Avoiding Thanksgiving manners mishaps and misunderstandings

Hungry Boy at the TableI love Thanksgiving. Not only are turkey, gravy and all the fixings my favorite foods but I love being with family and friends celebrating our blessings. However, with most gatherings over meals there are often manners mishaps and misunderstandings. To keep the peace I thought it might be helpful to share answers to some common dining, hosting and guesting (I made that word up, like it?) dilemmas.

Guest Dilemmas

Q. Do I need to bring something to my friend’s Thanksgiving dinner?

A. If you were asked to bring a dish to share with the other guests that’s all you need to bring. However, if the host didn’t specify to bring anything do bring a hostess gift – a bottle of wine, gourmet chocolates, some nice jam or spread, etc.

Q. Can I bring my friend to Thanksgiving dinner?

A. Typically if the invitation does not specify “and guest” you cannot ask to bring one. However, Thanksgiving is a little different. It’s a holiday where we share friendship, family and our bounty. Therefore, you may ask the host if you can bring a friend only if you inquire at least a week before Thanksgiving so that the host has time to prepare. Less than that and you should not ask. The host has most likely prepared and purchased enough food and supplies for a set number of people and asking to bring a guest at the last minute will be hard on him or her. That said, if your host is pretty easy going and is great at stretching food she or he may be very open to you bringing a friend who has no place to go for the holiday.

Q. Is it okay to switch the place card so I’m sitting next to someone other than obnoxious Uncle Fred?

A. No. The host put great thought into who is sitting where and obviously thought you could handle Uncle Fred. Grin and bear it, it’s just one meal.

Q. I don’t like how my friend makes her stuffing; can I bring my own to her dinner?

A. Unless your friend asked you to bring your famous stuffing, no, you cannot. You will risk insulting your pal.

Q. My children always get relegated to the kids’ table, but I’d like to have them sit at the adult table. Can I request that they join me?

A. Sorry, the hostess has a reason for having the kids at their own table. Enjoy the company of your fellow adult diners without the kids present for a change. Trust me; they’re probably having more fun with the other kids anyway.

Host Dilemmas

Q. I don’t want to have to prepare all of the Thanksgiving dishes, but I’m very picky about what is served. Can I give my guests recipes for the dishes I’d like them to make and bring?

A. Oh dear me, no. You may ask your guest to bring a salad, but you can’t give him the recipe for said salad. Potluck means just that.

Q. Do I need to serve the wine or other edible hostess gifts at the dinner that my guests have brought me?

A. Lucky you – you get to enjoy those gifts later. No need to serve them.

Q. I have one guest who is a vegetarian, two that are gluten-free and another who doesn’t eat dairy products. Do I need to accommodate their food restrictions?

A. I’m assuming you know about your guests’ food restrictions because you asked them in advance if they had any, which is always a good idea. While you don’t need to serve Tofurkey with gluten free mushroom gravy, do try to have one or two dishes your guests can eat. Or, invite them to bring their favorite items to share with the other guests.

Q. My cousin asked if she could bring a college classmate to Thanksgiving dinner. Do I need to accommodate the guest?

A. No, you don’t need to accommodate the friend. However, if it’s someone dear Cousin Sue is bringing because her classmate doesn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday, it would be nice if you could fit her in. Don’t worry if you have to use mismatched plates or utensils, Sue’s friend will be grateful for the invitation.

Q. I never know what to talk about with some of my family members. Any tips on how to make conversation easier with those quieter members?

A. It can be challenging to talk to people you don’t see often or with whom you don’t have much in common. Try asking open ended questions – questions that start with who, what, where, why, when and how. And, ask questions that get someone talking. Here are some suggestions from Michael Hyatt, a business thought leader.

  • What is the best holiday you can remember?
  • When you look back on the last year what are you most proud of?
  • If you had one million dollars to give to charity, how would you spend it?
  • When you think about the coming year, what are you most excited to accomplish?

Dining Dilemmas

Q. I’m starving and the food looks so good. Can I just dig in when my plate is full?

A. Put that fork down mister. You need to wait for the host(ess) to start eating or to say “Go ahead” before jumping in.

Q. I’m not religious. Do I need to say grace with everyone else?

A. No, you don’t need to join in the prayer. Just bow your head, be quiet until grace is over and then say “Amen.”

Q. With so many dishes on the table it seems I often end up with a bunch in front of me or none at all. Is there a way to stop the madness?

A. Yes, pass food to the right. This will avoid collisions and keep all of the dishes from landing in front of one person at the same time.

Q. Can I take the last bread roll?

A. Sure, after you first offer it to everyone else and confirm no one else wants it. It is then yours to take.

Q. Help, I’ve got a piece of gristle in my mouth, what do I do?

A. Don’t panic. Simply take the distasteful item out of your mouth with cupped fingers and put it somewhere on your plate, preferably hidden under something you don’t plan to eat.

Q. I’ve got a cold and I forgot to bring a tissue with me to the dinner table. Can I just use my napkin?

A. Please don’t. Your napkin is not a handkerchief. If you don’t have a tissue, excuse yourself to get one and blow your nose away from others. You may blot your nose with a tissue or  handkerchief at the table, but please no honking or blowing. And, please no sniffling at the table. If your nose is running, use a tissue to blow it away from the table.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Jacqueline Fairbrass on November 25, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Delightful. I love the way you approach etiquette with humor and lightness. Enjoyed and shared.

  2. Arden Clise on November 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Jacqueline, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Etiquette doesn’t have to be stuffy or boring. I’m always happy when I can lighten it up a bit. Thank you for sharing the article. Much appreciated.

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