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‘Tis the season for holiday dinner parties! Which means it’s time to brush up on your holiday dinner party etiquette. Whether the party is in the home of your boss,  friends or neighbors, you will set yourself apart as a gracious and thoughtful guest, if you follow these holiday dinner party etiquette tips.

Here are 8 ways to put your best foot forward.

8 Holiday Dinner Party Etiquette Tips

1. RSVP.

        Call the number on the invitation to let the hostess know whether or not you plan to attend. The hostess needs to know how to plan food, beverages, and seating. Never take uninvited guests with you.

 2. When to arrive.

        Arrive at the time stated on the invitation, or within 10 minutes of it.If the invitation is casual, and says arrive between 6:30 – 7, then split the difference and ring the door bell at 6:45. If the invitation says cocktails 7:00- 8:00, dinner at 8:00, then arrive anytime during the cocktail hour, but at least 15 minutes before dinner. You don’t want to arrive just as everyone is being seated at the table.

 3. What about a hostess gift? 

        A hostess gift is a nice gesture for a small party, especially if you know the host well. It’s a way to show appreciation for the dinner invitation. But this ritual varies in different parts of the country and in various circles of friends. So, learn what’s appropriate where you live and with your friends. You don’t want to be the only one not taking a gift, and you don’t want to be the only one who does.

  • Appropriate hostess gifts include: flowers, decorative candle, food, or wine. While flowers are lovely, they do obligate an already busy hostess to find a vase and arrange them—so take them already arranged in a vase.
  • Take a bottle of wine only if you know the host and hostess’s wine preferences. The host and hostess are not expected to serve the wine at the dinner, as they will have already planned wines suited for the meal.
  • Better yet, if you do take something, make it personal, for example, monogrammed paper beverage napkins, with a jar of hummus and a spreader, or homemade jam with fresh bagels for your host’s breakfast the next morning.
  • Another thoughtful gesture is to send a thank-you gift after the party – flowers to enjoy, wine, or chocolates.
  • If it’s a large formal party—and especially if you don’t know the host well, do not take a hostess gift.

 4. Mingling before dinner.

If there are drinks and hors d’oeuvres before dinner, this is a good time to mingle with those you know and introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Make small talk by asking how they know the host and hostess, and about their holiday plans.

 5. When dinner is announced. 

If there are several tables set up with place cards, it is recommended, to find your spot and stand behind your chair. Then, wait until the hostess sits down before taking your seat. If there are no place cards, the host will indicate where you should sit, and it’s perfectly acceptable at a dinner party for a man to seat the woman to his right.

 6. Don’t “eat and run.”

Generally you’ll want to stay an hour after dinner. It’s hardly considered a compliment to the host and hostess if you exit just after the meal is finished. Often  the hostess rises from the table at the end of the meal. She’ll then suggest everyone get comfortable in the living room for coffee or after-dinner drinks. A good indication that the evening has come to an end is when the host  no longer offers refills.

 7. No lengthy good byes.

After getting your coat, thank your host and hostess and leave. It’s impolite to be one of those guests who take 30 minutes to leave after getting your coat on!

 8. What about a thank-you note?

It’s not necessary to send a thank-you note to your host and hostess if you thanked them verbally. However, it is a nice gesture and makes you stand out as a thoughtful guest. Perhaps, instead of a thank-you note, you may consider phoning the hostess the next day to reiterate your enjoyment of the party.

You may like to read How to Write a Thank-you Note.

Use these guest etiquette tips to Fa,la,la,la,la at the holiday dinner party… and guarantee next years invite!

Thinking about your company’s professional development options for next year?

A licensed business etiquette consultant, trainer and speaker, Rachel Wagner helps organizations and individuals position themselves as savvy, consummate professionals and professional organizations. She advises clients on business etiquette and business dining etiquette to empower them to represent their company’s brand, reputation and image with excellence. She has worked with public and private sector clients in a variety of industries since 2007.