Holiday Etiquette 101

Your guide to negotiating an increasingly complex season of parties, payouts and family gatherings.

Your guide to negotiating an increasingly complex season of parties, payouts and family gatherings.

ANY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS ASIDE, the holidays boil down to two things: parties and presents. Hopefully you’ve figured out how things work in your inner circle. But when you step outside of it, you may be expected to play by a different set of rules. In today’s fast-paced environment, it’s hard to keep up with what’s in and what’s not, but one thing you can count on is that good manners never go out of style. And with the season upon us, now’s the time to brush up. Whether it’s the annual holiday party, a co-worker lunch or a sit-down dinner with the boss, local experts Lisa Richey (the American Academy of Etiquette in Wayne) and Liz Stephens (Feastivities Events in Manayunk) have got you covered. Consider this an investment in your future—one that cements your spot at the top of everyone’s invite list.


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10 Rules to Live By

1. It’s the thought that counts—really. No one is going to turn down a lavish gift. But if you want to make a lasting impression, buy something that shows you’ve spent time assessing the recipient’s tastes and style. Send gifts that reflect the recipient’s interests, not yours.

2. And so does the packaging. If you don’t know how to wrap a present with style, find someone who can. Even the simplest gift can be transformed into something more with clever or dressy wrapping. Include a gift receipt—and, please, get rid of the price tag.

3. When it comes to gift giving at the office, keep it simple. If you’re new on the job and unsure of the gift-giving policy or etiquette, ask around. You don’t want to be in a position where you set new trends unilaterally or come off like a Scrooge. Most offices have some type of gift exchange. Unless the recipient is close to you, avoid items that are too personal. Play it safe with books, CDs, candles, food or frames. If your gift is a solo venture, don’t call attention to yourself or make a production of it. This includes giving more than you can afford, or handing out gifts in front of others.

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4. For the boss, consider a group gift. One item from a bunch of employees usually works well. If you do give a group gift, each person should contribute the same amount. If not everyone is thrilled about chipping in, giving individually is OK. A group card can also be a nice gesture. Don’t force your boss to use your gift. Giving something that can be used at home is best. Then your boss won’t feel compelled to use or display it in the office. That way, you avoid putting him or her in the potentially awkward situation of identifying the gift-giver. And if your boss surprises you with a gift, you don’t have to reciprocate. A nice holiday card and a verbal or written “thank you” will more than suffice.

5. If you’re giving gifts to colleagues who are friends, do it outside the office. You probably already knew this, but we’re telling you again.

6. For out-of-town business associates, consider food-related gifts. We live in a region known for its cheese steaks, mushrooms, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, artisan cheeses, local wines and more. Keep your company on clients’ minds all year long with unique gifts like The Wine Connection (a href=””>, the Pennsylvania Liquor Con-trol Board’s new wine-of-the-month club.

7. Delivering a gift in person is a nice touch, but it can also be viewed as an interruption. Don’t put the recipient on the spot by waiting for him/her to open the gift.

8. Avoid office party embarrassment. Now re-peat after us: 24 hours a day, I represent the company I work for. At my holiday party I vow to: wear appropriate attire; stop at two drinks (short event) or pace myself with one drink per hour (longer event); not to gossip or bring up religion or politics; not to spend the morning after repairing my reputation.

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9. Approach re-gifting with caution. We’ve all done it, but it’s definitely up there on the etiquette taboo list. If it’s from your boss, in-laws or anyone else who might expect to see you in/with “the gift,” you’d better make an effort to produce it once in a while. However, in due time, you can pass it on—just be sure it meets these requirements: 1) it must be new and in the original box or wrapper with an unbroken seal; 2) if the gift was handmade for you, keep it; 3) the receiver must not know the original giver; 4) if you keep the item until next Christmas, just be sure you don’t give it back to the same person.

10. If you’re contemplating hosting your own holiday soirée, don’t wait until the last minute. Invites may come by mail or phone. Due to busy schedules during the holidays, send a “save the date” postcard three to four weeks in advance, followed by the actual invite two or three weeks later. If you’re late, a phone call is a much better idea than e-mail. Always make invitations as clear as possible. A few extra minutes spent on this will cut down on phone calls from guests—especially on game day. If you’re the one invited, by all means RSVP as soon as possible, and don’t spring any last-minute surprises on the host. If you’re unsure about whether you can bring a date, just ask. Everyone’s an adult. Just don’t pose it in a way that’s presumptuous.



Holiday Tip Sheet

Hairdresser: Your normal tip and maybe a small gift or food.

Manicurist: $10-$20.

Teacher: Gift certificate and a small gift from your child.

Babysitter: One to two nights’ pay plus a small gift from your child.

Locker room attendant: $5-$10.

Personal trainer: $50.

Apartment or office doorman: $25-$100.

Handyman: $10-$30.

Childcare provider: $25-$70 per provider, plus a gift from your child.

Gardener: $20-$50.

Housekeeper: One day’s pay.

Mail carrier: Non-cash gift valued at up to $20.

Newspaper carrier: Daily delivery, $15-$25; weekends only, $5-$15.



Give a Little
It’s the best way to avoid being labeled an ill-mannered cheapskate. Here’s a list of our 10 favorite local charities to get you started.

1. Chester County Community Foundation
28 W. Market St., West Chester, PA 19382; (610) 696-8211;
The Chester County Community Foundation helps families create legacy funds to benefit the community. With a deep understanding of the community and long-term giving expertise, it connects people who care with causes that matter.

