If you’re off the hook from hosting Thanksgiving this year, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook from being a top-notch guest. Being a host can be overwhelming: there are groceries to buy, place settings to design, and an entire turkey to roast—and that’s just for starters. As a guest, your first job is to offer to help.
“Thanksgiving is all about coming together, having conversation, and playing beautiful music in the background,” Jung Lee, founder of event planning firm Fête, tells The Spruce. “No one wants to be alone while prepping, and your host can always use an extra set of hands.”
Whether you prefer to contribute to cooking, cleaning, or decorating, it doesn’t matter—as long as you’re relieving your host from any duty, big or small, all while being good company. To ensure you're invited year after year, we tapped two entertaining experts for their insights on how to be a great Thanksgiving guest. Follow their super simple advice below.
Meet the Expert
- Chef Odette Williams is author of Simple Pasta: Pasta Made Simple. Life Made Better.
- Jung Lee is the Event Architect and Founder of Fête, Jung Lee NY, and Slowdance.
Never Arrive Empty-Handed
Always contribute something (anything) to the meal or decor. After all, your host is creating an over-the-top meal and welcoming you into their home to celebrate the holiday together.
“Whether it's a bottle of wine or a small dessert, you always want to show your gratitude as a guest,” Lee says. “It's a small gesture that goes a long way.”
Offer to Help Cook Together
Bringing a dish to Thanksgiving dinner is great—but making that dish together, with music or a neck-and-neck football game playing in the background, is even better. Ask your host if you can arrive early to help cook.
“My friends and I spend all day cooking and catching up,” Williams says. “We divide and conquer, so someone takes on the turkey, another the stuffing, and a few souls do sides.”
Dress Your Best
It can be tempting to throw on your coziest sweatpants on Thanksgiving Day—whatever gives you the most wiggle room for that extra slice of pie. If you’re being welcomed into someone’s house for the big meal though, dress like a proper guest—even if your host is a long-time friend whose shoulder you’ve cried on, or your Aunt Debby, who changed your diapers way back when. Lee suggests wearing rich jewel tones and veering away from somber black.
Opt for a Store-Bought Pie
Oven time is a hot commodity on Thanksgiving Day and the days leading up to it. Relieve your host of dessert duties by offering to order the pies from your favorite bakery. Not only does it save time, but you’ll also be supporting a local business.
“Then, all you need is vanilla bean ice cream,” Williams says, who warns everyone to stock up early. “It often sells out!"
Bring a Special Bottle of Wine
Sure, any bottle of pinot noir will likely pair with turkey just fine. Instead of blindly scouring the wine shop’s shelves the morning of Thanksgiving though, bring a bottle of wine (or two) that you’ve fallen in love with throughout the year, and introduce your friends and family to it.
Say you vacationed in Sicily this year, then bring a Nero d'Avola. Maybe you visited a vineyard in Napa, cracked open a wine after you got engaged, or simply enjoyed a particular bottle throughout the year. If you care about it, chances are your friends and family will, too.
Not only will those wines be more personal, but they’ll get a conversation started, too. “Better yet, pick up a magnum bottle,” Williams says, referring to the 1.5-liter bottles that are twice the size of a regular wine bottle. “They always get the party started.”
Offer to Take Care of the Table Decor
While the host is busy in the kitchen, offer to take care of table decorations. “Bring some beautiful-looking produce from the farmers market to decorate the table: baby pears, small apples, unusual-shaped squash, and cut some small branches and foliage from a tree,” Williams says.
Don’t forget to set the mood with candlelight, either. “You can't have enough candles, especially this time of year,” Williams says.
Put Together a Dinner Party Playlist
The right songs will set the right mood. Designate yourself DJ and compile a playlist of hits that span the decades, so all guests will feel the groove. “At the end of the night, you can all dance, drink, and clean up,” Williams says.
Send a (Handwritten!) Thank You Note
It may be easier and quicker to text or email your thanks, but a handwritten thank you note is a much more meaningful token of your gratitude. “It demonstrates you made an effort to show your appreciation,” Lee says. Now, where did you put the stamps?