Service of Who Pays When Something Breaks at Home

March 2nd, 2017

Categories: Accident, Breakage, Wineglass

Smashed wine glass

Erica Martell brought one of Philip Galanes’ “Social Q’s” columns to my attention. It involved Sandy’s boyfriend who’d inadvertently broken a bride’s expensive wedding gift wineglass at a dinner the new couple prepared shortly after the nuptials.

Sandy explained to Galanes: “He [the boyfriend] may have said, ‘Let me replace it.’ But my cousin didn’t respond; she was sweeping up the glass. Yesterday, I received an email from her with a little note and a receipt for a new wineglass. Tacky?”

Galanes thought if the receipt came with a gracious note, i.e. “How kind of you to offer to replace the wineglass. We’ve never owned such a fancy set before,” it would not be in bad taste as opposed to “Invoice attached, butterfingers.” And, observed the New York Times columnist, Sandy’s boyfriend apparently did offer to pay. [Remember, Sandy wrote he may have offered to replace the glass.]

Red wine spillRecently someone broke one of a pair of china cups a loved one had given me. [She threw it out so I gather it was in smithereens.] I still can’t look at its partner without wincing and it’s not replaceable. I wouldn’t in a million years suggest the person try. She felt badly. Breakable things break.

Over years, one guest burned a cigarette hole in upholstery and another broke a Sheraton chair’s back by tipping against the wall on the chairs back legs. Nobody offered to pay and I didn’t expect them to. It’s the cost of having guests and living with upholstered furniture and antiques. If red wine spills on a favorite tablecloth I should have served white wine–so it’s my fault. [With today’s spot removers, so far I’ve done a great job in getting out the stains.]

Do you think that the bride should have presented an invoice for the wineglass and that the guest should pay? Has someone accidentally broken or ruined anything of yours? Then what happened?

 Broken china cup

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20 Responses to “Service of Who Pays When Something Breaks at Home”

  1. Catherine Carlozzi Said:

    It happens all the time. I’ve had expensive crystal broken by guests. My cleaning help have damaged, chipped, dinged or broken all kinds of things over the years, including Steuben crystal, delicate model boats and a Japanese scroll. I’ve had food spilled on expensive Nepalese rugs. Guests have offered to pay and I’ve never accepted. I’ve admonished my cleaning people to be more careful and to tell me when they damage things so I can effect repairs myself (scotch tape on an antique Japanese scroll is worse than the original damage). I have my rugs and upholstery stain treated, or I keep paperwork on how to clean them myself. Who hasn’t spilled wine or dropped food at a party? I was being vetted for a museum board and attended a party at a trustee’s home, where I accidentally knocked over a large vase of flowers. The hostess rapidly assured me it was ok, the vase wasn’t valuable, etc. I sent flowers the next day. We became friends, and the incident was never an issue. Life is messy! If you are worried about this kind of thing, hermetically seal your home and only socialize in public places!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I spilled red wine on the lovely tablecloth of an uncle-in-law. The occasion was a family get-together and we’d just been told about the cloth–who had given it and how precious it was to them. I’d been married less than a month, in my early 20s and I wanted to die. He picked up his glass and spilled a bit of his wine on the tablecloth as well so I wouldn’t feel so terrible. He was a kind man and I’ll never forget what he did.

    The one time I was beside myself over damage was after a party at my parent’s NYC apartment. I was in college. One of my guests snuffed out his cigarette on their wool carpet making a hole. I was appalled that I’d invited to their home someone with such atrocious manners.

    As the hostess, I’m with you: What’s the point of having nice things if you don’t use them?

  3. CG Said:

    I once had an overnight guest who used a corner of the high-end bedsheets on the guest room bed to remove her mascara and other makeup. I didn’t discover the misdeed until a day or two later, when I stripped the bed in preparation for laundering the sheets. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what she had done. I contacted her and said I would have gladly supplied her with a box of tissues or an alternative if she simply had asked. I didn’t request reimbursement for the damaged sheets, nevertheless she sent me a check along with an apology. I told her I planned to rip up the check. I did, but I never spoke to her again after that, and I’ve never regretted my decision. I know that accidents happen in our homes, but this was a display of laziness, entitlement, and plain old rude behavior. As they say, with friends like that, who needs enemies?

