With a new year approaching, we're more eager than ever to brush up on our etiquette skills. After all, it is the season for hosting, toasting, and gathering with friends and loved ones, and good manners are always in style. We've asked etiquette experts some of our most burning current etiquette questions, outlined below.
Meet the Expert
- Jackie Vernon-Thompson is a certified etiquette expert/consultant and the founder of From The Inside-Out School of Etiquette.
- Lisa Gache is an etiquette coach and lifestyle expert and the founder of Beverly Hills Manners.
- Rosalinda Randall is an etiquette and civility expert.
Is it OK to bring homemade food as a hostess gift?
Etiquette Expert Jackie Vernon-Thompson says that guests are better off arriving to a party without homemade food in hand. "To be safe and considerate, abide by the invitation," she advises. "If you were not asked to bring a dish, refrain from making such a gesture." But gifting a bottled beverage is certainly fair game. "The appropriate thing to do is perhaps showing up with a bottle of their favorite wine or non-alcoholic beverage if they do not drink alcohol," Vernon-Thompson adds.
Must I always provide a hostess gift when staying overnight at someone's home, even if they're a very close friend?
Your former college roommate always lets you crash during your weekends in her city, but given that the two of you go back decades, do you really need to present them with a gift of thanks? According to etiquette expert Lisa Gache, the answer is yes, indeed. "A token of appreciation should be acknowledged either at the beginning or upon completion of your stay, especially with close friends," she explains. "Our closest friends are often the ones who hold us most accountable and depend on our show of gratitude. We never want to take these relationships for granted."
Is it insensitive to post photos of my travels on social media?
Gache says you don't need to think twice about broadcasting your latest adventures on your news feed. "Social media is an expression of your character and values, and if you love jet-setting across the world and find pleasure in posting your travels so your followers can participate in your experience, that is your prerogative," she says. Besides, anyone who doesn't wish to see your posts can choose to exit quietly, she adds, noting, "Followers may always opt out if they feel their views not aligned."
If I can't attend a bridal shower, must I send a gift regardless, even if I'll also be purchasing one for the wedding?
A shower is generally just for a relatively small group, so receiving an invitation in the first place is an honor, Vernon-Thompson notes. "If you are close enough to the bride to be invited to the shower, that means you are special to the bride. If you are unable to attend, it is proper protocol to send a gift." And note that you'll still be expected to present the couple with another in advance of their big day, too. "When you attend the wedding, be sure to have a wedding gift in hand or follow the recommendations of the wedding registry in respect to gifts," Vernon-Thompson adds.
In the digital age, will a text or email to the host suffice as a thank-you following a dinner party?
If you can sit down and express your gratitude using pen and paper, even better, Gache says. "A text or email to the host would suffice, however a handwritten thanks leaves a lasting positive impression," she explains. "Taking the time to put pen to paper, add a stamp, and place it in the mail conveys extra gratitude to the host and practically guarantees a repeat invitation."
When a party guest presents me with a gift in front of others, should I open it on the spot?
This all depends on the nature of the event, Vernon-Thompson explains. "Typically, for events like a baby shower or birthday party, guests are excited to see all the wonderful gifts given," she explains. "Therefore, opening all gifts is expected and encouraged." But if a friend shows up to your dinner party bearing a present, you may choose to open it privately or later in the evening. "If the gift-giver insists that you open it, you can excuse yourself, asking the gift-giver to join you," Etiquette expert Rosalinda Randall comments. Alternatively, she suggests, "Thank them, informing them that you look forward to opening it up later."
If I wish to back out of existing social plans, when is it absolutely too late to do so?
Barring situations such as illness or a major family matter, backing out of a social commitment at the last minute is poorly advised and warrants a special type of approach, Randall explains. "If you must cancel at the last minute, call," she notes. "You must be grown-up about this. Remember that you are ruining someone’s plans. A sincere apology, and an offer to pay for the ticket or treat them to something in the future is a start."
Is it OK to ask a host if I can bring an out-of-town visitor to their party?
You were invited to a friend's fabulous annual holiday party only to learn that your sister and her husband are coming into town the same evening. But rather than assuming the three of you can show up arm in arm, follow Vernon-Thompson's lead. "Gracefully inform the hostess that you are very grateful for the invitation; however, you must decline because you will have guests that day or weekend," she suggests. "At that point, the hostess may say, 'Oh, bring them along.'" But the host must extend the invite, not you, Vernon-Thompson stresses. "Never ever voluntarily invite someone to an event you were invited. That’s improper etiquette."