5 Questions Everyone Still Has About Party Etiquette, and the New Answers

(Image credit: Bridget Pizzo)

When it comes to party etiquette, some rules never change: Put your napkin on your lap, eat with your mouth closed, say thank you. But thanks to the modern, informal times we live in, other rules shift or change completely depending on the context or the crowd. So what’s an etiquette enthusiast supposed to do?

Here are five party etiquette questions that still trip people up, and how we think it’s okay to deal with them now.

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

1. Are email party invites finally okay?

Yes! Wedding invitations may be the only invitation still riding the paper train. For every other kind of party, it’s usually perfectly fine to send an email invite or evite — especially when sites like Paperless Post make it so you don’t have to sacrifice one sliver of style or class in the process.

What’s still not okay? Forgetting to RSVP. It doesn’t matter if the invitation is paper, digital, or an email chain — if you are invited to a dinner or party, you owe the host a clear answer as to whether or not you’ll be attending. And if you respond yes, then show up! Flaking will always be a faux-pax.

2. Is it acceptable to ask guests to take off their shoes?

This question still divides people, but here’s my take: If it’s a small, informal dinner (six people or less), then yes, it’s okay to politely ask your guests to remove their shoes when they arrive. (Better yet is to lead by example by leaving two or three pairs of your shoes by the door, and then provide a little basket of slippers so guests get the idea.) But if you’re hosting a larger, fancier cocktail party with more than six people, lots of mingling, and guests have dressed up for the occasion, then no, it’s no longer okay.

Why? Because at that point you’re asking someone to remove what was probably a snazzy addition to their outfit for the night, and if they’ve gone to the trouble of dressing up to come out to your party, having them ditch their shoes at the door and pad around in socks or bare feet is both a sartorial and social buzzkill.

But it’s your house, your rules some would say. While it’s wonderful to stick to a no-shoes-in-the-house policy for regular daily life, parties are a step outside of regular life, and so bending the rules is part of the game. (Of course, if it’s totally muddy or snowy out, I’d hope my guests would take off their shoes without me saying something, as I would expect them to expect of me!)

If you’re adamant about not having shoes in your house, then at least let your guests know ahead of time with a little self-deprecating “indulge me on this” note in your invitation (humor is a great buffer against offense). You could also just turn the whole thing on its head by having a Fancy Socks party or something!

(Image credit: Gabriela Herman)

3. If a host is given a bottle of wine, is he obligated to open and serve it that evening?

If the wine was a thank-you-for-hosting gift, it’s just that — a gift — and therefore it’s totally up to the host what he wants to do with it. He may choose to serve it with dinner, or he may put it away to enjoy later. Either way it’s his prerogative entirely!

If, however, the host suggested bringing a bottle of wine in response to the best dinner guest ever asking what they can do to help out then, yes, the host is expected to open the bottle and serve it that evening. The same goes for any item from the guest that is directly related to the evening’s meal, like a side dish or dessert. Those things should always be served that evening, and the leftovers left with the host.

4. Is it okay, as a guest, to post party pics to social media?

Not without checking with the hosts first! It’s only polite to let them dictate how much of their party they want shared on social media. They may have reasons for wanting to keep it private or low-key. If you have mutual friends who were not invited, for example, posting party photos tagged with everyone else who was invited is basically booking your host on a one-way ticket to Awkward Town. Don’t be that guy. (Also, don’t ever share photos of other people’s children without their explicit permission!)

Of course, your hosts may very well be those people who not only have a party, but create a hashtag for it — #alexandannieknowhowtoparty! — so in that case, by all means social it up. But again, be considerate and ask first.

(Image credit: Andrea Bemis)

5. Seriously — what are the rules when it comes to requesting and accommodating dietary restrictions?

This continues to be an etiquette conundrum: Is the onus on the guest or the host to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences? Should a host do whatever is necessary for her guest to enjoy himself, or should a guest be flexible and accommodating to the host’s efforts?

Here’s the scoop: A guest’s food allergies or long-term food lifestyles for religious or medical reasons always warrant accommodation on the part of the host; a guest’s food preferences do not.

What’s a food preference? A food preference is, for the most part, anything that is not a medical, religious, or deeply philosophical reason (vegetarianism, veganism) for avoiding a given food. If you’re avoiding a food just to lose weight, for example, or because you don’t like the taste of it, or for any other personal reason that isn’t life-threatening, that’s a food preference. In that case, adhering to a food preference is up to the guest, not the host … unless the host decides to take it upon herself!

What this means practically: When you accept a dinner invitation, you should state a food allergy or lifestyle (veganism, vegetarianism, kosher) up front, but do not state a food preference unless you’re asked — and even then, take a light-handed approach and place the prep burden on yourself.

For example, if your host asks if there are any foods you’re avoiding, you could say “Thanks so much for asking! I’m actually not eating a lot of grains right now, but if that doesn’t work with your menu, I’d be happy to bring a big salad!” This way it leaves it up to your host to say that she’s happy to accommodate your preference in her menu, or to take you up on your offer.

What other etiquette rules do you live by in this new age?

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