Dinner is cooked, your place is spotless and the table is set; your guests are all that’s missing.
But what should you do when your friends and family show up and act less than appropriately? Whether your best friends or not-so-close acquaintances (your sister’s new boyfriend, for example) engage in minor indiscretions or major faux pas, HuffPost has you covered.
We spoke with etiquette experts and therapists to guide you through the holiday party season.
It’s all about setting boundaries.
Are you a subtle signaler? Do you hope your hinting and facial expressions will change others’ behavior? Or worse, do you not say anything out of fear of being impolite?
According to Tina Alvarado, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Seattle, we often struggle in these scenarios, as they require us to set boundaries. (Boundaries are communicating to other people what is or isn’t acceptable with you.)
“There are many reasons someone would struggle to communicate their boundaries,” Alvarado said. “Most often, it is because they learned that it is impolite to do so, especially to a guest.”
If you’re a boundary beginner or new to asserting yourself, Alvarado suggested walking through potential scenarios before your event.
“You may feel silly practicing scenarios in your head or out loud, but just like any new skill, communicating boundaries takes practice,” Alvarado told HuffPost. “If you know someone in your family always seems to cross the line, you can prepare yourself for common scenarios like these that might come up.”
Creating a warm and convivial environment for guests is part of your job as the host, and if one person is threatening that, it’s impolite not to address the situation.
Take this tip on discretion from Jodi R.R. Smith, an etiquette consultant and author of three books on modern manners based in Boston: “If a host is concerned about confronting a rude guest, the host can do so without embarrassing the guest by asking the guest to ‘help in the kitchen’ and having the conversation away from prying ears.”
Scenario 1: The guest who makes rude or inappropriate comments.
It’s typically not a surprise when your disruptive guest (we all have one in our family or friend group) begins their soliloquy on “women these days” or all their other inappropriate opinions, so head off these remarks before your event.
“Take time before your event to talk to them about your expectations of their behavior during the event,” Juulia Karlstedt, an accredited counselor specializing in anxiety management in Edinburgh, suggested. “Be clear about the consequences of engaging in inappropriate or combative conversation. And if they do engage in the behavior during the event, follow through on those consequences. Pull the guest aside, keep your tone neutral, and hold the boundary you set.”
In the moment, try changing the topic of conversation to diffuse any conflict, ignore the remark and choose a more neutral topic. Smith suggested this script: ”Let’s leave that for the politicians to argue. Where are you spending the holidays?”
To minimize the chance of awkward conversations or one rude person dominating, hosts should prepare conversation starters or parlor games to keep the night fun and festive, Smith suggested.
“As a guest, you should arrive at the event with some interesting tidbits and stories to share,” Smith said. “When someone asks ‘What’s new?’ you should have an answer at the ready. ‘Oh nothing’ or ‘same old’ is a conversation killer.”
Scenario 2: The guest who won’t leave.
″Growing up, my best friend’s grandfather would go upstairs to put on his pajamas, slippers and robe. Then he would call down from the top of the stairs, ‘Thank you all for coming! It is time for me to sleep and you to go home.’ This worked well for a lovely and avuncular gentleman, but won’t work for most hosts,” Smith said.
If changing into your jammies is a step too far for you, winding-down activities like tidying up, stopping the music and turning on the lights is a great way to signal to guests that the party has ended. Guests who don’t (or won’t) take the hint may need a more direct approach.
Try this script from Alvarado: ”Gosh, it’s so late, I’m getting sleepy. I’m going to have to call it a night,” or “I’ve had such a great time with you tonight, but it’s time for you all to head home. I’m really looking forward to the next time we do this. Let me walk you out.”
When sending out invites, consider letting guests know your event’s start and end time to prevent misunderstandings.
″A lot of issues with boundaries come from us assuming other people can read out hints, but if someone isn’t picking up on subtle cues, they may need you to be very clear and non-ambiguous about the fact the party is over,” Karlstedt said.
Scenario 3: The guest who drinks too much.
’Tis the holiday party season, and your event may be the second (or third) in a night of festivities, meaning your guests could be buzzed and rowdy by the time they arrive.
Depending on where you live, the party’s host can be held liable if your inebriated guest injures someone else. Your best bet could be to send them home or offer to let them sleep it off in a guest room, according to Smith.
“If they are not agreeable, you will need to enlist the aid of some strong friends to assist the guest into a taxi or ride service home,” Smith said, advising a sendoff like: “Sweetie! It is so lovely to see you. We can tell you have already had quite a bit of fun this evening. Here we go; your carriage awaits! We will have to catch up more later this week.”
Another option is to take the guest aside and talk to them (depending on how intoxicated they are) about the next steps, whether asking them to limit their alcohol for the rest of the evening or eat some food.
“Remember, it is your house or event, and you can decide what you deem acceptable and nonacceptable behavior,” Karlstedt said. “If a guest is not engaging with you, see if you can engage the help of a second person and be very clear about what will happen if the guest continues to not cooperate with you.”
If your guest overserves themself at your function, offer a nonalcoholic drink or a glass of water.
It’s not your job to monitor others’ drinking habits, but if their behavior is becoming uncomfortable or dangerous, you should step in, Alvarado said. Try this script: ”Whew! Seems like you’re really feeling it already. You might want to slow down. Have you tried sparkling cider? It’s delicious!”