9 Thanksgiving Etiquette Tips for Hosts, and 8 for Guests
On Thanksgiving, the last thing you want to be is an ungrateful host or guest.
Hosts: Ask about dietary restrictions
Before you plan your Thanksgiving menu, check if there are any foods your guests can’t eat so you don’t leave anyone hungry. That said, if you’re a guest with an allergy or other food restriction and your hosts haven’t asked, give a polite reminder, and offer to bring a shareable dish that meets your needs, says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “Even family members have to be reminded if you don’t see them often,” she says. “The host has to be aware, and the guest needs to make them aware, especially if it’s a life and death situation.” Here’s what hosts should do 30 minutes before guests arrive.
Hosts: Figure out the perfect menu
Guests are probably expecting (and hoping for) a traditional Thanksgiving feast, so be sure to include turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. After you choose those recipes, feel free to get creative with your other sides to give guests a surprising treat. Be sure to have healthy options for anyone watching their waistline.
Hosts: Don’t serve anything too messy
“Normally for Thanksgiving, people dress up, but you don’t want guests to wear foods on their outfit,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of Poised for Success. “Serve foods that are easy to eat.” Make sure hors d’oeuvres are (literally) bite-sized, and stay away from messy finger foods, she says.
Hosts: Cook way more food than necessary
Instead of planning your Thanksgiving meal to a T, with every person getting one reasonable portion, have enough food that anyone can go back for seconds. “You want to anticipate there will be seconds or a surprise,” says Gottsman. “You can always have leftovers.” Besides, is there really anything better than a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce? Try these quick recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Hosts: Serve dessert in another room
Take dessert to the living room or another seating area to give diners the chance to stretch after feasting on turkey and mashed potatoes. Plus, you won’t need to clear off the whole table before digging in to the sweet stuff. “I serve dessert and drinks in another room, not at the table, because everyone has been at the table for long periods of time,” says Whitmore. “It gets people up and moving.”
Hosts: Set up a kids’ table
Some parents prefer their kids to be at the table, and some children don’t want to be separated from their parents. But as long as everyone is comfortable, a kids’ table can be a fun way to let both kids and adults talk about what they want. It also gives you a chance to make an elaborate meal for the adults while giving kid-friendly options too. “It’s important to serve things for kids,” says Gottsman. “You might do a duck for the parents, and the kids might want chicken or turkey.”
Hosts: Don’t wash dishes before guests leave
Resist the temptation to get a start on the dishes while your guests are lingering in the other room. “It makes other people feel uncomfortable,” says Gottsman. If you’re the guest waiting for a host who’s busy at the sink, offer to give a hand with the cleanup. But if your host declines, just sit back and relax instead of insisting. Hosts will accept your offer if they need your help, and you might get in the way. Related: Don’t miss these things you should never put in the dishwasher.
Hosts: Craft a great seating arrangement
If you’ll have six or more guests joining you, set out name cards so everyone knows where to sit. “There is a science and art to seating guests,” says Whitmore. Keep the hosts on both ends, next to any guests of honor, and seat a chatty person toward the middle and near shy guests to keep the conversation flowing, she says.
Guests: Check if your host wants extra food
Bringing a side dish to share can be an appreciated contribution to a host dealing with a huge meal. Ask the hosts if they have any requests, or give a heads up about what you plan to make so there are no duplicates. “They may or may not want it, so always ask,” says Gottsman. “The host may have it down to a science and not want extra food.” Gifts that are almost always appreciated? Chocolate or wine for the host to enjoy later. If you do bring a bottle, make sure it’s unchilled to make it clear it’s for the host to enjoy, and not for the party. Or try one of these thank-you gift ideas for every occasion.