Photo: Alison Miksch

In the South, good manners are passed down like a treasured family recipe for pecan pie. However, unlike the formula for a favorite after-dinner treat, guidelines to being well-mannered are changing with the times. With the abundance of social gatherings the holidays bring, many of our etiquette conundrums surface, and we are left feeling confused about how to be a gracious host or guest. Each week during the holiday season, Erika Preval of Charm Etiquette school in Atlanta, will answer a question that helps us navigate the grey area of modern etiquette.

Q: This is my first holiday as an associate attorney, and I've been invited to multiple firm-related dinner parties. Another first-year is hosting us at her condo, my team is gathering at a local steakhouse, and there's a formal event at the home of one of the partners. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to bring to these, but I definitely want to make a great impression. What do you suggest?

A: The holiday season is one of the most social of the year - filled with travel, dinners and other festive celebrations. Company holiday events offer a unique opportunity to both engage with people of all levels, as well as to do some relationship building outside of the office. Your dance card is pretty full, but you can certainly navigate each of your upcoming events with polish.

As a rule of thumb, you never show up to someone's home empty-handed; always bring a gift for the host. When invited to a dinner party, be sure to ask what you can contribute to the meal. If your host says that only your company is required, consider bringing a beverage, like a bottle of wine or if you are feeling generous some Holmegaard glasses, or something they can snack on later that evening or the following morning. Stay around the $25 price range, and be certain that the gift requires no special attention (i.e., flowers without a vase).

If it turns out that the dinner party is actually a potluck, bringing a dish is required in order for the host to create a well-rounded menu. Your host will typically provide meat and any main dish, and then coordinate what guests should bring for the meal. Whether assigned by the host, or volunteered by you, your contribution will likely be a homemade salad, side dish or dessert, and should be agreed upon as you RSVP. In this scenario, your dish is considered the hostess gift.

You'll likely not need to bring anything to the restaurant, but do be prepared to pay for your meal in case the firm isn't covering the check. Throughout the season, be sure to thank those who have coordinated the events you're attending, and don't leave without thanking the host. Follow up later with a handwritten thank you note (formal) or email (informal). Not only is it a nice thing to do, it will also make you stand out from the many employees and guests who will overlook this bit of thoughtfulness.

We want to hear from you! What etiquette questions do you need answers to this holiday season?