Charity Gala Etiquette: A to Z

Here’s everything you need to know to get through the season with your reputation, bank account and next year’s invitation intact.

We may wear slippahs and aloha shirts, but Hawaii’s gala scene knows how to party. And just like your mother taught you, a little bit of etiquette and know-how goes a long way.

Here’s everything you need to know to get through the season with your reputation, bank account and next year’s invitation intact.

Auntie doesn’t show up in Palm Springs because she knows everything is bettah in the Islands. Everybody knows her; she attends every year, and if you ask nicely, she might tell you what happened last year when sister had too much bubbly and flirted with the auctioneer.

Bid! These people aren’t throwing this soiree for your entertainment! The silent and live auctions feature fabulous bling, artwork, staycations and vacations—everything from the sublime to a booklet of McKinley Car Wash certificates. And really, who can’t use that?

Cocktails. They will be plentiful, but you will be disciplined. Because no one wants a flashback to senior prom.

Da kine. It’s there, everywhere. You’ll probably buy it.

Eric Schiff. Check the program. Guaranteed he’s the night’s auctioneer. Eric’s been doing these gigs for years, pro bono, because he knows exactly whose buttons to push and when. Watch him stir the bidding frenzy at the live auction. Somebody’s platinum AMEX is guaranteed to flex tonight!

Fancy! When else do you get to wear those fancy clothes and be in an air-conditioned room all night? Sequins, glitter, bling, and stilettos—bring it on!

Gossip. It’s everywhere, like the teacher who had one too many and dished to a mom about her ex-husband and his new wife, or the couple who sidled up to your girlfriend and whispered, “We’re swingers and you’re real cute.” Listen, but don’t repeat. Listening is good manners. Spreading it, not so much.

Hele on over to the bar before the crowds swarm in. (And remember there’s always another one on the other side of the room–fewer people, colder wine.) But be warned, hangovers can result. Just because you’re mingling with socialites doesn’t mean that wine’s not going to your head.

Be interesting, not irritating. The night’s going to last the same three-plus hours either way, so talk to people, learn something. Take an interest in the cause, who’s involved, and why. And whatever you do, don’t be that irritating know-it-all. There’s one at every event. It better not be you.

Johnny Walker often only frequents the big-spender tables, the ones with all the extra bling and swag bags. Everybody else gets standard hooch. If you’re mingling with the masses, slip out to the hotel bar. No one will notice, and you might find other sophisticated palates joining you there.

Koa. It’s everywhere—in the bowls, the frames, the gift to the honoree. But remember it’s all for the keiki, so keep bidding and drive up that winning price.

Don’t be lolo! Remember the lei. And get nice ones. You don’t want to be that guy. Remember one for the honoree if you know them and for those nice people who paid for the table so you get to attend for free.

Manini is not the word to use when describing the evening’s cause. Whatever the organization, people have worked months to pull this off and pull money out of your wallet. Talk stink and you’ll be make to them—not good for your reputation but guaranteed to fire up some gossip. (See G, above.)

Niihau lei occasionally turn up at these auctions. Mere mortals usually can’t afford these gorgeous creations, but don’t pass up the chance to see them in their intricate splendor. And if you’re feeling generous, toss out that opening bid. It probably won’t go home with you, but you can always say you tried.

Okole. Don’t sit on yours all night! There’s work to do, bids to place, people to meet and music to dance to. And you know you’ll want to lead the conga line that someone inevitably thinks is a good idea.

From pupu to pau, the trick is to pace yourself. Too many pupus and you won’t have room for dessert, which is always the showstopper. And when that live auction winds down and people hit the dance floor, you head straight for the valet before everybody else realizes the night is pau.

Be quiet! Quit talking! Your mother would be mortified to see you talking over that sweet speech or that video of those kids or even Uncle’s ramblings because he said he didn’t need prepared remarks.

Register your credit card with the auction staff when you arrive and then relax. Even if you swear you aren’t buying, you’ll cave eventually. And because they already have your card, getting out and getting home will be a little less painful.

New slippahs are required attire—not those old rubbah ones you wear every day. (And yes, he gets to wear an aloha shirt but she needs a new dress every time.)

Talk of the town. It’s going to be somebody. Make sure it’s not you. (See C, G, and P for reminders.)

Uncle’s there too, maybe with Auntie. Like her, he comes every year. Maybe he spends money. Maybe not. But he knows what pupus to grab first before they run out.

Vicarious. That’s you, as you sit on your hands during the live auction for fear of trading your home for that fabulous around-the-world private jet extravaganza. Yeah, you can’t afford it, but those people who just outbid all those other people obviously can. Imagine what their lives must be like, what they talk about over dinner. A girl can dream, you know.

Wine Pull. You have to do it because it’s all the rage and everyone does it, but you’ll never get that expensive bottle. It’s OK though. You can always take your two-buck-Chuck to the potluck where they always serve cheap wine. It’ll fit right in.

Xanax. Remember you’ve still got one tucked away at home in case of emergencies. And if this couple sitting next to you doesn’t shut up soon, tonight may qualify.

Yours. All those things you bid on — the drone, the three necklaces, the picnic basket and the 2-ton Buddha statues you imagine flanking your front door—they’re all yours now, and that nice volunteer just brought your receipt and tax deduction information right to your table.

Zippy’s, where you go on the way home because you spent all your time outbidding Tutu for that sweet bling, so you did the wine without the dine. Or maybe the chicken was rubbah like your slippahs. Either way, you didn’t get this dressed up to go home hungry.

Categories: Hawai‘i Gives Back, Stories