Monday, December 10, 2018

Manners Monday –From Hosting & Toasting to Tipping & Gifting: The Ultimate Holiday Etiquette Guide

The holidays are in full swing! You can feel the hustle and bustle everywhere. The smell of pine and peppermint fills the air.  The laundry list of gifts brings both cheer and tugs at our purse strings.  We may not necessarily look forward to every single holiday activity, but we always relish in a brief respite from work and daily schedules making this a truly wonderful time of the year.  Not to worry, we've got you covered with our Ultimate Holiday Etiquette Guide starting with dressing and ending with de-stressing, everything you ever wanted to know about how to get through the season with gratitude and grace.

There’s nothing worse than showing up to an affair in elegant attire and discovering that the rest of the guests never got the memo.  If a host has gone to the trouble of creating an inviting warm space and preparing a fabulous meal, guests should pay their respects by arriving specially clothed for the occasion. Listed are our top five tips to guaranteeing a photo worthy celebration.

Your Attire Helps Set the Tone.  Getting dressed up should be an integral part of the holiday tradition. Wearing nice, clean, pressed clothes can brighten an attitude and truly helps to set the tone for the festivities taking place.

Put Effort into It. Paying homage to the holidays requires advance thought if you want to do it right. You have the date clearly marked on your calendar so take some time to get organized and plan accordingly. Look through your closet and pull out a couple of possible choices a day or so ahead. Don't forget to do the same for the children. Trust me, the last thing you need is to be fighting with them about what they are wearing as you are struggling to get out the door. Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite ensemble, add flair by accessorizing with smart and stylish accents.

Getting Dressed Up Makes You More Polite. Being polite goes hand-in-hand with putting yourself together. Making holiday plans with family can be stressful enough, even with the best intentions. To create harmony at holiday time, create a more formal atmosphere and encourage the family to dress for the meal. They’ll be more inclined to be on their best behavior if they are wearing dresses and suits than donning their tee shirts and sweatpants.

Wondering What to Wear? Some hosts and guests take liberties in this area that are not necessarily the most appropriate, so we thought we'd lay down a few ground rules. Don't wear anything too revealing. Save the 7-inch heels and low cut dress for date night. Think tasteful and sophisticated. Remember elegant doesn’t mean boring. There are countless ways to look fabulous with a bit of creativity and fashion sense.

The Host Should Be the Most. We know this may be challenging, especially after days of shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning, but when you open the front door to your home and receive your first guest, you really want to look and feel the part. Your guests will be stunned if they arrive dressed to the nines and you’re still in your knickers.

People host holiday parties to put their best qualities on display which includes their good taste, grasp of culinary skill and flair for festive décor. An expert entertainer will spare no detail to accommodate their guests’ comfort and enjoyment. The meticulously selected guest list to the decidedly imaginative invitation, the inventive menu, and the desired setting, all play an equal part in the party’s ultimate success.  

Make Everyone Feel Welcome. This is the cardinal rule of holiday entertaining and will ensure warm lasting memories for years to come.  A gracious host provides a cozy atmosphere, keeps the conversation flowing, and always has an endless supply of libations and ice on hand.

Pay Attention to the Particulars. Set the table with the fancy dishes and glassware you keep locked in a cabinet for most of the year. Add fresh flowers to your table, light candles, pipe in a little mood music.  Go the extra mile to check in with your guests to make sure there are no severe allergies or other dietary restrictions before planning your holiday menu.

Get Imaginative with the Guest List. Each guest is an integral player in a holiday party’s triumphant outcome. Add a few new guests to your list and arrange place cards to encourage interesting conversation.  

Potluck Soirees.  While some hosts get a thrill taking on the task themselves, there is no shame in enlisting help.  A good host knows their limitations and may ask their guests to participate in the affair by supplying a favorite holiday food or drink.  It does not matter whether it’s homemade, catered or bought just as long as it’s transferred onto a nice serving dish to make it look presentable on the table.  

The Courteous Guest. Guests have been carefully selected and vouched for by the host and they should perform accordingly.  Grateful to be a part of the festivities, an exemplary guest RSVP’s right away, puts effort into appearance, arrives on time with a thoughtful gift in hand, is geared up to make witty repartee, offer to help clean up and follows up with a grateful note of thanks.

When tackling the holiday gift extravaganza, there’s one rule and one rule only: it’s the message that matters. It is polite and thoughtful to give a gift to anyone who has made a significant contribution to our lives all year long.  Begin with your innermost circle of family and friends and then span outward depending upon who you will be coming in contact with during the holidays.  It’s up to each individual to decide where they need to draw the line financially, but you don’t have to spend a lot to look like you did.

Stocking a Gift Closet.  If you’re seeking a more personalized way of expressing your appreciation become the sort of thoughtful individual who routinely jumps on the perfect gift when you see it, on your travails throughout the year. One word of warning: Professionals keep careful gift records of who and what and when to avoid duplications and re-gifting debacles.

