Life has become a lot more casual these days—jeans for work, texting instead of calling—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still rules of etiquette, especially when holiday festivities are involved. If you’re expecting to be a guest this holiday season, make sure you understand the ins and outs of party protocol. Whether you’re going to a cocktail party or formal dinner, find out the 10 things you need to know to avoid offenses or an embarrassing faux pas.
Make sure to respond to the RSVP as soon as possible. “If there’s an RSVP date, try to follow that,” says Lizzie Post, spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute and great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post. “Even if you’re not sure you can make it and need to check your schedule, this is your chance to buy yourself a little time.” She recommends calling or emailing to let them know your situation. “This is also your chance to ask what you can bring, whom you can bring and what you should wear if it’s not indicated on the invitation.”
Unless it’s a good friend whom you entertain with regularly (i.e., on a monthly basis) or it’s a potluck and you’re already toting food or drinks, bring a gift for your host. “A hostess gift goes a long way,” says Amanda from Chicago. “It shows you’ve thought about how generous it was for me to open my home to you.” And it doesn’t have to be extravagant, according to Post. This is really a case where it’s the thought that counts. “It can be anything; even small consumables like candies, treats or wine are awesome,” she suggests. But on the flip side, she notes that guests shouldn’t expect their host to share the gift with them. “Your host gift does not have to be served that night, so don’t be offended if the host puts it away. And if it’s not eaten or finished while you are there, do not take it with you!”
Whether it’s your significant other, a friend or your dog, bringing an extra guest may just be the biggest mistake a guest can make, says Post. “As for bringing Rover, you don’t know whether it’s a no-pets home; as for bringing an extra friend, you don’t know whether there’s enough food.” Bottom line: Don’t bring anyone—two- or four-legged—unless you’ve talked to your host first.
The last thing a host wants at a potluck dinner is just desserts and salad. “You don’t know how the host has structured the meal. So if you show up with dessert when you said you’d bring an appetizer, you may have nixed out an entire course,” Post says. “Make sure to call ahead if you’re thinking about switching.”
First thing’s first: Keep your negative opinions about your host’s decor to yourself. “Don’t make suggestions about how I should decorate my apartment,” Amanda says. “If I had the money to make some home improvements, I would.” But that’s not really enough, according to Post—you should say something positive about it. “You don’t have to say it’s the most amazing decorating you’ve ever seen and ask for the decorator’s number,” she says. “But you can at least say, ‘Your house is lovely, it feels so much like a home.’”
Even if you don’t know anyone, attempt to be social. It’s a party; you’re supposed to meet new people. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a friend or couple standing in the corner by themselves at a party—it makes me feel obligated to spend more than my fair share of time entertaining them when I need to make my way around the room,” says Heidi from New York City. “Every guest has at least one thing in common—the host/hostess!” Use that idea next time you’re stumped for conversation, and ask guests who they know and how they know them.
If your host is preparing a formal soirée (like a dinner, engagement or birthday), it’s likely they’ve timed their party prep very precisely—which means showing up early throws off those last precious minutes they need to prep. “I think this is where the term ‘fashionably late’ came from,” says Post. “You want to give the host a little cushion to finish getting ready. Besides, you don’t want to be the first to show up.” Unless it’s a casual cocktail party, it’s equally bad form to be late. “Don’t show up more than 15 minutes after the start time of the party, because then you’re really pushing it,” says Post.
“Don’t complain about the food or drinks,” says Tracy from California. “Unless you have an allergy, you shouldn’t say anything.” For instance, Post can’t stand cilantro, but she never tells her host and just picks it off. However, she adds: “It’s important to let them know if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. But because that is a choice of yours, it’s also important to offer to bring a dish. Then the host can say whether you’ll be fine with what she’s serving or that she’d love for you to bring something extra.”
Jeanette from Omaha, Nebraska, hates when guests leave without telling her. “Never leave without personally saying goodbye and thank you,” she says. The reason? For one thing, you don’t want your host to wonder if someone was locked in the bathroom or got sick. But more important, it’s ungracious. “If the host is mid-conversation, you can probably wait a couple of seconds,” says Post. “This person had you over and she’s wined and dined you, so it’s only polite. It’s also just nice to let people know when you’re exiting their home.”
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a little more involved than just saying thank you on the way out. “As a guest, it’s really nice to call up your host the next day,” Post advises. “You could even pop a note in the mail, or at the very least send an email.” Not only is it polite, but it really makes your host feel good, and it will help him or her when deciding whom to invite next time!
Credits: womansday.com, Photo by: Jaime Grill/Getty Image