Lisa’s Guide to Thanksgiving Etiquette

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I thought it high time to round up my top etiquette and decorating tips into one helpful guide! 

Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving

Decorating the Thanksgiving Table 

1 Lisa’s Guide to Thanksgiving Etiquette

It may come as no surprise that decorating the table is my favorite part of any holiday– there is a reason I do what I do, *wink! 

  • Lean into seasonal colors, but do not feel restricted. I love a classic set-up, but I have also seen fabulous tables mixing blue and white chinoiserie with pumpkins and rustic set-ups that evoke the seasonal feeling without a gourd or squash in sight. There are no rules, so if you feel called to do something different, run with it!
  • Layer your linens, plates, and chargers for texture and visual interest. In the above image, we have two placemats: a round orange leather mat topped with a woven mat and followed by a chic stack of china. And remember, the napkin is either placed on top of the dinner plate or to the left of the forks.
  • Ensure decorations do not block conversation. Keep them low or placed between seats.
  • When setting the table, only place utensils that will be used. For example, if you are not serving multiple courses, you only need one set of cutlery. 
  • Cloth napkins are a must at any holiday gathering! Truthfully, I am a proponent of the idea that no occasion is too small for a cloth napkin. 
  • Use what you have! There is no need to go out and purchase a whole new table design, your guests will be happy to be there no matter what the table looks like.

Consider place cards.

With a mix of family members who perhaps do not see each other often, consider using place cards so that everyone knows where to sit. It streamlines the seating process and has the added bonus of being able to place people who do not get along further apart. 

Greet guests at the door.

Whenever possible, greet your guests at the front door and welcome them inside, furnishing them with a drink and directing them to other guests. This is not always easy on Thanksgiving when the meal requires preparation down to the last minute, but consider assigning this role to someone if you are unable. 

Include non-alcoholic beverage options. 

Not everyone can or wants to drink so it is important to provide non-alcoholic options. I love to greet guests with a specialty cocktail at the beginning of the night and try to include a mocktail version as well. Please note, it is never appropriate to ask “why” someone is choosing not to imbibe. 

If children are attending… 

Plan activities to keep them occupied outside of mealtime. This could be a small art project, board games, puzzles, or simply a separate room with a television! 

Remember, guests will follow your lead.

As the host, it is your duty to verbally signal to guests when to be seated. You are also responsible for many nonverbal cues, such as placing your napkin in your lap to signal the beginning of the meal and placing your napkin on the table to signal the end. 

If you are using a buffet-style service, as is common during holiday meals with lots of components, you may want to encourage guests to begin while their food is still hot. Lastly, as a host, it is your duty to pace yourself with your guests so that slower eaters do not feel rushed for being the last to finish. 

The dishes can (and should) wait. 

Outside of clearing the table, wait until after guests have left to begin cleaning up. Nothing makes guests feel more uncomfortable than sitting around the table while dishes are clanging in the sink. 

Offer to send leftovers home with your guests. 

Part of the fun of Thanksgiving is the abundance of food and the leftovers the next day. Plan in advance by procuring some disposable takeout containers– I buy eco-friendly containers on Amazon and they always come in handy.

Tips for Attending Thanksgiving as a Guest

Lisa Lyons Thanksgiving Etiquette Lisa’s Guide to Thanksgiving Etiquette

Ask what you can bring.

If you are attending a Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) meal at someone’s home, ask what you can bring! You could offer to bring a side dish, dessert, wine, or similar. If your host declines, respect their wishes but do bring a hostess gift (see below for suggestions!).

While it is not strictly required to bring a hostess gift if you are contributing a dish, I think it is nice to bring a little something in gratitude for your host’s gracious invitation. 

Do not arrive early (or late).

Before the designated start time, your host is busy with last-minute adjustments and finishing touches. Arriving early can throw off their planning. Arrive within 15 minutes of the time you have been given, it is equally impolite to be late. 

Bring a Hostess Gift 

A lovely candle, chocolates, a nice bottle of wine, or flowers are all great hostess gift options. Just remember, if you choose to bring flowers as your hostess gift, they should be in a vase. The last thing your host should be worrying about as guests arrive is finding a vase and arranging flowers.

Offer to pitch in, but do not be pushy.

Thanksgiving involves a lot of moving parts. Offer to help with chopping, cooking, tidying, or cleaning. If your host declines, do not be pushy and avoid lingering in the kitchen and talking whilst your host is working to get the meal ready. 

Avoid controversial conversation topics.

Politics and religion are both topics to be avoided at the holiday table. If someone else brings these up, do not engage and do your best to change the subject. 

If you spill or break something… 

Help to clean up right away and offer to pay for the damage or cleaning fee.

Try not to overstay. 

Know when it is time to take your leave. Thanksgiving is a very long day for hosts and after you leave, they will still need to clean up and do their nightly routine. 

Send a thank-you note. 

Within one week of the evening, it is good manners to send a handwritten thank-you note to your host expressing your gratitude and how much you enjoyed the evening. 

A Note on Dietary Requirements vs. Preferences 

For hosts: 

Ask about dietary requirements in advance. Even if you think you know what everyone can and cannot eat, ask again. These things can change quickly and it is better to be safe than sorry. 

If you have plant-based guests, consider something like a nut roast, which is a vegan alternative to Thanksgiving’s classic main, Turkey. Yes, many plant-based guests will happily eat the sides, but it is nicer to show the effort to properly include them. 

Allergens should be managed with great care, using separate pans and cooking utensils. 

For Guests: 

If you have a genuine allergy or religious restriction, be sure to let your host know in advance. Outside of this, personal preferences are not things you can communicate and you should plan to eat a little bit of everything that is on your plate. 




Lisa Lyons is a renowned wedding and event designer, and owner of Lisa Lyons Events & Etiquette based in Winter Park, Florida. As an eagerly sought-after event stylist, Lisa Lyons has created extraordinary celebrations for an astute roster of clients, including copious celebrity sports figures, five star corporations and respected private individuals since 2003.





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