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Holiday Etiquette 101: Office Parties & Family Gatherings

  • By Judith Bowman
  • |
  • December 13, 2016

The Holidays are here and present a wonderful time to reflect, gather together and share special time with colleagues, friends and loved ones, acknowledge our many blessings, especially those in our lives who lift us up and make us better. Many go to great lengths to be together therefore, preparing to create special memories requires a little extra time and effort.

Holiday Party Etiquette

Knowing certain actions by others are predicable is important. Be mentally prepared to deal with imminent challenges.

How to Properly Approach your Office Holiday Party

The holiday office party is not the time to eat, drink and be merry! Limit alcohol intake if at all and resist the urge to “put in an appearance” and leave. Eat something first. The “office holiday party” suggests you are still in business networking mode, and remember, no one is ever invited anywhere because somebody thinks you look hungry and need to be fed!

You have a responsibility to help contribute to the overall success of the event where you now have the opportunity to meet others you would not ordinarily have the opportunity to meet … an event, to which, many individuals have invested much time, money and resources to organize, plan and orchestrate menus, venues, music, invitations, directions, R.S.V.P.’s etc.

Approach the office holiday party and the hectic holidays with kindness in your heart and a positive spirit and enjoy this special time with colleagues, family and friends!

Etiquette on Family Gatherings for the Holidays

The Holiday Season means entertaining! Here are a few top tips for hosts, guests and children:


Time to dust off your good china, crystal, bring out the festive table linen and candles. Pre-select appropriate background music. Dress up your home, your table, your door, your yard and yourself. … Paper plates are for bar-b-ques

  • Greet guests at the door. Have a designated coat area and offer to take coats or, coach your children (junior hosts) to do so…. again, great life training!
  • Provide guests with initial refreshment then tell them to make themselves at home and help themselves, particularly with larger gatherings.
  • Provide introductions and monitor conversation flow, alcohol consumption, music, replenishing food, etc.


  • Never arrive empty handed.
  • Circulate and contribute to the overall conviviality of the day. Resist the urge to hide in the kitchen and cluster or plant yourself in front of the T.V. all day.
  • Guests are encouraged to spend quality time with some young person and ask about them. Say something to help with their confidence. Make children feel acknowledged, included, special.
  • Guests should offer to help clean up.
  • Scented candles in the bathroom.
  • Have a designated coat/purse area
  • Burnt candle wick reflects the warmth of the home.


Children are clearly part of the Holiday landscape… and what better time for adults to take the time to teach their children what is expected of them whether as a guest or, junior host. Teaching essential life skills now will reap big dividends later in life. Children need and want the attention and direction. Teach your children:

  • How to shake hands and remember to explain the importance of making eye-contact.
  • Practice pronouncing names with your children and remind them to use other people’s names when speaking with them.
  • Show children how to hold a fork and knife and review basic table manners.
  • Encourage children to answer questions with more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer and remember, children watch how you interact (or not) with others and so, know that your ‘actions speak louder than words!’
4 Additional Holiday Gathering Etiquette Tips

Sitting and Seating

The host is seated at the head of the table. You honor the most important person (defer to age/gender socially and by rank/status professionally) by seating them to the host’s right. Couples should be separated unless newly married or newly engaged.

Grace and Toasting

Rule: “one should not even take a sip of water until after grace is said.” If anyone other than the host is going to be asked to say grace, one should be asked in advance, to prepare.


No one should begin eating until everyone is seated and served. The host initiates by picking up their utensils and saying something like “enjoy!” Bon appetite! etc.; be inclusive by making eye-contact with everyone at your table.

Serving and Clearing

Serve on the left, clear from the right. Pass food left to right (counter clockwise); no stacking or scraping plates at the table.

In Conclusion

Remember, many have gone to considerable lengths to gather… and 90% is showing up! Therefore, contribute to help ensure a warm, memorable, peaceful day. Guests, thank your host for inviting you, and hosts, thank your guests for coming. Guests remember to call and write a real thank you note; yes, even to relatives!

Are you just getting by or are you getting better? Get started today!

Author Bio

Judith Bowman founded Protocol Consultants International in 1993 and has prospered to become an established Business Protocol expert, educator, corporate speaker, and renowned authority in the field of Professional Presence, Dining Savvy, International Protocol Awareness, and personal and professional development. Ms. Bowman also provides Protocol Certification. She is a graduate of Boston College and has pursued studies in Effective Business Communication at Harvard University. Ms. Bowman speaks to critical interpersonal communication skills and shares specific nuances advantageous to exemplary conduct in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive global work environment. She showcases everyday business situations and shows professionals how to leverage these as opportunities to demonstrate respect while earning respect - while showing you know “the difference” while making a difference to stand apart and outclass the competition! Ms. Bowman has authored two business protocol books: “Don’t Take the Last Donut…” (Career Press) presently sold in 16 countries, translated in 14 languages, and her new book, “How to Stand Apart @ Work …” She has authored a weekly Everyday Etiquette column syndicated throughout New England for ten years by the Pulitzer Prize winning Eagle Tribune Publishing Company. Internationally, she authored a Business Protocol column for the prestigious Noblesse Magazine, China. She presently writes a weekly Business Protocol column for Boston Herald newspapers and has a coordinating weekly radio segment, “A Protocol Moment” on Herald Radio. She also writes a monthly Fabulous Woman series which features truly fabulous women who have shattered the glass ceiling and has been featured in Leader to Leader, March, 2015. Bowman has produced a series of support products which include: Executive Etiquette/First Impressions DVD, DINING 101 DVD and Protocol Training DVD – from her on-line How to Stand Apart series.