Should You Ask Guests to Take Off Their Shoes? And 7 Other Holiday Hosting Questions, Answered

published Dec 8, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

One of my favorite aspects of the holiday season is having a great excuse to host parties and get-togethers. I love bringing friends and family together in my home and, if I’m being honest, coming up with decor, color schemes, customized cocktails, and fun appetizers helps me relax and decompress. But with as much joy as it gives me to host, the “technical” aspects, if you will, actually make me quite anxious. This goes for when I’m the host or the attendee. 

The protocol around holiday gatherings — from hostess gifting to using paper versus fine china, to the dos and don’ts of RSVPing — can be hard to navigate. So we asked the pros, including Nick Leighton, etiquette expert and host of the weekly etiquette podcast “Were You Raised By Wolves?”, our hottest holiday hosting questions to really understand what goes and what doesn’t. He says that, in general, “Etiquette is all about being mindful of other people — and certainly hosting around the holidays is no exception.” Leighton feels it’s important to remember that both the host and their guests have a part to play. So, before you stress over whether to allow guests to wear their shoes or what to post on social media, here’s your expert-approved guide to holiday party etiquette — just in time for the big event.

Should you ask party guests to take off their shoes?

Hosts can request that guests remove their shoes in their home, but Leighton says that if you do, it’s nice to offer slippers (or booties) to those who want them. “Although for larger or more formal events, it’s ideal to just let guests keep their shoes on and let professional rug cleaning be part of the cost of entertaining,” he explains. Now, if you do opt for shoe removal, Jenny Dreizen, modern-day etiquette expert and COO of Fresh Starts Registry,  says to make sure there is somewhere easy to take them off, such as a stool or a bench. “It can be awkward right in the doorway,” says Dreizen. “That also ensures there’s a spot where guests can find them on their way out later.” It may also be helpful (and less awkward) to hang a sign asking them to remove their shoes when guests first walk in so they know right out of the gate.

Should you serve a holiday dinner on paper plates?

Of course! Dreizen believes the holidays are about “connection, not dishes.” Just make sure the plates are sturdy enough to handle the heavy meal. “You don’t want plate failure — what a waste of stuffing that could be,” she says. “They have some really nice heavy-duty paper plates out there, or you can layer a flimsier but beautiful paper plate over a sturdier paper or plastic one for a really lovely ‘wow’ factor.”  

Can you post photos from an event you hosted on social media without asking the guests’ permission?

We’re living in the age of free-for-all social media posting. But Dreizen says if you know a guest is sensitive about it, then be mindful and don’t post any pictures they’re in. With that said, she also says it never hurts to ask guests for permission ahead of time. “If someone does take issue with you posting [photos of] them, I would remove the photo, as it doesn’t seem worth losing the connection over that,” she says. Additionally, Dreizen recommends asking parents before posting photos of their children on social media. If you’re worried about people who weren’t invited seeing the event and being offended (and you care), it’s probably best to skip the Instagram or Facebook post altogether. 

If people don’t RSVP to your event, what is the right way (or time) to ask if they’re coming?

According to Leighton, one of the rudest things a guest can do is not promptly respond to an invitation. “For hosts who want to follow-up, a polite-yet-direct approach is typically best, such as ‘Hey, I’m just finalizing my shopping list for Friday’s dinner party. Do let me know today if you’re able to join us,’” he suggests. Odds are, they simply forgot!

Can you ask people to stay off their phones at your event?

Asking guests to stay off their phones is not a party request that Dreizen supports. “People have kids, parents, babysitters, and significant others that they might need to be aware of and in contact with,” she explains. “They also have social anxieties that a phone might help them quell.”  But Leighton says that if you’re bothered by guests who excessively use their phones at your events, then perhaps it’s best to simply note that about them and think twice before including them on future guest lists.

What should you say or do if guests ask to help you clean?

Unless you sincerely want their help, it’s fine to decline when guests offer to help clean up, says Leighton. And in the wise words of Martha Stewart, you shouldn’t start cleaning while guests are still seated at the table unless absolutely necessary. “If you’re going to entertain, try to do as much as you can to make your guests feel wanted, to feel included, and to be happy when they leave.”  

If you’re given a hosting gift — must you open or serve it at the party?

Gifts for the host are indeed gifts, says Leighton. The host is free to do with this gift as they please — and if it’s a food item? “There’s no obligation for the host to serve it,” he says. 

What is an appropriate gift for your host/hostess?

Some of Dreizen’s favorite hosting gifts include a good bottle of wine or alcohol or a fancy sparkling water. “I also like candles, desserts, or a treat — such as coffee — for the next morning, as the hosts might be fully exhausted from hosting while tidying up,” she suggests. 

Have any other hosting etiquette questions or conundrums? Let us know in the comments below!