Thanksgiving Etiquette: Potluck Tips for the Guest and Host

Whether you are the host or a guest of a holiday “potluck” Thanksgiving celebration, there are a few simple pointers to make the day more enjoyable for everyone. Before you put your famous pumpkin bread pudding in the oven, refer to my holiday recommendations below.

Potluck Tips for the Host:

  • Roll up the napkin and utensils together so your guests can pick up everything at once. It saves a few steps and is easier to hold in one hand.
  • Offer several different varieties of food.  Take inventory of the dishes others will be bringing and fill in the menu gaps. It would be a minor disaster to have all of the fixings for a traditional holiday meal but overlook the main course. Or, to have too many salads and not enough sweet potatoes.
  • Set up separate tables. For those who are on special diets or uncertain of which foods are “off limits” due to allergies or dietary restrictions, a favorite potluck tip is to set up a pretty table with a variety of beautifully displayed, tasty alternative options. Rather than waiting to see what the guest will bring for the table, ask what  some of his or her favorite courses are and prepare or order a few.
  • Request that your guests bring their food in serving dishes that you will gladly wash and send back home at the end of the evening or near future. It’s so much easier to have something go from dish to table and it takes very little time to swoosh a little soap and water on a dish and send it home. A serving dish is also much more attractive than aluminum foil.
  • Have ample seating available and remember to provide sturdy plates to prevent accidental spills. You may not have enough table room or seating space for guests to eat comfortably unless you bring in back up from other parts of the house. Be creative and use spare end tables, chairs, ottomans and cushions. Consider renting a few extra chairs from your local party rental.
  • Borrow crock pots and chafing dishes to keep things warm.  I use several crockpots and have invested heavily in slow cooker liners!
  • Don’t hesitate to hire a bartender.  Just because it’s a potluck doesn’t mean you have to forego your normal hosting routines.  Do what you need to do to make your host duties easy and enjoyable so you can spend time with your guests.

Potluck Tips for the Guest:

  • To hold a seat while you go through the potluck line, place your glass down so you will be hands free.
  • As good as the turkey may be, avoid that second trip through the line until everyone else has gone through once.
  • Offer to help your host put out more food when the serving plates get low.
  • Print out copies of your recipe to share with others.  As a special touch, consider handwriting the recipe and then making copies.
  • Remember to “go unplugged” by turning your mobile phone and tablet “off” during the Thanksgiving meal.
  • Come with a few interactive conversation starters, perfect for all ages. Hearing children share their versions of the first Thanksgiving will bring smiles to all seated around the table.
  • Although you don’t have to clean your area, make sure it’s tidy before going to mingle. If eating from a tray table, tuck it neatly away.

With my own Thanksgiving plans changing this week, I’m reminded that special celebrations don’t always mean buying the latest decorations or making the perfect rhubarb pie. It’s about sharing time with family and friends and catching up on all of the latest news. Finally, I encourage you to leave your electronics in another room so you won’t be tempted by an electronic distraction. My co-founder of Thanksgiving Unplugged, Thomas P. Farley (a.k.a. Mister Manners) and I encourage you to visit Thanksgiving Unplugged, take the pledge, like our Facebook page and make a commitment to reconnect with those you are sharing space with, even if it’s not a traditional dining table.

Happy Thanksgiving,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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