Proper Etiquette for All Occasions

Social etiquette tips

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

In This Article

If you're ready to brush up on all of the etiquette basics and become a master socializer, you've come to the right place.

What Is Etiquette?

Etiquette means behaving in a customary and polite way while engaging with other people in various personal, social, and professional situations.

Here, etiquette experts chime in regarding a number of common situations where you'll want to be sure to present your best behavior. Read on to explore five types of etiquette to help guide you through various social situations.

Basic Social Etiquette

There are certain accepted behaviors in all social situations that you need to learn. With few exceptions, putting them into practice can make a big difference in your social life.

Timeliness/Showing up Late

There are some situations where being a bit fashionably late is actually the proper practice, and there are others in which it would be considered quite rude, explains Jules Martinez Hirst of Etiquette Consulting Inc. "Normally, arriving on time means arriving 15 minutes early," Hirst notes. "However, if you are anything like me, you don’t want an early party crasher when you are trying to put the finishing touches together. Thus, showing up 10 minutes late is acceptable."

If you know that you are running behind, give your host proper notice, urges Chiara Riggs Sill of Etiquette Moderne. "Observe the minute rule: for every minute you are going to be late, give two minutes notice," she states. "So, if dinner is at 6 and you will arrive at 6:10, it would be polite to phone or text at 5:40 notifying your tardiness and expected arrival time."

Situations where you should never be fashionably late, according to Hirst? Weddings, baby showers, graduations, and performances.

Personal Space

People's need for personal space can greatly vary, according to Hirst. "People living in a large city need less space than those from small towns," she says. As a guiding point, Hirst suggests maintaining about four feet of space between yourself and someone you do not know. There are key rules to keep in mind as it pertains to people's individual belongings, too. "These include not touching anyone’s belongings, knocking before entering a room, not cutting in line and, when sitting, leave a seat between yourself and a stranger if there is room," Hirst adds.

Greeting Someone

This is always an essential gesture when entering a room or event. "Greetings are important," Hirst notes. "They make a connection between the parties and help assure that people are not made to feel left out." Use your relationship with the person whom you are greeting as a guide to determine the proper greeting type, be it a handshake, a hug, or a fist bump.

RSVPing to a Gathering

Being prompt is always essential, Hirst says. "If you have a conflict, let your host or hostess know and give them a date as to when you will follow up with a firm answer," she adds. And note that unless your invitation says so, you are not permitted to bring a guest with you to an event.

Hostess Gifts

Hostess gifts are always thoughtful when attending a get-together, Hirst comments. It is less about bringing something costly and more about thanking the hostess for graciously inviting you over, she adds. You're not off the hook simply by bringing a consumable for everyone to enjoy. And whatever you select should be catered to your recipient's likes and interests, Sill shares. "My favorite hostess gifts are personalized cocktail napkins, a favorite beverage or candle if I'm certain of it, and charitable donations in someone's name."

Consider the type of event you are attending to determine whether you should bring a gift with you or mail it ahead of time. "Gifts should not be taken to a very formal dinner party or to larger events but should be sent before or preferably after the event," says Julia Esteve Boyd, founder of The Etiquette Consultant and author of A Dash of Decorum. And note that in some instances, your gift will be admired for all to see, she adds. "Gifts will probably be expected for large baby showers, engagement parties, et. cetera, as the opening of gifts can be part of the celebration."

Host gift etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin


Being a good communicator opens doors! Here are some basics you'll want to master to ensure smooth social sailing in all situations.

Remembering Names

Keeping track of names can be challenging, but it's a key skill to develop. "This is an essential part of making your first impression," says Maryanne Parker of Manor of Manners. "When we meet someone, we can try to associate the person’s name with something that’s easy to remember." Repeating someone's name while conversing is also a useful tactic (even if done in your head), Parker adds. Not sure if you fully grasped someone's name the first time? As Parker urges, "Ask them to spell it to you instead of pretending that you got it."

Using Cellphones

Now more than ever, people are on their phones at all times of the day, both while in and out of the house. Place your phone in your handbag while dining with friends. "While we are at the table, the purpose is to communicate with others and to be present," she says. If you do have to take a call, politely excuse yourself to do so outside.

While participating in video calls, phones are acceptable if you are using them to take notes, but be sure to inform other parties that you are using your phone for this purpose and not to socialize, Parker says.

Setting boundaries with regard to phone use is also beneficial, Access to Culture's Sharon Schweitzer says. "You set the tone of your communications with others," she notes. "Just because you receive a call or message does not mean you have to respond immediately."

Lastly, don't stand in the corner and scroll through your phone instead of mixing and mingling, Schweitzer urges. "If you walk into a new office or a wedding reception and do not know anyone, take time to engage face-to-face," she comments. "Defaulting to your phone as a crutch will prevent you from truly connecting with people."