Personal Gifts. This gifting list can include everyone from your hairdresser and gardener, to your children’s teachers and parents’ caregivers.  Whether or not to give your brother’s new girlfriend a holiday gift may depend upon the situation. It would be considered a sweet gesture, but not expected unless, of course, she is accompanying your brother to a holiday celebration where everyone is exchanging gifts. Gifts can be small, but beautiful and indulgent. Something they wouldn’t necessarily purchase for themselves, but something they would definitely enjoy. For example, gourmet hot chocolate or spa products and, when in doubt, a gift card is a welcome present.

Office Gifts. Whether for a gift exchange or gesture of appreciation, gift giving at the office requires some thought due to power dynamics in the workplace. To be sure you stay within the guidelines, check with human resources on gift-giving policies. While you should never feel obligated to give a boss or colleague a gift, if you choose to, there are some simple rules to keep in mind. Choose a gift that communicates a thoughtful gesture, such as a boxed candle, coffee table book, gourmet treat or lovely stationery. Avoid extravagant gifts that can imply kissing up.  Select gifts that don’t cross the line in terms of appropriateness.  Translation: no PJ’s, intimates or gag gifts.  Keep it professional.  Exchange gifts at the office, never send a gift to a home address.

Host Gifts.  If attending a dinner party, never show up empty-handed. Bring a token of gratitude. A bottle of wine is a no-brainer, but a host may appreciate something more personal or unique. Ditch the wine and opt for a gourmet set of balsamic vinegar & olive oil or a throw pillow for their pet. If you bring flowers, arrive with them arranged in a beautiful vase or if you bring dessert, have them presented on a serving piece. That way the items can be placed easily and the vase or serving piece may be kept as the gift. 

Children’s Gifts. The holidays are a time of overindulgence. Children typically have two weeks off school, jam-packed with holiday parties and gifts galore. With this in mind, when selecting gifts for children (your own or other peoples) it’s thoughtful and educational to choose gifts that give back. This provides an opportunity to talk with children about helping others. Alternatively, gifts that encourage creativity and learning are always well received and provide activities for the holiday break, for example, vintage-inspired family games and building blocks. Nostalgic looking, wooden toys are ideal gifts and also whimsical elements to family room décor. Another way to avoid having overindulged children is to spread the gifts out over the course of the holiday. When taking this approach start with the smallest gifts and then build anticipation by saving the best gift for last. 

Along with humongous gift lists comes the annual conundrum of holiday tipping. The pressure to tip when you’re having trouble paying your mortgage is dangerous territory and how much to tip is a slippery slope especially when recipients are counting on your annual generosity. Whether flush with cash or having to tighten our belts this season, it’s the relationship–building that truly makes the difference.  Here’s how to bring heartfelt thanks to all the recipients on your list.

It’s Your Message that Matters.  We know the tip speaks for itself, but how about taking a moment to jot a few thoughts down on paper expressing how much you appreciate that special person for helping to make your life a little easier, prettier, smoother, etc., you get the drift.  There is nothing like receiving a holiday card with a genuine note of thanks along with your tip.

Honor the Recipient.  Typically a cash tip is expected for the holidays, especially in the case of a special nanny or babysitter who has taken amazing care of your little ones, a doorman in your building who is exceptionally pleasant and helpful or a private caregiver who has tended to a sick relative day in and day out without complaint.  You rely on these individuals for your everyday existence and to offer them a batch of homemade cookies (although tasty) may be sending a message that you do not value their services as much as they thought you did.  Err on the side of generous (if you can) and honor your recipient in the way you think they will feel most appreciated.  [For a reference on how much to give, please refer to the holiday tipping chart below.]

Research the Alternatives.  For some recipients, a large cash tip is not an option, but you still want to convey your appreciation, this is where your creativity will hopefully kick in.  There are countless gift cards that make the perfect gifts when cash feels a bit cold or inappropriate.  With hundreds of gift cards to choose from, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and imagine what they would enjoy most.  A Starbucks gift card might be just the perfect display of gratitude for a dog walker who can’t live without his morning double shot of espresso with a side of foam and a VISA gift card is ideal for a teacher who may wish to purchase some extra supplies for the classroom and treat herself to a manicure. 
When Your Tip is a Gift.  Sometimes a gift is an ideal tip at holiday time.  A nice bottle of Pinot from a local wine shop or a beautiful silver bowl filled with nuts and dried fruits are wonderful gestures of thanks.  If purse strings are more stringent than usual, a jar of homemade jam or a tin of pumpkin bars expertly wrapped with ribbon offers a perfect opportunity for closet chefs and bakers to flaunt their finest talents. If you have children, a small gift specifically from them, such as a winter scarf or a cozy bathrobe, is an added touch that goes a long way for a special nanny or babysitter.

