Thanksgiving Etiquette: How To Bring Civility To Your Dinner Table

October 6, 2016

Homemade Roasted Thanksgiving Day Turkey


Thanksgiving is a holiday that is meant to be about giving thanks and reconnecting with friends and family. However, sometimes when we actually sit down at the dinner table we lose that spirit of thankfulness and things move in a less than civil direction.

To help you, your families and friends have more gratitude than grief this year, here are my top tips for bringing civility to your Thanksgiving table.

1. Use Place Cards

Thanksgiving meals can often bring together an interesting cast of characters. Distant relatives, neighbours, and old friends are often thrown into the mix with our more frequent holiday visitors. The best way to keep that cast in line is to create a seating plan and to use place cards so that you can manage who they are seated next to and ultimately who they’ll spend most of the meal speaking to.

Place cards don’t have to be fancy, handwritten ones are beautiful and they can be a lovely arts and crafts opportunity if you have younger guests helping you create your tablescape.

2. Begin Your Meal With A Toast

There is no better way to set the tone for your meal together than a toast. In your toast you can welcome your guests and tell them what you are grateful for this year. You can also use this opportunity to set any rules if you know that there are topics that should be avoided by the group because they haven’t gone well in the past, you can ask your guests to steer clear in the interest of having a great meal.

While you’re making your toast, remember there is technical toasting etiquette. If you are making a toast to the table the entire table is welcome to drink, however if you are toasting an individual they shouldn’t drink when they are being toasted. Also while clinking is fun, the preferred approach is to raise your glass, make eye contact and then take a sip. Finally, don’t forget to employ the 3 Bs of toasting; Begin, Be Brief and then Be Seated.

3. Plan Topics For The Table

Creating planned topics of conversation for your table is a great way to make sure you keep the attitude of gratitude at the center of your Thanksgiving celebration. One option is to create a list of questions or topics that you as the host informally introduce throughout the meal.

My favourite suggestion is to create a list of questions to place at your guests’ seats and then have guests take turns giving their response — ideally create a time limit of under a minute so that longwinded guests don’t end up delivering monologues all night.

Using questions like “What are you grateful for this year?” or “Where did you spend your first Thanksgiving?” are a nice way to have people contribute to the conversation at the table and it allows everyone to get to know each other. This also allows you to avoid tricky topics (i.e. the U.S. Presidential Election) and it ensures that your louder friends and relatives don’t dominate the dialogue.

4. Have An Emergency Exit

We all know that no matter how carefully you plan there is always the possibility of something going terribly awry when family, friends and often alcohol are put together around higher stress times like holidays. So my strategy is to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

If you do have a guest who goes rogue and goes off on a rant about their political views or starts rehashing old family dramas be prepared with an immediate topic change to a safe zone like how delicious the meal is or how nice it is to have family together is ideal. If they won’t relent, ask if you could speak to them away from the table — there’s no need to embarrass them in front of the group and let them know you understand their concerns but that this isn’t the place to share them.

However you are spending your Thanksgiving this year, being mindful about how you and your guests communicate around the table is a great way to make sure that your Thanksgiving is a happy one!

Happy Thanksgiving!