'Tis the season for cocktail and holiday parties, whether for your office, partner’s office or a social group. Here are a few tips to make this season the hap-hap-happiest. 

1. A host gift is a lovely way to thank your host for their hospitality. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but should be used for entertaining, either at the event or in the future. Spend the same amount as you would on a dinner entree. Think coasters, cocktail napkins, hand soaps or a favorite cookbook. Snacks are always a good idea, as are favorite spice blends. Two chocolate bars wrapped neatly with a ribbon is a nice gift. Gifts are to be enjoyed later, so don’t expect the host to open wine or snacks for the party. If you opt for flowers, buy them in a vase and avoid the need for immediate water, causing the host to stop entertaining and find their own vase. Traveling can be difficult, so framed pictures also work nicely.

2. RSVP immediately. There is little negotiating on this. If you’ve ever hosted an event, you know the added stress that comes with the uncertainty of the attendance count. Don’t feel the need to explain if you cannot make the event. This is what causes stress and failure to respond. Simply say, "I’m unavailable to attend. Enjoy!" And never bring a plus one that was not invited, especially if the invitation was addressed only to you. 

3. Dress codes expand during the season. It's time to break out the festive pieces. "Cocktail attire" is also known as "semi-formal" for evening events such as weddings or fundraisers. Men should wear winter fabrics of dark wool instead of summer fabrics such as seersucker or linen. Ladies should stay away from mini or maxi dresses and opt for in-between lengths. 

4. Remember that festive events and parties do not negate professional dress and behavior. This leads directly into the next consideration: alcohol. Business etiquette mandates a one-drink rule in business social settings. We’ve all heard holiday party horror stories. Do yourself a favor and decide ahead of time that you won’t be the topic of office gossip for the next year. If the event has a bartender, $1-2 dollar tips per drink is the standard. Most importantly, plan for safe travel home after drinking. 

5. Arriving on time to the host’s home is most polite. Getting there too early — 10-15 minutes — may catch the host making last minute touches. Knowing when to leave is just as important. If you stay until the lights come on, you’re staying to wash the dishes or take out the trash. You’ve immediately volunteered to help if you are staying that long. 

6. Prepare yourself with conversation topics. This is a great time to congratulate someone on a recent work project or learn more about a colleague. Always speak to the new person, they will be thrilled to have someone approach them. 

7. As always, writing a thank you note to the host makes you the "guest with the most," especially if you were hosted in their home. This is a fantastic way to show your appreciation for their hard work and hospitality. 


Having built her career in higher education as both faculty and administrator, Dr. Veronica Guinn has recently returned to her passion of teaching in the classroom at Arkansas State University. She teaches courses focused on leadership development and critical thinking for the Nontraditional Studies Department in A-State's University College, and is currently working toward her business etiquette certification through the Emily Post Institute. 


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