Guest Etiquette

By Kristen Castillo

September 4, 2012 5 min read

Being polite is always a priority, but it's essential during the holidays when circumstances can go from respectful to rude in a hurry.

"Most importantly, guests should remember to be gracious, patient and tolerant," says Lisa Gache of Beverly Hills Manners. "Emotions are at an all-time high during the holiday season. Oftentimes, families are forced to come together and inevitably cause otherwise normal experiences to become exaggerated.

"If guests -- whether family or friends -- remember to be gracious and go easy on the personal demands while also being grateful, patient and tolerant of one other and their hosts, then everyone will experience a much more satisfying and enjoyable time together."

*Declining an Invitation

Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of and author of "Poised for Success," says holiday etiquette is the number one thing she's asked about.

A common holiday problem is declining an invitation to attend a party, dinner or event.

Whitmore advises declining right away: "If you can't attend, say you have another obligation," she says.

It's important to always respond to an invitation on time. Not RSVPing can be stressful for the hostess who needs to finalize plans for food, entertainment and decor.

Gache says it's also polite to respond in the way the hostess prefers.

"If the host requests that you kindly RSVP by phone, then that is the preferred method," she explains. "If they have sent a mass invitation either through email or via another online invitation website such as Evite or Paperless Post, then it is perfectly acceptable to respond electronically."

An RSVP no-no? "I would avoid texting at all costs," says Gache. "It is much too informal and therefore should never be used to respond to any invitation."

*Holiday Faux Pas

"Drinking too much" is a holiday blunder to avoid, says Whitmore.

Another misstep is being or bringing an uninvited guest.

"One simply should not show up to a party with a group of uninvited guests in tow," says Gache. "All guests should be cleared in advance and granted permission by the host.

Overstaying your welcome is rude too.

"Your departure is often dictated by the flow of the party, either by guests slowly departing or signaled by an event such as dessert and coffee having been served," says Gache. "If you witness your host blowing out the candles and bringing a steady stream of dishes to the kitchen, it is probably time to have that last bite of gingerbread cookie and head on out."

Another indication the party's over? When the bar closes, it's time to leave.


A scarf that's not your style? A gourmet coffee flavor that you don't like? Etiquette experts are split on the issue.

Gache is against it. "There is nothing worse than receiving a gift that was intended for another person with a note to the original recipient still visible," she says.

Whitmore says you can re-gift, but you have to do it tastefully.

"A lot of people have decided to do it because it's more economical," says Whitmore. "What I recommend is that you don't re-gift in the same social circle."

For example, if you receive a gift at work and want to re-gift it, make sure the recipient is in another social group such as your book club.

"Take away any evidence that it might be a re-gift," says Whitmore. "Keep seals intact -- if you try it and didn't like it."

*Work Holiday Party

If you're attending a holiday work party, treat the occasion as business, not pleasure.

"Definitely keep in mind it's an office event," says Whitmore, who advises sticking with conservative attire. "Show personality and have fun without putting your reputation at stake."

Your holiday party wardrobe should be festive, not sexy.

*Hostess Gift

Show your gratitude with a hostess gift. "Something small they'll definitely use," says Whitmore, who cites wine or chocolates as good gift ideas.

You can also assist the host with the party details. "If it is a smaller party and the host has not enlisted extra help, then a gracious gesture of offering to clear the table and washing the dishes is always appreciated," Gache says.

It's also gracious to send handwritten thank you notes to the host within a day of the party.

"Mention the gift and how you plan to use it," says Whitmore, such as "Thank you for the lovely vase. It'll look great in the living room."

Holidays can be busy and stressful but good manners are always in season.

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