When it comes to high-school proms, the times definitely are a-changin'. The traditional image of a young man and woman dressed in formalwear heading to meet their friends -- also in couples -- at the prom is giving way to a new practice: attending in groups of single individuals.
"Proms are definitely becoming more of a group event," according to etiquette coach and author Constance Hoffman, owner of Social and Business Graces Inc.
Though the logistics of attending in a group have the potential to become awkward, some advance planning can prevent problems. One thing is to be aware of who is included in the group.
"If four best friends are going in a group, then all should be included in the planning, even if three of them are closer," according to Cindy Post Senning, director of The Emily Post Institute. "It can be potentially hurtful if someone is not included."
Senning, the author of "Prom and Party Etiquette," says that being involved in the planning includes helping to make decisions about transportation and dinner. "If a prom doesn't include a meal, many students will go out to eat before," she says. "There are different ways to eat. You can go out or eat at someone's home. If the group consists of couples, they might decide to eat separately and then meet up and attend the prom together."
Hoffman agrees. "The group needs to decide where it is going for dinner and whether it will be renting a limousine or party bus. There should be agreement regarding the budget for the evening," she says. "This should not be the time for nitpicking. Everyone should be comfortable with the restaurant chosen, whether it be high-end, casual dining or pizza. It will depend upon the group, but the decision should be within everyone's affordability range."
This is where parents can come in handy, according to Suzette Valle, creator of the blog "Mamarazzi Knows Best." "It can be helpful to take the lead and then step back," she says. "You don't want to let your children navigate blindly when it comes to making arrangements for the pre-prom meal or renting a limo. It can be tricky because a parent doesn't want to come across as too nosy or bossy, but parents can provide practical help." For example, someone -- most likely a parent -- will have to use a credit card to reserve the limo.
Parents also can get involved with the pre-prom dinner arrangements, including advising on restaurant choice and making reservations. A restaurant reservation may include the use of a parent's credit card.
When it comes to contacting other parents regarding prom arrangements, Valle suggests using Facebook and Twitter. "It's an easy way to reach other parents," she says.
Based upon her own experience and the feedback from some of her bloggers, Valle believes that many parents find it more comforting to know their children will be attending their proms as parts of groups. "They feel the kids are safer in a group. It also removes the pressure and heartbreak of not being asked to the prom," she says. "Girls don't wait for boys to ask them, and going in a group can result in having a good time with your friends."
When it comes to the actual prom night, the dinner bill should be split equally by each couple or individual, according to Hoffman. "It doesn't matter if you have one piece of the appetizer or four pieces; you split the bill," she says.
Hoffman recommends making sure that the restaurant can handle the number in the group, which might mean booking a private dining room. "Do allow plenty of time to be served. Let the waitstaff know your time frame for the evening and if you have to be out by a certain time," she advises.
She urges prom-goers to use their best manners in the restaurant: "Be polite, and don't go snapping your fingers at anyone."
Senning reminds teens to tip. "If the tip isn't included in the cost of the limo or restaurant, the prom-goers should be prepared to tip," she says.
And one more important thing to remember:
"Make sure that everyone who goes together in the group comes back together," Hoffman says.