Ultimate Dinner Party Etiquette Guide

Etiquette rules may seem stuffy and outdated, but they exist to make your job as a host that much easier. And trust me, between invitations, place settings and food prep, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Here, I share my go-to guide for all types of parties — from casual dinners to more formal fêtes:

Invitations:

Timing is everything. Give your guests 4-6 weeks to reply for those fancier functions and two weeks or less for casual parties. Want to send something quickly while saving on postage? Go paperless with sites like Evite.com, Punchbowl.com and Paperless Post.

Since invites set the scene for your soiree, remember to provide as much info as possible. If children aren’t invited, say so. Is there a dress code? Describe it. Words like “potluck” or “BYOB” imply that your guest shouldn’t show up empty-handed.

dinner party etiquette

Custom invitations by CECI New York and Minted

The Rules of RSVPs:

Since I’m an only child, I always secretly fear that no one will show up. That’s where RSVPs come in. When sending out invites, note the quickest way guests can get back to you — whether that’s through a quick email, a phone call or good ‘ole snail mail.

If you’re a guest, be courteous. The minute you receive an invite, check your calendar and respond right away; because there’s a good chance you’ll forget or accidentally lose your invitation in your stack of Pottery Barn catalogs. The worst offense? Not replying at all. Don’t be that person.

Handling Arrivals:

When guests arrive, your job as a host is to answer the door. Seriously. Don’t stay in the kitchen setting out crackers. It’s your hostess duty to show face, even if you’re still setting up. And don’t forget the “get one, give one” theory. Offer to take a coat or bag off of their hands while giving up a drink or something to snack on.

Hostess Gifts:

Although hostess gifts aren’t required, it’s always nice bring along a small token of appreciation. The best part? It doesn’t have to be expensive. From flowers and wine to seasonal foods (like local honey), all hosts appreciate a nice gift. Just remember to spend within your budget.

(Fun Tip: If you receive a gift from a guest, thank them in person and you don’t need to write a thank you note. This is true for all gifts given face-to-face, thanks to a little etiquette insight from my friends at the Emily Post Institute.)

dinner party etiquette

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Set the Table:

holiday hostess rules

There’s a good chance your dinner party isn’t a five-course meal, but the rules for setting a formal table apply to simpler settings as well:

1. Utensils are presented as you use them, working from the outside in. On the left side of the plate, the forks. On the right side closest to the plate are knives, followed by spoons.
2. Remember that the rim of the plate and the blade of the knife should face each other.
3. Glasses are to the right of the dinner plate and follow the outside-in rule. From right to left, you should set up white wine glass, red wine glass and water glass.
4. The bread plate is always to the left of your dinner setting. The butter knife (which rests on the bread plate) is the only knife that gets to hang out to the left of the dinner plate.

Other Important Notes:

-Bottled condiments on the table just look tacky. Offer salt and pepper in shakers and use small dishes for serving sauces.

-Pour water into the glasses before guests come to the table. Doing this in advance just means you have one less thing to worry about.

-Pass food to the right (and stick to the same direction). That way, you guarantee everyone gets a taste of your world-famous rolls.

More Must-Clicks:

Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Guide

5 Holiday Entertaining Tips from the Fashionable Hostess

Confessions of a Horrible Houseguest