Private Members Club – The Do’s and Dont’s for Your Night Out

London Life Coach & Relationship Coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about private members club etiquette. Follow Sloan on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s website

There is a price to pay for partying in exclusive surroundings, but that price is not always monetary. It is more the case that you are out and about on show in your community within a group of people that have higher expectations than your local pub, bar or restaurant. Below are a few guidelines to help you navigate the world of etiquette in such establishments.

First Impressions and Rapport with the Host

It is good to remember that these clubs are more than a restaurant or bar. Even as a well respected member, it is only polite to always let the Club’s host know when you are dropping by. In these modern times, this can be as simple as a phone call, e-mail and – thanks to technological advancements – a comment on Twitter or LinkedIn. Please, do note that Facebook is not a business porthole and is therefore not appropriate. The announcement should be short and sweet whether it is based on stating that you are looking forward to seeing the host or requesting the entry of guests to the Club.

Such request for attendance should never be in the style of ‘A table for four, please.’ The exclusivity of the Club deserves respect and appreciation that you are a member by invitation should be maintained at all times.

Guest lists are not much more than a marketing tool these days so remember it is still the personal touch that is important. After the evening, just as with any other invitation, one should send a thank you message. Again in such modern times this can be done electronically and is preferable in this medium. In the cases of Twitter or LinkedIn it is more public and therefore also good advertising for the Club. Such acknowledgment should be done within 24 hours where access allows.


As always for new introductions a firm handshake is first port of call. Supplement with eye contact and a genuine warm smile. If you know the member or host well and the setting calls for it, social kissing is still heavily prevalent. If you do not like such contact, it is perfectly polite to extend your arm to shake hands. If you are on the receiving end of such a gesture, respect the boundaries of the other person and go with the flow. If you do go for the minefield of the social kiss, bring the recipient closer to you by gently placing your hand on their shoulder and aim for the right cheek first. Some people decide one kiss is enough. If this is your modus operandi then pull back before you get into the more often than not seen dance of ‘one kiss or two!’ If in doubt, or you are unsure of how to greet the person, let the elder take charge.

Behaviour Inside the Club

A public persona must always be assumed as people-watching is an everyday sport nowadays. Poise and grace are as paramount as in the old days but with a touch of relaxed approachability thrown in. Elegant drinking and dining is a must in such establishments and to carry this off well, it is good to monitor one’s alcohol intake.

There is a dividing line between alcohol as a social lubricant immersed with the enjoyment of fine spirits or wines and alcohol as a precursor to outrageous events that are fodder for much speculation about one’s next Priory vacation. Before having that extra glass of alcohol that leaves you dancing on the tables, err on the side of caution and interperse your imbibation with the odd glass of water.

Conversation itself is best when spontaneous with the avoidance of the hot topics: politics, sex, scandal and money. Talk and listen equally. Be interesting – not only for yourself but for those around you - all while keeping your decibel level to that worthy of your table, not the adjacent one.

If there is a conflict, a discreet nod to the Club’s host and a quiet word is much better than tackling a matter head on. In the case of small infringements, a polite smile is all that is necessary, not everyone is versed in the art of etiquette and their behaviour may not have been personal but just a faux pas.

Meeting Celebrities

In private members clubs you often meet two types of celebrity - those seeking media attention and those who prefer to have a quiet night out with friends. Celebrities, unlike our British Royalty, are not obliged to give a welcoming reception to a ‘mere civilian’. Therefore, in such a spotting, it is polite to ignore them and/or if the situation allows treat them as any other individual. Feigning ignorance as to who they are is rarely an acceptable form of address but a simple gesture, if appropriate, would be to introduce yourself and let them return in kind.

Remember you only know their public persona so treat them like any other member at the Club. If they choose to think their station is above you then that is their business and one for the Club’s host to discretely remedy not you. At no point is it acceptable to criticise their work or ask them to perform. You can, if the conversation allows, remark on your appreciation of their work but the truly elegant celebrity would rather be treated as an individual.

At all times discretion is key and lobby rules should be in play. Such rules are based on the code of honour between Members of Parliament and journalists accredited to the lobby of the House of Commons. It is a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that matters raised or overheard in conversations between members and guests are not to be used for commercial or journalistic purposes. In modern times, this extends to posting on Facebook – and similar – whom you saw, what they were doing and (heaven forbid) tagging them in a photo.  Such courtesy of lobby rules should be extended to all guests and not just celebrities.

My Favourite Members Clubs

London: Luxx, Maddox, Home House and The Club at the Ivy
New York: Supper Club and Soho House
Paris: Palais Maillot
Verbier: Coco Club

Recently, I have heard that Cambridge is now home to a new members club that I look forward to frequenting in the not too distant future. The Club is called 12a and has already developed the mystique and sophistication expected of such an establishment. On the left is a sneak preview of the bar area.

On a lunchtime inspection, I was transported back to the Prohibition Era and allowed to feast my eyes on a delectable drinks menu inserted into an old style book as a bookmark. The drinks menu is old school, not a Blue Hawaiian new age cocktail in site, thank goodness! I believe they are soon bringing out a tasty nibbles and antipasti menu.

I look forward to reporting on my first evening visit.

Etiquette Series: I am often asked to write about the correct behaviour in social situations, be it cultural, social or business.  Although many think I am American, the occasional twang from my Manhattan days, I was born and bred in London.  As a child my local corner shop was Harrods, my usual breakfast haunt Inner Temple and the evenings filled with dinner parties extraordinaire. In circumstances like these as a child you quickly learn that there are expectations and if you exceed them your life will be much simpler. This holds true as you get older but the expectations have developed somewhat in the last three decades. This series is designed to highlight some of the ways in which such old fashioned manners have been updated and how to adapt them to your life. In this series, I will provide you with some handy hints on how to achieve a more positive engagement with people by simply adapting your behaviour. I look forward to your comments, either below or on Twitter. If you wish to be informed of the next instalment of the series, please sign up to the RSS feed in the top right hand corner. I look forward to hearing your views on any of the above mentioned clubs and/or suggestions for others.

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