I really love to entertain and do it quite often. It is so satisfying to cook for friends and to create an elegant and comfortable table for us all to sit around.
This Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking so much about the physical accoutrements of entertaining – the placemats, the votives, the plates– but what about that intangible, all-important aspect of being a host AND a guest, the etiquette!
Etiquette might seem like an outdated concept, a throwback to white gloves and tea gowns. So what is modern etiquette? What rules should we remember to live by this Thanksgiving?
I consulted some ultra-reliable sources, the Emily Post Institute (why not go straight to the Etiquette Queen?) and the English etiquette authority Debrett’s (and who knows more about etiquette than the English?), and came up with a few key tips for gracefully navigating the holiday party season.
For the host:
- As a host, invite your guests at least a month in advance, longer for any guests who might be traveling (Whoops, missed that deadline!)
- In the invitation, make sure you’re clear about what kind of event it is – how formal or informal – so people don’t over- or under-dress.
- If people are staying with you, set a beginning and end for the visit, so there’s no misunderstanding or awkwardness. Three days is typically a good duration for a visit.
- Be as flexible as possible – Debrett’s says, “You must be infinitely accommodating”! If a guest asks to bring a friend and you have the room, you should try to include them! Similarly, if a guest has any dietary restrictions, do your best to accommodate them.
For the guest:
- RSVP and do it promptly! If you’ve been invited as a family or with guests, let your host know exactly how many people will be coming. Don’t show up with uninvited guests.
- According to Debrett’s, one must never reply via email to an invitation that wasn’t sent by email – in other words, a snail-mail invitation requires a snail-mail response, unless the invitation offers an email address as an RSVP option. (Not sure I follow this rule, though about half the invites I get are evites, so that might let me off the hook!)
- Offer to contribute to the meal, but follow your host’s lead. If you or your guests have special dietary restrictions, the Emily Post Institute recommends offering to bring a dish that meets those needs: “Grace is a vegetarian – I’d love to bring a delicious tofu dish if that’s OK with you.”
- Don’t be late! Respect your hosts’ effort and planning. And – a related tip – leave on time. Don’t overstay your welcome! - Offer to help clean up.
- Avoid controversial or painful subjects. As the Emily Post Institute says, “This is a day to be together in a spirit of generosity and thankfulness for all you do have. Let it be so.”
- Say thank you with a phone call or a note. Emily Post suggests a handwritten thank you note, but I never do that – is it OK to email your thank you???
This season I will make an attempt to write a physical thank you note to my hosts. I really do think nothing is better.