Thanksgiving Dinner Etiquette

Thanksgiving Dinner Etiquette

For most families, a Thanksgiving celebration involves a great meal, a time of reflection and thankfulness for the blessings that have occurred throughout the year. Families enjoy special traditions that have been passed from generation to generation.  The following is a set of social and dining etiquette protocols that can be observed while interacting with others this holiday.

Before Thanksgiving

It is very important to let the host know if you will or will not be attending the dinner so that he/she can plan accordingly.  Having hosted numerous holiday dinners, I understand the frustration of not knowing how many guests to prepare for.  How embarrassing it would be to run out of food or set the table for several guests and only a few show up.  Keep in mind that bringing uninvited guests can be discomforting to the host and disrupt the flow of the dinner.  Check ahead of time if you have guests that may accompany you.

When you respond to an invitation, ask if you can bring something for the occasion.  Your contribution can be in the form of a food dish, beverage, floral arrangement or even a financial contribution.  Never show up empty-handed.  If your offer is declined, bring the host a small gift of appreciation.

For anyone with special dietary restrictions, inform the host ahead of time and offer to bring a dish in accordance with your diet.  A vegetarian may suggest bringing a vegetable casserole.

Thanksgiving Day

Be on time!  Arrive no later than 15 minutes after the start time and never before the stated time (the host may still be making preparations). When attending a Thanksgiving potluck, timeliness is extremely important.  Not only be on time but make sure that your dish is ready to be served at the onset of the meal with minimum fuss.

Dress for the occasion.  Some Thanksgiving dinners are casual and others more formal.  Inquire about the dress code and if none is required, wear dinner attire.

When the host announces that it is time to begin the meal, immediately make your way to the dining area.  Do not make others wait or make special arrangements to keep the food warm.  Join in if this is the time when a prayer is offered and expressions of thanksgivings are shared.  

When dining buffet style, allow the elders, special guests and newly invited people to begin the buffet procession.  Younger children should be assisted by adults.  At a sit-down dinner, ask the host where you should sit if no place cards are set out.

Plate only what you will eat and do not pile an enormous amount of food on your plate.  Most hosts would prefer that you return for seconds versus waste food. 

For football fans, do not assume that a football game will accompany Thanksgiving dinner festivities.  If music is being played or other forms of entertainment is observed, do not ask to watch a football game.

Upon completion of the meal, clear your eating area and ask if you can help with the general clean-up.  Parents with young children should ensure that their children’s area is tidy.

Do not ask the host for left over foods.  It is however acceptable to make a to-go plate if the host offers. 

General Table Setting Tips

The Dinner Fork and Salad Fork are located to the left of the plate.  The Dinner Knife, Salad Knife and Soup Spoon are to be placed on the right side of the plate.  The soup spoon is placed farthest right, then the salad knife followed by the dinner knife which is nearest to the plate.  The rule for silverware is to use the utensils from the outside in as the meal progresses.  The Dessert Spoon and Dessert Fork are laid horizontally above the plate, the fork below with the handle to the left, the spoon above with the handle to the right.  The Napkin is neatly arranged to the left of the plate or on the plate.  Never under utensils.  If breads or dinner rolls will be served, the Bread Plate belongs just above the dinner and salad forks.  Glassware is located to the right of the plate above the knives.  When setting a table only put out utensils that are needed for the meal (e.g. do not display a soup spoon if soup is not being served).

Dining Decorum and Table Manners

• Don’t make negative comments about the food.  Out of respect, one should always try at least one bite of each dish (past experiences or looks can sometimes be deceiving). 
• The salt and pepper shakers are married and always are passed as a pair.  If someone asks for the salt, pass the salt and pepper.  If you were not the person requesting them, do not use them while passing.  
• When passing foods, pass to the right (counterclockwise).  Also, place the dish on the table versus placing it in another’s hands (this helps avoid spills).
• If something spills, don’t make a big fuss about it; clean it up and continue the meal.  If you are the person to cause the incident, apologize and ask to help clean it up. 
• Never place dirty utensils back on the table once used.  When a dirty utensil is not in use, it should be placed on your plate.
• Ice is not to be chewed at the table.
• Since Thanksgiving occurs during the cold season, excuse yourself from the table if you begin coughing or must blow your nose.
• Don’t use toothpicks at the table; excuse yourself to the restroom if something gets lodged in your teeth.
•Always pay a special compliment to the cook/host after the meal.

A Thanksgiving dinner affair is an occasion when families and friends gather and enjoy a delicious meal.  Children are usually in attendance.  What an opportunity to show off your dining skills.  Remember, children and teens take clues about table manners from their parents and other adults.  Fred Astaire once said, “The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners …without seeing any.”  

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.