Modern Manners: The New Rules For Real Life

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Checked email at dinner recently? Or perhaps you’ve gotten into a heated debate about politics at a cocktail party? Both are totally against the rules, right? And yet…we all do it. A lot. 

Which is why we figured it was high time that dusty, antiquated rule book got an upgrade. So, we checked in with Lizzie Post (yes, that Post — let’s just call her the modern-day Mistress of Manners) to put together a thoroughly usable (not-at-all lame) primer on all things ettiqutte. Something to fill the void in your heart left by the original Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers — that actually applies to your life today. 

Oh, and don’t worry. We finally got an answer on whether or not you can really wait a year to send a wedding gift….


The Basic Rule: Twenty percent is pretty much the gold standard no matter what you’re doing — and you always want to tip as you go. Yes, that’s a higher number than we’ve seen in rule books of yore, but Post points out: “It is a standard number. It’s a lot easier, first of all, to do the math for it — you know you just move that decimal point and double the number and you’re good to go. And, I think a lot of us have worked in these industries and we know how hard it is to live off of tips so it makes a big difference when you get that extra 5 or 10% more. So, I think 20% has become a number we’re all very comfortable with.”

Beauty Treatments 
This one gets confusing if you’re being seen by a few different people. But 20 percent is the number to go with, on the overall bill, if the salon is distributing tips for you. On top of that, just be sure to give a few dollars to the person who shampooed your hair, and you’re set. Just always be sure to ask, rather than assume. The same percentage works for bikini waxes, mani/pedis, and smaller services, too. 

The rule is to tip every person you interact with as you go. Post says, “If you stowed your luggage because your room isn’t ready, when they bring you your luggage, you tip the gentleman who brought it to you. If you leave your car in the parking garage, you tip the valet who gets your car for you when he brings you back the car (not when you drop it off). If someone does something like bringing your dry-cleaning up to your room for you or bringing you something you asked for — like a different iron — those are all things you’d want to tip a dollar or two or three for, to the person who provided that service.” A good exception: If you get room service, check your receipt, because often, the gratuity has already been added. 

Again, 20 percent is the norm. But Post clears up that you’re not expected to tip on top of the bill at all, if the gratuity has been added. She says, “If the gratuity has already been added, you do not need to tip on top of it. You only tip on top of it if you want to. I’ve noticed that a lot of places that add a gratuity add 18% because it’s right in between 15 and 20 and they feel comfortable with that, so it’s up to you if you decide to go higher.” 

Year-End Tipping
The norm here (for handymen, doormen, etc.) is somewhere between $20 and $50 per person, but that can be very different based on the type of building you live in. So, click over here for the super-thorough breakdown by service and amount.


The Basic Rule: You give a gift for every invitation you receive, no matter whether or not you attend. You do not get a whole year to send that gift, but you do get to spend whatever you really can afford. So, budget; think about what that number is for you; and plan ahead. Post also says to “remember that you’re not going to be showing up the bride or groom. It’s really important to dress and behave in a way that is going to let them have the spotlight. You don’t want your toast to run on too long, you don’t want your dress or suit to be so extravagant that that’s what people are talking about — it’s really important to be respectful in that way.” 

First off, that one-year thing. Post says, “We’ve narrowed that window down to about three months. It is really important to get that gift to the bride and groom fairly soon after the wedding. You can also send it before the wedding, which makes it a lot easier.” But, the good news is that it doesn’t matter how much you spend. The whole “you need to pay for the cost of your plate” thing is totally a myth. 

Next, it turns out, it’s totally okay to shop off the registry. Post points out that “you can go off the registry way before all of the good stuff is sold out. You can check the registry when it first comes out and if you decide there’s nothing that really fits your relationship with the bride and groom or if it’s not something you’d choose to give as a gift to them, then you don’t have to get something from the registry. You know budget is also something that really becomes a factor here. You know some registries are at really gorgeous stores and unfortunately the price range at that store might not be within your budget especially if you’re going to five or six weddings or if you’ve been invited to 10 weddings.” 

Yes, you can say no if you’ve been asked. And no, the bride isn’t allowed to be offended as long as you’ve done it kindly and have done it soon after being asked (not three weeks before her wedding). In fact, it’s also okay to accept bridesmaid duties but decline to attend some of the events (for instance, you can be a bridesmaid and skip the bachelorette if it’s a huge schedule issue or if your budget doesn’t allow it). But again, just be honest from the get-go and make it clear to the bride what your limitations are, but that you still adore her — and want to support her in every way possible. 

Showing Up 
Turns out, the old adage about never declining to attend a wedding or a funeral is…false. Post says, “You do your best to try to go, but I can see budget being a reason why you’re not able to attend. And ultimately, it’s really important to look at your schedule and look at your budget and use that as your guide to whether you’re able to attend or not. If anyone is putting pressure on you or giving you a hard time about not attending because of budget, they are very much in the wrong from an etiquette standpoint. That is incredibly inappropriate.” But, if you do decide to RSVP yes, know that what you see is what you get with the invite. Meaning: If you weren’t given a +1, it’s never okay to ask for one.


The Basic Rule: Know your environment. If you’re around people who are keeping their phones out and checking on some work-related or personal emergency, fine. Just as long as you’re all clear on the fact that that’s okay. Similarly, if you’re in an internal meeting and everyone brings a laptop, go ahead and draft an email or two when your attention isn’t 100% required. But, if someone is giving you their full attention, know that they deserve to have yours, too. 

The First Thing To Know 
Unless you are waiting for an urgent call that you plan to take outside, it’s still considered bad manners to leave your phone out at the table. Yes, we do it all the time. But it turns out…

Cell Phones…Everywhere 
A mind-boggling 92% of Americans wish people practiced better etiquette when it comes to cell phones and other digital devices, according to this study. What does said etiquette entail? Well, there’s a lot of gray area. But basically, here’s where you shouldn’t take a call, unless it’s an emergency: public restrooms (just don’t take it out — it makes people feel weird), theaters, waiting areas, lines, gyms, coffee shops, elevators, trains, buses, and restaurants. If you do have to take the call, be quick and quiet, and try and step away, as quickly as possible. Yes, those seem like no-duh rules, but that’s what makes them work in a real person’s life. 

Basically, don’t text sad news or any serious work information, don’t take for granted that everyone has unlimited texting, and don’t freak out if someone doesn’t immediately text you back (since you don’t know when they will actually read your text). Also important: When you’re at a movie, play, or other indoor performance, you can leave your phone on vibrate if you put it away, but it’s definitely not okay to pull your phone out and check or send text and emails during the show. Everyone sees the glow of your cell phone — even when it’s in your bag — and you know it. 

If it’s a work email, you need to reply within one business day, but sooner is obviously better. But the biggest rule here is consistency. If you normally reply to emails within an hour or so, but you’re away for the day, set up an out of office. If you’re in meetings all day, consider doing the same, or letting anyone who might urgently need you know that you’ll be unavailable for a while. And if you’re slow in replying, lead with an apology.


The Basic Rule: Don’t be a jerk. Let’s be honest; this is probably the place where there is the most room for interpretation based on what your friends are like — and what you as a group think is okay. But at the end of the day, someone is having you over and taking the time to plan a nice event for you. So…don’t be a jerk. And be respectful and appreciative of the time and effort they put into the evening. 

Polite Conversation 
Sure, you can talk about whatever you want when you’re among friends. But what about shindigs where you’re talking to strangers, or people you want to impress, or acquaintances you aren’t all that comfortable around? Are you allowed to talk about money, politics, sex, and religion around thosepeople? Post says…not exactly. “These are the big danger topics. And, it doesn’t happen with politics or religion, but I do notice that money is one where there are certain ways (like talking about apps and technology around it rather than people’s personal finances) that people get excited to talk about it. But you do want to stay away from the four big ones — money, religion, politics, and sex. Usually those are the four that end up getting talked about anyway though, so if you find yourself in a sticky situation in a conversation, simply start listening. Rather than getting very confrontational with someone or really trying to hammer back points and get into a debate, you need to remember you’re at somebody else’s event and it’s important to just back away and just let the conversation go.” 

Table Settings 
The basics: From left to right, you want to place the napkin, forks, plate, knife, and spoon. Glasses go above, to the right. But, if you want to see it all laid out nice and pretty, check out the handy-dandy illustration here.

Illustrated by Ly Ngo

Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.

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