  4. Nancy Farrell Said:

    There are no words for how I feel about invoicing. Your uncle-in-law and Catherine’s friend had class. I’m all about intent. If someone breaks something accidentally, then their feelings are more important to me than anything I own. Recently, my daughter’s friend pulled on a faux drawer pull on a window seat and it came off in her hand. She was upset about it until I told her that there is nothing in my house that is precious enough to worry about breaking except for my child and my pets. She laughed but I was serious. Who wants to visit or live in a house where they’re a nervous wreck? There’s a reason they call inviting people over “entertaining” and not shaming. It’s supposed to be fun.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Holy smokes! I don’t care if you’d used paper sheets [which I imagine exist]. What nerve. This was no accident.

    And are you brave. I would have skipped to the end–not wanting to see the person again and following up on that wish. I wouldn’t have put myself through asking her about why she hadn’t asked for tissues or makeup remover. I admire you for doing that and simply add “chicken” to my too-long list of imperfections.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    While I agree with you, I also feel for the bride who may not have the $ to replace the broken wineglass and maybe Aunt Matilda who gave the set is coming with her brood and she’ll see that one is missing ALREADY. The best yet would be for the boyfriend to order a glass shipped to the bride. Forget invoices and checks.

    We’ve all heard of–or have known–people who put plastic over their living room upholstery making it impossible to sit on in the heat–[OK, they have AC]–or in the cold because legs stick to the cover. Dreadful. I’d rather sit on a wood bench. Talk about UNINVITING.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    I read the column you mention and winced. I thought all the conversation or behavior described was uncomfortable at best and gauche. The article did not strike me as neat social guidance. I don’t think I would enjoy being a guest in that household! No one could express better than your post the attitude towards socializing and such situations. A cigarette burn in an antique end table, a broken antique chair and other mishaps have left me sad or disappointed, but one has to try to minimize the mess and distress. Your statement is perfect in terms of etiquette and human relations.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I admit that losses/breakage of gifts given me by people I love hurt. People and animals are far more important, as Nancy wrote, but even if the pan or bowl or dish has little if any intrinsic value, the sentimental value to me–and my heart–makes the piece as irreplaceable as a Faberge egg.

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    The makeup/sheets story seems like the most unpleasant episode I can think of, but then it was not an accident.

    My father had a collection of antique pouring and drinking vessels on shelves in his law office. A cleaning lady came to him quaking because in dusting she had broken one. She also brought a stein which she thought might be able to replace the broken one. I don’t remember what happened with that present. I do know that he reassured her that nothing warranted her suffering, and that he was not distressed. He told her that the task of dusting open wooden shelves against a brick wall with fragile items was too much to demand, and beyond her job requirements. He took charge of it. I think he shared the story with me in part as a lesson in human relations. I was very proud of him. The cleaning lady adored him and kept her job for many years.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your father was a gentleman–no wonder the cleaning lady adored him! Who wouldn’t want a boss like that. And what a lovely woman, to try to replace what she’d broken best she could.

    Accidents can be as bad for the person who has caused them as for the person who has lost something. It’s easier for owners to get over a ruined piece of furniture or broken antique bowl if they can afford to fix them–if the object is fixable. If you have to look at a stained silk slipcover or torn wool upholstery for years, and such things bother you, you’re up the creek.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    A decent person who causes breaks or damage, always offers to make restitution. Failure to do so is not only mean spirited but shows disrespect for both host and property.

    While at a friend’s home, one of the children broke a treasured china cup. She turned down offers to replace which went ignored, but I could never find its twin. Friend died and our families have lost track of each other, yet the incident continues to disturb.

    There are times valuable objects get damaged because of poor placement, and while such events give pause, it remains the obligation of a guest to take note of surroundings.

    Consideration of others is key. Friends are priceless, so if you want to keep them, pay up!

  12. hb Said:

    Breakage is an inevitable part of ownership. If you are an owner, you must accept that things will inevitably become broken, and if you are a breaker, you should always try to make amends. That’s fine, but what happens, which often is the case, if you can’t? What do you do?

    I think owners need to expect breakage, and if they like entertaining,depending upon who their guests are likely to be, they must expect yet more of it. then again, you wouldn’t use 19th Century Venetian glass when serving drinks to a bunch of college kids, but, on the other hand, if your guest is sophisticated, he or she might enjoy looking a Turner watercolor close up out of its frame the way you might see it in the drawings room of a museum.

