The Dos and Don’ts of Gift Card Etiquette

by Jacqueline Whitmore

The holidays are just a few weeks away. Gift giving is a wonderful tradition during the holiday season, but it can also be stressful. However, a little preparation will help you cut back on stress as the holidays approach. Though it may seem early, set aside time now and decide whom you want to give holiday gifts to this year. If you can’t think of the perfect gift for someone, consider a gift card to his or her favorite store, restaurant or brand.

Gift cards are thoughtful and flexible because they allow the recipient the freedom to choose his or her own gift. In addition, your friends and family members will be able to use your gift card to take advantage of promotions after the holidays. Here are some dos and don’ts of gift card etiquette.

Photo credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

Photo credit: 401(K) 2012/Flickr

Purchase a gift card from a store. Bank gift cards are acceptable, and certainly better than nothing, but it’s not as personal or thoughtful as a store gift card. While they offer more flexibility — you can use them nearly anywhere — bank gift cards are generic and bland. Instead, take a little extra time to find out at which stores your recipient prefers to shop. He or she will appreciate the personalization and recognize that you put a little extra effort into the gift.

Account for the recipient’s preferences. When you decide to purchase a gift card, consider the likes and interests of the recipient. If the gift card is for a close friend or family member, try to stay away from cards from big box brands and instead choose a store that means something to your recipient. A gift card to a local coffee shop is perfect for the coffee lover in your life while a gift card to a spa may be the best choice for a friend who would love to take a day off and be pampered.

Decide on a dollar amount. How much you give is a personal decision and should be based on your financial situation. However, there are some basic guidelines to help you make your decision. Gift cards for acquaintances, co-workers or casual friends should be in the $10–$20 range. If your recipient is a close friend, sibling or other family member, select a gift card with a value of $30–$75. For spouses and anyone you want to recognize in a big way, opt for a gift card worth $75 or higher.

Include the receipt. Though it would be unusual for a recipient to have an issue when he or she tries to redeem the gift card, there’s always an off chance it was improperly activated or the card’s magnetic strip was damaged. The receipt will help to solve any problem the recipient may encounter. In addition, the receipt clearly states the amount on the gift card, which is especially important if the card doesn’t have a space designated for you to write the amount.

Include a note. Personalize the gift card with a handwritten note. If it’s for an experience, such as dinner at a restaurant, you could say something like, “Please enjoy a meal on me at your favorite steakhouse.” Even if the recipient lives far away, opt for a mailed gift card. Though many brands offer online gift cards delivered through email, a physical gift will show the recipient you put more thought into it.

Re-gift wisely. It’s okay to re-gift a gift card you don’t want or will never use. However, be careful not to seem unappreciative to the person who originally gave you the gift card. Remember to re-gift the card to someone outside the group of friends, family members or acquaintances in which you received it. For example, if your brother gives you a gift card to a particular store, don’t re-gift it to your mother. Instead, pass it along to a friend or co-worker.

Are you a fan of gift cards? If so, what kind of gift cards do you enjoy giving or receiving?

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Cell Phone Etiquette and Dating

by Jacqueline Whitmore
Photo credit: Shumilina Maria/Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shumilina Maria/Shutterstock

Is technology affecting your relationship? A 2014 Nielsen survey found that the average American spends 11 hours on social media, and more than half of that time is spent looking at a smartphone or tablet.

Don’t let bad habits get in the way of your love life. Observe these cell phone etiquette tips while out on a date.

1. Be all there. When you’re on a date, especially a first date, the person you are with should always take precedence over calls you want to make or receive. It’s sad when couples are at a restaurant and are more interested in their phones than the person sitting in front of them. Put people first, technology second.

2. Excuse yourself. If you are expecting a call that can’t be postponed, alert your date ahead of time and excuse yourself when the call comes in if discussing private matters or confidential information. If you do take the call at the dinner table, keep it as brief as possible and avoid “cell yell.” Use your regular conversational tone when speaking on your phone.

3. Avoid ridiculous and loud ringtones. Never put your phone (or your handbag, keys, sunglasses or anything you can’t eat) directly on the table. Keep your phone concealed and remember to silence the ringtone. If you forget and it happens to ring, don’t ignore it and pretend someone else’s phone is ringing. Apologize and silence it immediately.

4. It’s permissible to pull out your phone three times on a date. 1) To take a picture with your date, 2) to show your date pictures of a family baby or pet, and 3) to find the answer to a perplexing trivia question that comes up in conversation. If on a date with multiple couples, show the photo to everybody at the table so no one feels excluded.

5. Ask permission. If you must take out your smartphone while on a date, always ask permission first. Say something like, “Do you mind if I take out my phone to _________?” If taking photos with your date, always be respectful our their privacy and ask for permission before posting them to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Airplane Etiquette

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Do you pack your manners when you go on a trip? Seems like a lot of people don’t. I travel a lot for my job and it seems that people are more stressed than ever.

In the past few weeks, three different planes have been forced to land because of in-flight fights between passengers over reclining seats. So, how can air travelers keep their cool when flying, no matter what the situation?

Listen to my interview with Michael Patrick Shiels on Michigan’s Big Show about airplane etiquette.

For more of my tips on airplane etiquette, read this article in Canoe.ca.

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How to Host a Fabulous Fall Party

by Jacqueline Whitmore
Photo credit: Bartending News Flash

Photo credit: Bartending News Flash

Early autumn is the perfect time to host a casual party for family and friends. The weather is splendid and the stress of the holidays is still several weeks away. Here are a few simple ideas to host a fabulous fall party and celebrate the change in seasons with friends and family.

1. Shop locally. Make your party a breeze and skip the handmade hors d’oeuvres. Instead, visit a specialty food store in your area and purchase fresh fruit, roasted nuts, artisanal cheese and crackers to serve to guests. Display the items on a beautifully decorated tray or table. Keep it easy but elegant. Opt for a nice tablecloth and beautiful platters. For a little extra fun and a pop of color, provide fall-themed napkins and some fall leaves.

2. Create a unique specialty drink. A “house drink” is a simple way to make your party exceptional. Make sure your refreshment reflects the season. Your signature cocktail could be something like apple cider mixed with with whiskey or dark rum. Or you could provide an apple and cranberry sangria. Make the cocktails ahead of time and serve them in glass pitchers. Be sure the refreshment table has plenty of glasses and extra ice. It’s a good idea to provide additional refreshments like soda and bottled water for guests who prefer not to drink alcohol.

3. Decorate for fall. Create a harvest theme with pumpkins, squash and gourds. For outdoor lighting, place unscented candles in mason jars or hang strings of lights in trees. Baskets are rustic and charming when filled with napkins, utensils and extra cups. A pumpkin can be hallowed out and used as a vase. Bails of hay covered in warm blankets provide extra outdoor seating. Let your creative side shine.

4. Serve a decadent dessert. Autumn has no shortage of delicious desserts. Whether you make it from scratch or purchase a pre-made treat, keep it seasonal. The options are endless: caramel apple cupcakes, pumpkin spice cake, apple pie, butter pecan cheesecake or ginger cookies. If you have an outdoor fire pit, embrace your inner child and have guests roast marshmallows over the fire.

To get some great decorating and entertaining ideas for fall, visit my Pinterest board!

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15 Things You Don’t Know About Me

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Most people have no idea what an etiquette expert’s life is like. Just in case you’re wondering, here are 15 things you don’t know about me:

 

  1. If I had to pick a new career, I would be a travel writer. I’m sure there are a lot of perks that go along with that job.
  2. I never changed my last name after I got married. My husband’s last name is Gleason, but I’m not “Jackie Gleason.”
  3. I feel most comfortable wearing a t-shirt, yoga pants and bedroom slippers.
  4. When I was born, my mother named me after her idol, Jacqueline Kennedy.
  5. I love to write, but I’m remarkably slow at it.
  6. I’m terrible at math. My least favorite subject in high school school was geometry.
  7. I got my first job at 14. I was a secretary for the Public Works Department in Haines City, FL. (I’m still grateful for my excellent typing skills).
  8. One of my favorite movies of all time is Gone With the Wind. I can relate to Scarlett O’Hara in so many ways.
  9. One of the best days ever was when I got my first book deal.
  10. I love watching QVC but I rarely order anything.
  11. I learned all about poise by competing in beauty pageants during and after college.
  12. I collect Junior League cookbooks.
  13. My dog Abigail is named after Abigail Thomas, my writing coach and the bestselling author of A Three Dog Life (soon to be a movie starring John Travolta and Salma Hayek).
  14. I met my husband at the Solid Waste Authority (a.k.a. the county dump) in 1993.
  15. I grew up eating bologna sandwiches, Swanson TV dinners and SpaghettiOs.
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Grief Etiquette: What to say and not say

by Jacqueline Whitmore
Photo credit: Angie/Flickr

Photo credit: Angie/Flickr

The loss of a friend or family member can be an extraordinarily challenging time. For those closely related to the deceased, the pain of mourning is even more intense. Your support can make an enormous difference.

I reached out to my friend and fellow etiquette expert Karen Hickman, founder of Professional Courtesy, and we came up with the following dos and don’ts of grief etiquette.

  • Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s important to acknowledge someone’s loss. Saying, “you have my sympathy,” or “I am sorry for your loss,” is appropriate. Or just saying, “I am thinking of you,” is sufficient.
  • Avoid saying things such as, “they are in a better place,” or “at least they are not suffering anymore.” The surviving family members may not agree with you and it can be perceived as insensitive.
  • If you want to say more, say something about the deceased such as, “Bob was a wonderful man and will be missed by all who knew him.”
  • If you are not sure if someone shares your religious views, tread softly with any religious-related comments.
  • If you are sending a pre-printed sympathy card be sure to add a line or two in your own handwriting. It adds a personal touch to the card.
  • If you send email condolences, try to follow up with a written note, too. Again, it is much more personal, and notes and cards may be saved by family members and reread in the future.
  • Instead of asking “How are you?” when you visit a grieving friend or family member, consider saying something like, “I am glad to see you. I have been thinking of you.” It can be difficult for someone to answer a specific question immediately after they have lost a loved one.
  • Don’t ask a widow if she thinks she will marry again. That is a personal question and may unintentionally come across as rude and insensitive.
  • Try not to ask too many questions about the details on the cause of death. Getting too personal can be intrusive. Family and friends will share what they want you to know.
  • Be careful in minimizing someone’s grief just because they lost a loved one who was elderly.
  • Instead of saying, “Call me if I can do something for you,” take the initiative and just do it. Someone who is grieving doesn’t want to have to make any more decisions than they absolutely have to and they probably won’t call you. Offer to take the person out to lunch or to a movie. Your kind friendship will be remembered and will mean more than you know.
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5 Ways to Be a Courteous Complainer

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Photo credit: Dinizmrv/Flickr

Photo credit: Dinizmrv/Flickr

At one time or another we’ve all felt underserved by a server at a restaurant or brushed off by an airline gate agent when we tried to ask a question. Small touches and superb customer service can make the difference between a place you’ll frequent for life and one to which you’ll never return. Next time you ask to speak to the manager to voice your opinion or to criticize, make sure you’re heard. Here are 5 ways to be a courteous complainer.

1. Ensure you’ve got a legitimate grievance.

When you’ve had a bad day, you may feel as if the world is out to get you. To avoid unnecessary conflict, step back from the situation and evaluate if it’s worth your energy to complain. There’s a difference between a cheeseburger that was slightly overcooked and one that made you sick. Always give others the chance to rectify the situation before you ask for a refund or launch into a tirade.

2. Find the right person to contact.

Before the Internet, people sent letters to companies when they had a complaint or compliment. Today, a letter sent to a company’s customer service department may or may not receive a response. You’re chances of getting a quicker increase when you voice your opinion on social media. Try sharing your complaint on Facebook or Twitter and you will reach thousands of readers. The threat of poor publicity or a lost customer will most likely motivate the company to respond — and correct the problem.

3. Avoid foul language and threats.

Be careful not to go overboard when you express your frustrations. Keep your complaint brief and stay on point. Personal attacks, inappropriate language and unfair threats will only put others on the defensive. You’ll get much better results when you speak firmly but kindly.

4. Don’t feel forced to take down a bad review.

Once a complaint has been addressed, the company may ask you to take down a negative online review. If a company responds to you promptly and appropriately, consider removing the complaint. However, you should not feel obligated to do so. A company should never stipulate that a review must be removed prior to issuing a refund.

5. Give a great review when it’s been earned.

Complaints shouldn’t be the only feedback you provide a company. When you receive extraordinary service or someone goes above and beyond to help you, say so. Leave positive reviews on the company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, speak to a manager about your positive experience, or directly thank the person who helped you. At the very least you’ll brighten someone’s day.

 

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Email Etiquette Tips

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Daimler employees can head to the beach this summer without worrying about checking emails, sparing their partners and children the frustration of work-related matters intruding on the family vacation.

The Stuttgart-based car and truck maker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.

The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can therefore return from their summer vacation to an empty inbox.

“Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”

Reading work emails on holiday is a divisive issue. For some, an out-of-office reply is seen as a tool of the work-shy. For others, a regular digital-detox is considered essential to good mental health.

Personally, I’m in favor of the “digital detox” idea and I hope more companies jump on the bandwagon. It’s important for two reasons:

  • It makes for happier employees so there’s less burnout.
  • Employees can go on holiday or take a break without having to worry that they might get reprimanded for not doing their job. This alleviates a tremendous amount of stress.

Here are my top 7 email etiquette tips to observe when when going away on vacation.

  1. Set up an “Out of the Office” auto-reply. If you won’t be accessible during your holiday, make sure your clients and customers can contact someone who can help in your absence.
  2. Limit your email time. Try not to check your email more than 2x a day when you’re on holiday. Otherwise you won’t have a vacation at all.
  3. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. If you do, it sets the tone for your day and may ruin your holiday plans.
  4. Change your voicemail. Your voicemail message should reflect when you will be out of the office. Also leave the name of someone who can help in your absence.
  5. Talk to your supervisor. Before you head out of town, discuss your vacation plans with your supervisor so you are both clear on what is expected and what your plans are.
  6. Just say no. If you’re going somewhere where you might not have Internet access, or going on your honeymoon, for example, it’s fine to say you’re not going to be available. This way, the company can plan on coverage while you’re away.
  7. Don’t feel guilty. If you do decide not to check your email while you’re on holiday, don’t feel guilty. You’re supposed to be on vacation and disconnected, after all. It’s not a vacation if you end up working all day.

