How to Handle the Sticky Situations and Prickly Guests at the Holiday Table

Thanksgiving etiquette tips. Who needs 'em? We all do! Whether you're hosting or joining someone else for Hanukkah, Thanksgiving or other big event types of dinners, it is that time of year when nerves can be sensitive and tempers sometimes short. Couple that with free-flowing booze and the potential for fireworks increases. We've all endured the rude comments, bad behavior, and even shouting matches that can ruin the dinner for everyone.

The best cure is a little preventive medicine. Here are some tips to help you avoid the dyspeptic dinner disasters. Whether you're a host or a guest, a brief review might help everyone relax and enjoy. Here are some tips for being a good guest, being a smart host.

"The more wine you drink, the more interesting your relatives become."  Josh Wesson on Talking with My Mouth Full 

1. If you are invited: Offer to bring something. If your host does not want additions to the menu, offer to bring wine, flowers or offer to help clean up after. Marron Glacé are lovely and won't ruin anyone's menu. Especially if you have dietary restrictions, offer to bring a dish that will be safe for you to eat and good enough for all to enjoy. More tips on handling food allergy issues here.

2. During the Thanksgiving day of feasting: Offer to pick up empty glasses or refresh people's drinks. Little things like that can help a lot when your host is probably minding the timing of all the last minute food preparations. If you're hosting and people want to help, let them. Even kids can help with things like offering ice to grown ups, tearing lettuce.

3. What to do if you're served or offered something that you really dislike? A gracious way to turn it down, instead of saying "I don't like brussels sprouts" is to say "I've had so much good food I couldn't possibly eat another bite, thank you so much. They look lovely, though!"

4. How to handle the family members that you know are going to get into a heated argument? Try the preemptive strike:  take whichever of the pair that is more reasonable take them aside ahead of time and appeal to their good nature beforehand. Say "Listen, I know that you and Dad don't agree on healthcare and we know how he gets when he had a few, so I'm gonna count on you being the more reasonable one. Help me sidestep an argument at dinner by changing the subject or not taking the bait? Thanks so much for being reasonable and helping out that way I really appreciate it."

5. Include, don't exclude: I like Thanksgiving because it's a nondenominational day of gratitude, rather than greed disguised as religion. And, it's all about abundance, friends, and football. Try to include everyone in that good feeling of gratitude. Rather than a prayer which might feel exclusive two people don't share the religion, why not start with going to run the table and everybody sharing something they're grateful for?

6. Be calm, make like a duck. Serene on top, even if you're paddling madly under the surface. If you're hosting, remember that guests will take their cue from you. If you're hassled and snippy they won't relax. Try to do ahead, plan and let go. If it won't be the perfect Norman Rockwell painting you have in your head, remember that a good time can still be had by all. Your attitude will set the mood. Pour another round and enjoy what worked, be thankful for the friends and family you have to share the day with. Laugh off the disasters and invite others to join you in good humor. (And make notes while they're fresh in your head what worked and didn't for next year.)

Today is the day to set yourself up for a good tomorrow. Plan a walk in the fresh air first thing in the morning, get a good night's rest.  Chop the veggies that you can for stuffing, make a butter for gravy (1:1 flour and butter) or make the gravy now and just add pan drippings later. Ditch the extra cleaning or extra dishes you won't need to make. No one will notice that you dusted every shelf if you're frazzled.