How to impress family and friends at Thanksgiving

We often pull out the linens, nice china and silverware for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. The formality of the table and the occasion can sometimes be intimidating. Follow these guidelines and your family and friends will be mightily impressed with your lovely manners.

If there are place cards on the table, don’t move them to accommodate who you would prefer sitting next to. Uncle Joe might be a real bore, but if your place card is next to his, that is where you’re meant to sit.

Wait to sit until the host and/or hostess have sat. Put your napkin on your lap when you sit down. Use it frequently to wipe your mouth during the meal. If you have to get up during the meal, put your napkin on your chair.

Does the crowded table make it hard to tell which bread plate is yours or which glasses belong to you? Remember this guideline – BMW – the Bread plate is on the left, your Meal (or plate) is in the middle and your Water (or glasses) are on the right.

If you are confused about which utensil to use remember the outside in rule. Use the utensils farthest away from the plate and work your way in towards the plate.

Once food is on the table, wait to start eating until the last person has been served and the host or hostess begins eating or tells you to go ahead.

When buttering your bread, take some butter from the butter dish and put it on your bread plate, not directly onto your bread. Then, tear off a small piece of the bread and butter just that piece. Continue eating and buttering a small piece at a time.

My neighbor, Sally, shared with me that when she was a teen she was invited out to dinner with her boyfriend and his family. Sally picked up her bread roll, sliced it in half with her knife and proceeded to butter the whole half. Her boyfriend chided her and told her she was eating her bread wrong. Poor Sally was mortified, but she will never forget how to properly eat her bread.

If someone asks for the salt, pass both the salt and pepper. Salt and pepper are like a happily married couple, they are always together, so don’t separate them even if someone just wants the salt.

Cut your meat one piece at a time not all at once, lest you want to look like a child. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t speak with a mouthful of food. To be an elegant diner take smaller bites and avoid making sounds.

If you have to lift your fanny off your chair to reach for an item it is too far away. Instead ask the person nearest the item to “Please” pass it to you. Be sure to say “Thank you” when you receive the item. When passing food it is passed to the right.

You may be surprised to know that you may put your elbows on the table between courses. When you are eating, keep your elbows off the table.

Never complain or say you don’t like something. Try a bite of everything and if you dislike it let that be your secret. Push it around a bit on your plate so it’s not obvious you’re not eating an item. Be sure to compliment the cook(s). Find something positive to say about everything, even if it’s something like, “I love how colorful your Jello salad is Aunt Mary”.

You will know when the meal is over when the host(ess) puts his or her napkin on the table. Do the same. Place your napkin slightly crumpled up to the left of your plate or where your plate was. Never put it on your plate.

Lastly, never comment on someone’s bad manners. Simply be an elegant example of how to behave at the dinner table. Those who notice will truly be impressed.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:

Posted in


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. JudyDunn on November 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Wow, you really know your stuff (she says with a slight tinge of embarrassment). Our family’s holiday dinner table was chaotic, everyone talking at once (ever see the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?) And I didn’t learn everything I should have about table manners. My mom was constantly getting up, running for things, sitting back down, while my dad was spooning way too much lutefisk (yes, that awful, jellified Scandinavian fish) on our plates.

    It wasn’t until I joined a sorority at the University of Washington that I learned some of this stuff, which our house mother taught me. Now I know most of it so I don’t humiliate myself at a formal dinner. But I’m puzzled about just one thing. Does “pass the food to the right” still apply if it’s the person directly on you left who asks for it? Having it go all around the table seems kind of weird to me. : )

  2. ArdenClise on November 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Hi @JudyDunn . Sororoties are great for teaching those table manners you never learned at home. A lot of colleges hire me to give dining etiquette and networking presentations to their students. That way when thier students graduate they know how to conduct or be a guest at a business meal or lunch interview.

    As for passing food to the right, if is quicker to pass an item to someone on your left rather than sending it all the way around the table then yes, pass it left. The pass right rule is focused on when you have a food item in front of you and pass it on after taking some for yourself.

  3. Stephen B on December 16, 2011 at 10:04 am

    If there is a place card on your plate where do you put it after you sit down? Thanks.

  4. ArdenClise on December 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    @Stephen B

    Hi Stephen, you would put the place card above your plate. Happy Holidays!

  5. Debbie Rosemont on November 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Arden – Great reminders and some “new for me” tips as well. Who knew it WAS ok to have elbows on the table between courses (when not eating)? Not I! So glad to know that.
    Here’s my question – what do you do if you go to put a piece of bread on your bread plate to your left and the person sitting to your left has mistaken it as theirs? In this situation, the person sitting to your right is already using their bread plate (to their left), so there is not one available. Use the side of your salad or dinner plate gracefully? Would love your thoughts.
    Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. ArdenClise on November 24, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    @Debbie Rosemont
     I’m so glad you asked that question because that happens all of the time. Yes, you would put your bread and butter on the side of your salad or dinner plate and not say anything to the person who goofed.
    The elbows protocol always surprises people. Chalk it up to our society being more casual. Kids are always excited when I mention that in my children’s etiquette classes.
    Thank you for commenting Debbie, and I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

Leave a Comment