Hint: Stay away from the dishwasher.

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As holiday party season kicks back into high gear, watching for a few simple behaviors—suggested by etiquette expert Elaine Swann, founder of The Swann School of Protocol—can help you tell whether you're earning a spot on everyone's guest list. Ahead, a few indicators that you are a five-star attendee.

You brought a gift.

Make a flawless first impression by opting not to show up empty-handed. "It is a good idea to come bearing gifts for the host," says Swann. "But there are so many different things you can do other than that proverbial bottle of wine." Her favorites include potted herbs, kitchen gadgets—"People who host events love gadgets for their kitchen and for serving," she says—and seasonal décor, like towels or candles (assuming the party is before the holiday). "Think about the timeframe," she says. "If you're after the holidays, they won't be able to use it until the following year, so make sure your timing is right for those kinds of gifts." Edible presents are also popular, though unless the host has specifically asked you to bring a dish, you shouldn't expect to see your contribution offered at the party; consider a selection of croissants or a pound of your favorite coffee to make the morning-after meal go smoothly, instead.

You didn't bring an uninvited guest.

The holiday season is prime time for having friends or family in town, or hopping from one cocktail party to the next, but that doesn't mean you can bring an uninvited guest along to someone else's party. "It's more important for us to get that permission first this year than any year before," says Swann. "People are going over their guest list and inviting people based upon what they deem is safe for themselves and all of the guests, whether that means they are only inviting people who are vaccinated or who they know have practiced safe interactions, so you want to honor their request, as well." Leave your cousin, your co-worker, and your blind date at home, unless you get the okay from your host in advance.

friends sitting at table holiday dinner party
Credit: Maskot / Getty Images

You had an exit plan.

Before you leave for any party, says Swann, you should have a "go time" in mind for your departure. "We don't always set a go time, because a lot of times we don't know what to expect for the evening," she says. "But—so you're not the one being handed your coat when the lights are being turned off—set your go time before you even leave your own house. Now, if everyone's having a great time, then of course allow yourself to stay longer."

You focused on the party—instead of your phone.

Putting your phone away during a party is important for two reasons, says Swann. When you're constantly taking photos, posting them, and checking your responses during the party, it's impossible to enjoy the work your host has put into the event. "Don't allow yourself to get so distracted chronicling the occasion that you forget to be present," she says. "That is a huge faux pas as a guest." But there's more practical etiquette element here, too: "We live in a world where we are documenting our lives and sharing everything, we're posting, taking pictures, taking video," she says. "But I really encourage folks to be respectful of the space that they're in and get permission before you post anything in anyone's home. People may have things in their home they don't want the world to see, so you want to mindful of that while you're there."

You stayed out of the kitchen.

Offering to help clean up after the party is polite and appropriate—as long as you respect a host who declines. "People will say no for a number of reasons," says Swann, from choosing to enjoy time with their guests while putting the dishwasher off until after the party, to reducing the chance of a guest dropping their grandmother's heirloom serving plate. "If the host tells you no, then be respectful and honor what they have stated," says Swann. "We get it in our head that we are so grateful that we've been invited to this event that somehow we feel we have to pay this person back, and if we can't do it in any other way, we will do it with a good deed." But your host didn't invite you assuming that you'd clear wineglasses and wipe counters: "Your good deed to a person who's hosting an event," says Swann, "is that you showed up and had a good time."

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