Cash is Still King. If at all possible, it is customary to tip those who have delivered goods or provided a regular service all year long.  When it comes to tipping, the more significant tip should be given to the person you interact with most frequently, regardless of seniority. Here are our guidelines below.
Service Provider
Suggested Cash Tip
Building Staff
$20-$100 (depends on how often you call upon their services)
Dog Walker, Pet Sitter
One Week’s Service
$25 to $200 (varies in metropolitan areas)
Full-Time Babysitter or Nanny
One to Two Week’s Pay (plus small gift from children)
Cost of One Visit
Hair Stylist/Barber
Equivalent of One Service
One Week’s Pay
Cost of One Session
Massage Therapist
Cost of One Session
Newspaper Carrier
Daily Deliveries $25 / Weekends Only $10 to $15
Personal Trainer
Cost of One Session or One Week’s Visit
A small gift or gift card of less than $20
Private Home Nurse or Caregiver
One week’s Pay (check with agency to make sure it is accepted)
Gift Card ($25 to $50 is an acceptable range)
Trash Collectors
$10 to $20 each (check with your local city)

Do not fret if you cannot distribute your tips in time for the holidays. Sometimes the funds just aren't there. If that's the case, send handwritten holiday cards to those on your list and let them know they'll be receiving something special for the New Year!

Holiday time is flush with gift-giving. Even if you spend hours deliberating over what you think may be the perfect gift, chances are it may wind up as a re-gift to someone else. If you are the recipient of a re-gift or you’re serial re-gifter, here are a few etiquette rules guaranteed to ensure goodwill to all this time of year.

Inspect Each Item Carefully. Remove all signs of previous ownership. Make sure there is no hidden writing with a personalized message, monogram or name. There should be no evidence of prior wrapping or packaging torn from being previously opened.

Re-gift When Relatively New. There is nothing worse than receiving a re-gift from a store that no longer exists or an item that’s become obsolete like a boom box. Be courteous and at least re-gift something purchased within the same calendar year.

Some Should Never Be Re-gifted. Gifts that have been opened or used should never be re-gifted. Nor should one-of-a-kind gifts or handmade gifts from loved ones, as that would be truly crushing. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law should never re-gift items received from each other. Some relationships are so fragile that one re-gift given to the housekeeper could send them over the edge.

Keep Detailed Records. Make sure you keep careful records each year of who gave you what gifts from holidays past. This will prevent you from accidentally re-gifting an item to someone who gave you the same gift the year prior.

Make It Look Spectacular. If you re-gift an item, take the time to make it look presentable, even spectacular. Purchase new wrapping paper, tie on a ribbon and attach a well written, thoughtful card to the new recipient.

Acceptable Reasons for Re-Gifting (1) If you are financially strapped and you’re positive the recipient would enjoy the gift as much or even more than you do. (2) If you’re attending a last minute party and don’t have time to purchase a hostess gift. (3) If it’s an act of generosity such as an article of clothing, a toy or a gift basket that you do not need and would be more appreciated by a local charity organization. (4) If you’re participating in a secret holiday gift exchange. The cap for these gifts is typically $20 and just might be the perfect time to unload a re-gifted item that has been stashed in your closet.

Re-Gift Responsibly. Make wise choices and avoid conflict. Don't re-gift Uncle Fred, a recovering alcoholic, with a bottle of champagne you received from your client. Don't bring attention to Cousin Sheila's thyroid problem by re-gifting a giant popcorn canister from the office. And, avoid re-gifting your sensitive friend Susie with a collection of self-help books you received from your therapist.

Accept Re-Gifts Graciously. Never point fingers at a re-gifter and don't feel obligated to tell the recipient they just received a re-gift. There is never a good way to mention a re-gift so it’s better to keep this information under wraps on either end of the equation. If you receive a re-gift, simply accept it with grace and say "thank you". If you are the re-gifter and you’re caught, the best you can do is pass it off as an intentional gag gift and then high tail it to the nearest store to buy something new and fabulous and include a gift receipt!

A final thought to re-gifters. A gift that is given from the heart that is either handmade or purchased is the best gift of all. Sometimes a re-gift feels like a slap in the face and conveys a feeling of I don't care enough about you to spend the money and that can feel pretty hurtful. Gift giving and receiving should induce pleasure. It should not feel obligatory. After all, it's not about what you give or receive, but the sincere thought that goes into the exchange.

Surprisingly, holiday parties produce a great deal of social anxiety for many adults.  They worry about what to wear, making conversation, meeting new people and, for some, the pressure can become unbearable.  Often they fear being scrutinized or judged and would rather avoid the situation altogether than have to worry about showing up and impressing others.  Here are a few tried and true tips that’ll have you feeling your most fabulous and confident throughout the holiday party season.

Get the Party Started Right.  Take into consideration the holiday party attire requirements. Is it a formal party, black tie, informal, ugly sweater party or just plain casual?  Dress appropriately for the occasion and give some thought to the suggested attire beforehand. Sticking to the suggested dress code will be one less thing you have to worry about and will certainly help you to blend in.

Forget Your Troubles and Get Happy!  Once you’ve made the effort to look the part, you must then act the part.  If you have troubles, no problem, just wrap them up and set them on the shelf before you leave the house.   A holiday party is a happy occasion and it’s your duty to turn on the charm and let your mood and attitude reflect the celebration about to take place.  Wear a warm and inviting smile.  Be inclusive, introduce yourself to friends and engage in lively and upbeat conversation. Be open and excited to participate in any activities that are suggested by your host. Tune out the self-conscious noise in your head and throw yourself into an activity.  Dancing is the perfect remedy for this.  

