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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

The Etiquette Rules of Being on Time

Is it ever okay to arrive early? Is “fashionably late” really a thing—and when does it border on rude?

Whether it’s an after-hours work function or your cousin’s bridal shower, it can be confusing to know the unwritten rules of arriving on time (or not) to certain events. And that’s why we’re writing them down—so you’ll never be embarrassingly early or way too late to a function ever again! Here are some scenarios and suggestions to help you avoid six timely minefields.

The Event: A Fundraiser or Gala

Formal work functions are always tricky: When cocktail hour starts an hour (or more) before the program, should you arrive the minute check-in begins, or is it okay to get to the table just in time for the meal?

The answer: Aim for a happy medium. If check-in time is 6:30 PM and the presentation starts at 7:45, plan to arrive by 7 (unless your boss or host has told you otherwise). You won’t be so early that you’re standing at the bar by yourself, but you’ll have enough time to thank the host, say hello to your boss, and greet professional contacts right away.

That said, if you’re attending an event in another country, always do your homework. Customs vary from country to country, and you don’t want to offend anyone.

The Event: A Cocktail Party

For an informal cocktail party, both professionally and socially, you have a window of 15 minutes to make your entrance. “Fashionably late” is subjective—and while you don’t want to be the first one to ring the doorbell, you also don’t want to arrive so late that your boss or the host is wondering if you’re lost.

The Event: A Dinner Party

You definitely don’t want to be late to a dinner party—if a host says 8 PM, be there at 8 PM. Otherwise, you’re likely to miss the first course and the mixing and mingling with the other guests, and you’ll throw off the dynamic of the evening.

Also, don’t be tempted to split up the night by going to one party and then hopping over to another—you’ll be dining-and-dashing at the first only to slide in for dessert at the second, and you won’t leave a good impression at either.

The Event: A Bridal or Baby Shower

If you’re invited to a social occasion where there will be multiple cars, a slew of people, and you’ll be carrying a large gift, arrive on time to ensure you get a parking spot and can get settled without interrupting a game (or worse, the new mom or bride-to-be as she’s opening gifts).

Also remember that it’s never okay to be early to a shower (or dinner party, or cocktail hour), unless you’re part of the set-up crew. It puts more pressure on a host, as she’ll feel as if she needs to start entertaining while still finishing last-minute details before the party.


The Event: A Wedding

While you won’t go to etiquette hell for being late for most events (although it’s never a good idea), you certainly will feel like jumping into hell if you’re walking down the aisle with the bride—and you can bet you’ll be greeted with more than a few angry looks.

The bottom line: Barring a (major) emergency, you never get a pass on being late to a wedding. Same goes for funerals and graduations: Here, you should plan to arrive 15 minutes early and pick your seat. And if you do find yourself late, wait until the ceremony has begun to walk in, then discreetly choose a seat in the back.

The Event: A Play

Another “no excuse” event for being late is a play or theatre performance. It’s rude, disruptive, and says that you’re not respectful of your surroundings. Even if you have a valid excuse, the disruption of making others shift and stand up to let you by in a dark theatre is never a good move. Instead, plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early, find your seat, and get settled and ready to enjoy the show well before the lights go down. And if you are late, wait until intermission to grab your seats, and hang out in the back in the meantime.

No, it’s not always easy, but arriving on time (or within the acceptable window) goes a long way in both professional and personal settings. Being punctual shows your hostess or the person you’re meeting how much you value his or her time. So, anticipate bad traffic, a broken zipper, a loose button, or anything that could result in a delay—and plan accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Brandon.