It's no secret that a homemade Thanksgiving meal can take a significant amount of time, effort, and planning to pull off. If you want to contribute in some way, we've got you covered: We tapped entertaining experts Lisa Grotts and Heloise Blause regarding what types of things you should bring to a Thanksgiving dinner that will help the host.
Meet the Expert
Lisa Grotts is an etiquette expert who helps clients navigate tricky business, social, and political situations, and Heloise Blause is the founder of cooking blog Homekitchen Land.
If you're striving to be a standout guest, remember that it's your job to bring the fun in addition to a delectable side dish or bottle of wine. We've detailed 10 ideas in our handy Thanksgiving guest guide, to come prepared with when knocking on your host's door.
Ice in a Cooler
More ice is something that every party needs, even a highbrow Thanksgiving dinner. Transport a couple of bags in a cooler, and you may even get extra points for chilling a six-pack in there, too. It might be overkill, though, if you decide to bring glassware. Since the host probably made a theme for the table, you may not want to interfere with that.
As we all know, Thanksgiving dinner conversations can be tricky. You should probably avoid chatting about politics, religion, or anything that's going to get your curmudgeonly relative or most polarizing friend fired up before dessert. Plan ahead by preparing some light conversational topics before you arrive. For example, would your aunt rather take a trip in a submarine or a rocket? What's one meal your cousin could eat every single day?
If the host has asked you to bring a dish, don't be afraid to let them know you have a specialty, like being a standout pie maker, says Grotts.
A Tried-and-True Dish
If your Thanksgiving gathering is potluck style, where everyone contributes to the buffet line, opt for a recipe you know has gotten rave reviews. "Don’t bring a dish if it’s your first time making it and no one has tried it except you," Blause advises. "It’s good to get honest feedback from someone before you reveal your new recipes to the public."
Given that Thanksgiving calls for a full buffet of dishes, the host may not have enough serving utensils for everything. Do them a solid and bring an extra pair, just in case. You shouldn't feel inclined, though, to pack dinnerware for the occasion. That's something that the host should have ready to go.
A standard bouquet of flowers is always a safe bet when it comes to guest etiquette, and blooms in fall shades are sure to please your host. It might be a good idea to bring a vase, too, since the host will be busy with other things.
Wine is another safe bet for guests to bring to a party, especially during a holiday that's known for convivial socializing. Bring along a wine opener for good measure, but keep a big drink dispenser at home, Blause suggests. While you might think that you're being helpful, if the host has whipped up a seasonal cocktail, it might just get in the way.
"If you want to think ahead to an entire afternoon of drinking, then wrap up a gift of coasters that the host can use as soon as possible," Grotts points out. While napkins may also be a wise choice, coasters can be used for multiple occasions. Plus, your host will be thankful that their furniture will remain intact, sans beverage condensation rings.
A fall-scented candle will also come in handy for your host, whether it's burning during the meal for a cozy effect or afterward during cleanup in the kitchen. Again, do your best to pick out something that won't get in the way of a tablescape, like a garland would.
Entertainment for the Kids
It's tough to know what to do after dessert has been served, and an easy game might be a way to keep people's spirits up before the feast, or before they go home. For Thanksgiving gatherings with kids present, "I like to bring toys and games for all the kids to play with," says Blause, who has, in the past, brought over a deck of Uno cards and remote control trucks for the kids to play with in the backyard.
"If the nieces and nephews have something fun to do, the adults are able to enjoy themselves a bit more," she adds.
The host has likely been preparing this Thanksgiving meal for days, if not weeks. So while there's probably no need for anything related to dinner—like turkey, stuffing, or mashed potatoes—there's probably some need for breakfast. If you'll be in the household early enough, make your host something that can be easily stored and prepared.