Be Equal Parts Interesting and Interested.  You are invited to a holiday party because your host finds you interesting and you may be called upon to entertain in the form of providing witty repartee or fascinating conversation.  In order to hold your own on any number of topics, a quick brush up on current events is in order.  A few days before the party, check out your local newspaper for cultural happenings, go online to scope out other local news and events, even look at the 5-day forecast.  Our weather is always a great topic of conversation.   Remember a conversation is a two-way street.  Don’t be a conversation hog.  The key is to be equal parts interesting and interested in others.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone.  Making conversation at a holiday party where you only know the host is exceptionally terrifying for a number of people.  How in the world do you walk up to a perfect stranger and initiate small talk?  Well, here are two easy tips.  The first is to pay someone a compliment.  Approach a person you’d like to meet and comment on something basic such as their hair, their shoes, the color of their nail polish or the pattern of their tie.  Keep it friendly, not familiar.  This will be like music to their ears and will automatically put a smile on their face.  The second tip is to ask a question.  A great opener is to ask the person how they know the host?  Just be sure to be nice, not nosy. People love to talk about themselves and if you ask them a question they will feel you are sincerely interested in them and they will appreciate you for it. 

Mix and Mingle Like a Pro.  Statistics have shown that only 7% of our communication is verbal and that 38% is focused on our intonation and the sound of our voice. The remaining chunk of communication, a whopping 55%, is devoted purely to body language.  What this tells us is that the impression we make on others begins, not when we first open our mouths, but with our posture, our breathing and our movement.  When engaged in conversation, it is crucial to be present and give the person you are speaking to your undivided attention.  To convey interest and make the other person feel most comfortable, make good eye contact and try to mirror their actions and gestures naturally. To wind down a conversation, slightly adjust your gaze and body language.  This is a non-verbal signal that lets the other person know you are getting ready to move on.

Depart Discretely and Thank Your Host.   A great deal of effort goes into a holiday party.  The last thing you want to do is depart early and set off a domino effect of copycats that will upset your host.  At large parties, it is easy to slip out without making mentioning of your departure to your host.  This is called the “French leave” and it is perfectly acceptable. For smaller parties, it is critical to thank your host personally for the wonderful time you had prior to departing.  This will ensure you are invited again in the future.  After the holiday party is completed, a phone call or special note of thanks to your party host shows your gratitude for including you in the celebration. 

Before heading out to celebrate with co-workers, here’s how to be merry and maintain your job in twenty-nineteen.  The night is designed for fun, but not worth jeopardizing your career. Use the evening as an opportunity to network, advance, and shine.

Holiday Attire. This is not the time to let your imagination run wild, and this goes for women, as well as men! Maintain professionalism, keep it classy and appropriate. Refrain from showing midriffs, low décolletage, or wearing any other scantily clad items.

Ration the Alcohol. Regardless of how appealing an open bar may be, limit yourself to one or two drinks at most.  Keep yourself hydrated by filling a glass with ice and water. Don't forget to graze on food throughout the night to soak up any extra alcohol. 

Avoid Overstuffing. Refrain from stockpiling your plate like it’s your last meal. It can get weird watching our work colleagues gorge themselves. Eat a protein bar beforehand or microwave a bag of popcorn to take the edge off. This way when you arrive at the party, your focus will be on socializing with your work peers, not devouring your food.

Refrain from Badmouthing. Don’t let loose with your opinions or divulge personal thoughts especially negative ones about the boss, colleagues or the company.  Alcohol gives people a false sense of courage that can go terribly wrong fast.  Beware what you say at the holiday office party, it may not be forgiven.

Give Praise and Recognition. A nice note of thanks to the person responsible for organizing that lavish, super fantastic office party is a sure way to be recognized and stand out in the New Year.

All are cheerful and bright at holiday time until the chaos of a jam-packed schedule takes over leaving little or no downtime to recharge batteries. Between family, school and work obligations, it’s a wonder we make it through alive.  Children are often on display and called upon to act as goodwill ambassadors of their family.  They are encouraged to smile, make introductions and carry on a conversation like little pros. Here’s how to most enjoy the annual party circuit as a family this holiday season!

Eat, Sleep and Be Merry. A hungry stomach or tired body is a recipe for a holiday party disaster. Avoid any pitfalls by making sure everyone gets plenty of rest and eats a light snack before attending any holiday celebration.

Dress for Party Success. Encourage family to wear attire appropriate for the occasion. If you’re attending a casual gathering at a ski chalet then a pair of clean jeans, a parka and Uggs will suffice. However, a holiday party at a fancy restaurant calls for the more formal dress code to match the venue.

On the Road. While driving to the party, debrief regarding the type of holiday celebration, who will be in attendance, what kind of food will be served, and any special activities your family may be asked to participate in.

Arrive on Time and Bearing Gifts. Your hosts are looking forward to your arrival so avoid being late and make preparations ahead of time. Select attire in advance, make sure all gifts are wrapped and a proper note has been written, map out your route and write down your destination number in the event of an emergency.

