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A Holiday Dining Etiquette Refresh

A group of people at a holiday dinner with the host holding turkey in a pan

A season to gather with friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers, the holidays spur more semi-formal and formal dinner commitments than any other time of year. To make a good impression (or no impression at all), it’s always best to keep your wits about you, remember your table manners, and practice good dining etiquette. Please, follow along as we guide you through proper table etiquette, good manners, utensil etiquette at the table, and much more.  

What is Table Etiquette? 

Table etiquette is an expression of mannerisms at the dinner table that embody order, refinement, civility, and grace. Table manners are used to make eating with others enjoyable and sociable. How strictly people follow table manners or etiquette varies.  

Before Arrival 

Before you arrive at a holiday dinner, you should think ahead and prepare to walk in with confidence. Prior to the event, cross off these to-dos: 

  1. Respond to the RSVP. It’s bad form to leave your host or hostess hanging. Respond “yes” or “no” to the RSVP to give them ample time to include you in the plans and food for the event.  

  1. Don’t ask to bring someone who isn’t part of the invitation. Chances are, the host has already estimated the number of attendees for dinner. Unless the invitation includes your plus-one or prompts you to add extra attendees, don’t assume you can bring your whole crew.  

  1. Consider bringing a hostess gift. A nice gesture that’s still much appreciated, bringing the host or hostess a small gift shows that you’re considerate of their efforts and are thankful for the invite. Wine, chocolate, candies, flowers, or a small candle or soap are all acceptable hostess gift ideas. 

  1. Dress appropriately. Take cues from your host, the invitation, venue, and weather to dress appropriately for the occasion. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and avoid wearing overly casual clothing, like tee shirts, flip flops, and ball caps.  

Need host or hostess gift inspiration? Check out the top things we’re gifting this year. 


Just because it’s a nice dinner, you don’t have to make a grand entrance when you arrive. Simply being polite and respectful of everyone else in attendance is enough. Here are some pointers on how to arrive eloquently:  

  1. Arrive on time. When determining the amount of time it may take to get to the venue, factor in traffic delays and inclement weather. That way, you can find alternate routes and plan your drive time accordingly. 

  1. Place bags and coats in the correct areas. If there’s no obvious area to store your bags and coats, ask your host where they’d like you to place your things. There’s usually designated bedroom or coat closet that can securely house your items, so you don’t have to tote them around the event. 

  1. Find your seat. Depending on the level of formality, there may be name cards on the dining table to identify your assigned seat. If there are no name cards, ask the host where they’d like you to sit. 

  1. Follow the host’s lead. Wait for the host to sit for dinner before sitting yourself. Once everyone is seated, you can place your napkin on your lap. If the host starts with a blessing or a prayer, respectfully bow your head and remain silent. If they start with a toast, raise your glass when prompted.  

At the Table 

Take your seat, make eye contact, and engage in friendly tableside conversation, but don’t lose focus on proper dining etiquette. When seated at the table, make sure you: 

Formal table settings and utensil etiquette

  1. Understand dining utensils etiquette. It can be confusing to try to figure out what utensils to use with what course. Generally, you should start from the outside and work your way in. The menu usually dictates the number of utensils and the table setting. Typically, a salad fork will be the outermost fork, placed next to the dinner fork, which is positioned next to the dinner plate. On the opposite side, a soup spoon might be next to a dinner knife, which is also located adjacent to the dinner plate. Always remember to set your utensils on your plate when you’re not using them and leave them on your plate when you’re finished. 

  2. Practice patience. Wait until everyone has been served before you start eating. Then, eat slowly, just a few bites at a time. Pace yourself and try to finish your meal at approximately the same time as your host.  

  3. Keep extras off the table. Keep your elbows off the table and rest the hand you’re not using on your lap. Other personal items not welcomed on the table include cell phones, car keys, trash, and anything else that would disrupt the meal. 

  1. Pass to the right. When passing bread and other food items around the table, pass to the right. If you’re the first person to pass the bread, offer the person to your left some before taking a piece yourself and continue passing to your right. Always pass the salt and pepper together, even when someone only requests one and not the other.  

  1. Remember basic table manners. Just following the essential table manners you learned while growing up will go a long way. Don’t chew with your mouth open; don’t talk while you’re eating; don’t gesture with your silverware; and don’t forget to sit up straight!  

Fondue dining can quickly go from classy to messy. Check out these fon-dos and don’ts for the perfect experience.  


The meal has ended and it’s time to make your way to the door. Dining etiquette tips for departing the right way include: 

  1. Placing your napkin on the left side of your plate. When you’re finished with your food, place your napkin on the left side of your plate, not on your plate.  

  1. Complimenting the host. If you enjoyed your meal, the time, and the company, compliment the host for a wonderful gathering. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  

  1. Saying thank you. Show gratitude and appreciation for the invitation. Thank your host for including you and for the generosity of sharing their home and food.  

  1. Timing your exit appropriately. Don’t dine and dash. After the dinner has wrapped up, patiently wait for your turn to approach the host to thank them before leaving. It’s best to not be the first, nor the last to leave.  

Your Guide to Hosting at Home with Ease 

Dining etiquette rules aren’t just for dinner guests. Hosts and hostesses should know proper utensil placement, napkin rules, and table setting rules to pull off a memorable holiday dinner party. Read our article, “At Home for the Holidays: Your Guide to Hosting at Home with Ease,” to help guide your party preparations. 


In what direction should dishes be passed at your holiday dinner? 

A holiday marks a special occasion, so treat a holiday dinner with a little more formality. It’s a general rule to pass dishes counterclockwise, or to the right, during a holiday dinner. 

What are 3 good table manners? 

Whether you’re sitting down with friends for a casual meal or are at a professional banquet with colleagues, practicing good table manners matters. The top 3 good table manners are to: 

  1. Hold utensils correctly. 
  2. Use your napkin, not your clothing, to wipe your hands and mouth. 
  3. Avoid reaching across the table and other people’s plates for something. Ask that it be passed to you.  

What is the number-one breach of etiquette at the dinner table? 

The number one breach of etiquette at the dinner table is slurping soup. Don’t slurp your soup from the spoon or the bowl. If the soup is too hot, stir it gently to cool or quietly blow on a spoonful. 

What not to say at the dinner table? 

It’s good etiquette to carry on a pleasant conversation at the dinner table. In fact, talking to other guests is encouraged during course breaks. Just make sure to avoid topics that can make others feel uncomfortable or angry. And never talk about someone’s relationship status, appearance, politics, religion, or personal finances.