Today, few people refer to or even remember who Emily Post was (1872-1960, the guru of manners and etiquette), yet that’s no excuse for not practicing good dinner etiquette. Gatherings of friends, family, and coworkers over the holidays can be great festive occasions, yet occasionally the atmosphere may get testy if some individuals ignore common courtesies, dredge up old battles or controversial topics, or simply imbibe in too much eggnog.
Many dinner parties tend to be more informal today than they were in days past. Oftentimes, especially around the holidays, dinner is actually a buffet. However, that doesn’t mean etiquette is out the window! If everyone follows the following holiday dinner etiquette guidelines, any celebration should proceed smoothly and joyfully.
For Dinner Attendees:
RSVP. Let the hostess know whether you will be attending and how many will be coming. Provide this information as far in advance as possible so she/he can plan.
Ask what you can bring. Your hostess may appreciate some help with some aspect of the festivities, such as an appetizer, side dish, or dessert. If you have a specialty you like to make, you might offer to bring that item. If you are someone with special dietary needs, you can offer to bring something that meets those needs.
Arrive on time. If dinner is set for 7 PM, arrive about 10 to 15 minutes early. If the hostess is running a little late, then you can offer to assist when you arrive. Not everyone agrees with this tip; it depends on how well you know the host. However, arriving late is disrespectful to the host and all the work that’s been done to present the dinner party.
Ban your phone. At least while you are sitting at the dinner table, put your phone away and definitely silence it. If you have a babysitter who might call, then keep your phone handy in case of emergency only.
Consider bringing a hostess gift. This tradition depends on who is hosting the party and what is generally accepted among the circle of family or friends. Generally, if you have been invited to a large formal party, hostess gifts are not expected.
Linger after dinner. A holiday dinner party is not a fast-food restaurant; you don’t eat and leave. Rather, stay for at least one hour after dinner and mingle with the guests.
Make good-byes short. Once you decide to leave the dinner party, get your belongings, say good-bye, and leave. Don’t linger and keep the hostess captive and away from her other guests.
Thank the hostess. A verbal thank you is sufficient, but a thank-you note or phone call or text the next day is extra special. Choose the thank you that best fits the circumstances.
Don’t overstay your welcome. Unless you plan to pitch in and help with cleanup (and don’t do that unless your hostess is happy to have you do so), don’t make yourself at home as the last of the guests leave.
For The Hostess:
Consider dietary needs. It may or may not be possible for you to consider any special dietary needs of the people invited to the dinner party, depending on how well you know everyone who is coming, the size of the dinner party, and what the needs are, such as certain food allergies or people who are diabetic, vegetarian/vegan, gluten free or kosher. You might discuss dietary preferences with anyone who has specific issues and see how the two of you can resolve it.
Think about children. Do you want your holiday dinner party to be an adult-only affair or can guests bring their children? You need to make your preference clear when you extend the invitation. If children are invited, then be sure to have an area where they can entertain themselves. Most kids are bored at dinner parties and will likely have their smartphones or video games with them. Depending on the ages of the children, you might have something set up for them to entertain themselves, set apart from (but not too far from) the adults.
Set smoking preferences. Fewer people smoke today, but chances are you’ll have at least one smoker in the crowd. You must state your desires, and for the health and comfort of your other guests, it’s usually a designated place outside.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.