Be the Perfect Party Guest


Everyone you know seems to be planning a holiday party and they all want your RSVP, ASAP. While it can sometimes feel like celebrating the holidays is mandatory, it doesn’t have to be that way. When approached correctly, all the festive gatherings, gift exchanges and office holiday parties can be genuinely enjoyed, stress-free. Just follow these easy tips on making the most out of all those endless holiday gatherings.

It’s 6pm, there’s a snowstorm outside, and you just got home from an exhausting week at work. Your company’s holiday party is tonight and it’s the last thing in the world you want to do.

Our advice in this situation is to just go. Just by making an effort and putting in an appearance, you will be solidifying essential work relationships, possibly placing yourself in good stead for the future.

According to etiquette expert Louise Fox, owner of The Etiquette Ladies, Louise Fox Protocol Solutions and a partner with Civility “You do business 9 to 5, you build business 5 to 9. Of course there are times when you may not be able to attend the company party do to some unforeseen commitment but you do yourself no favors by skipping out just because you tell everyone you don’t want to ‘waste’ an evening with people you work with.”

The party itself may be tiresome and long, but consider it a part of your job – a job you’d like to continue to work at next year.

Make nice
You’re at a neighborhood holiday gathering and the busybody from down the street who owns the garden your dog dug up, has you cornered in conversation. While she’s not exactly hostile, you’re tired of hearing her list the ways she could improve the behavior of your pets and children.

Our advice: make nice. Smile and nod once in a while to show you’re following along, and when you can, extract yourself as politely as possible by excusing yourself or including another person in the conversation.

When caught with a complainer, says Fox, “You may say something like, ‘Oh really? That has not been my experience’, or ‘Oh, that’s too bad you had that experience. I’m really enjoying the holiday party’. Then say, ‘Nice talking with you’ and excuse yourself.”

The holidays are no time to antagonize or worsen relations with kooky neighbors; they’re a time to build bridges and find common ground. Consider it your holiday mission to be as nice as possible to those you don’t get along with.

Bring a small (but thoughtful) gift
If someone took the time to clean their home, prepare food and drink and play host or hostess to a crowd of people, they deserve a little recognition and thanks for the effort.

Our advice: As an invitee, you should always bring a little something to put into the host’s hand when you are welcomed. The gift doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant, just something small that shows you put some thought into what they might like.

“Bring a bottle of wine if they like wine, but don’t expect it to be served as it may not suit the menu. Say ‘This is for you to enjoy later’. Flowers are always appreciated as long as they’re already in a vase. Otherwise, the host has to look for a vase, arrange the bouquet, etc., when they should be spending time with the guests,” says Fox.

Dress up
Same as above. Someone went to the trouble of planning, preparing and hosting a shindig, so you can go to the trouble of taking a shower, putting on a little make up and getting dressed up in venue-appropriate evening wear.

Rolling up at a fancy holiday party in yesterday’s jeans and sweatshirt screams “I don’t care about these people or this gathering”, and that’s not good for maintaining friendships or acquaintances.

Fox warns to beware of the word ‘casual’. “It does not mean you should show up at a dinner party in track pants. In most cases, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.”

Less is more
With the economy in poor shape and frugality the hot new trend, holiday parties this year will no doubt be less extravagant than in years past. Hors d’oeuvres will likely be the mainstay of most gatherings, and open bars will be few and far between.

Our advice: If you’ve got plans to go to a party at 7pm, consider snacking on a mini-meal beforehand so you don’t arrive starved and demolish the tapas plate. When it comes to alcohol, instead of pre-drinking, consider just drinking less at the party and staying relatively sober. That way there won’t be any embarrassing incidents to regret the next morning.

If you’re at a holiday work party, says Fox, don’t make the mistake of thinking what you say is off the record. “Keeping in mind the holiday party is like a business meeting with alcohol, food and dancing, if you misbehave, higher ups may view you as irresponsible or lacking in self control.”

Don’t just vanish
Everyone’s been guilty of it once or twice: the party vanishing act. You’ve arrived, glad-handed, ate and drank and then silently and unnoticed (or so you thought), you slipped out the door.

Our advice: Track down the host or hostess and thank them for the invitation and the party. Be gracious and sincere, and then excuse yourself politely. With a dozen things to worry about, they will appreciate the fact that you said goodbye before disappearing into the night.

Be old-fashioned
In the good ol’ days, after the party invitees would send off a short thank you note to their hosts, to thank them for the food and the company. These days, the thank you note has fallen out of favor.

Our advice: If the party was lavish, fun, or even just okay, send a note. Sets of 12 funky and colorful thank you cards are available at stationary shops and office supply outlets like Staples for relatively cheap (We found some gorgeous ones for $12.95 at The Papery on Yonge Street), and for the cost of a stamp, you can demonstrate that you have class while showing your host some appreciation.

Says Fox: “To have someone to your home where you showcase your party planning expertise, your organizational skills, your cooking skills, your housekeeping skills, your taste in furniture, your husband and your kids takes time and effort, and is a pretty big deal today when most people are short on time. The very least one can do is write a thank you card. You should also send a thank you note to the party planners at your company. As a former corporate event planner, I know how much that ‘thank you’ means.”

Louise Fox is an etiquette coach on the TV show Style by Jury, a consultant on the Chef School, and a guest expert on the Slice Network’s Mom Show. She is also the etiquette coach for the Toronto Argonauts Cheerleaders and an instructor at Georgian College.


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