If you’re new to the hosting game, especially if you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving or another holiday dinner or party, it can be a little scary. You want to have fun, but you also want to make sure everything goes right. And you’re probably worried about following proper etiquette—which can be hard to do when it feels like it’s always changing.
“To be honest, etiquette is all about making those around you feel comfortable, so it’s normal that some things change over the course of time,” explains etiquette expert Lisa Grotts. “But, good table manners will never go out of style.”
That’s exactly why we reached out to etiquette experts (including Grotts) to find out which outdated rules you no longer need to follow this holiday season. The good news: everything’s a lot more casual now, so you can focus on having a good time.
You don’t have to send paper invitations
According to licensed etiquette expert Rachel Wagner, sending invitations via the internet used to be considered impersonal, but now it’s fine. “It’s more acceptable today, especially for young people who live and work by their mobile phones and keep electronic calendars versus paper calendars,” Wagner says. So go ahead, make that Facebook event. And if you’re a guest, make sure you actually respond—it’s important for the host to know how to plan, Wagner explains.
You can play music during dinner
“Gone are the days of complete musical silence,” says international business etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer. In fact, a little music in the background can help make things less awkward—just make sure it’s right for the occasion. “Let the music be unobtrusive and appropriate, [and] stay away from unseasonal or high-volume genres,” Schweitzer says.
Your table settings can be simple
“It used to be that the table would be set to the nines with all of the plates and glasses,” explains event planner Alexandria Proko. But you can totally keep things casual now. “Today, it’s much more common that the table be set with a beautiful centerpiece, place settings and perhaps a cute place card for each guest,” Proko says. She also suggests that hosts set up a bar in another room (it’s better for mingling, anyway) and skip putting out wine glasses at the table.
You don’t have to do everything for your guests
Just because it’s the holidays, doesn’t mean you need to throw a traditional sit-down dinner. “In the past, hosts would want to do everything and keep their guests uninvolved but now it’s standard to have guests around the kitchen while the host cooks at an island or standing around the kitchen table,” says national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, adding that it’s totally okay to have a serve-yourself bar.
You don’t have to use fancy silverware and dishes
Along with keeping your table simple and having a “serve yourself” option, Gottsman says it’s fine to use paper products at your soiree. And according to international etiquette consultant Julia Esteve, you don’t even have to use real silverware. “Historically, fine silverware was imperative to show one’s social standing,” says Esteves, noting that now it’s not really necessary. If you’d rather have a casual party with a holiday buffet, go for it.
(Image credit: Cara Dolan/Stocksy)
You don’t have to prepare everything yourself
It used to be improper for anyone but the host to have a hand in food prep, but that’s just not the case anymore—it’s okay to make it a potluck and ask guests to contribute dishes, too. “As the host, it’s up to you to make the main course of Turkey, starters and beverages, but then divvy up the other courses for your guests from side dishes to desserts,” Grotts says.
You can start even if people are late
Another old-fashioned rule that hosts were expected to follow? Don’t start dinner until all your guests are present. But as Proko notes, that’s simply not fair to your other guests. “Give it twenty minutes, and if they are late beyond that, they can catch up,” Proko says.
You don’t have to use gifts from guests that night
In the past, it may have been proper etiquette to put out flowers or wine or other host gifts during the dinner or party, but not doing so isn’t a faux pas now. “A host is not required or obligated to use the wine or flowers a guest may bring to the event as a gift,” says etiquette expert and trainer Devoreaux Walton. “It is at the discretion of the host to decide how to incorporate the gift into their home.”
You don’t have to totally outlaw phones
Technology use during a sit-down dinner is still considered a faux pas, but not as much as it used to be. “Technology is not just a means of communication anymore, it’s also how many people are capturing memories,” Proko says. “Encourage people to get their shots in prior to the meal, but ask everyone to put their phones away during and just enjoy the present company and conversation.”
Modern Faux Pas to Keep in Mind
There are some things that are still off the table in 2017…
- Don’t light scented candles or spray any fragrances. It used to be common to put out potpourri or other fragrances, but they can compete with all the yummy food smells and overwhelm your guests, according to Schweitzer.
- Don’t ask ultra-personal questions. “Avoid prying, inappropriate, personal questions such as, ‘are you seeing anyone yet?'” advises Schweitzer, suggesting people be extra sensitive about topics like relationships, marriage, children and job status.
- You should still send a thank you (even if it’s just a text). It doesn’t have to be a handwritten thank you card (although those are always nice!), but Grotts says e-thank you’s are just as acceptable, nowadays.
What etiquette rules do you think are outdated now?