Modern Party Lessons From An Etiquette Expert — Just In Time For The Holidays

Designed by Lily Fulop
As fun as partying with friends is, social gatherings are often followed by a fair bit of worry. Many of us spend the day after a party playing every moment over in our heads, wondering, Did I say the wrong thing, like when I acted as if I already knew my friend's new S.O., even though I had only stalked her on Instagram? Did I offend the host by popping open the Champagne she provided, or not letting her know how much I loved those bacon-wrapped figs? With the holiday season fast approaching, there will be ample opportunities to overthink. To help you avoid some of that spiraling, we spoke to Lizzie Post, etiquette expert, co-president of The Emily Post Institute, and author of Higher Etiquette: A Guide to the World of Cannabis, about how to navigate party dilemmas that were never discussed when we first learned manners.
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Post weighs in on some of our readers' most pressing questions about social gatherings. From responding to e-vites to dealing with unanticipated e-transfer requests, find out exactly what to do in the sticky situations that previous generations of partiers never had to deal with. Hopefully, some of your holiday season stress will be alleviated. And if not, well, we’re not too far off from a new year.
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I went to a Friendsgiving and brought a dish, but afterward my friend who hosted the gathering asked everyone to e-transfer $40 for "food costs" without warning. How should I respond?
Lizzie Post: You don't just request money from someone without first getting their buy-in, so this host is really in the wrong and not setting themselves up for success. I think that's very poor form — it's an assumption that has not allowed others at the party to make decisions about their own finances, and that's where the big etiquette faux pas comes from. There's nothing that says that a friend, just because they're your peer, makes the same amount of money. Even if they make more than you, they may not have free cash on hand to spend without thinking about it.

It's important that, if you're going to have a party where you want the expenses to be shared, you A.) take the role of organizer, not host, and B.) make it clear when you're inviting people that there is an expectation of cost involved. This allows someone who can't meet that cost to say, "I'm sorry, I can't participate," or "Thanks so much, I'll catch you next time." That's really, really important.

If the situation you just described does happen, that's when I think you need to call your friend and say, "Hey, I just got your message requesting an e-transfer and wanted to check in with you about it. I hadn't realized the party had costs associated with it in addition to the dish." Now you and your friend need to go through and try to figure out whether you're going to pay this $40 fee, whether you're going to pay it to her over time, or whether you're going to refuse to pay it because she never asked you to pay it in order to attend the party. That might cause bigger issues in your friendship. You can see how it could turn into a really tough situation really quickly.
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If my friends and I want to use cannabis recreationally at a party, how should we decide who has to chip in to cover the costs? Do the same rules apply as for when you split the cost of food or alcohol at a party?
Typically, when you're inviting people over to your home, there is no splitting up of costs. You're hosting, and you're in a position to take care of your guests. If you've decided that your group tends to do a bring-your-own kind of thing, you aren't really tallying things up. Like, we don't take note that someone brought a $20 bottle of wine and someone brought a $5 bottle of wine. We're beyond that.

Whether I'm going to provide cannabis or not might depend on my budget. If I'm the host, and one of my friends is going to bring all the joints for the evening, I might say, "Well, don't worry about bringing wine. Don't worry about bringing a dish." They're clearly contributing enough. Just be reasonable about it.
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What do I do if my friend posts Instagram pictures of the potluck she hosted and takes credit for cooking all the food?
I think you should do one of two things. You can either choose to ignore it, because you all know who really made the dishes. Or you could directly address your friend and say, "Hey, I saw your posts from the weekend, and I've got to be honest, I thought it made it seem like you had made all the food for the party and it was actually a potluck. I was surprised you didn't mention what people did." I don't know that it's going to go over that well, because now you are micromanaging somebody else's posts. I think, personally, it's best to just let people be the managers of their own feed, their own profile, their own everything.

The other people know what you contributed to that party. You either have to let it go, or you find another time and place to address the topic with your friends. It's not cool by any means, but is it such egregious etiquette that you need to stand up against it, call the person out, and have that candid but polite conversation with them? I don't necessarily think it warrants that, but it's up to you. You're gonna know personally whether or not you'll feel good calling your friend out on this.
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What do I do if I see I wasn’t invited to a close friend's party because she posted photos of it on Instagram?
You have to get used to it. It's going to happen. We can't all be invited to everything, and because we choose to share so much on social media, you have to have thick skin. You just have to be willing to accept you're not invited to everything.
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I want all my parties to be a safe space for women of colour, queer people, and others, so what do I do if someone brings a plus-one who doesn't respect that and makes people feel uncomfortable or unsafe?
I think it's important to talk to the guest that you know — the guest who brought the plus-one. I would do it privately. Expect for it to be a difficult situation because you are essentially saying, "Hey, I don't appreciate the person that you've brought to my house." Your guest may now do one of two things. Either they're going to feel really bad or they're going to feel offended and defensive. I can't predict which your friend is going to be, but I can tell you that it is definitely your responsibility as the host to make sure that the majority of your guests are feeling comfortable and that you have created a safe space for them. If that's being interrupted by offensive comments, it's very important for you as a host to feel confident nipping that in the bud.

