So, this isn't an etiquette discussion about when to use the dessert fork rather than the dessert spoon . . . it's about making an extra effort to ensure things go smoothly. And that's really what etiquette is, after all.
Guidelines for Everyone:
- Think before you speak - don't let this be an occasion where you look back and think "I wish I hadn't said that!"
- No snarky comments! Period.
- No comments on what guests eat or don't eat
- No sighs! (as in "Sally's turkey was always so moist." ~Sigh~)
- Make an effort to include everyone in the conversation and avoid polarizing topics
- Don't bully the outsider (or anyone for that matter!) into trying foods they don't like, playing touch football after the meal, imbibing, etc.
If You're a Guest:
- Be on time!! Timing is everything when preparing a large meal, such as Thanksgiving lunch or dinner, and it puts a real strain on the cook and the guests if the meal is delayed due to late-comers. If you are going to be late, call the host and insist the meal begin without you.
- Dress Appropriately. If this is a close family event, you'll know what to wear. Otherwise, consult the hostess ahead of time and if in doubt, choose a middle-of-the-road outfit. Just because your friend says her mom doesn't care what you wear doesn't mean you should show up in jeans and crocs.
- It's always nice to bring a little gift for the hostess. Try to avoid gifts that divert her attention (like cut flowers that require a vase). Something she can enjoy as she relaxes the next day is perfect - for example, a yummy breakfast basket filled with muffins or tea. Another great gift is a plant that can be enjoyed during the holidays - like a Christmas cactus or potted amaryllis.
- Go with the flow and be respectful of any family traditions (even if you find them A Bit Strange).
- Make yourself useful! Offer to help the cook beforehand and offer to help clear when the meal is finished. If your help is not needed, don't pester the cook - go and charm the other guests.
- Say Thank You! In person (of course), and via a thank-you note a few days later.
If You're the Host or Hostess:
- Relax!! Your guests are there to enjoy a meal with friends and family, not to judge your cooking and housekeeping skills. If you're stressed over all the little things, you may not show your best side to you guests!
- Start the meal on time. While you may not care if lunch is at 12:30 or 3:00, your guests may (especially those who have small children or are going on to a second meal or party). That's not to say this is a military operation where the meal must be served at a precise time, but don't keep guests waiting for an hour while you do last minute cooking.
- Don't ask guests to bring dishes unless you'll be happy with whatever they bring! Flexibility is the key here - if Aunt Molly wants to bring Jello surprise, so be it.
- Many families share their holiday meals with friends and neighbors. If you're doing this, it's a really nice gesture to ask if the guest has special dietary requirements - and do it while you're still in the menu planning stage. On the flip side of this dietary coin, if your meal will be extremely non-traditional (say, vegan tofurkey-type fare or steaks on the grill), you should tell your guests when issuing the invitation.
- Accept hostess gifts graciously. You're not, however, obligated to use/serve/display the gift during this meal.
That's it - there's nothing mystical or even new. It's really just common sense mixed with a bit of the Golden Rule - and remember, it's only one day out of the year! I hope you're looking forward to happy holidays!