Smile, It’s the Holidays.  A smile is the easiest way to show happiness during the holidays.  It lets everyone know you’re friendly and approachable, and also that you are kind and you care.

Pay Full Attention. Family and friends deserve our full attention.  Good eye contact shows we’re present and comfortable. When introducing yourself or being introduced, focus your attention on the person or people you are meeting as if they are the only people in the room.

Handshake, Kiss or Hug.  Have children stand and shake hands when greeting adults. A close or older relative may expect a warmer greeting such as a kiss or a hug.  An air kiss begins on the right cheek by blowing a kiss into the air.  A hug is always from the waist up.

Making Conversation. Holiday time is the perfect occasion to catch up with those you haven’t seen in a while.  Friends and family may ask many questions about school, interests, and hobbies.  When asked a question, provide details and ask questions in return.  Know the difference between a nice question and a nosy question and be respectful at all times. 

Gracious Gift Receiving. Graciously accept all gifts whether they already have them or not. Focus on something positive to say. For example, if you do not like a gift, you do not need to say they do. You can simply say "thank you" or "how nice of you to think of me". Being polite always pays in dividends.

Clean-Up and Get Invited Again. If you’re attending a sit-down dinner celebration with family or with friends, offer to pitch in. This will guarantee future invitations.

Departures. Designate an agreed upon beginning and end time with your family to prevent misunderstandings when it comes time to leave the house or return from a party.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! A phone call, or better a hand-written note of thanks to your holiday party hosts shows the finest appreciation for their generosity. If you receive gifts, a thank-you note-both to let them know their gift arrived and that you liked it.

Your pet is a bona fide member of the family attending holiday parties, going to the salon and vacationing in the finest hotels. Whether they’re living the high life in a tony town or enjoying a more laid-back lifestyle by the beach, they must learn to be civilized and socialized just like the rest of the clan. Here’s how to ensure your furry friend displays their Petiquette at holiday time and beyond.

Observe Pets Presentation. Your pets are little ambassadors of your family and just like you, they’ll want to represent.  Give them a nice bath or take them to the groomer to get expertly coiffed for the holidays. Keep ample supplies on hand: wipes for muddy paws, portable water dishes with filtered water to quench thirst and resting pads for getting some shut-eye.

Approach with Caution.  Not everyone is aware of how to properly approach a pet. Big, excitable or aggressive dogs must be tethered or leashed in the event a small child or elderly adult decides to get close without a formal introduction.  Want to get up close and personal? Ask permission from the owner first and then proceed cautiously.

Be Mindful of their Mess.   Rule number one is clean up after your pet's mess.  Have your scooper and small bags handy to remove said offenses immediately. Don’t let your pet relieve themselves anywhere, certainly not on other people’s property. Walk them curbside and encourage them to ‘go’ there.
Train them Young.  Obedience training is a must for all dogs.  It is for their safety and yours.  Simple commands such as how to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ are a necessity and will help socialize your dog so that they can be around others.  Even dog lovers get annoyed when a pooch jumps and claws at them when they walk through the door. 

No Barking or Begging Zone.  Excessive barking can be a big nuisance and be upsetting to those within earshot.  High strung pets who live in smaller quarters should have a regular exercise routine to release repressed energy.  A little fresh air and running around will exhaust them and calm them down so they will not bark unreasonably.  Begging is unacceptable and can also spread germs. Never feed a dog table food and if begging ensues, remove them immediately from the scene.

Therapy Animal?  Pet Partners® has never been more popular!  If you have an emotional or physical disability and are in need of a therapeutic travel companion, have your applicable paperwork, tag, and license on hand.

Love Me, Love My Pet.  You and your canine may be attached at the hip, but that does not give them license to tag along to your holiday social engagements.  Many people are allergic to pet fur. Untrained pets may damage furniture or permanently stain rugs leaving a wake of destruction in their path.  Showing up with yours unannounced can be considered incredibly insensitive.  If you are in a bind with your pet, have the courtesy to ask permission and wait for the green light.  Be gracious and make sure your pet is on their extra-special best behavior.

It wouldn’t be a holiday celebration without food and beverages overflowing around a beautifully set table. Whether prepared or purchased, once the elements have been elegantly placed all that’s remaining is how to properly navigate your way around the table and bring the food gracefully into your mouth. Discover the details that go into holiday dining.

Your Napkin is Very Versatile.  A napkin is used to wipe food from your mouth, to blot lips before taking a drink, to catch crumbs that fall into your lap or to use as a barrier if you sneeze or cough at the table.  Before beginning your meal, lift your napkin with your left hand to open.  Fold it in half lengthwise and lay the napkin across your lap with the fold facing toward you.  If you need to excuse yourself during the meal, place your napkin on the seat of your chair, when you return place it back in your lap.  To signal the end of the meal, pinch the center of the napkin and place it on the left side of your place setting.

