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Mind your manners: 20 tips for Thanksgiving etiquette

Which fork do you use first? What direction do you pass the gravy and cranberry sauce? What else do you need to know to avoid making any embarrassing faux pas?

Here’s some Thanksgiving advice from some etiquette pros, including The Emily Post Institute, social strategist Deborah Ritch, president and founder of RitchImage, and the US State Department.

Thanksgiving manners for dinner guests

  1. RSVP. Let your host know right away if you can come or not. If you received a “family” invitation, let your host or hostess know how many of you can come.
  2. Offer to contribute to the meal – but don’t dictate the menu. Your best bet is to make your offer open-ended and follow your host’s direction. If you or your “party” have special dietary needs, it’s very gracious to offer to bring a dish that meets those needs. “Jen is a vegetarian – I’d love to bring a dish for her if that’s okay with you.”
  3. Dress appropriately. At the very least, make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. As a true sign of consideration, dress one notch up. Your hosts are probably going all out, and your attire can either say, “I appreciate the effort you are making for all of us,” or “I thought you were ordering takeout.”
  4. Arrive on time. Yes, it is a day of feasting, but that turkey is going to be done at some point and your hosts are trying to plan around that magic moment. If you arrive late, don’t expect anyone to wait for you.
  5. Don’t show up with uninvited guests. There is usually room for one more at Thanksgiving, but this is something you must discuss with your host ahead of time.
  6. Never have more than one cocktail before dinner. There’s absolutely no excuse for being tipsy — or drunk — during dinner.
  7. Wait for the eldest adult to take their seat at the table first.
  8. After being seated, simply unfold your napkin discreetly under the table and place it in your lap. Do not open your napkin by shaking it, and never tuck your napkin into your shirt.
  9. Sit up straight — avoid slouching, leaning or putting your elbows on the table.
  10. Put your cell phone away at the dinner table. You can check texts and Facebook and scores after the meal.
  11. Wait. Do not begin the meal until everyone at the table has been served theirs, and until the host or hostess has taken his or her their first bite.
  12. The cutlery that is furthest from the center of your plate is the cutlery you use first. For instance, if your meal begins with soup or salad, the soup spoon or salad fork will be furthest to the right or left of the plate. Following this, you work your way towards the center. The dessert fork and spoon are generally found above the plate or served with dessert.
  13. Never blow on your food — just wait until it cools. Also shake your salt and pepper on to your food, and never into the palm of your hand.
  14. Pass food to the right, and always pass the salt and pepper together. (They should stay on the table together throughout the meal.)
  15. Hold your glass properly. Tumbler glasses are held near the bottom, stem glasses are held by the stem, and a goblet is held by the bottom of the bowl.
  16. Avoid discussing controversial or painful family subjects. This is a day to be together in a spirit of generosity and thankfulness for all you do have. Let it be so. Likewise, do not talk about your health — good or bad.
  17. Stay at the table. When you have finished your meal, don’t push your plate or chair away from the table. Be patient.
  18. Offer to help with the clean-up. Family or non-family, this is one day where it is a great idea to pitch in.
  19. Don’t overstay your welcome. Pay attention to cues and hints about when it’s time to leave (but never depart without offering to help, and without thanking your host and/or hostess).
  20. Say thank you. A phone call or, better yet, a handwritten note of thanks to your hosts shows your appreciation for all their hard work.

“Showing grace is just as important as saying grace at your Thanksgiving meal,” says Deborah Ritch. “Knowing the proper mealtime etiquette makes the right impression on family and friends at your traditional gathering. Good manners are also expected of children and young adults. Give them a few lessons in the days and weeks leading up to the gathering. Correcting them at the table is too little too late, and will only disturb the other guests.”

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