From the guest who shows up with a surprise gelatin “salad” to the guest that never seems to want to leave, Thanksgiving can be a mixed bag of twists and turns—especially for the host.
Here are some trusty tools for navigating the holidays with grace and being a truly unflappable host this Thanksgiving. We’re also including the Top 10 Don’ts for dinner party guests.
Happy hosting—and happy Thanksgiving!
Top 5 Tips For Hosting Thanksgiving This Year
- Ask your guests about dietary preferences and allergies beforehand
Some of your guests may have a food allergy, or not eat meat and not say anything until there’s nothing for them to eat at your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s always best to inquire about dietary preferences or allergies when your guests RSVP so that you can make sure there is something for everyone to eat—even if your entire menu isn’t catered towards their preferences. If they offer to bring something that suits their needs, welcome them to it.
- Here’s how to deal with surprise dish offerings
Sometimes though, you might have a dinner guest show up with something that wasn’t discussed and really doesn’t go with your menu—Hello, Aunt Gloria’s gelatin salad!
In the event a guest brings something unexpected that doesn’t fit with your menu, there is nothing wrong with thanking them and explaining that while your menu is set for tonight, your family looks forward to enjoying the jiggly salad tomorrow.
If the surprise offering is something time-sensitive like a fresh salad or you can clearly see that your guest is particularly eager to have their dish included—it’s polite to try and fit it in—but it isn’t a must.
- Topics to avoid and how to steer the conversation
The banned turkey table talk used to be more or less limited to politics and religion but as times have changed, the list has grown.
While it’s still a good idea to avoid discussing politics and religion, also steer clear of past or present family drama, finances, fertility, and other people’s lifestyle choices, such as food allergies, restrictions, or preferences.
Instead, focus on crowd-pleasers such as new movies and TV series, vacations taken or planned, and make it a tradition to go around the table and have everyone share one thing they are grateful for.
If there’s a point in the conversation where things do wander into taboo topic territory, as the host it is your responsibility to steer the conversation. Don’t be afraid to jump in and say something like, “Thanks for sharing that, Tom. So Liz, tell us about your trip to Portugal! We’ve been dying to hear all about it!” It may feel a little awkward at first, but it’s an effective topic changer if you can learn to interject with confidence as the host with the most.
- How to get guests to leave when it’s time
The best way to set the tone for the start and end of a party is to state it up front in your email or text invitation: “The party starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m.” But in the event that not all of your guests get the end-time memo, it’ll be up to you to drop hints that the party is winding down.
Start cleaning up, take out the trash, turn off the music (and maybe even a lamp or two)—and if all else fails— simply mention that you, “Sure are getting tired!” or that you have an early start in the morning. That will surely get your overstayers moving towards the door.
- What to do with all the leftovers
Should you be packing up all your leftovers and sending guests home with doggy bags? That’s really up to you. If you don’t have much left and prefer to keep them for your family, it’s absolutely your prerogative to do so. Afterall, you prepared the lavish meal. But on the other hand, if you have way more than you can eat, don’t force them on your guests. Instead, offer your leftovers and let them decide.
Set up a sideboard with anything that is up for grabs, along with a bunch of bags and markers, and let your leftover-loving guests choose what they want to take. For those who don’t want leftovers, there’s no pressure to take them.
10 Dinner Guest Faux Pas to Avoid
- Don’t show up early. Your host is likely far too busy to have guests ahead of the scheduled time.
- Don’t show up empty handed. Even if it’s not a potluck, bring a bottle of wine or a small hostess gift.
- Don’t show up with an unexpected guest—always ask your host first.
- Don’t show up without something you were asked to bring, such as a pre-planned potluck dish.
- Don’t enter a host’s home while you are on your phone. It’s just rude.
- Don’t show up late without letting the host know in advance. As a rule of thumb, a 15-minute grace period is perfectly fine, but anything longer should be mentioned ahead of time.
- Don’t ask who else is invited before RSVPing. Trust that your host has your best interest in mind with the guestlist. If you do wind up at a dinner with someone you didn’t expect, be cordial and polite.
- Don’t ask to move seats at the table. Enjoy getting to know someone new and get back to chatting with your bestie after the meal.
- Don’t leave the table before everyone is done. Unless it’s a quick trip to the restroom, of course.
- Don’t forget to follow up the next day with a “Thank you” for your generous host. After all, it is Thanksgiving!