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Faux pas be gone — Etiquette tips for hosts and guests at holiday dinner celebrations

By Amy Wilde

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 5:31 p.m. MST

Associated Press

It's the time of year when the fine china and silver comes out of the cabinet and you can treat your family and friends like royalty.

Or an invite to such a party is on your calendar and you need to brush up on your etiquette so you'll be sure to be on next year's guest list.

Here are five guidelines if you're hosting a dinner party and five tips if you're a guest at one.

For the host

1. Dust off that china

No, really, dust off the dinnerware. The quickest way to turn off a dinner guest is to have them see a bit of dirt, dust or fossilized dishwasher grime on their plate, glassware or silverware.

Tip: Use a damp soft cloth to wipe down each plate while setting the table. In doing so, inspect the glassware for those stubborn lipstick marks (ewww!).

2. Spring for cloth

Nothing says fine dining like a nice cloth napkin. It adds a little va-va-vroom to the china that simply cannot be matched with (gasp!) a fancy embroidered paper napkin. As the host, the meal officially begins once your napkin is unfolded and in your lap.

Tip: After dinner, throw the napkins right in the washer. According to Tide.com, you should add enzyme-boosted laundry detergent and powdered oxygen bleach to your wash water to get rid of pesky stains so your napkins will be brilliant for the next use.

3. Greet the guests

As a host, your first duty is to welcome each guest into your home. In doing so the mood for the party will be set.

Tip: This is not a time for one-on-one private conversation.

4. Delegate on a small scale

Have mini-jobs for your guests to do once they arrive. It will make them feel a part of the party, and they will start instant conversations with the other partygoers.

Tip: To avoid any accidents, mit sharp knifes from guest-related tasks.

5. Personalize it

Everyone loves the sound and sight of their own name, so add a name card to each place setting.

Tip: Put top conversationalists on opposite ends of the table. That way everyone will feel like the life of the party is sitting by them.

For the guests

1. Say "yes" or "no" but please respond

Times have changed, but if the party you are attending has requested an RSVP — even if it is your own mother — call, text, e-mail, Facebook or personally accept the invitation. In doing so you are saying "thank you" to the host for extending the invitation and recognizing his or her time and resources are valuable to you.

Tip: Upon receiving the invitation, immediately check your calendar and respond to the host or hostess. Miss Manners has said, "You needn't give an excuse for declining."

2. Fashionably late is so last year

Dr. Phil says people who are perpetually late demonstrate an "arrogant behavior." If you are delayed for any reason, give the host a quick call with your estimated arrival time.

Tip: Giving the host a long description of why you are going to be late serves no purpose, unless, of course, it involves the words emergency, baby or blizzard.

3. Greet with a gift

Your gift need not be something that is purchased at the store. In fact, some of the best gifts are free.

Extend a warm hug or offer a sincere compliment; even better, do both.

Steer clear of the unusual host gift or a dish that is expected to be served with the meal when it clearly clashes.

If you chose to bring something, make it small and thoughtful.

Tip: The gift you do not want to arrive with — without fair warning — is an extra guest.

4. Forks

Not sure which fork to use? Relax, it's easier than you think. Remember the small fork is for the salad, and it will always be farthest from the plate on the left. A dessert fork would be above the plate. (Or see our handy place setting guide on Page C3.)

Tip: If you are in a dither trying to remember which fork to use, pretend to engage in interesting conversation with the guest to your right, continue the conversation until they pick up his or her salad fork.

5. Say what?

Meal conversation is a marriage of intelligent wit, humor, storytelling and listening. Come prepared with safe topics to discuss that will easily engage others.

In emergency situations one may need to resort momentarily to talking about the weather.

Tip: Watch that "wandering eye," as the Etiquette Scholar calls it.

"There is nothing more frustrating than talking to someone who is constantly looking past your shoulder, as if he is bored to tears and is searching out a more interesting situation."

No matter what role you are playing — host or guest — manners and good character are the best accessories you can wear to the dinner table.

Amy Wilde is a writer living in Brigham City.

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