    On the other hand, if your quests are physically active males with paunches, don’t sit them on 200 year old chairs. Broken, yet repaired, no matter how expertly, pieces can never be as valuable as their “mint” unbroken counterparts.

    A tip for breakers: When you break something your hostess really cares about, don’t just offer to pay to repair it, send flowers.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You make a good point about placement of objects. If you have youngsters as guests–and no kids at home–and if it’s convenient to remove fragile things from shaky tables and to use heavy mugs instead of fine chinaware, it might be the wise choice [unless you’ve always disliked Aunt Tatania’s old and ugly china].

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Even more important than the value of the chair, once broken, if fragile and old, it most likely won’t ever be as strong as it was when intact.

    I used to be nervous about using $75/goblet Baccarat crystal wine glasses after one was broken so I bought $5 wine glasses I liked a lot and relaxed. The Baccarat hasn’t been used in 30 years and no doubt, I couldn’t give it away now.

  15. Judy Schuster Said:

    If the guest offers, I’d let them know the cost. But I would never send an invoice.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Depending on what it is, the guest shouldn’t have to ask the price. The Internet has made finding things so easy these days. The guest could order whatever they broke or ruined online and notify the host/hostess to expect a package.

  17. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Jeanne: In your scenario I would hope that Aunt Matilda isn’t taking inventory when she’s at my house. Because I’m sure I’d disappoint. I might want to use the set that Uncle Joe gave me instead of hers. Or I might be short a wineglass but still have a friend. If I were Aunt Matilda I’d be happy my gift was being put to good use. If the bride in question doesn’t have enough money to replace the wineglass my answer is still that the feelings of her guest should be more important to her than the wineglass. Of course the guest should offer to make it right. And the hostess and Aunt Matilda should be gracious and if they aren’t then the breaker should stop feeling terrible about it and find kinder friends.

  18. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good advice. Aunt Matilda should be pleased that her gift is being put to good use, as you note. And a guest should be made to feel at home at all costs. But a guest should also take some responsibility and if practical and possible, replace what they broke.

    There’s one phrase that drives me NUTS. It’s “sorry about that,” which when it hits my ears sounds as though the person could care less. “I’m so sorry,” works better for me.

  19. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Can a guest or anyone truly replace something of sentimental value? No, they cannot. The replaced wineglass will not be from Aunt Matilda. So why make people suffer? It isn’t as though the bride needs that glass. It wasn’t as though her car–her only means of getting to work–was destroyed. The bride should ask, “How much is this guest’s happiness worth?” It should be worth more than anything that was broken by accident. I’ve been married many, many years and I’ve long since lost track of how many wedding gifts have been broken or by whom. I’m fairly certain I’ve broken most of them myself. We received several pairs of champagne glasses all those years ago. I have them on display in a cabinet with glass doors and I’ve managed to break one glass from each pair leaving me with a wonderful set of mismatched glassware. I think they’re worth keeping because they make me happy. Aunt Matilda would probably be shocked to learn that not only are they on display but we use them on New Year’s and for anniversaries. Speaking of mismatched, you ought to see my teacups. None of them match but my uncle-in-law found it hilarious when he was visiting from Ireland and I made tea the proper, fancy way while telling him that we should have tea in my dining room and pretend the china matches.

  20. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m not for matching much. Dessert plates or service dishes for instance. If there are six or eight people, there may three patterns of dishes. Over years I’ve picked up serving bowls from craft fairs that match nothing. I love and use them. And if I’m in a mug mood when serving coffee, no two match and I like it that way.

    I’m impressed that you use loose tea.

    As for replacing a sentimental gift: There’s no way.

    I often make dessert when going to a friend or relative’s home [with their approval of course]. I lost a wedding gift that way….a guest of the host was “helping.” Turned out she was Mrs. Butterfingers. Who knew? She was cleaning up and smashed the ceramic giant flan dish I’d used to safely carry the pie or whatever I’d baked….had I only known this was her tradition, I’d have whisked the thing in the car as soon as dinner was over–unwashed and safe. I’ve often thought of using it only to remember it’s gone. So it remains in my memory and nobody can break the image!

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