It’s just about that time of year again — when family, friends and loved ones gather together to eat, drink and be merry. But holiday parties aren’t all mingling and merriment. There are awkward conversations to be had, dietary restrictions that require pointing out, questions about cell phone usage, picture-taking (and posting), dress code and thank you notes that need to be issued and answered.
That’s what we’re here for.
When it comes to holiday parties, the unspoken party rules of the past have changed with the times. As a guest — or host — there’s new tech, arrival and departure times as well as seating arrangements about which to worry. If you’ve got your eyes set on a must-attend party this season, here’s how to get invited to all the great shindigs over and over again:
Don’t assume your partner or bestie is invited, just because you are. It’s fine if it’s just for cocktails. But if it’s a seated dinner, check if it’s okay to bring a plus one beforehand.
If there’s a casual party with loads of guests, don’t bother calling to say you can’t make it. Yes, sounds rude, but last-minute cancellations can dampen the host’s mood before the event has even started. Calling the host is a must for all sit-down dinners, though. Because there’s nothing worse than an empty seat at the table.
Don’t be (too) late
For all open house parties, as long as you get there a half hour before it ends, you’re good. But if there’s a set start time, 15 minutes late is acceptable — as is showing up on time, obviously. Anything later than 30 minutes is just jerky.
Don’t be early
That puts the host, who’s likely rushing around doing last-minute prep, in an uncomfortable position.
Duration of stay
If it’s a cocktail party or big bash, it’s acceptable to make an appearance then peace out after an hour. If it’s a sit-down dinner, you have to stick it out for the entire meal, even dessert. Whatever the case, don’t forget to thank your host.
If you’re not sure how casual or formal to be, it’s never wrong to dress up. Now, if you’ve really missed the mark, smile and make up for your crappy attire with your sparkling personality and witty conversational skills. No one will remember what you wore that way.
You’ll know right away if you need to take off your shoes — and the host has every right to ask guests to remove them, especially if the weather’s gross. You can bring your own slippers or indoor shoes, but what’s ideal is if the host has extra slippers or socks on hand so guests won’t be cold or feel embarrassed about not having gotten a pedicure.
Presents must be present
If someone has gone out of their way to organize a shindig and invite you into their home, bringing a bottle of wine or a floral arrangement (that’s already in a vase or pot) isn’t tough.
Shake up the seating
For a sit-down dinner, assigned seating is great because it forces you to meet and chat with someone new. The host hopefully put some thought into it all and didn’t just plop anyone down anywhere.
Suck it up
Now, if the host did stick you next to a dud, sadly there’s nothing you can do about it. Worst case? It’s an hour of your life. The slowest-moving hour, but once dessert has been inhaled, you can jet.
Ducking out of a boring or awkward convo
The bathroom excuse always works, or if you’re at an event, just say you need to go to the bar. Basically, any polite excuse is an easy way to get out of it. Chances are, if you’re bored, so are they.
No cell phones
Talking, texting or tweeting on your cell can ruin any social situation. If you do need to check in with a sitter, excuse yourself from the table and go somewhere private to do it.
That being said, if you want to take a pic at the party, the beautiful plates of food your host put together, that’s OK.Just be cautious when posting party pics. If the host is posting pics, have at it. If they don’t want the spotlight, maybe ask them for approval first.
Allergies and restrictions are a fact of life. If you’re allergic to nuts, your host won’t be offended that you’re not eating their grandmother’s pecan pie. Odds are, he or she should have alternatives for those who can’t eat everything. But be sure to let the host know well before the party starts if you have a bad allergy to avoid a potentially awkward situation.
Food in teeth
This is a universal concern: do you tell someone if they have a piece of spinach wedged in their teeth? Answer: YES! Always, yes! Obviously, mention it as quietly and subtly as possible because there’s nothing worse than finding it hours later and wondering just how long it’s been there.
Hit the road
Without actually saying the words, “get out,” look for a close friend or family member who you can say, “I’m wiped; let’s get this show on the road,” and trust that they’ll spread the word. And that’s the guests’ cue to leave.
A handwritten note or card is the best way to show your appreciation — and class — for an exceptional soiree. But at the same time, we’re all busy people. A thoughtfully worded email or phone call is better than nothing.