Interacting on Social Media

Each social platform is different and comes with its own rulebook. On LinkedIn, contacts of yours may be looking for endorsements pertaining to their professional skills. "Sometimes we need to be really careful about offering them, because if we do not know the person well, it might look unprofessional," Parker says. "Try to be sincere, and do not do this just because you are looking for endorsements in return."

When it comes to selecting a profile picture for the site, a professional headshot of you, and you only, is key. "Do not post a picture with your pets, kids, or significant other," Parker advises. But do choose something! Parker adds, "Profiles without a picture are not taken seriously."

On Facebook, interactions are more casual, but there are still some general guidelines to keep in mind. For one, Parker says, "Do not comment negatively under anyone’s post if you never comment or acknowledge their content in the first place." Receiving praise from friends? "If someone likes and comments under your post, like and comment back. If there are too many comments and you are not able to like and comment under every single one, just make sure to thank everyone at least one

And when it comes to your posts? "Pause first," Schweitzer suggests. "Once a text, Tweet, or post is sent, it is live. Sure, you can delete it, but it is out there on the Internet, just waiting to bite back."

Gracefully Changing the Subject

This can be challenging but is a key skill to have. "There are several ways to change the subject," Parker shares. "In many situations we really do not need to explain why we should change the subject," she says—rather, simply go ahead and select another topic of conversation. "If the person doesn’t get the hint, we can just let them know that we are not comfortable discussing this very topic," Parker adds.

Unsure how to close a conversation? Schweitzer shares a few easy responses. "'Thanks for sharing your views, this gives us something to consider. Talk to you soon,'" she offers. Or, "'It is nice to meet you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening. Excuse me.'"

Dealing With Rude Questions

Everyone is bound to face a rude question every now and then. However, people's intentions can vary. "Some people ask rude questions because they want to see our reaction," Parker says. "Others
ask rude questions because they do not even realize that the questions are rude." One tactic Parker advises is to respond with humor while staying composed.


If you plan to share a meal with anyone, be sure to first learn proper table manners. Everyone will appreciate this effort!

Restaurant Table Manners

Have a bag with you? "The proper way to keep a clutch is to place it between your lower back and your chair rest," says Mina Martinez of Prestige Protocol.  Wait to begin eating until everyone receives their food and is comfortably seated.

Looking to treat your group to dinner? "If you’re hosting a restaurant event and would like to pay for everyone’s meal, tell the waiter ahead of time upon arriving that you should receive the check or also give the waiter your credit card ahead of time," Martinez suggests. And note that you should plan to meet your group in the lobby before sitting down. "It is a policy at many restaurants to wait to be seated," Martinez notes. "It’s polite to wait for your entire party to arrive before being seated."

Formal Dinner Party Manners

Do not sit down simply where you see fit. "Look for your place card," Martinez notes. "If there isn’t one, wait for the host to indicate where you should sit." While dining, engage politely with those around you. "If you are hosting a dinner party, the key ingredient of a pleasant occasion is simply the wish to see your friends enjoying themselves and each other," Martinez adds.  

Coffee Shop Etiquette

Cafes can make for excellent workspaces or meeting places. "For many, it’s necessary to break the routine, get out of their living space, and work from a coffee shop," Martinez says. However, practice proper etiquette by respecting employees, making eye contact while ordering, and reviewing the menu before approaching the counter. A few other key tips? "If you’re by yourself, opt for a smaller table," Martinez encourages. "If you plan on staying awhile, don’t overstay your welcome.  Coffee shops rely on open tables to serve more customers."

Formal dining etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin


How should you best conduct yourself in the office, taking meetings, and celebrating colleagues? Experts weigh in with best practices.

Business Attire

What you wear working from home is likely going to be very different from what you put on when you head into the office. "Business attire is it is not only expected when meeting a client or going to the office but can make an important and lasting impression when people are determining who to choose for an important project," notes Diane Grotsman of The Protocol School of Texas.

Business Gifts

Being a supportive teammate or client goes a long way. "A sign of the ultimate professional is one who celebrates another person's success," Grostman says. "Always make sure to send a handwritten note or even a text of congratulations." When it comes to physical gifts, confirm the recipient's employer's corporate policy first; Grotsman notes that some companies do not allow employees to accept gifts. "Keep the gift modest so your client does not feel uncomfortable when giving a client gift," she adds.

Business Greetings

Keep it simple and classic! "As far as greetings, handshakes are still the greeting of choice," Grotsman says. To keep yourself and colleagues healthy, Grotsman advises keeping hand sanitizer nearby and washing hands often. "Using common sense in good hygiene along with other precautions will ensure you make a good first impression when shaking hands," she notes.

Handshake business etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin