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Ever Wonder About the Rules are When it Comes to Parties?

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers! I get asked all the time about party rules and proper etiquette. Questions like, “when should I bring a hostess gift?” or “do my kids (aka me) really need to write thank you notes?” I get it, being the host and also the guest can be confusing at times, and I think it’s best the try not to overcomplicate things. Remember, this is a party- it’s supposed to be FUN!

For this episode, I collected audience questions as well as questions I get asked all the time about party rules and etiquette. I’m breaking them all down and giving you my best advice for handling these situations!



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Gift Giving and Receiving Etiquette

Opening Gifts at the Party

I’m in the camp of no opening gifts at a party, but I totally understand the benefits of opening gifts.

Pros: kids learn to show appreciation and gratitude when receiving gift, and those kids giving gifts like to see their friends opening the gift they chose for them. This social experience is very beneficial to little ones!

Cons: Kids swarm the birthday kid and get closer and closer…making it crazy overwhelming and almost always resulting in a meltdown. Gift opening can also go on for a long time and can get boring.


If there’s a kid or family member that really wants to see their friend open their gift, pull them aside and open it! This is a win win for all. The kid gets to see their present open, and your kid gets to practice polite gift receiving etiquette.

Fiver Parties

Fiver parties are a new trend right now. You ask guests to bring $5 in lieu of a gift to go toward one larger present your kid is excited about. Just put a little line on your invite explaining that instead of a gift, you’d love for them to bring $5 to use toward a (fill in the blank) for the birthday kiddo. You can have the present at the party so everyone can watch them receive it or go shopping after the party with their birthday money. Fiver parties are cool because it teaches kids about money, doesn’t result in a ton of stuff that your kid will get and hardly play with, and makes gift giving in large friend groups more cost effective. If you are going to try a fiver party, make sure you do some front loading with your kid to prepare them for not getting presents. For kids that are used to and excited about opening gifts, this will be something new for them to process!

Hostess Gifts

Hostess gifts are probably the thing I get asked about the most often! When do you bring them?? I always suggest evaluating the type of event. Is this Thanksgiving dinner or a backyard neighborhood potluck? Thanksgiving- definitely hands down yes to a hostess gift. Backyard neighborhood bash decided last minute? Probably not necessary. If something is hosting a party FOR YOU- as in a shower, birthday or bachelorette- yes, they for sure get a hostess gift. As a frequent host, opening my home and creating a memorable experience for my guests, I very much appreciate a hostess gift. It doesn’t need to be expensive at all- just a small token of appreciation. I have a whole list of my favorite hostess gifts here! Stick to $10-$20, and also buy in bulk! Once you find a hostess gift you love, grab a couple of them and wrap in a gift bag for easy grab and gos! 

Thank You Notes

If you are not opening gifts at a party, then yes, I think thank you notes are a good idea. If your kid is little and you do open gifts, I don’t think it’s really necessary to write a thank you note in their name, but it’s most likely the polite thing to do. There’s years when my friend group has been in stages of life with newborns and work and we just made a blanket decision to  skip thank you notes for all kids that year. It was a good year! 🤣 As kids get older, I think it’s a good idea to get them in the routine of thank you notes and showing gratitude toward gifts. Theres lots of Etsy shops and places you can find fill in the blank thank you notes so they don’t have to write the whole thank you note, but enough to take some ownership over it. That’s what we’ve starting doing with Evie (age 6). 

Are Favors Necessary?

Nope, not at all! If favors make sense for your party and you WANT to do them- go for it. But if you are inviting people to a party, feeding them and occupying their children, favors are in no way an expectation! I always look for ways I can double up on favors and activities or favors and treats. When I create party plans for busy moms, I always am looking for ways that activities can result in a favor or dessert table items as well. For example, at Evie’s past Sweet 6 birthday party, I had a candy bar with plastic boxes with a “thank you for making my day so sweet” sticker for kids to fill. This doubled as their party favor, but was also a dessert option for party guests! We also had kids make cotton candy slime as an activity, which also became their party favor! Easy and more cost effective as well. 

Baby Showers Gifts: Books, Diaper Raffle, Registry…Oh My!

This may be a pet peeve of mine…but I feel like guests now are expected to bring everything under the sun to a baby shower. Some invitiations I’ve seen ask guests to bring a book in lieu of a card, a pack of diapers for a raffle ticket AND a gift from the registry. That can really add up! My suggestion is picking ONE…maybe two, but I think it’s pushing it.

If the mama to be really wants to build her child’s library, than do a book themed shower and ask for books in lieu of a card! That is a super sweet and fun idea for a shower. But let’s all be real here, a book is not a fair swap for a card.  Just be mindful of your guests and what you’re asking of them!

Inviting Guests: You Don’t Have to Please Everyone!

Guest List

Keep in mind, guest looks greatly impacts party budget. If you are inviting 50+ people to your party, things just got more expensive. People understand this, so don’t stress about inviting everyone and your mother to your party.

Whole family and Siblings

Who is your kid friends with? Are you close to the whole family? Is your own extended family coming? These are the questions to ask when decided who to invite. It’s perfectly acceptable to just invite the kid your kid is friends with and on parent and not all the siblings. Make this clear on your invitation- if you only want one child, put their name on the invitation. If you put “The Carter Family” then it’s pretty easy to assume the whole family is invited. 

When in doubt, as the host. If you are wondering whether or not all kids and parents are invited, ask! Often times, parties at venues have set number of kids that are allowed to come so guest list is out of the parent’s hands. In those cases, it’s important to be clear on who’s in invited and who’s being asked to stay behind. 

Also, changes are, not everyone wants everyone to come to their house for parties! If you suggest just one child, your friends will probably be relieved that you set that expectation!

Setting the Expectations

On the Invitation

If you want a clear end time to your party, put that on the invitation. If you’re hosting a venue where the time allowed in the space is limited, put a start and end time. This gives guests an idea on how long they can expect to stay at the party. Don’t assume they’ll just know that you want them to be gone by 7 pm. Also, if you are going to have start and end times, make sure the flow of your party reflects that. If you want people to leave by 1 pm and it’s 12:45 and you haven’t even done cake and sung Happy Birthday…chances are people aren’t leaving by 1:00!

Let’s talk about food for a second. If you are hosting during a major meal time, guests will expect a meal. A 12 pm party…lunch or a party that’s at 5 pm? Dinner for sure. If that’s NOT what you want to do, then you need to make it clear to your guests that light snacks and cake will be served. This tells them they need to eat lunch before they come OR have something prepared in the car for the ride home- or go out, etc. Put yourelf in your guests’ shoes and think about what you’d expect in their situation!

Do Parents Need to Do Anything?

So one time Evie was invited to a pool party and no where on the invite did it say adults needed to swim…so guess who showed up without a suit only to find out if her kid wanted to swim…I needed to go in with her. Not fun! If you are cool with a drop off party, tell parents to prepare for that! If you are hosting at a venue and parents are expected to participate…YOU NEED TO TELL THEM! The invitation, or an additional insert inside, is where you set all the expectations and take the guesswork out for your guests.

Potluck and Leaving Food

I actually loved this question. “What do we do with food or wine we bring to a party? Leave it or take it home?” I always offer to leave it. And as a host, I always tell people to take what they brought! I think it’s both partie trying to be polite! If I bring a bottle of wine to someone’s house, there’s no way I’m just grabbing it and taking it back home with me unless the host specially tells me to. Consider it a hostess gift.

When it comes to food, I offer to leave the food, but take my platter. If I leave my platter and offer to get it next time I see them, it means extra dishes and work for the host, which I don’t want to do. So scrape your platter into a dish of theirs, give it a quick wipe, and take your semi-dirty platter home with you.

At the end of the day, fun is number one. Celebrations and parties are meant to be FUN. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules a bit if it ends up working out better for you. And again, these are MY opinions. This is my advice and what I do based on my experiences and preferences. You may totally disagree and that’s okay!

Remember the golden rule from elementary school? Treat others how you want to be treated? Apply this to being a host or guest. If you are the host, treat guests how you’d want to be treated as a guest. You would want expectations on who and what to bring, when the show up, etc. Same goes for hosting. As a guest, treat the host how you would want to be treated as a host. If you’d want someone to bring food, tell them. If you’d want less work on yourself, then set expectations.

I hope you loved this show and some of your questions were answered! If you have any other questions, PLEASE feel free to leave them below in the comments or shoot me an email at allison@allisoncartercelebrates.com! 


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It’s finally here! My Ultimate Busy Mom’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving This Summer!

This guide has everything you need to make cherished memories with your kids this summer while still tackling your to-do list and not playing cruise director for months. Looking for the answer to having the most memorable, productive, and fun summer of your parenting life thus far?

Click here and download your guide!



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