When Should I Begin To Eat?


Yum. The smell of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and all the Thanksgiving meal fixings are enough to make you jump the gun and dig in – despite knowing that you must mind your manners and wait until everyone else is served. This dilemma happens not only at Thanksgiving, but any time it’s chow time. It is true that you should follow what your mom probably taught you and wait until everyone has been served, but there are some variations. Here are a few helpful guidelines so you know when it’s time to wait and when you have a thumbs-up to begin eating:

Small groups: When there is a small group present at your table – 8 or less, it is proper etiquette to wait until everyone is served before you begin. This includes family dinners, going out to eat with friends or that large sit-down wedding reception with 200 people – when you only have 8 at your table. One exception would be if one of your party members has to wait for his/her food and tells the rest of you who have already been served to “please go ahead” so your food doesn’t get cold.

Large groups: Take your clues from your neighbors. If you are seated at a big table with more than 8 people and those around you have their food, then it is acceptable to begin.  Also, because it does take time to serve large groups, your host may ask that everyone gets started as they are served.

Buffets: Once those you are “with” have returned with their food, you may begin eating. You do not necessarily have to wait for your entire table to return from the buffet line, particularly since buffets are the norm at many large gatherings where you are seated with strangers and the food is set up  “station” style.

Mealtime Blessings: Especially at Thanksgiving, a blessing may be said previous to enjoying the meal. If you have been lucky enough to be invited to enjoy a meal at another person’s home, make sure you follow your host’s lead and wait a proper amount of time before you start to eat. There would be nothing more embarrassing than having a forkful of food to your mouth when the host begins the mealtime blessing!

Good manners are always “other –centered.” As you look down at your delicious Thanksgiving meal, be thankful for your food and the friends and family that surround you. Happy Turkey Day!

Mind Your Manners,


  1. I have just moved in with my daughter and two grandsons to help out since my son in law passed away.
    There seems to be no schedule and mealtimes are grabbing some food and when your hungry.
    I am trying to establish a schedule and make a week night dinner plan where we all sit down together as a family.
    My problem is that when I’m trying to get dinner on the table, my daughter thinks it’s okay for the boys to start digging in and eating before I even sit down. We actually argue about this!
    I’m trying to teach the boys etiquette and good manners plus I would really like to eat a meal with them before they are down to their last bite.
    This has really become a problem between my daughter and I.
    Any suggestions?
    Stressed out Nana.

    • Kelly

      Hello Stressed Out Nana,

      First, my condolences on the passing of your son-in-law. I would imagine the help and support you are offering your daughter at this time is tremendous and appreciated.
      I understand your frustration with your grandsons eating before you’ve sat down at the table. You’re right to advocate for a family meal and conversation where everyone waits before the begin eating. It is part of having good manners – which will get you much further in life! Sometimes based on schedules and activities sitting down together isn’t always possible, but when it is, it’s so important!
      It sounds like this should be a heart to heart conversation with your daughter where you share what you’re trying to teach the boys and WHY. Then ask why she feels the way she does; perhaps asking for her cooperation in the process. Maybe there is something age-appropriate the boys can do to help you get dinner on the table, so they’re not sitting waiting for you because they are helping!
      Good luck to you Nana. Keep up the good work! Your grandsons will thank you one of these days for teaching them important life skills!

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