My delightfully never harried husband always says, if you wait until the last second, it only takes a second. In the final stretches of hosting the dinner to end all dinners--Thanksgiving dinner--this play could land you permanently on the bench. Keep reading for my tips to bring it all together this Thanksgiving!
design | Haus Guerin photo | Angela Brown Photography
I honestly could not think of a more joyous occasion than gathering all the people that I love or like into one undersized but expertly decorated spot and filling their bellies with a hot meal brimming with entrees of varying degrees of complexity that I spent hours preparing in a relatively short span of time. What could go wrong? Honestly, a lot! If the thought of hosting and making it perfect is giving you massive anxiety, lean in for this important secret: There is no one wrong move that will ruin the day, but a series of miscues that will cause the entire thing to unravel. To make matters worst, this delicate dance is marketed as a spectator sport, with all eyes on the host. So what's the move?
Keep your Eye on the Clock
Your biggest opponent on Turkey Day is undeniably time management. Have a plan and stick with it! I like to divide things into food and host-related tasks. This allows me to stay on task much more effectively and avoid too much last-second hustle. Most importantly, to adequately prepare for cooking the meal, you really have to establish the menu well in advance. This way you have all of the requisite ingredients, tools and bakeware with plenty of lead time.
Table-scape Tips | If you are new to hosting, buying all the dinnerware and cutlery can get costly fast. Skip the big box stores and head directly to your nearest thrift store or flea market to save on nearly every aspect of your set-up. Matching sets of fine china, ceramics and melamine dishes often fill long aisles at thrift stores. Go into the store with a clear idea of a color story that complements your home decor style and taste. Rich tones of browns, golds and splashes of red or burgundy are clear autumnal favorites. Decide how formal you want to set your table, and then look for any additional glasses or silverware you may need to complete the look. Even if you don't want to go for a classic table-setting, interesting barware and crystal lowball glasses will immediately elevate your cocktail station for your chosen libations.
thrifted candlesticks with antique crystal glasses found at a local market
Practice Makes Perfect!
As a relatively young hostess, there are still quite a few skills that I am looking to perfect before I tackle them for the first time on the big day. All things considered, repetition and well-kept notes are the key to achieving the end result of tasty perfection you're after. I think of all the countless hours spent in my Grandmother's kitchen as a kid and the years I prepared dinner while my own mother worked during the long holiday. It's crazy to think that I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner largely alone for well over two decades!
When cooking a meal this large, most of the tasks are motions driven by muscle memory. Anyone familiar with a knife will make light work of all the dicing and slicing that goes into preparing side dishes.
However experience aside, it is important that you keep your menu tried and true! Don't use this high-stakes event as the time to try out untested recipes. Stick to the classics or your favorite repeat recipes so that you're more likely to be flexible when oven space gets tight or the timeline gets compressed.
Once the menu is set, create a shopping list separated by type (i.e. refrigerated, pantry or fresh) and write or type it out so you don't have to fish out your phone at the store. Having a physical copy of the list also makes it easier to divide tasks amongst other capable individuals.
Hot Tip: Set your reminders! Be sure to check dates so that you don't miss any pre-order deadlines with your local restaurants, bakers or florists. Many will start to close-out the window for orders the week prior so it is a good idea to plan accordingly.
Game Day Etiquette
When it comes to non-food hosting duties, the whole house is on the table--literally. Before my guests arrive, I especially like to freshen up spaces where I will host overnight guests. This is particularly the case if the space pulls double duty as an office or play area. Wash stale linen and dust off counters and side tables. Move out office supplies and move in thoughtful items to make your guests feel more at home.
Once the room is cleared out and cleaned up, it's time to stock! With all the added chaos of holiday travel, it is very likely that your frazzled travelers may have forgotten a few necessities. Come to their rescue and win huge brownie points with some inexpensive touches.
In a medium-sized basket you can add a few basic toiletries and these goodies:
house slippers/cozy socks
water carafe with a cup top (see this winner from CB2)
Thick and thin blanket options
A hangover kit with liquid IVs, Motrin/ibuprofen
The idea is to make the space as accommodating as possible without completely redecorating. Bring in a live plant or add a bud vase with a couple blossoms on a side table. Be sure to make electrical outlets easily accessible and consider adding an additional bedside light source to facilitate lack of familiarity and mobility after the festivities. Need a checklist? Grab mine and make it your own!
Teamwork makes the Dream Work
Another power play is this simple tip: If you don't like it, don't do it! I cannot stress enough that you should not be adding to your resume at the last second. After all, Thanksgiving is not the day to try your hand at becoming a pastry chef. That said, your ability to communicate effectively and ask for help is going to be your best bid for success.
Another reason to task out your guests is because they honestly want to help. The family wine connoisseur can be put on duty to prepare the holiday cocktail or source the wine pairings for the day. If someone has already perfected their baking, have them prepare a few pies or cakes to add to the menu. Going back to keeping an eye on the clock, purchase in advance any gaps in your menu or your abilities that you don't fell comfortable relegating to guests. If cleaning the house is not your forte, hire a housekeeper to tidy up. Coordinate with your local florist to bring in a non-fussy centerpiece that can be delivered. If and when possible, you should outsource anything that brings you grief and stay flexible!
Anything worth doing is worth doing right. When in doubt, fresh and well-done greenery will set the tone for a timeless and sustainable holiday tablescape that looks effortless and chic.
Magnolia garland available at Gracious Garlands
If nothing else this holiday season, I beg of you: Please don't overcomplicate an already complicated thing. Anyone promising you that the day will go off without a hitch is likely feeding you a well meaning but ill-informed fantasy. Hosting a group of people is inherently difficult. You have willingly gathered a multiple of attitudes, dietary needs, personalities, tastes and ideologies converging within inches of each other. Give yourself some grace, enjoy a drink (or two), and ask for help often and early. When it's all said and done, the food will be eaten, the dishes put away, and family will remember the beauty of togetherness. And that is a game well played!
Happy Thanksgiving, Haus-Mates!