Emily Post’s presence was felt throughout my childhood home (my mom displayed her etiquette bible proudly on our bookshelf). From how we set the table to dinner party etiquette to the respect we showed one another—these “rules” guided much of my younger life. They’ve also played a key role in who I’ve grown up to be. Yes, while you might be rolling your eyes at the idea of etiquette—and an elementary-age girl taking so much interest in the subject—it’s back in a big way. And because we’re all craving more gatherings, connection, and togetherness in 2023, knowing your dinner party etiquette is more important now than ever.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
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Dinner Party Etiquette: Everything You Need to Know for 2023
In the words of etiquette expert Heather Wiese, etiquette “is a path to compassion, consideration, and even empathy.” When posited that way, how could you not see the need for more etiquette in our world today?
To get a better idea of what’s expected of us (both as guests and as hosts), I chatted with Heather about all things etiquette. We spoke about what the concept means in 2023, how to navigate hostess gifts for every occasion, and the complex matter of dietary preferences. Be sure to read to the end—Heather’s sharing what’s in and what’s out for perfecting your dinner party etiquette.
“Etiquette” in this day and age can seem outdated. What does it mean for you in 2023?
This is a great question. What’s outdated about etiquette is the idea that etiquette is outdated. I love that there’s a new buzz around reformatting our ideas and ideals of protocol. Behavior is the elephant in the room no one can avoid. We all might as well harness it and learn to handle it well. Modern etiquette guidelines are the tools you need to realize what isn’t typically obvious to you. Frankly, these revelations make the difference between being perceived as gracious and impressive or possibly lacking in an ability to relate or conduct yourself well in a given situation.
How can etiquette be used as a tool to help us act more respectfully and thoughtfully toward others?
Reprogram your idea of etiquette. It’s a word many of us need to reconsider and redefine in our minds in order to see its real value. If you use etiquette to feel more elite or one-up someone, you’ve missed the boat completely (and you can assume everyone saw the big splash into a self-absorbed abyss). Etiquette is a path to compassion, consideration, and even empathy when used as intended.
Reprogram your idea of etiquette. It’s a word many of us need to reconsider and redefine in our minds in order to see its real value.
What are some good examples of host gifts to bring to a dinner party? Do you always have to bring a gift?
The key phrase here was “dinner party.” Yes—always contribute. If you’re helping with the dinner itself, there might be something small in addition you can bring that says, “I appreciate you hosting.” However, when you’re arriving as a carefree guest being served, a modest but thoughtful gift is a big YES.
I’ll give you a few scenarios from my past few weeks. Over the holiday, I was invited to my parents’ friends for a casual dinner and football-watching. They made dinner. He has a wine collection I’d be intimidated to grace with my last-minute local purchase. Instead, I brought a pretty desk calendar from my collection.
There really are only two rules: consider the host, contribute something material in some way.
I’ve picked up some funny cocktail napkins, a nice candle, and some gourmet chocolates on different occasions for similar parties. Last week I was invited to the home of someone I don’t know well. I had no idea of their style. I grabbed a gift tag from my stash and a fresh orchid on the way to the dinner party. Last night I headed out last-minute to a friend’s house for an impromptu dinner. I grabbed a bottle of wine from my stash so I didn’t show up empty-handed. There really are only two rules: consider the host, contribute something material in some way.
Dietary preferences are so common these days. What are some ways to navigate this as a guest? What about if you’re the host?
If you’re the guest and you have true dietary restrictions, you’ve been doing this dance far longer than any of us have been commenting on the subject. I commend you for showing up and doing what you can to be social and relatively discrete with a difficult situation. Everyone I’ve encountered with these issues has always handled it so well. They contact the host ahead, sometimes bring their own food, and put everyone at ease as they navigate their critical musts. Seeing this done graciously is truly impressive.
Hosts, it’s always good to ask if anyone has any dietary limitations and if you’re feeling accommodating if anyone has any preferences—although the latter is not necessary. If you do have someone who requires special food handling, ask their advice and take it. Take it as a chance to learn from someone’s experiences.
It’s 2023—what’s in and what’s out in the world of dinner party etiquette?
- Good manners and thoughtfulness. Knowing how to set the table isn’t out of style by any means. If you’re truly into entertaining, knowing some modern trends to offer up is always good.
- Know the source. Growing sustainably, responsibly, locally—these are all growing in popularity and they are great dinner party conversation. Be ready for interesting meals that bring conversation to the table.
- Mocktails. That’s right! They aren’t just for moms-to-be anymore. Creative juices and flavor are flowing and so fun to make. There’s now a trendy take on being healthier, pacing yourself better, or simply avoiding alcohol altogether.
- Mushrooms, roots, and foraging. Unique fruits aren’t out altogether, but the earthy elements and backwoods fare are having their day.
- Experiences. Maybe it’s because we’re all out of our cages with a new view on life and friends and celebrating. Whatever the reason, planning out themes, bringing in a pro, or creating an experiential environment is definitely having a moment.
- Etiquette! No, really. People are arming themselves with civility and modern manners for no other reason, just to have an enjoyable night away from the norm. Come looking educated in this little movement with questions to make conversation like: How do you know the host? How do you like to spend your free time? Do you get to travel or if you could, where would you love to go? Are you watching a good series or reading a good book?
In general, a dinner party is about people gathering and having a great time. These are the buzz-kills you should always avoid, especially now.
- Bringing bought food when everyone else has contributed a homemade dish.
- Bringing your complaints or divisive conversations to the party.
- Cooking with canned, preservative-loaded foods.
- Talking to only the people you know and not asking questions to learn about new subjects or people (it’s just a few hours, you can do it!).
- Bringing up how much something costs or how much someone, including yourself, makes.
- Arriving early. Give your hosts time to do their thing. Don’t show up early and cut their timeline short.
fashionablyrudely late. Let’s be real, dinner parties aren’t business meetings—unless they sort-of are. A good guideline is 5-10 min grace from the host’s recommended start time.