mortified, but they’re probably a sheet or two to the wind, and mini-disasters of this sort are often just as embarrassing for the hostess, who wants her guests to feel comfortable and relaxed. Fortunately, you’re probably starting from a place where the primary goal of everyone involved is to make sure that the other party is happy…and that’s a good jumping-off point for pretty much any potentially awkward situation.
If you’re The Hostess:
The Goal: To minimize awkwardness and return to a party at which your guests (all of them – even the glass-breaker) feel festive and comfortable as quickly as possible.
Do: Focus on making your guest feel better immediately: allow them to help you clean up if they insist, but be speedy about it and get them sitting down again with a fresh glass of whatever in their hand ASAP. Even if your heart is breaking over what’s been broken, this is really not a great time to show it; be as dismissive about the mishap as possible in front of your guests, and remember that it was your choice to throw a party…and to call glassware with the potential to break your heart into action.
Don’t: Ask your guest to replace the glass. And if they offer, decline. Like I said, part of throwing a party is accepting that there may be a little fallout, and I never use glasses that I’d cry over if I have more than four people around my table, because too many elbows = near-certain disaster. (In fact, for larger parties I just skip the breakables entirely and go for pretty plastic cups – yes, they exist.) If they replace it anyway…well, that’s lovely of them, and you should accept the gesture and be happy that you have such a fabulously well-mannered friend.
If you’re The Klutz:
The Goal: To let your hostess know that you’re sorry for the mishap while keeping drama at a minimum (in other words, not bringing the entire party to a complete standstill by running around with paper towels and shouting out apologies for the next hour).
Do: Say that you’re sorry and help to clean up the mess, but don’t keep apologizing all night long; this just makes everything even more awkward. Once the glass is in the trash, consider the matter closed. That said, if the glass looks particularly expensive or special, you may want to replace it. I think it’s an even more gracious gesture to send on a replacement without asking the hostess if she’d like you to (since she’ll probably decline; see above), but if you can’t locate a match, consider just sending her a bottle of wine or a small gift with a note that says something like “Since that one was was on you(r floor), this one’s on me!”
Don’t: Sit back, relax, and watch your hostess scrub the floorboards on her own. Even if she says not to help her, at least make an effort to assist in wrangling the problem.
One more thing: if the spillage resulted in grievous damage (red wine on a white couch, say), you should definitely at least offer to pay for a cleaning. (Also, if you are hosting a party and you own a white couch: please, for the love of god, don’t serve red wine.)