When you get a group of family members together (who may not see each other must of the year), the concept of etiquette at the Thanksgiving table definitely is a concern. Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author and founder of Access to Culture, offers these 10 tips for keeping things relaxed and respectful at the holiday table this week. Plus: ways to be a good guest (always come with wine already chilled!).
10 Thanksgiving Etiquette Tips
Seating Plan & Place Cards: As the host, keep the cast of family, friends, distant relatives, neighbors and old friends in line with a seating plan. Seat introverts next to out-going guests and elders adjacent to youngsters. It’s acceptable to split married couples but not newlyweds. Place cards may range from simple and handmade to fancy. As a guest, RSVP within 48 hours of receiving the invitation.
Conversation Starters: As the host (hostess), you want the attitude of gratitude at your table and to keep the conversation flowing smoothly. Plan interesting conversation starters for your guests. For example, “What are you grateful for this year?” Other examples include upcoming or past travel, musical events, bestselling books, newly released movies, food, sports and holiday memories.
Prying Questions: Prying, personal questions can push all the wrong buttons. Two of the most popular offending questions continue to be: “Are you seeing anyone yet?” and “When are you going to give me grandkids?” Be prepared, and respond with humor so the questioner doesn’t sense a weak spot. “I avoid visiting about private topics at delicious holiday meals with more interesting things to discuss.”
Politics: Just say “no’” to conversations about politics. While it may be tempting, biting your tongue and staying quiet is a good idea if you don’t want to start a political brawl when everyone should be enjoying perfectly roasted turkey. Do be up to date on current events, but avoid topics that fall under politics, religion or sex.
Rogue Guest: All hosts know the possibility of something going sideways exists when family, friends, and alcohol are involved during high-stress holidays. If a guest goes rogue, ranting about politics or family drama, be prepared with an immediate change to a safe topic like Aunt Carol’s stuffing recipe or Uncle Ben’s pumpkin pie. If they continue unabated, politely ask if you can speak to them privately. When out of earshot and eyesight of other guests, acknowledge their concerns and advise them Thanksgiving isn’t the time or place. There’s no need to embarrass them in front of family and friends.
Arrive with Offerings: A great guest never shows up empty-handed. If you have any special dietary needs, bring a gluten-free (or sugar-free, or nut-free, etc.) side dish. Remember to bring food ready-to-serve (serving spoon and all) and wine pre-chilled. Try not to encroach on kitchen or refrigerator space. Call or text your host on Wednesday, asking if they need any last-minute items.
Be an Extra Set of Eyes (or Hands): As a guest, observe how the day is going and tune in to wherever help might be needed. If your host denies your offer to help in the kitchen, designate yourself as the resident babysitter, DJ or coat-check clerk. You can also offer to take out the trash, walk the dog or whatever will help free up your host and make the day run smoother.
Leave the Toast to the Host: Some guests don’t realize that giving the first toast as a guest is a big taboo. The host—the curator of the evening—deserves to make the initial toast. If you’re itching to make a big announcement or show your appreciation to the hardworking host, ask them privately when they will be making their toast so you know when your turn is coming. If you are toasted as a guest or host, do not raise your glass and drink. It’s like clapping for yourself. Remember the three B’s of toasting: begin, be brief and be seated.
Know the Schedule of Events: As the host, set a Thanksgiving Day schedule so you and your guests may plan their day, and avoid chaos. As a visitor, ask in advance about the schedule so you may plan accordingly. If you arrive at 12 p.m., is dinner served at 1 or 3 p.m.? This allows you to plan to visit other friends and family, and avoid too much “together time.”
Games & Activities: Physical activity is a great stress-reliever. As the host, plan a number of outside activities for your guests. Encourage them to engage in a flag football or soccer game, rake leaves or go on a neighborhood walk. Outdoor board games are always a hit with children and adults alike.