The season for holiday dinner parties is upon us!  A quick lesson in holiday dinner party proper etiquette will serve as a reminder for these occasions. Whether the party is in the home of your boss, friends, or neighbors, by following these etiquette tips, you will set yourself apart as a gracious and thoughtful guest.

Here are 7 ways to make a great impression.


When you receive your holiday dinner invitation, call the host or hostess as soon as possible to let them know whether or not you will be attending. The host or hostess needs to plan food, beverages, and a seating chart.  As an aside, never bring uninvited guests with you.

2.  Arrival Time

Arrive at the time stated on the invitation, or within 10 minutes of it.

If the invitation is casual and sets the arrival time between 7:30 pm – 8:00 pm, then split the difference and be on the doorstep at 7:45 pm.

If the invitation says cocktails 7:00 pm- 8:00 pm, dinner at 8:00 pm, then arrive anytime during the cocktail hour, but at least 15 minutes before dinner. You don’t want to arrive just as everyone is being seated at the table.

3.  Host or Hostess Gift

A gift is a nice gesture for a small party, especially if you know the host or hostess well. It’s a wonderful way to show appreciation for the dinner invitation. However, this ritual varies in different parts of the United States and abroad. It also varies in different circles of friends. So, learn what’s appropriate where you live and with your friends. You don’t want to be the only one not taking a gift, and you don’t want to be the only one who does.

  • Appropriate hostess gifts include: flowers, decorative candle, food, or wine. While flowers are lovely, they do obligate an already busy hostess to find a vase and arrange them—so take them already arranged in a vase.
  • Take a bottle of wine only if you know the host and hostess’s wine preferences. The host and hostess are not expected to serve the wine at the dinner, as they will have already planned wines suited for the meal.
  • Some thoughtful gestures are to send a thank you gift after the party.  Gifts such as flowers, wine, or chocolates are always well-received.
  • If it’s a large formal party and, especially if you don’t know the host well, do not take a hostess gift.

4.  Cocktail Hour Before Dinner

If there are drinks and hors d’oeuvres before dinner, this is an ideal time to mingle with those you know and introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Engage in small talk by asking other guests how they know the host and hostess and what plans they have made for the holidays.

5.  Dinner Announcement

If the table has place cards, it is recommended that you find your seat and stand behind your chair until the host or hostess sits down. Then, you may take your seat. If there are no place cards, the host will indicate where you should sit. In this case, it is perfectly acceptable at a dinner party for a man to seat the woman to his right.

6.  Don’t Depart Too Soon

Generally, it is proper to stay an hour after dinner. It’s certainly not considerate to the host and hostess if you leave just after the meal is finished. Often, the host or hostess rise from the table at the end of the meal and suggest everyone get comfortable in the living room. Coffee or after-dinner drinks are usually served at this time. A good indication that the evening has come to an end is when the host or hostess no longer offers refills.

7.  Thank You Notes

It’s not necessary to send a thank you note to your host and hostess if you thanked them verbally. However, if you do send a thank you note, it is a very nice gesture and makes you stand out as a thoughtful guest. Perhaps, instead of a thank you note, you may consider phoning the hostess the next day to reiterate your enjoyment of the party.

Use these guest etiquette tips at your next holiday dinner party and guarantee next years invite!