Holiday Party Etiquette: 8 Tips for Being a Good Dinner Guest

We’re in the middle of the holiday party season, and etiquette pros are circulating their annual advice for how to be a good guest at a company party, ugly sweater get-together, or New Year’s Eve soiree. But what if you get invited to ring in the season at a sit-down holiday dinner party?

Don’t stress about holiday dinner party etiquette: we’ve got seven essential tips for being an excellent guest and staying on your host’s nice list.   

Arrive on Time

Don’t treat this event like a casual house party where you can drop in at your convenience. If your host is planning a sit-down dinner, they’ve planned the time when they want that dinner to start. Honor the host’s wishes by following dinner party protocol, and arrive at the time listed on the invitation.

Don’t show up earlier than expected. You may think you’re just being punctual, but you’re really putting your host on the spot when they’re still trying to prepare for their guests.

If you’re running a few minutes late, let your host know and say that you understand if they want to start dinner without you.

Respect the RSVP

Your host didn’t just include an RSVP on the invite for their own health: they need to get a head count so that they know how many places to set and how much food to prepare. Once you receive an invitation, it’s just basic good dinner party guest etiquette to let your host know as soon as possible whether you’ll be able to make it. And don’t bring a plus-one to the holiday dinner party without asking the host first. A good host will be gracious if an extra guest shows up, but it’s better not to put your generous host in that position.

Dress to Impress

If you’re not sure how casual or formal the dinner will be, air on the side of getting a bit dressed up. You probably don’t need to show up in a ball gown, but you could use the occasion to wear that new cocktail dress or nice blouse. The holidays are a time when people tend to enjoy dressing up, so make the most of it.

Get Creative with Your Host/Hostess Gift

It’s the gift-giving season, so the idea of picking out a host/hostess gift may already be on your mind. When considering what you should bring to a holiday dinner party, a bottle of wine will probably come to mind first, but this can backfire if you don’t know what kind of wine the host likes. Instead, bring something a little bit out-of-the-box that your host can enjoy at their leisure. We have a whole post with creative ideas for host gifts if you’re stumped.

Still not totally sure what to bring to this dinner party? If all else fails, it’s always a good idea to bring a consumable but non-perishable item, like a box of our Original Soft-Baked Biscotti. Food items are thoughtful gifts because they have wide appeal and won’t clutter the host’s home long-term.

Stow Your Phone During Dinner

It’s one thing to take your phone out for a few quick pictures before dinner starts, but it’s another to be scrolling through Facebook while your host is bringing out the main course. Dinner party protocol is like movie theater etiquette: keep your phone silent and out of sight. If you absolutely need to get your phone out (say you missed a call from your babysitter, for example), politely excuse yourself from the table and find somewhere quiet to make your call.

Offer Your Help, But Don’t Be Pushy

In the spirit of the holiday season, you may want to give your host the gift of your assistance. It’s fine to offer the host your help as he or she finishes preparing dinner or clears the table after the meal, but don’t continue to insist if the host says they’re fine. They may honestly feel most comfortable handling everything themselves, and having a guest who keeps trying to help will put them in an awkward position.

Don’t Dine and Dash

We know that around this time of year, there are a lot of holiday parties happening, but it’s bad etiquette to double-book yourself on the night you’ve RSVPed to a dinner party. You’re expected to stay for the whole meal (including dessert), and it would be rude to duck out early to head to another event.

So when is it polite to leave? Etiquette expert Rachel Wagner says you should take your cue from the host—once he or she stops offering drink refills, it’s a sign that they’re ready for the evening to wind down.

Send a Thank-You Note

There’s no particular dinner party protocol that requires you to send a thank-you note after a dinner party, but it’s a thoughtful gesture that your host is sure to appreciate. Choose a nice holiday-themed card and write a quick note letting your host know you had a great time.

Don’t forget to shop our baked goods to find the perfect thank-you gift for your holiday party host.


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