Sometimes you simply can’t attend a whole party or event. It could be due to a prior commitment, a family issue, or an extreme dislike for the hostess. Whatever it may be you should know how to gracefully leave a party without being rude. Your course of action will depend on the type, formality and size of the party.
If it’s small party, meaning 20 or less than leaving a party early is a bit more challenging. Not that it can’t be done but you have to be more clear about your plans. You can’t just slip out the back door, people will notice. If you know you can’t stay for the whole event at the time of invite now’s the time to let the hostess know. Tell her you have a prior commitment but would love to attend for the time you have available. This gives her the chance to plan accordingly. If it’s a dinner party she needs to know the correct amount of coq au vin to prepare, those take time. If it’s on the more formal side she may also be planning seating arrangements. If you know you can only stay for cocktails let her know as soon as possible. If it’s last minute let her know as soon as you arrive at the party so later you won’t need to monopolize her time explaining the situation while she’s busy entertaining.
When it comes time to leave don’t make a big exit, yelling goodbye and waving to the whole room, discreetly say your goodbyes and leave. You don’t need to provide a lengthy explanation. Simply wish everyone a good evening and be on your way. You never want to give the impression that it’s time for the other guests to leave.
A larger party is a little easier to leave and the rules are a bit different. Again, as soon as you know you can’t stay for the whole event inform your hostess but in terms of the actual departure I recommend an alternative approach. This may be broaching on traditional etiquette but stealthily slipping out undetected is sometimes better for everyone. The hostess mustn’t be distracted every time someone leaves, goodbyes take a long time! All that lingering and we must meet up soon darling. Unnecessary. It also brings more attention to people leaving and I’m sure the hostess doesn’t want that vibe at her party. Of course this only applies when it’s a large enough or informal enough party where your absence won’t be greatly detected.
You may say your goodbyes to certain people depending upon the level of your relationship, don’t leave without an adieu to your grandmama, but it’s unnecessary to say good bye to every soul. Of course if you happen to run into your hostess on the way out say your farewells but if your goodbye requires vying for her attention then she’s obviously busy. Simply follow up with a thank you note master that here or email stating how much you enjoyed your time.
That being said you may want to rethink this approach depending on the demeanor of the hostess. If the host or hostess is on the more traditional side then they may be surprised if you leave without a goodbye. It’s important to take into consideration their style of behavior and the overall vibe of the party. If you’re in doubt then it’s safer to say a goodbye to the hostess but uneccessary to inform everyone else.
If you’re already at the event and an emergency arises discretely get the attention of your hostess, perhaps when she’s in the kitchen or a quite corner and inform her of the situation.
“Cynthia I apologize but the sitter has just informed me James has broken his leg. He’s fine but of course we must rush to the hospital.”
“Henry isn’t feeling well so I’m afraid we will have to cut the night short. I’m really very sorry, it was a wonderful party and we would love to take you and Paul out to dinner next week if you’re available.”
Again, if it’s a large or informal party simply slip out as an announcement of an emergency will cause drama. You can explain your hasty departure later.
Even if you’ve escaped a party early it’s still polite to send a thank note or even follow up with an invitation of your own to show you value the relationship and wish to spend time with them. And needless to say you should also always arrive with a gift no matter how long you intend to say.
Note* If it happens to be a very formal or meaningful event such as a wedding then the same rules apply but I recommend not going at all unless you can stay for the whole event. It’s rude to leave part way through something so important. Of course if you’re close with the bride, groom etc then you can personally discuss it with them and work something out but don’t treat the matter lightly or it could appear callous or offensive.
HOMEWORK: Have you ever needed to escape a party or leave early? What did you do? Tell me in the comments below!