How to Have Proper Holiday Dinner Etiquette

How to Have Proper Holiday Dinner Etiquette

Whether you are hosting a holiday dinner or attending, it’s important to remember proper dinner etiquette to make the evening enjoyable for all.

Thanksgiving is a time to gather together with family and friends. It’s a time to celebrate everything we are thankful for. It’s a time to reflect on the year you’ve had and what to look forward to.

Thanksgiving is a time to deal with those difficult family members that we try to be pleasant towards. The holidays are a wonderful time for family gatherings, but we all know there are times that it can be tense between certain people.

Depending on what role you hold this Thanksgiving, there are a few things that you can do to have proper dinner etiquette and make the day go a little smoother. Of course, this all depends on your family and how you typically spend your Thanksgiving day.

Originally Published On: October 31, 2017

Last Updated On: November 18, 2020

Host Etiquette

Hosting one of the holiday meals, such as Thanksgiving, can be fun. You get to have everyone over to your home. You get to plan and cook the meal. But of course, it’s also a lot of work. As the host, there are a few things you can to do make the day go smoothly.

  • Plan ahead. Decide on your menu at least a week out and do your grocery shopping.
  • Try not to stress, when you are stressed, your guests will feel it.
  • Delegate. There are always people who are willing to help, don’t feel bad about giving them tasks.
  • Cooking tends to take longer than you plan, so get started early to make sure you have time to get it all done.
  • Clean your house the day before so you aren’t trying to get set up and cook at the same time.

Guest Dinner Etiquette

The role of a guest at a holiday meal is to be pleasant and make the host glad they invited you. Of course, if it’s a family meal, you sometimes don’t have a choice in where you go, so try to make the best of it while you are there. Follow these dinner etiquette suggestions for a pleasant evening.

  • Arrive on time. No one wants to wait around for someone to get there while the food gets cold.
  • Don’t be too early unless the host ok’s it. The host will be busy, and extra people they weren’t planning on sometimes makes things more difficult.
  • Bring a gift. Even if you are visiting with family, it’s nice to bring a gift if you aren’t contributing to the meal. My family usually assigned different dishes to each family, so we didn’t do gifts since we all brought something already.
  • Be polite. You may not like making conversation with Uncle Joe but don’t be rude if he tries to talk to you.
  • Don’t bring an unexpected guest. If you have someone you want to bring with you, at least contact the host first to make sure it’s ok and give them a heads-up.
This was Thanksgiving at my sister’s house in 2013. As you can see, we don’t do a fancy meal, but more just enjoy the family time.

Special Requests

Please understand that there is a huge difference between a food preference and an actual allergy. For example, I don’t like peanuts, but I’m not allergic. I wouldn’t expect a host to change their menu just because I don’t like something. Now, if I was allergic to peanuts, then that’s something I would communicate to my host long before that day so they can try to plan appropriately.

If you know you have a food allergy or special request that’s difficult to accommodate, it may be best to bring your own food options with you. Another example: a gluten allergy or celiac’s disease is something that may be hard to work with for a host who isn’t used to cooking that way. Just ask your host what’s in a food item if you aren’t sure, and be prepared to have limited options. My grandmother has celiac’s, so she often brings her own gluten-free rolls to Thanksgiving dinner since she is the only one who can’t eat a regularly-made biscuit.

Gifting Wine

Wine is almost always a good option for a host gift, as long as you know they are ok with it. You don’t want to bring wine as a gift to someone who may be a recovering alcoholic for example. If you are bringing wine as a gift to the host, then you shouldn’t expect it as a drink with the meal since it’s a gift for them to enjoy later.

Are you hoping for some wine with the meal? Bring enough to share, and don’t expect that to be your gift to your host. Make your intentions clear when you arrive what the wine is for. You could also bring a nice corkscrew to give as a gift with the wine you are bringing.

When in doubt, bring an unchilled white wine as a gift. White wine is served chilled, so this indicates that you are not expecting it to be served immediately. You could also wrap it up and tell your host that it is for them to open later, so they don’t even have to open it at that time.

A Few Things Everyone Can Remember

Places of Honor

This piece of holiday dinner etiquette advice will totally depend on where you are for your holiday meal. My family has never really done assigned seating at our family meals, but we tend to sit in our family groups. We put enough tables together for us all to be at one big table, and typically my mom, dad, sister and her family, and my family and I sit near each other. My aunt, uncle, and cousins sit together. My grandparents sit together. That’s just how it tends to happen and we don’t have any issues. We also aren’t very fancy with our meal.

As a host, if you want your holiday dinner to feel more special, then making little name cards helps bring that feel to the table. This can be helpful to also separate people that you know don’t always get along or who shouldn’t be sitting near each other. Sitting your uncle who tends to get into heated debates with your grandfather on different ends of the table can help everyone have a more peaceful evening.

As a guest, please respect the seating arrangement that your host places. They usually have a reason for it, and if you have an issue with the plan, then quietly ask the host if a change can be considered. But also be polite if they refuse, this is their home after all.

A Few Other Notes

  • Football: There are some big games on Thanksgiving Day. Some people will insist that the games are on. You can either accept this and turn them on, offer to set the DVR, or make sure the meal is scheduled around any attendees favorite teams.
  • Kids Table: Instead of a tablecloth, think about using butcher paper and leave some crayons and coloring books so the children have something to do.
  • Heavy Drinkers: If you are serving alcohol, especially if everyone’s drinking watching the football games, have a plan in mind. Either have one or two people who can drive guests home, or have a guest room or couch ready if needed.

20 thoughts on “How to Have Proper Holiday Dinner Etiquette”

  1. I wish everyone knew these! Coz there’s always that one family member who’s always running late or who suddenly brings 2 friends with them right?? Our thanksgiving was small and simple this year; hope you have a fun and meaningful one!

    1. I did that once, for a birthday party, when they had to reschedule due to weather and I just drew an arrow on my calendar, not realizing they pushed the time back an hour. I felt soooo bad! Now I double and triple check starting times for everything!

  2. I love the butcher’s paper for the kids table. With kids you never really know how long they will sit still or get bored.
    We always bring a side dish just to help out and we also help with clean up—at least offer.

  3. These are great guidelines! I really don’t like it when someone brings a guest and I haven’t been told about it, it really messes with how much I have prepared for. The idea of a corkscrew as a gift is fab too

  4. Planning ahead makes the process so much easier. And my mother always reminded me when I was younger, never go someplace empty handed. Great tips!

  5. Thank you for the wonderful etiquette tips. I will be hosting a nice party in my new home and I can use these pointers 😉 IT pays to e prepared as everything rolls much smoother 😉

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *