Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hosting Etiquette

Etiquette 101: How-To Host a Perfect Holiday Party

Inviting, Planning, and Sending Guests Out the Door

Ah, the smell of cinnamon sticks simmering in apple cider, the sound of laughter bouncing off walls, the sight of mistletoe dangling from the ceiling.  It must be holiday party season!  With the holidays in sight, all would-be party planners are in high gear.  However as the season progresses, those gears tend to get bogged down a bit with anxiety over nagging questions of decorum.  Because hosts want their guests to enjoy the party, they are uncertain about a myriad of issues.  Thus, have many questions.  Let us go over a few.       

How soon do you send out invites for a holiday party? 

The holiday season tends to become a blur with the numerous demanding engagements, gift shopping, and heightened emotions.  Therefore, it is best to send holiday party invitations at least three weeks in advance.  Evites are convenient and appropriate for this type of invitation.  Nevertheless, if you would like to take it to the next level, creating a unique invitation is simple and special. 

How do you ask people to bring gifts for a game exchange?

There is a very simple rule about hosting any type of event: A host provides the entire party.  However, holiday events can veer from this rule... slightly.  While hosts may wish to include a gift exchange game to entertain his or her guests, it should be an optional activity.  Holidays can be an expensive time for most, and are typically stressful.  Complicating our guests' lives with yet another gift they must choose and purchase isn't fair or polite.  Additionally, the requested gifts should not be too expensive. 

How do I ask people to bring things to a "potluck" style gathering I am hosting?

There are very specific potluck rules when planning this type of party if your event is to shine and not insult guests.  Potlucks are only appropriate when guests are very familiar with each other, they share hosting, and the event is not formal.  Therefore, a family event would be fine.  Additionally, it is common and appropriate for members of a group to trade-off hosting duties--a different home each event. 

Therefore, if hosting an appropriate potluck, your guests will expect to bring something.  Requesting certain items on an invitation for this type of party is appropriate.  Of course, for the average party or dinner, this would not be polite. 

Where do I begin as host?  How do I plan the party?

Good hosts provide the type of party his/her guests expect.  More to the point, a host provides a meal if hosting an event during a typical mealtime.  Additionally, most guests expect alcoholic beverages for holiday events held in the evening.  So, plan around these expectations.  Also, include some sort of entertainment, whether it is just soft music in the background, seating interesting people with those who don't talk much, or incorporating a wine-tasting lesson into the mix.  Use what you know about your guests to guide you.

Note: Provide 3/4 to 1 bottle of wine per wine-loving guest and include plenty of non-alcoholic beverage options. Encourage ride-sharing and designated drivers for those who imbibe.   

How do I subtly get the guests to leave?

As much as we would like to yell out "The party's over; get out!" it is not an option.  The good news is that subtle hints typically work with most guests.   Offering dessert and coffee/tea signals the end of the evening.  Additionally, asking guests what their plans are for the next day is an obvious but polite hint. Besides subtle hints, for those who do not pick up social clues, a host might have to break an etiquette rule by beginning to cleanup.

How do you prepare for your holiday parties?  Any questions?  Please contact me or visit Got Etiquette to read our many Q & A pages.

Enjoy your holidays!


  1. How perfect!! I was just wondering when to start sending out invites for my Christmas party. I'm a super planner! lol