Ask the Etiquette Expert: Holiday Table Etiquette

Here are a few holiday table etiquette questions to start off the season on the right foot.
11/19/2013 03:36 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Here are a few holiday table etiquette questions to start off the season on the right foot:

1. How can I ask my mother-in-law to put away her phone?

It's important to approach the topic with your mother-in-law with kindness and respect. Perhaps your mother-in-law has gotten into the habit of spending time on her phone out of boredom or the fear of missing an update. Unless she is waiting on an urgent call from her son or daughter who is stationed overseas, the general rule at the table should be "all cells off" during the holiday meal. It's likely that your mother-in-law is not the only technology offender at the dinner table; a brief request to turn all technology off during the holiday meal is not an unreasonable thing to ask.

Instead of you having a discussion with your mother-in-law, ask your husband to speak privately with her, requesting she participate fully in the dinner conversation, showing respect for fellow guests and setting a good example for her grandchildren. The message will most likely be better received from her son than from her daughter-in-law.

2. How long can I expect my 16- and 17-year-old teens to sit at the Thanksgiving table after they are finished with their meal?

Your teens are old enough to be active participants in the table conversation. Encourage them to use this time as an opportunity to interact with family members they normally don't get to see throughout the year. Set them up for success by suggesting topics ahead of time they may want to bring up during the meal. It's good practice for their future success when it comes time for college interviews, speaking with professors and going to job interviews. Every small experience builds confidence.

3. My husband refuses to be without his cell phone. What should I do?

You can only make the request and explain that you are asking for his cooperation to help set the example at the table. What he chooses beyond your request is up to him. I don't suggest embarrassing him, or doing something drastic like banning him from his favorite part of the turkey! Unless he is a doctor on call (and then the phone should be on vibrate), or expecting a life or death phone call, spending quality time together at the dinner table is a nice way to deepen family bonds and build relationships.

4. My family loves Pinterest. Is it okay to share our Pinterest boards around the Thanksgiving table?

After you have enjoyed your entrᅢᄅe, shared a toast and enjoyed a delicious dessert, sharing creative DIY holiday ideas is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Rather than doing this at the table, I would recommend you retreat to another part of the house that has a comfortable space for everyone to sit around and exchange their iPads, laptops and phones.

5. Is it okay to give the little ones their PSP to keep them quiet at the table?

Rather than handing young children technology to "keep them quiet," engage them in conversation and include them in the festivity of the holiday meal. Another option would be to have a kids table set up where young children can all sit together, and enjoy their friends and cousins that they may not see but once or twice a year. The answer to the PSP at the table is a resounding "no"!

6. Would it be appropriate to collect cell phones before my guests take a seat as a fun way to encourage communication?

Walking around with a basket and collecting your guest's technology may come across as punitive and may potentially put a damper on the holiday spirit. However, nothing puts the tarnish on any meal or cocktail party quicker than a distracted guest on his or her cell phone. It's up to all of us to exercise good holiday manners by paying attention to those sitting around us and turning off our technology at the holiday table.

Thomas P. Farley, of What Manners Most, and I cordially invite you and your family to join our 2nd annual Thanksgiving Unplugged, a national campaign we co-founded in 2012, encouraging young and old to disconnect from technology and reconnect with family and friends around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Take the pledge, download a place setting and join us!