Night Lights: When is it Appropriate to Burn Candles?

Q: What is the proper etiquette for burning candles? My mother-in-law says you do not burn candles in the day, only at night. In the past, we have wanted to light the candle in the centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table but she is adamant that you don’t light candles in the daytime.

A: She is correct. Candles are lighted when dusk falls. However, when among close family and friends, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I know we are supposed to wait until dark but having candles adds such a nice glow that I’m lighting them now instead of waiting.” You wouldn’t do this for a strictly formal entertainment, but friends and family are expected to be understanding and surely would go along with your wish instead of standing on rigid protocol.

Removing or Rushing: When Do I Take Away a Guest’s Dinner Plate?

Q: When is the proper time to remove your guests’ dinner plates – after everyone is finished? I have a friend that insists on helping out at dinner parties but she starts removing plates before all are finished. She also insists on putting away food from buffets within 15-20 minutes of the meal. I think it is better to leave the food out and let people browse for a bit. I prefer to not remove dinner plates for at least five minutes after the final course so no one is rushed and they can enjoy conversation. I do appreciate her help but it sometimes stops the conversations and makes the slow eater feel uncomfortable. Am I wrong in politely asking my friend to hold off. What is correct?

A: No, you are not wrong at all. Explain that some people feel bad or rushed when their places are cleared before everyone is finished, or they are left with a plate when no one else has one. Tell her you love her help, but need her to please watch for a cue from you, and to not start clearing without your ok, because you don’t want anyone to be upset.  When she starts to clear the buffet, go to her and thank her so much for her help, but tell her you are not yet ready to have food cleared and if she is still willing to help a little later it would be wonderful, but not now. If she argues, remind her that this is your party and tell her she is upsetting you instead of helping you. You don’t have to be so sensitive of her feelings when she is disregarding your requests to cease and desist and you may have to be a little firm. If this means she doesn’t help you any more, so be it. At least the pressure will be off your efforts to be a gracious hostess.

Gifting Gestures: Do I have to Use a Host Gift When I Receive it?

Q: When someone brings a bottle of wine as a gift for a dinner or appetizers and drinks, do you open that bottle right away or can it be used at another time?’

A: You may do either. The wine is intended as a gift to you to do with as you please. If you would like to serve it you may; if you already have wine that you were planning to serve you may set it aside to enjoy another time.

Announcement – ‘Awesome Etiquette’ Podcast Launch!

575We are pleased to announce that the Awesome Etiquette Q&A podcast is now LIVE!

The Emily Post Institute is thrilled to be partnered with American Public Media’s new podcast network Infinite Guest to bring you Awesome Etiquette hosted by Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning

As your hosts, we’ll talk about etiquette in our own lives, answer listener questions, delve into the historical and traditional aspects of etiquette, as well as salute individuals and organizations who shine as examples of good etiquette.  If you have a question, historical or traditional etiquette topic you’d like discussed, or a person or organization you’d like to nominate for an etiquette salute, please email us at You can subscribe with iTunes here.

Infinite Guest has an all-star line up including: Dinner Party Download, The Splendid Table, Wits, Life of the Law, You Must Remember This, and Top Score.  Happy listening!

You can find out more and get immediate updates by following us on Twitter!


Dish Delivery: Proper way to Return Dishes

Q: I have always been told that it is ‘rude’ to return a dish to a person empty. Therefore, when I am returning a dish, say after a holiday meal when others have brought food, and left their dishes for me to wash (just a little sarcism!), I always put something in it. I may put a new dish towel set, or maybe some homemade cookies. Is there an etiquette protocol for this?

A: It’s really a matter of local custom.  In some areas, it is not uncommon to return the dish with some token “gift” while in others it’s not expected.  It’s very thoughtful of you to put something in a dish when you return it, but it’s your choice.  In fact, using your example, after a holiday meal, you could transfer any leftovers to one of your dishes and return the dish to the owner either rinsed out or not.  You could also simply tell that person to take the dish and to keep the leftovers.  As the hostess, it’s your choice.