Chew with Mouth Closed and Elbows off the Table.  Nothing is more unpleasant than witnessing a fellow diner talk with a mouth full of food.   Use hand gestures to communicate until you’ve had a chance to completely swallow the contents in your mouth.  It is considered bad manners to keep elbows on the table while eating, however, forearms may rest on the table in between courses or after completing your meal.

Use Utensils, Not Fingers.  Different cultures have different standards for table manners.  In some countries it is perfectly acceptable to eat with your fingers, however, in America we are taught to eat our food with utensils or silverware. Please do not break out Mr. Finger!

Break Bread.  Tear off only a bite-size piece of bread.  Use your butter knife to spread a small amount of butter onto the piece that you wish to eat.  Repeat same with each new piece of bread.

Learn to Dine like the French.  There are two styles of eating, the Continental style and the American style.  Most Europeans practice the Continental style of eating food with their fork in the left hand and the knife in the right.  The fork tines face down and are used to gently pierce the food while the knife acts as the pusher.  The pattern is to cut and then eat, cut and eat.  It is much more efficient way of dining and presents a more polished appearance.

Practice the Secret Language of Servers.  The resting position and the finished position are the secret codes to alert servers if you are taking a break or finished with your meal.  To signal the resting position, place your fork and knife in an inverted “V” on your plate.  This will ensure that your server will not remove your food.  To signal the finished position, close your fork and knife together, fork tines down, at an angle on the right side of your plate.  This lets your server know that you have completed your meal and that it is okay to take your plate.

Make Pleasant Table Conversation.  Include both seatmates to your right and left into your conversation. Initiate conversation by asking a question or offering a compliment.  Acceptable topics include sports, the weather, cultural events, music, movies, books, museums, travel, school, and work. Kindly refrain from heated topics including politics, religion, money, and health.

Excuse Oneself from the Table.  Young diners should seek permission before leaving the table.  Once it is granted, they may leave and push in their chair.  Adults may simply say, “Excuse me” to their tablemates as they exit the table temporarily to use the lavatory or handle business.

The End of the Meal.  Once a meal has completed, place the napkin on the left-hand side of your place setting.  You do not need to fold it neatly, just pinch the center and lay it down on the table.  When you rise, push in your chair.  At home or if you are a guest in someone else’s home, offer to help clear the table.

Essential Holiday Dining Skills. (a) Observe seating arrangements and locate your place card. (b) Wait to be seated until everyone has arrived. (b) Follow the lead of your host for everything that happens at the table. (c) Pass all trays of food to the right and all condiments in pairs. (d) Swallow all contents of food before taking a drink.

With hosting comes the great responsibility of taking care of your mixture of guests.  Oftentimes they strike a delicate balance between elegant host and marriage family child counselor making sure everyone is getting along and having a nice time.  Such skillfulness and dexterity is more than deserving of a proper toast before partaking in a feast.  Here are a few tips for both toasting your host and receiving a toast if you are the host at holiday time. 

Proposing a Toast. It’s nice for a designated individual at the table to invite everyone attending to raise their glass to toast their host. Begin by obtaining everyone’s attention in the room by using a projecting voice and repeating the words, “I would like to propose a toast.” 

Solicit Your Audiences Attention.  If you are making a toast to a large or rowdy crowd, you may pick up a clean knife from the table and use it to gently tap the side of your glass as a way to alert people that you are going to begin your toast. 

Speak from the Heart.  When preparing your toast, be sincere and speak from the heart.  Keep your toast simple and to the point, about a minute in length.

Sit or Stand, Make it Grand. Make good eye contact with your host and end with an endearing phrase such as “Cheers, or here’s to you" along with your host’s name.  Raising a glass to health and happiness in the New Year is another appropriate toast all will welcome.

Receiving a Toast.  The host never raises their glass along with others when they are being toasted. One never toasts to oneself. When being honored, the elegant host simply stays seated and with a warm and generous smile, graciously says, “thank you” to their guests. Once the toast is completed and the attention is diverted, the host may take a sip of their beverage.

To Clink or Not to Clink.  It’s not necessary to clink glasses when toasting and there is quite a history as to how the ritual of clinking glasses originated. The first, and most popular, is that the clinking glasses was performed to ensure the safety of the drinks and make sure no poison was exchanged. The gesture was also made, some thought, to create a noise to scare off evil spirits. Other theorists believed the clinking was added to create an audible sound to satisfy the final sixth sense of hearing.  Today the clinking of glasses is simply a gesture we perform as an expression of goodwill towards others. The most popular toast is to good health.

Back in the day before the invention of smartphones and the web, life was a much simpler place and certainly more civilized. Passersby would stop and greet one another in the streets, correspondence was a common occurrence, the discourse was intelligent and polite, children addressed adults with respect and we all were much less exhausted at the end of the day.  Things have changed over the years and not necessarily for the better.  Nowadays, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and a good de-stressor at holiday time is just the remedy.

Do Something Charitable.  The best way to alleviate stress from the holidays is to take the focus off of oneself and do something charitable.  Research local organizations to see how you can donate your time to those in need.  Offer to serve a holiday meal, hang decorations, bake cookies, read stories or sing holiday songs.  Set a good example for your children while doing something fun and inspiring for the whole family. 

