Thanksgiving Guest Etiquette 101

When you're not hosting, being a better guest should be your top priority. You do want to get invited back next year, right?

The Best Guest

Let's state the obvious: Hosting Thanksgiving is tough. And when the day comes for you to show up at a neighbor's, friend's or distant cousin's Thanksgiving Day party, it's a good time to re-evaluate what it means to be a guest in someone's home, especially when you're the one plunged into decades of familial inside jokes and eye rolls aimed at Uncle Jerry. Here's everything you need to remember to be a tiptop guest.

By Ben Mims for Food Network Kitchen

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Bring Something — Even If Your Host Insists It's Not Necessary

If you're asked to bring something specific, bring that and only that. Thanksgiving is simply not the time to improvise with off-beat flavor combinations or out-of-place dishes. If your host insists that you “just bring yourself!” don't listen (he or she might even be testing you). No matter what the occasion, but especially at Thanksgiving, a gift is a thoughtful gesture. Offer to bring a bottle of wine, your favorite craft beer, or a small wheel of nice cheese with a sleeve of fancy crackers.

Make 1 Dish to Feed Them All

These days, people aren't shy about what they won't eat — some are gluten-free, others vegan and even more have specific preferences you might not readily expect. As a guest, it's a great idea (and a great way to make friends) to make a dish that anyone can eat. Often, you're safe with virtually any vegetable, like green beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli or sweet potatoes. Cut them small, roast at 400 degrees F until caramelized and tender, then toss with a fresh vinaigrette made with olive oil, vinegar, minced shallots and herbs. This dish is vegan, carb-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, not spicy, not fatty, not gas-inducing and totally tasty enough for the meat eaters. You'll receive praise from everyone who's been dying for a fresh vegetable at Thanksgiving since green bean casserole took charge of the buffet.

Turn Your Dish Into Twice the Gift

Toting food in a disposable foil container is a thoughtful way to ensure that your Thanksgiving offering doesn't also mean more cleanup for your host. But an exceptional guest will bring food baked or served in a brand-new dish that can be given to the host. Once the food is gone and the dishes are cleaned, your host will have a brand-new casserole dish, ceramic bowl or cake stand that reminds him or her of you.

Don't Cancel at the Last Minute

Once, I had a guest cancel on me two days before Thanksgiving. I forgave her, but I might think twice about inviting her to a holiday meal again. Canceling within a week throws off your host's menu planning, food costs and seating arrangements. Unless there's a true emergency or some organ in your body is bursting, show up on time. Even worse is pretending to forget the date or time — no one will believe you anyway.

Break the Ice

If you know the host well, offer to come early to help greet other guests. You can entertain them while the host scrambles in the kitchen, trying to get nine dishes on the table at once. If you're the new kid in town, wear something quirky, like a statement necklace or bold brooch to start a conversation, and help keep the party lively by offering drink refills or corralling everyone to the table for dinner. If you make yourself useful and memorable to the other guests, then you won't be a stranger anymore. In other words: Don't end up being that person who hangs out with the cat on the couch the whole night.

Help Clean Up

As any host knows, the worst part about entertaining is the cleanup. After a big Thanksgiving meal, the dirty-dish pile is especially gargantuan. Many hosts, like me, prefer to do the dishes (I've had too many guests break glasses while cleaning to go through the trouble of buying more). But at Thanksgiving, extra help is welcome. Once you notice your host start clearing plates and migrating back into the kitchen, offer to help with the dishes. If your host declines, offer to dry, which is secretly the best job because you're helping out, while also finding time to catch up on life. But if your host truly refuses your help, take the hint and leave the kitchen after you've helped clear the table.

Thank Your Host

Throwing a Thanksgiving feast for 20 or more guests is equal to catering a small wedding. Be gracious with your gratitude; after all, it is Thanksgiving. Send your host a handwritten thank-you note (a text message just isn't quite enough), flowers or a memento from the day, like a curated album of candid snaps.