Ask the Etiquette Experts: Tips for Hosting Your First Thanksgiving

Preparing a giant holiday meal for your big, hungry family is a daunting enough task as it is. And when it’s your first time establishing the traditional Hanukkah or Thanksgiving feast at your house, it can be even more stressful.


Taking on hosting duties for the first time is no easy feat. Among creating the perfect menu, picking out decorations that are chic without being cheesy and making sure the house is spotless – we are getting exhausted just thinking about it – it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Luckily, we reached out to some etiquette experts who answered some of the toughest hosting questions, and revealed how to make your first hosting gig run as smoothly as possible.

Focus on Family, Not Perfection

While it’s hard not to give yourself a panic attack over how much goes into hosting a family dinner, and making sure you have enough time and money to pull it off, Jorie Scholnik, Etiquette Associate at The Protocol School of Palm Beach, reveals that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

“Just relax and have fun and know that everyone has showed up to be with you and enjoyed the holiday, and that’s what it’s all about,” she says. “That’s a mistake, not enjoying the holiday.”

Of course, once we commit to playing hostess for the holidays, it’s hard to ask for help – which can make ourselves our own biggest obstacle.

“Don’t hesitate to ask friends and family members to bring a favorite dish, or purchase certain dishes from the grocer to fill in,” Diane Gottsman, National Etiquette and Modern Manners Expert, says.

To Potluck or Not to Potluck?

If you know you won’t be able to make all of the holiday food yourself, let family members know ahead of time that this will be a potluck-style dinner.

“Determine what you will provide, and then develop a means of communication to get guests involved with signing up for the items they’d like to bring,” Elaine Swann, Lifestyle and Etiquette Expert, tells us.

Making Room

Even if you come from a big family, there isn’t always enough space for everyone. But the biggest mistake Gottsman says people can make during the holidays is not having enough seating for everyone who is coming.

“Plan your seating arrangements in advance and rent or borrow more chairs if necessary,” she says. And if a lack of space is an issue in your small house or apartment (we New Yorkers sympathize), she adds it’s not out of question to turn away some extended family members and their significant others – just let them know with enough time in advance.

Getting Rude Uncle John to Shut Up

So the dinner is served, wine is flowing and everyone is stuffing their faces full of mashed potatoes and gravy. But your obnoxious Uncle John won’t stop with his crude, insensitive comments, and it’s making everyone else uncomfortable. So should you confront him? Yes, says Gottsman – just not in front of everyone else.

“Do it privately and assertively,” she insists. “Say, ‘John, I know you may not realize that your comments are very offensive. I don’t want my children, or my guests to hear your off-color remarks or your bad language. Would you please monitor your voice and your comments while visiting at our home? I appreciate your effort to make our family gatherings comfortable for everyone.”

Wrapping Up the Meal & Saying Goodbye

Assuming Uncle John has toned down his, um, colorful remarks, and dessert has been devoured, it’s OK to drop some not-so-subtle hints that the gathering is coming to an end.

Swann says a simple, “well, it’s time that we wrap things up for the evening” and a polite thank you should suffice.

Cleaning up the dinner table and kitchen, or finally standing up at the dinner table while everyone is seated are usually two universal cues that it’s time to wrap up the evening, according to Scholnik.

And unless you have a specific need to keep all the leftovers to yourself, you should offer your guests some plates and baggies to go, assuming you have enough to go around. If leftovers aren’t offered, but a guest still requests to take some food home, don’t make things awkward – kindly wrap up the leftovers and send them along, unless there’s a good reason not to.

With your fridge piled high with leftovers in other people’s serving trays and plates, be sure to wash them when you’re done and give them back to the appropriate owner the next time you see him or her. The experts all agreed that if it’s a nice serving platter, or something they’ll need for their own upcoming festivities, make a point to give it back on the sooner side – after it’s washed, of course.   

Just remember these key tips, have plenty of booze on hand, and keep in mind that Thanksgiving is about family above all else. Yes, even above pumpkin pie. 

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