Let's say it's at your dinner table and all of a sudden they throw out what they think is a joke, and it's really offensive to a number of people or even just one person at the table. You, as the host, could redirect the conversation without even addressing the issue. You could say, "I don't think that kind of humor is what I'd like at my table," and move forward that way and then say, "I'd rather hear about that trip to Athens that someone just took." Or ask someone what they did last weekend, or ask someone about their kids. Whatever it is, it's okay to move that conversation forward and make it very clear that the offensive comment isn't going to be entertained.

If someone makes another comment after that warning, that's when I would talk to my friend and say, "Listen, your guest has made a number of comments tonight that have been pretty upsetting to me as a host. I am quite sure they're upsetting to some of our guests. Either you have to find a way to speak with him and ask him to not talk like that anymore, or we're going to have to do something to end the evening early." It's pretty much the only way. It's not pleasant. It doesn't mean that you should be rude or demeaning. You want to try to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they weren't the right person to bring, but maybe it's just a bad night for them. It's gracious to give those kinds of allowances, but it doesn't mean that you then have to keep the person at the party. It doesn't mean that you have to ignore the fact that this is going on.

It's okay for you to address it, but just be aware that it is going to change the tone. You might have some reparative work to do with that friend who brought the guest. You may choose to never invite that friend to a party again. There are some big questions that come out of these tough moments.
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Even though I live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, I still prefer to not have people use cannabis recreationally in my home. How do I let my guests know that my house is a drug-free zone?
I think when you want to set up a boundary, you can either address the individuals who you know would cross that boundary or address your party as a whole. You might choose when sending out these invites to say, "Hey, just a friendly reminder that you're welcome to bring your own beer or wine. We do ask that you leave your cannabis at home." Or you might say, "Happy to have folks bring beer and wine or contributed dish. We know a lot of our friends love to smoke pot, and we just prefer you saved it for another night.” Those are the ways that you would differentiate between what people can bring and what you'd rather they not bring.

The other option is to not address it outwardly, but individually. For instance, if your friend goes out back to toke up, you can just say, "Hey, I know I didn't mention anything earlier, but I'd actually prefer not to have pot on my property." Then the question becomes how do you move on from that moment politely? You can say, "I'm happy to go for a walk around the block with you." You want to try to get yourself moving the conversation forward — that way it's not just a negative moment hanging in the air. These are the easy or the light social things we should be able to move forward from.

When it comes to cannabis, though, you're sometimes dealing with someone's medicinal use, and that, I think, is different. Most medical users have a system for being able to consume their medicine without it interfering with other people, so it's not a huge concern, but it is something to just remember about this. It is different from alcohol and cigarettes in that way.

We direct people in how to behave in our homes all the time — shoes on, shoes off, bring a dish, don't bring a dish, smoke inside, smoke outside. We just have to get comfortable doing it around cannabis, too. It's something we have to communicate with one another about, so we're going to have to thicken our skins a little bit about people saying yes or no. We want our hosts to feel respected in their homes.
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People seem to not care about responding to party invites when they’re sent via email or e-vite. When an invite is online, does the etiquette change for how and when to respond?
I think responding on the e-vite is really useful. We get busy and we might see the event, but then we don't think about the actual invitation or check in with our partner, if we have one, about the invitation until we're away from our computer and the e-vite's not in front of us, and it's so easy to then just respond via text message. I think, on the one hand, I wouldn't worry so much about using the exact method of outreach in order to respond with your RSVP, but I do think that it is good guest etiquette for us to respond in the manner that our host has indicated. If that's an e-vite, then we respond on the e-vite website. If it's on a text message, we respond to the text. If it's a phone call, we respond with a phone call. You try to respond in the way indicated.
Who doesn’t love a party? Okay fine, introverts, we see you. But when the recipes work out, the bespoke cocktails are flowing, and you’re surrounded by your people, even those who think they’d rather be at home with their BFFs, Netflix, and Seamless can’t help but get lost in the feeling. This doesn’t mean, however, that throwing an event — or, for that matter, attending one — is always easy. With several big-deal holidays around the corner, plus the requisite birthdays, bachelorettes, and baby showers, there’s really only one thing we can do: Keep Calm and Party On.
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