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12/18/2014 02:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Modern Party Etiquette for Hosts and Guests

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Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

Invitations, seating cards and cell phones, oh my! Navigating modern party etiquette can be tricky for both hosts and guests. These 10 do's and don'ts should help clear up everything from what to bring (try a book instead of flowers) to those pesky details (t.p., olive pit bowls) you will not want to forget.

Modern Manners for Conflict-Free Family Visits

1. Do take invites and responses seriously. If you are doing the inviting, be courteous and extend those invites, whether paper, digital or over the phone, with enough time for people to plan accordingly. Be specific and give your guests some clue as to the level of formality you expect, and how long and where the party will be. Including a GPS-friendly address is a thoughtful touch.

As a guest, it's your responsibility to RSVP as soon as you can. And if your plans change later, it's courteous to let your host know instead of simply not showing up when they were expecting you. The same goes even if the invitation was casual -- it's generally better to overcommunicate than let something go unsaid.

2. Don't arrive early. Of course you should try to arrive at a party close to the start time (within 15 minutes is optimal) but whatever you do, do not show up early! Your hosts, undoubtedly feeling a bit frantic, will have their hands full as it is with last-minute cleaning and cooking; they do not need you showing up before they are ready ... especially not with flowers that need a vase (see No. 3).

3. Do come bearing gifts, but don't make more work for your hosts. A cool coffee table book, a small bouquet of flowers already in a vase, a basket of fresh fruit from your own tree, a nice candle, good-smelling soap, pretty tea towels ... these are all things a host will love you for bringing. Your host will not, however, necessarily love having to scramble around in the kitchen for a container to plunk your plastic-wrapped flowers in.

4. Do offer to help. Of course, even better than not making more work for your host is to actually help get dinner on the table. Instead of saying, "Can I help with anything?" which sounds rather vague and invites the other person to say no, try saying, "What can I do to help?"

5. Do offer an alternative to alcohol. Not everyone drinks alcohol, so even if you're making the most delicious specialty cocktails ever, provide an equally festive nonalcoholic option. Set it out along with the other drinks, so guests can help themselves to what they want without having to make a special request. If you are making a big-batch cocktail or alcoholic punch, make sure it's labeled.

6. Do provide bowls for pits, tails and shells. No one likes hovering at a party, cupping a yucky olive pit or shrimp tail in hand because there is no obvious place to put it. Spare your guests that awkwardness by placing plenty of little bowls near the food in question -- and it wouldn't hurt to set an example by being the first to dispose of something. If you are the guest, try to scope out a place to stash your trash before you grub.

7. Do assign seats at a large dinner. At smaller gatherings it's not a big deal, but figuring out where to sit at a long dining table can be daunting -- assigning seats will help guest feel more at ease. Splitting up couples and seating quieter folks next to more boisterous guests will create a livelier party.

8. Don't use your phone. Very casual, mingling situations like big cocktail parties and open houses are a bit more forgiving when it comes to sneaking a peek at your phone, but as a rule you should keep your devices stowed, with ringers off, at parties of all types. And at dinner parties? Don't even think about it.

If you have a situation where you really must be reachable by phone, the polite thing to do is simply be upfront with your hosts and the other guests. Apologize sincerely, briefly explain why you need to take that call or respond to that text, and then excuse yourself from the table while you do so.

9. Do keep the bathroom well stocked. It's one of those things we all hope never happens (cue scary music) ... the party that ran out of toilet paper! Make sure your bathroom is stocked with plenty of t.p., soap and hand towels before your party. While you're at it, put a plunger, a scented candle and matches in there too.

10. Don't freak out over spills. Whether you are the host or guest, try to deal with spills and other upsets quickly, calmly and with good humor. Having a stain-fighting kit on hand in advance would be helpful. And if you are the spiller, do offer to pay for cleaning or a replacement if you caused serious damage.

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