Thanksgiving is nearly here and warm memories of past holiday feasts are already flooding in: the smell of turkey roasting, the taste of your favorite green bean casserole and the familiar sounds of having your family all under one roof.
Even though we Millenials pride ourselves on being super organized, the thought of replicating this holiday tradition—as a first-time host or guest— can be daunting. The good news is you don’t have to make any holiday etiquette faux pas. Here is everything you need to know for a drama-free Thanksgiving dinner:
When you’re hosting…
Break out the cleaning supplies. Thoroughly clean your apartment a few days before Thanksgiving. The lead-time will cut down the number of day-of-event stressors. To make the onerous task feel more manageable, tackle one room at a time and work your way around the room clockwise. Focus most on what your company will see— the carpet, bookshelves and windows— and dedicate extra time to scrubbing down your bathroom. Stock extra toilet paper and soap in your bathroom cabinets to spare your guests any awkward moments.
Keep the menu simple. Turkey wound with Prosciutto di Parma may look beautiful on the pages of your food magazine but curb the urge to experiment with an adventurous recipe you have yet to kitchen-test. Pare down your menu to tried-and-true, favorite dishes. As polite guests, your friends will inevitably ask, “What can I bring?” Take them up on their offers. Request a specific dish or category so your menu is an even balance of courses and three guests don’t arrive with pies.
Map a seating plan. Lay out seating arrangements with name cards before visitors begin arriving. It may seem formal, but assigned seating keeps conversation flowing and encourages guests to mingle beyond their circle of familiar faces. Place your talkative aunt next to your shy college friend. Seat couples across from each other. Keep an extra chair and place-setting nearby; you never know if you will have an extra guest or miscount your RSVP list.
Wisk away coats and hand guests a glass of wine. Greet each of your invitees upon arrival and welcome them with a canapé, cocktail or glass of wine. Music should already be playing, a few bottles of wine uncorked and at least one appetizer laid out. Your guests will appreciate your hospitality and instantly feel at ease in your home. You can help them break the ice and open the room for conversation by presenting guests to one another with a brief introduction, “This is my cousin Kevin, he just flew in from Philadelphia.”
Set the table strategically. Disperse extra salt and peppershakers, gravy boats and butter dishes along the table. Place hot plates on the table ready to receive that sweet potato casserole and warm stuffing. Wine and a water pitcher should be at both ends of the table. Present the turkey to your guests before bringing the bird back to the kitchen for carving.
Pack up leftovers and say good-bye. As your party winds down, ask guests which dishes they would like to take home and pack leftovers in a to-go Tupperware container. Guests will get the hint that it’s time to start heading home. Escort each guest to the door to say farewells.
When you’re a guest…
Dress up. Thanksgiving is a big, festive event and one that your host put a lot of effort into preparing. A clean, pulled together outfit is a polite sign of respect and a traditional touch for a traditional holiday. Also, you’ll be glad you got gussied up when you flip through tagged photos on Facebook.
Bring something—anything but an uninvited guest. When you RSVP to the dinner, ask your host what you can bring to the table. If your host requests a specific dish or responsibility, follow through with your requested vegetarian stuffing or the bag of ice. If your host answers, “Just yourself!” you should bring a small gift anyway, as a thank-you gesture. A handsome cutting board, fine olive oil or breakfast fixings for the next morning are all nice gift ideas. Notify your host immediately if you must bring a guest. You will spare yourself and your host an awkward moment at dinner.
Arrive on time. Give yourself extra travel time and more if you have to make pit stops at the grocery or wine store along the way. Related quick tip: always call stores ahead of time to check for abbreviated holiday hours. And come to dinner at the appointed hour. Turn up too early and you may catch your host off-guard.
Be a sociable guest. If you notice your host looks overwhelmed or frazzled in the kitchen, ask if you can help: “Let me bring out that cheese plate,” “Would you like me to unload the dishwasher?” or simply, “How can I help?” Your host will greatly appreciate the offer whether or not she accepts it. Throughout the night, engage your fellow guests. Put your phone away and introduce yourself, ask them how they know the host or if you can get them a refill on their drink. Simple questions will help you strike up friendly conversation.
Send a thank-you. Before the end of Black Friday, slip a thank-you card— a real card in a real stamped envelope—into the mail. Your card should compliment your host on her party and mention something specific that particularly made the occasion memorable for you.