2. Thorncroft Therapeutic Horseback Riding
190 Line Road, Malvern, PA 19355; (610) 644-1963;

Thorncroft specializes in therapeutic horseback riding for mentally, emotionally and physically disabled children and adults; 35 percent of their annual budget comes from special events and gifts.

3. Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County
14 W. 2nd Street, Media, PA 19063-2802; (610) 565-6272;
This 30-year-old non-profit, community-based organization provides prevention and intervention services to victims of domestic abuse. DAPDC is the sole provider of such services in Delaware County, reaching more than 5,000 victims each year.

4. Pennsylvania Resources Council, Inc.
Philadelphia office: 3606 Providence Road, Newtown Square, PA 19073; (610) 353-1555; The state’s oldest citizen action environmental organization, focusing on waste reduction and recycling.

5. Francisvale Home for Smaller Animals
P.O. Box 282, Wayne, PA 19087; (610) 688-1018; A non-profit refuge for smaller animals that gives temporary shelter to homeless pets awaiting a permanent home. Those not placed are kept on as resident pets, nurtured physically and emotionally by Francisvale’s staff.

6. Riverbend Environmental Education Center
950 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne PA 19035; (610) 527-5234; A wonderful resource for children and adults, Riverbend Environment Education Center seeks to stimulate awareness, appreciation and understanding of our total environment and preserve a natural wildlife habit. There are at least nine different ways to contribute time and money listed on their website.

7. Melmark
2600 Wayland Road, Berwyn, PA 19312; (888) MELMARK; Since 1966, this residential facility for people with special needs has been encouraging individuals to achieve their maximum potential through various progressive clinical programs.

8. Women’s Resource Center
P.O. Box 596; 113 W. Wayne Ave., Wayne, PA 19087; (610) 687-6391; A comprehensive resource center providing free information and referral services, legal and transitional counseling, free or low-cost workshops, support groups, and programs covering a wide range of real-life issues.

9. ElderNet of Lower Merion and Narberth
Bryn Mawr Community Building; 9 South Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-3406; (610) 525-0706; EdlerNet serves adults of all ages living in Lower Merion and Narberth—especially those frail older and younger disabled persons with low or moderate incomes. The program provides a variety of free practical services so its clients are assured access to healthcare and can enjoy an improved quality of life. ElderNet also offers practical help with shopping, paperwork and home repairs so clients can live in their own homes for as long as possible.

10. Rehab after Work and Rehab after School
1440 Russell Road, Lower Level, Paoli, PA 19301; (610) 889-9939; A licensed intensive drug and alcohol treatment program, Rehab after Work and Rehab After School provides outpatient rehabilitation for adolescents, adults and families suffering as a result of alcohol and drug use.


Holiday No-no’s

DON’T: Drink too much. It’s the No. 1 faux pas at holiday office parties.

DON’T: Show up with Tupperware or expectations. If the host offers leftovers, go for it. But as a guest, you should never ask.

DON’T: Switch place cards at a dinner party. Be a good sport and sit where you’re supposed to sit.

DON’T: Make your hostess gift extravagant. Avoid overdoing it and making it too personal.



Holiday Party Primer

Solving seating snafus. The host or hostess should sit at the top—or head—of the table to keep an eye on everyone (husband at one end, wife at the other; this way everyone feels included). If you’re giving a large dinner party, take the lead and use place cards, which add a nice decorative touch to the table (place them at the top of the plate, flat on the table or in a holder). Most of the time, your pals will warn you if the party includes an ex–friend or partner. (If not, you may need to reassess the meaning of friend.) If it’s a sit-down dinner, speak to the host and caterer so the two of you are seated far enough apart to allow conversation to flow easily at the table. An open-house environment makes it easier to avoid a potentially awkward moment. If you believe the person you’re experiencing discord with might be there, be on the watch. If he or she catches your eye, politely acknowledge them with a smile then turn back to your own conversation. If you should bump into that person or be pulled into a conversation by someone who is unaware, handle it gracefully enough that you don’t call attention to yourself and disrupt the party. Don’t let the situation get in the way of everyone having a good time.

Proper party juggling. If it’s a sit-down dinner, plan to stay for the entire meal, as the host and caterer are counting on you. If you can only stay for a short time, let the hosts know as far in advance as possible; showing up for either cocktails or dessert depends on how well you know them. For an open house, an hour is appropriate. Try not to jam too many parties into a single night, or you might lose sight of the fact that you’re trying to relax with friends and family.

Handling dietary requests. For practical and legal reasons, it’s important that the host and the caterer are aware of any food allergies or dietary restrictions—things like lactose intolerance, vegetarianism and such. In an open-house format, it’s much easier to get around this because there’s typically a greater variety of dishes to choose from, and guests can pick and choose accordingly.

Hostess gifts and food contributions. It’s always appropriate to show up with a hostess gift, but not always appropriate to bring a dish unless you’ve cleared it with the party’s host beforehand. The best time to offer is when you call to RSVP. Generally, offering to bring a dessert is met with gratitude. Coffee table books, holiday-themed tea towels or spreaders, frames, and wine in a decorative bag also are perfect choices. But don’t expect a “thank you” note, which brings us to…

“Thank you” notes. In this age of IM-ing and texting, a handwritten “thank you” for gifts or parties won’t get lost in the shuffle and will make you a rock star. There are differing opinions on this, but if you want to err on the side of caution, send a “thank you” for hostess gifts. For recipients: When UPS delivers a gift, call and let the sender know it was received and pop a note in the mail.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!