How to be a Good Thanksgiving Guest

Party hosts aren’t the only ones who should act considerately.

Lilly Blomquist


Of course, being a kind and considerate host is a key ingredient in the recipe for an enjoyable get-together. But, what’s equally important is knowing how to behave as a respectful party guest. 

If you’re graced with the luxury of attending Thanksgiving dinner this year instead of running around like a chicken (or turkey) with its head cut off trying to prepare for the celebration, you aren’t completely off the hook. Seeing as how you don’t have to plan the menu or set the table or do a million dishes, you have plenty of free headspace that can be dedicated to being the best Thanksgiving guest ever—right? Right. 

Hosting Thanksgiving is a stressful and time-consuming endeavor, so it’s important to acknowledge the time and effort that goes into the planning process and let your host know how appreciative you are. Between catering to different food allergies and dealing with a hovering family, hosts certainly have their hands full. 

Dawn Smith, the creative director and founder of Revel and Glitter, a creative lifestyle and entertaining blog, helped us put a list of etiquette tips to follow to be a stellar Thanksgiving guest. 

1. Remember to RSVP.

If the party planner sends you an invitation asking if you can attend Thanksgiving dinner, it’s important to reply. Whether the invitation is a quick text or handwritten card, it merits a response. If the host mentions a phone number or email to contact, follow up with a message and let them know who’s coming with you so they can get an accurate headcount. That final headcount goes toward making place cards, baking pumpkin pies and setting the table. 

If you don’t RSVP, beware that you might get seated at the kids’ table. And if you bring unexpected guests, you might be cut from next year’s Thanksgiving altogether. (Okay, maybe not, but it’ll land you on the Naughty list for sure.)

2. Notify the host if your plans change.

We get it. Life happens. Your kid comes down with a fever. The in-laws suddenly show up at your door. But your host might not be so understanding if you don’t let them know in advance that your plans have changed. Not showing up will make the host think you ditched the party, and following up with a call the next day might not seem like a meaningful apology. This also applies if you’re running late. Always let your host know.

3. Never show up empty handed.

Always offer to bring an appetizer, dish or drink to the party. You can ask if there is anything in particular you should bring, so you don’t interfere with the party masterplan. If the gathering is a potluck dinner, check with the host to see if they are assigning everyone a certain food or drink item to avoid having five variations of pumpkin pie. 

If the host insists that you don’t need to bring anything, then instead, come with a small hosting gift in hand. Think: a bouquet of flowers for the table, a bottle of wine or a card game like Cards Against Humanity.

4. Don’t arrive too early.

The host set a start time for a reason. Arriving 20 or 30 minutes early may not seem like a big deal, but the host will be busy attending to last-minute details. So the last thing they will want to do is entertain early and hungry guests. Only show up before the start time if the host has asked you to help set up. 

5. Dress for the occasion.

Ask if there’s a dress code and make sure to follow it. If you arrive in a baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants, you send the message that you don’t care about the party or the host’s hard work and efforts. Similarly, wearing a cocktail dress or tuxedo might not be appropriate if everyone else is wearing jeans and a sweater. 

6. Lend a helping hand.

If you notice that the host is juggling passing out appetizers, pouring drinks and throwing 10 different dishes in the oven all while trying to maintain a conversation, ask if they need help. The host will appreciate the offer and will most likely benefit from some assistance. 

If they decline, don’t press—there’s probably a method to their madness that’s just easier to tackle solo. In that case, make your way to another room. Don’t hover in the kitchen. The last thing the host needs to worry about is performing for the guests. 

7. Don’t assume everything in sight is up for grabs.

Thanksgiving is a time to feast and indulge, but helping yourself to anything and everything isn’t the right move. If you need something to tide you over until dinner, have a few appetizers. Snacks in the kitchen pantry are off-limits for guests. 

Most importantly, wait until dinner is served to taste the dishes. If the host is starting to set up the dinner spread, wait until there’s an official green light to help yourself. If you want a drink to wash down all of the delicious food, confirm that the cabernet you’re eyeing is available to everyone at the party, especially if it’s a BYOB setup.

8. Eat and drink in moderation.

Moderation is key. And when it applies to Thanksgiving dinner, it will help prevent a food coma and hangover. Instead of throwing back glasses of wine like you’re taking shots, take small sips of one glass throughout the evening. (The more glasses you use, the more dishes the host will have at the end of the night.) 

When it’s time for dinner, refrain from heaping a hefty serving of mashed potatoes on your plate, especially if not everyone has served themselves. You can always get seconds, but taking a large portion of a dish right away may mean it runs out too quickly. 

9. Be mindful of your dinner conversation.

When your distant relatives gather together on Thanksgiving, all of the different generations and personalities are bound to clash. To prevent a heated argument from breaking out in the middle of dinner, stick to safe conversation topics rather than controversial matters like religion and politics. Reminisce on the last family gathering, ask what everyone is thankful for or throw in a few lighthearted jokes.

10. Don’t stay too late.

Once dessert is winding down, offer to help clear the table or wash the dishes. If the host is starting to wrap everything up, don’t extend your welcome. Thank the host for a wonderful time, say your goodbyes and leave at a reasonable time. The host will probably be exhausted from throwing the event, so sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is let them be.