Get Out in Nature. A brisk walk or a healthy hike on a crisp day does wonders for our psyche.  Throw on your comfy clothes and some sunscreen and get outdoors.  A quick 45 minutes will do the trick and you’ll feel so much better having accomplished at least one thing for yourself.  If your partner and/or children need this as much as you do, encourage everyone to join in the fun!

Play a Board Game.  When do we ever find the time to break out a lengthy game of Monopoly or go old-school and open up a game of Backgammon to play on the couch?  Anything that requires us to engage with others and take our gaze away from our phones and computers is an excellent way to de-stress over the holidays. Put on a little holiday music in the background and you’ll feel your body begin to relax immediately.

Bake Holiday Treats.  There isn’t anyone on this planet who doesn’t enjoy a treat this time of year, especially children.  Research cookie, fudge or cake recipes, gather all your ingredients and get started. This is an excellent opportunity to exhibit your finest baking skills and enlist lots of mini chefs to help you in the kitchen.  The nature walk you took earlier in the day will make you feel much less guilty about devouring each and every one of these specially made sweets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom - Test Your Holiday Etiquette Quotient: Are You Naughty or Nice?

1. You are gearing up for the holiday office party.  As a way to reward yourself for a job well done, you plan to eat and drink ‘til your heart’s content.  Is this the best course of action?
A. Yes
B.  No

2. In our increasingly technological world, should the holiday card be mailed or electronically delivered?
A. Mailed.
B. Electronically delivered.

3. You have two close friends hosting a holiday party on the same night at the same time.  Whose party should you attend?
A. The party of the invitation you received first.
B. Both, split your time sensibly.

4. You are standing in line with a cart full of gifts and the person behind you has only two items to purchase. What should you do? 
A. Ignore them. You are on a schedule and need to get home to relieve the babysitter.
B.  Embrace the holiday spirit and let them go first.

5. The holiday table is set for ten and your friend arrives with two unannounced guests. What should you do?
A. Voice your opinion and send them on their merry way.
B.  Make room at the table and happily welcome them in.

6. The ritual gift giving exchange has become too costly.  Is it alright to abstain from giving gifts altogether?
A. Yes
B.  No

7. A guest arrives at your holiday party with a bottle of red wine and you are serving white with dinner.  Are you obligated to open it?
A. It is up to your discretion.
B.  Yes.

8. With regard to holiday tipping, is it best to give cash or gift cards?
A. Cash
B.  Gift cards

9. Your friend has invited you to be a guest at their posh ski chalet in the mountains for the holidays.  Upon your stay, you should…
A. Relax and enjoy yourself, you are in dire need of a vacation.
B. Step in, super guest and do your part.

10. Aunt Roz had a bit too much spiked egg nog to drink and is singing holiday tunes while everyone is trying to watch a movie. As the gracious host, you would join in and add harmony. True or false?
A. True
B. False

11. In 1995, the idea of ‘regifting’ was famously brought to light in an episode of ‘Seinfeld’.  Is it ever okay to regift? 
A. No way.
B.  Absolutely.

12. You are invited to attend a Hanukkah holiday party but are of a different faith. Should you participate in religious activities?
A. Most certainly.  It is the holiday spirit.
B. Definitely not. It will offend.

13. Your mother-in-law has invited your husband and you to a formal sit down Christmas dinner at her home, little does she know, you are on a strict gluten free, dairy free diet.  What should you do?
A. Nothing. Eat what you can.
B. Contact your mother-in-law beforehand to inform her.

14. It is New Years and you would like to toast your host to thank them for bringing everyone together. When should this be done?
A. Towards the end of the meal during the dessert course.
B. Once everyone is seated before the meal begins.

1. (B) A holiday office party is not the time to gorge and draw attention to yourself. View the night as an opportunity to mix and mingle and build a relationship with co-workers. Nurse one drink all night and make only one trip to the buffet table.

2. (A) Holiday time is one of the few occasions where old-fashioned card stock and snail mail is appreciated.  Many people enjoy displaying their cards on the fireplace mantel for guests to read. Taking the time to personally sign each card adds a nice touch.

3. (B) Always attend the party of the invitation you received first. Since they are both good friends, however, inform them that you will only be staying for part of the time and then make it your mission to be the life of the party at both.

4. (B) Get Zen about lines. Be mindful of others. Find ways to pass the time by bringing a book or magazine to read while waiting.

5. (B) A most gracious host is ready for any last minute modifications.  If there are only ten Cornish cooked hens, then they should be willing and ready to whip up something in the kitchen to accommodate extra guests.

6. (B) There are alternate ways to participate in the gift exchange and keep everyone happy.  Have this conversation in advance of the holidays.  Suggest a secret holiday exchange, an exact agreed upon dollar amount, or offer to exchange gifts for children only as a way of keeping costs to a minimum.

7. (A) A host, you may choose to serve the gift of wine with the meal if you wish, but you are certainly not obligated unless the guest has given explicit instructions to do so. In this case, it is best to oblige to avoid confrontation.

8. (A) & (B) Both are appreciated, however, they are not necessarily appropriate for every recipient. For example, you wouldn’t offer cash to a teacher, but a gift card for her to purchase supplies for the classroom would be most welcome while cash for your elderly parent’s caregiver may be more appreciated.  If cash, make sure to have nice crisp bills on hand and present both cash and gift cards with a nice handwritten thank you note.

9. (B) House guesting is not the time to rest on your laurels. If you accept an invitation, you must be ready to pitch in with groceries, prepare meals, keep to your hosts' schedules, and clean up after yourself. Don’t forget to send a proper thank you note and gift afterward.

10. (B) False. You do not need to join Aunt Roz in her one-woman stage show.  Instead, try to deflect and distract by inviting her into the kitchen to help you prepare the desserts and offer her a strong cup of coffee.

11. (B) Absolutely. There is even an official day dedicated to re-gifting on the third Thursday of December.  Re-gifting is permissible as long as there is no trace of previous ownership, the time is in perfect working condition, and you are positive the recipient will love it! 

12. (A) If you agree to accept the invitation, you should be prepared to participate in all of the activities out of respect for your Jewish friends.

13.  (A) Rather than draw negative attention to yourself, eat a little snack prior to departing and sample whatever you can at the dinner.  If your mother-in-law happens to contact you beforehand, you can certainly offer to bring a special dish to contribute that everyone will enjoy.

14. (A) A toast is offered by the host at the very beginning of the meal.  All toasts offered by others occur during the dessert course.  When toasting your host, make sure all glasses are full and remember the 3 “B’s”: Begin, Be Brief and Be Seated.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom - Spread Gratitude & Goodwill This Thanksgiving

If you're feeling particularly challenged this Thanksgiving, don't despair. Grab onto goodness with all of your might. The world is watching and it responds in kind.  Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Virtually everyone is facing one type of challenge or other. It may be dealing with the loss of a home or a loved one or taking care of a child or significant other who is battling a mental or physical health illness. Any feeling of overwhelm can be easily overcome through connection and a kind word.  When we are grateful, good things we thought impossible, suddenly materialize. Find ways to volunteer your time, your money or your resources. If you enjoy hosting, open your home. If you are a guest, wear your most important accessory - your smile. The grace and generosity you bestow during one of the most beloved holidays of the year will come back in spades.  Here are our top 5 etiquette tips to enjoying a most grateful and gracious Thanksgiving this year and always.

1. Set the tone with a warm and welcoming scene. To create those cozy feelings we associate with Thanksgiving start by setting a warm and welcoming scene.  Begin with good lighting to give everyone a soft glow. Ask Alexa to play some soothing background music. Break out your wedding china (when else are you gonna use it?). Match it with hand-made placemats designed by your kids. Select fresh blooms from your garden to give it an especially organic feel. A beautifully appointed table makes the food taste so much better.  You’ll relish in the oohs and aahs as your guests enter your home.

2. Put extra oomph into your food presentation.  Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of food holidays. People diet for weeks in advance just to partake in an endless buffet of delectable savories and sweets.  Regardless of whether you slave over the stove making every last item on your menu days in advance or place a call to your favorite take-out restaurant for a fancy spread you can serve on the fly, everyone appreciates piles of food placed neatly on eye-pleasing platters. Toss the cans of cranberry sauce before your guests arrive. Scoop the stuffing from containers into porcelain covered bowls.  Forgo the plastic ware and paper plates in favor of real dishes and utensils. Have each item set on the table along with its designated serving piece.  

3. Keep the atmosphere light and breezy. It is a well-known fact that laughter is the best remedy for any difficulty. If we can lighten the mood and find the silly during even the darkest times, it allows us to not take life so darn seriously.  Lord knows we can't control the curve balls so we may as well embrace the circumstances with a few coping mechanisms. Put on a funny holiday movie, crack a joke or encourage a spontaneous game of charades. Any of these are guaranteed to bring the crew together and hopefully make everyone forget their troubles (at least for a while).
4. Connect with compliments and nice questions. Strike up a conversation with a loved one or friend by opening with a compliment. It doesn't have to be anything earth-shattering, but it should be authentic. When we are truly present for one another it is easy to find something sweet to say that will make the other person feel good and loved during this time of year. Keep the conversation going with a few nice (not nosy) questions and actively listen to the answers. Sometimes people just want to be heard.  A sincere interest goes a very long way in building and sustaining a good relationship. 

5. There is no better attitude than that of gratitude. We must find a way to give thanks at Thanksgiving. Big or small – it doesn’t matter.  Being invited to someone's home or hosting a Thanksgiving meal is a blessing. Sharing the holiday with older relatives who are healthy and well is a blessing. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family is a blessing. You never know what the future holds so cherish each moment together, appreciate each other and concentrate on the positive. Finally, before you gorge yourself with the Thanksgiving feast, go around the table and say one thing you are thankful for and maybe even one nice thing to each person at the table. This will bring instant connection and love to everyone in the room and isn't that all we really want anyway?