Thanksgiving dinner often is the largest and most formal meal that many families will have all year long. While it provides plenty of time for socializing and a bevy of mouth-watering food, it also is ripe with opportunities for poor etiquette.
Christie Pate Herron, a certified etiquette consultant and founder of Indianapolis’ Etiquette with Excellence, answered some of our questions to help avoid any faux pas.
When should we arrive?
“Don’t arrive late, but it’s important not to arrive too early. Shoot for five minutes. That last little bit of time, your host or hostess is trying to get everything together. If you’re going to be more than 15 minutes late, call and let your host or hostess know.”
What do you do if you have dietary restrictions — gluten free, vegan, allergies, etc.?
“You definitely want to let your host or hostess know if you do have dietary restrictions. Nowadays, people have so many restrictions or allergies. Some families are vegetarian. Contact them in advance so they can make accommodations for your family.”
How do you navigate a political or other loaded conversation at dinner?
“Steer clear of topics such as politics and those charged conversations. There are always people that just take you there every year, and you think, ‘Why do we have to keep doing this?’ But you just laugh and steer away from it in a very gracious manner. Sometimes, you just need to be firm.”
What’s the best way to pass food around the table?
“Once you’re seated, we’re definitely waiting for the host or hostess to take their first bite. That is to signal that the meal has begun. Once we’ve done that, we’re all ready, and tradition says pass counterclockwise. The reason is so the food is moving in one direction.”
Is it OK to have your cellphone at the table?
“No phones. What I encourage is just power that guy off. We’re so tempted to look at your phone or take photos of the food for Instagram, but this is a special time. For many families, this is the only time they’ll get to see each other during the year. Let’s just enjoy one another, and remember what this day is about.”
How do you decide who does the dishes after dinner?
“With my personality, I like to help. But when I’m hosting, I do not like people to help me in the kitchen. In the event that you are done with your meal and you’d love to be a gracious guest and show your appreciation, offer to help. If the host or hostess declines, accept that and move on.”