Guide to Hosting an Elegant Thanksgiving Dinner

11/03/2016 05:20 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2016
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Thanksgiving is a time for expressing gratitude for our blessings. Consider these ten expert tips on hosting a memorable meal and toss your jitters out the window!

1. Accommodating Guest Diet Needs: Guests understand their restricted-diet needs better than anyone else, and can best prepare meals in their own allergen free kitchen. Hosts aren’t obligated to accommodate every guest’s special dietary needs, such as tree-nut or egg allergies; and kosher, halal, gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free diet requests.

2. Dress code: A casual, fun-filled day calls out for ‘smart casual’ attire of trousers, sweaters, blouses, vests, comfortable clothes. This allows for naps after the extra helpings of turkey.

3. Seating Plan & Place Cards: It’s more fun, keeps the rebel rousers in line and mixes up the cast of family, friends, and neighbors to use a seating plan and place cards. Seat introverts next to out-going guests and elders adjacent to youngsters. Split married couples, but not newlyweds.

4. Toast Etiquette: A toast welcoming guests and expressing gratitude sets a positive tone. Briefly reconfirm conversation no-no’s. As a host making a toast to the table, toasting etiquette states the entire table is welcome to drink.

5. Stay Current: Read Skimm, and brush up on international and national news. Make pleasant conversation referencing current events, such as Nobel Prize winners. Just say ‘no’ to political conversations. Of course, avoiding Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence talk may be difficult just two weeks post-election, but biting your tongue is a good idea if you don’t want a political brawl when everyone wants to enjoy perfectly roasted turkey.

6. Conversation Starters: Maintain the attitude of gratitude, with conversation flowing smoothly. Have 4-5 interesting conversation starters planned; ‘Where is your next travel destination; leisure or adventure?” Other examples include musical concert, bestselling books, new movies, sporting events, new restaurants, and holiday memories.

7. Prying Questions: Prying, personal questions push all the wrong buttons. Two of the most offending questions continue to be: “Are you seeing anyone yet?” and “When are you going to give me grandkids?” Be prepared to respond with humor so the questioner doesn’t sense a weak spot. ‘I avoid visiting about private topics at delicious holiday meals when I can be talking about Bob’s trip to Tanzania instead. So how was the Serengeti?’

8. Approximate Schedule: Set an approximate schedule to allow planning, and avoid chaos. Provide a soft deadline so guests don’t skid in 15 minutes before dinner starts. If you arrive at 12, is dinner served at 1:00 or 3:00 p.m.? This allows visits with other friends and family, and avoids too much ‘together time’.

9. Games & Activities: Physical activity is a great stress-reliever. Set up a separate, fun room for kids with art projects, games, toys and movies. Plan outside activities, encourage playing a flag football game, raking leaves or a neighborhood walk. Outdoor board games are always a hit.

10. Rogue Guests: The possibility of something going sideways exists when family and alcohol mix during high-stress holidays. If a guest goes on a rogue political rant, be prepared with an immediate change of topic to Aunt Lynn’s cranberry recipe or Uncle Ted’s sage dressing formula. If they continue unabated, ask if you can speak to them privately. When out of earshot of other guests, acknowledge their concerns and advise them this isn’t the time or place. There's no need to embarrass them in front of family and friends.

Enjoy these tips for an elegant Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and joy!

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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