Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is amazing—who doesn’t like turkey and pumpkin pie? And, it’s a holiday where both family and friends unite. As a single person, you’re likely to be invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. To secure your invitation to future special occasions, it’s important that you're a well-mannered guest. It's easy. Just follow these simple guidelines to being the perfect dinner guest:
1. ARRIVE ON TIME: Even though most people allow a half hour to an hour from arrival time to serving dinner, it is polite to arrive on time. This will give you a chance to mingle with other guests, and keep the stress level of your busy host/hostess at bay. It is not likely that the host/hostess will hold dinner more than 15 minutes for any latecomers.
2. ASK IF YOU MAY BRING A DATE: Do not assume you can bring someone. There is usually a specific seating plan for a dinner party, and often the hostess has prepared a specific amount of food for the number of guests she expects. Even if you know that the dinner will be casual and buffet style and there will not be a set seating plan, unless your hostess specifically invited you and a guest, you must ask if you wish to bring someone else.
3. BRING THE HOSTESS A GIFT: It is customary to bring a gift of wine, flowers or chocolates to a dinner party. It is up to the hostess to decide whether she will serve the wine, so don’t be offended if she chooses to save it for another time. Preparing dinner is time consuming and expensive, so don’t grab a corner store bouquet or a bottle of 2-buck Chuck from Trader Joes. A nice dinner in a restaurant with wine and dessert would easily set you back $50, so you consider that when selecting a gift. You can pick up a nice Sonoma Coast Pinot for about $30. One of my favorites is Hirsh, or if you like you can bring a nice Rhone wine, such as a Chateauneuf du Pape for $50-75. For flowers, buy a beautiful arrangement from a quality flower store such as The Empty Vase. A good hostess will have plenty of vases, but it will save her time if you’re arrangement doesn’t need to be attended to when you give it to her.
4. EMPLOY PROPER TABLEWARE ETIQUETTE: The rule is to eat from the left and drink from the right. That means your bread plate or salad plate will be the one on the left and your glasses will be on the right. The first utensils used are on the outside, and then guests “work their way” in, with the exception of dessert fork and spoon, which would be above the dinner plate. Wine glasses are used the same way. If there is more than one per place setting, the glass to be used first will be on outside right of the glasses. The water glass is placed above the knife.
5. EMPLOY PROPER EATING ETIQUETTE: Unless told otherwise, wait until everyone is seated and served before starting to eat. Often a host or hostess will tell people to go ahead, in this case feel free to do so. Pace your eating so that you’re not done when others are only halfway through. Plates are not cleared until everyone has finished, so bear this in mind if the hostess is serving dinner in courses. If you are a slow eater, try to speed up a bit on this occasion so you don’t hold everyone up. It’s customary to break your roll into pieces and butter, rather than cut and butter all at once. Keep your elbows off the table when eating or simply talking. Place your napkin on your lap, wipe your mouth before drinking, and when finished, place your napkin loosely on the table—not on the plate. After the main course is finished, the dishes and condiments for that course should be removed, including the salt and pepper and butter. After dessert, dishes may stay on the table while the company talk and drinks coffee or tea. Serving tea or coffee signifies that the formal part of the evening is over. Guests may now feel free to leave, or linger if the host/hostess encourages them to do so.
These are the key conventions and dinner party etiquette you will need to get through Thanksgiving dinner comfortably. If you do break a social rule, remember, you are with friends. They may even have made a small social gaffe themselves!
A few more simple etiquette suggestions:
Sit up straight
Don't speak with your mouth full of food
Chew quietly, and try not to slurp
Keep bites small
Eat at a leisurely pace
Don't wave utensils in the air
Keep your elbows off the table
Don't forget please and thank you
Excuse yourself when leaving the table
Compliment the cook and/or thank the host
Wipe your mouth before drinking
Christmas is around the corner! If you enjoy my blog, why not buy my Sex and the City style novel, Blow Me, as a Christmas gift for a friend. It's available on my website and on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Google Books.