I was recently interviewed by Richard Quest of CNN’s Quest Means Business about this topic. Click on this link to watch the video.

Do you check your email while you’re on vacation? Are you in favor of a “No Work, No Email” policy? Please leave your comments below.

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How To Write the Perfect Thank-You Note

by Jacqueline Whitmore
thank you note

Image credit: Sarah Parrott/Flickr

When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note? Perhaps it’s easier to remember the last time you expected to receive one but didn’t.

“I’m too busy,” is an all-too-popular excuse for not sending thank you notes these days. As a child, my mother always insisted that I write a thank-you note to anyone who gave me a present or did something special for me. Even today, I try to write a note or send a card a couple of times a week.

Whenever someone gives you their time, advice, or a helping hand, that’s reason enough to express your gratitude. Here are some tips on how to write the perfect thank-you note from my bestselling book, Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work.

  1. Write the note by hand. This personal touch will convey that you cared enough to take the time to sit down and think about that person. If you think your handwriting is barely legible, print.
  2. Invest in good-quality stationery. Rather than buying generic note cards with “Thank You” printed on them, consider purchasing a set of premium correspondence cards or fold-over notes with your name elegantly engraved. (My favorite stationery store is Crane.com).
  3. Keep it short. Three or four carefully crafted sentences are usually enough to get the point across. In your note, mention something specific about the event or gift.
  4. Address it properly. When writing a thank-you note, it’s bad form to misspell a person’s name. Be mindful of the details.
  5. Send it promptly. A thank-you note should be sent within one or two days after someone does something special for you. Even if you feel that too much time has lapsed, send a thank-you note anyway. You’re better off sending it late than never.

Bonus tip: A thank-you call is appropriate in some casual circumstances and e-mail is better than nothing at all. But save these methods for when the situation is informal.

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Travel Etiquette Tips: How to Be a Courteous Summer Traveler

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Summer Travel There’s something magical about a summer vacation. The weather is sunny and warm, everyone’s generally in a good mood and trips often include time spent with cherished friends and family.

Here’s how to ensure your summer plans are stress-free — for you and those around you. Because we all need to learn how to be a courteous summer traveler.

Travel by Air                  

1. Prepare ahead of time. Research the rules of your particular airline to find out what luggage requirements they have. If you plan to leave from a busy airport, give yourself enough time to go through security and make it to your gate — even if there are long lines. Know when and whom to tip. Bring some singles so you can tip all those who assist you along the way, including the skycap who checks you in at curbside. Plan to tip at least $1-2 per bag.

2. Pack appropriately. Take only the items you need to cut back on luggage charges. Remember that overhead compartments on planes are intended for carry-on luggage only. Store purses, laptops and backpacks in the space underneath the seat in front of you.

3. Check before you recline. Airline seats recline to allow passengers to sleep and relax, but it may cause discomfort for the person behind you. If you intend to recline your seat, turn around and let the person know.

4. Be respectful of those around you. Airplane seating is tight and interaction with your seatmates is inevitable. Keep the volume of your headphones at an appropriate level and lower the light on your electronic devices so you don’t disturb or distract the person next to you. Many people are sensitive to strong scents including garlic and onions so be mindful of that if you eat your lunch on the plane.

5. Allow those in front of you to disembark first. Rather than grab your luggage and make a run for the door, follow protocol. If you need to make a connection or know you’ll be in a rush, try to arrange to be seated near the front of the plane.

Rules for Road Trips

1. Don’t text and drive. Safety should be your top priority. If you need to find a restaurant or look up directions, pull over. It’s not worth putting yourself or others at risk. Practice good cell phone etiquette.

2. Add extra time to your trip. Plan ahead for stops to eat meals, get gas and use the restroom. You may hit traffic or need to reroute unexpectedly. If you add a buffer, you won’t have to stress about arriving on time.

3. Drive courteously. The best way to start your vacation off right is to remain calm on the way to your destination. One way to relax is to listen to your favorite CDs or a audiobook.

4. Bring plenty of snacks. To avoid eating junk food, pack a cooler with healthy snacks, water and juice. Sliced vegetables and fruits make a great addition to classic favorites like pretzels and trail mix.

5. Rotate drivers. Long trips by car can be exhausting, especially if there is traffic or inclement weather. Swap places with a travel companion so you can take a few minutes to relax, rest and grab a bite to eat.

What are some of your favorite rules of the road?

 

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