Ah… Thanksgiving. Don’t you love it? More food than you can eat, no gift-giving responsibilities, something all Americans can share together, a day to focus on what we have instead of what we have not, permission to nap; it is all good, right? For the most part, I agree. At the same time, for those responsible for hosting the feast, it can be a bit stressful. Here is a timeline to help get you through.
Before Thanksgiving Week:
Make hospitality decisions
- Who will sleep where? Do you need to purchase/borrow air mattresses?
- What towels will everyone use and which bathrooms will they use?
- What supplies do you need to stock up on? (toilet paper, toothbrushes, shampoo, coffee, etc.)
- What pillows and blankets will each guest use?
- How will guests arrive at your home? Do they need an airport pick up?
- Are guests bringing babies or children? Is special equipment needed, such as cribs or high chairs?
- Is there space in the closet for their clothes? Do you need to empty out drawers and/or add a few empty hangers?
Decide on your menu
- What will you make?
- What will others bring?
- What special dietary restrictions will you need to accommodate?
- What will you serve to drink? Do you need to buy extra ice?
- What time will you serve dinner?
- Will you serve appetizers? If so, which ones and when?
- Do you need to get any condiments that you don’t normally use but guests might want?
- Will you offer coffee & tea with dessert? Do you have enough sugar/sweetener/creamers?
- When will you cook each dish? (write down the day & time for each one)
Plan the physical layout
- Where will guests put their coats when they arrive?
- Where will guests put the food they bring? (ideally somewhere away from the cooking zone)
- Where will guests gather before the meal (e.g. for cocktails)?
- Will you have a fire in a fireplace? Who will tend this? Do you need to buy wood?
- Where will guests sit to eat dinner? Do you need to set up extra tables and/or add in table leaves?
- Will you serve from a buffet or at the table?
- What will be your seating plan? Will you assign seating? Will there be a separate children’s table?
- Do you need trivets and/or table pads?
- Do you need a side table or extra serving surface in the dining room?
- Where will you set up the bar? What will you place there (e.g. corkscrew, bottle opener, ice bucket, drink markers, etc.) Will this be “self-serve” or will someone be in charge of making sure guests have drinks?
- Do you need extra cold storage (e.g. a cooler or outside fridge)?
- Will you take a group photo before the meal? Who will take it, when and where?
- Will the turkey be carved in advance or at the table? Do you need a special knife?
- Where will dessert be served?
- Where will you set up the coffee/tea? Will it be self-serve?
- Will you play music during the day? If so, what?
- Will there be football viewing? If so, where and when?
- Where will you collect trash? Do you need extra receptacles? How about for recyclables?
Design your table
- Will you use a tablecloth and/or placemats? How about a runner?
- Will you use chargers or other decorative dishes?
- Will you use china, daily dishes or paper and plastic?
- Which silverware will you use? Does anything need to be cleaned or polished? [Note: it is is handy to have a separate set of silverware strictly for entertaining so you aren’t trying to empty the dishwasher at the last minute]
- Which glasses will you have on the table (and which at the bar)? [Note: when setting a formal table with glasses, working from the center to the right, the order is water, red wine, white wine]
- Which napkins will you use? Will you use napkin rings?
- Which salt and pepper shakers will you use? (place shakers at both ends if you have a long table)
- How will you serve butter/olive oil for bread?
- What will be your centerpiece? (flowers, cornucopia, garland, holiday decorations, etc.)
- Which candles and candleholders will you use? [Note: you can supplement real candles with battery-operated flameless candles to minimize risk of fire on a busy day.]
- Will you use place cards? If so, what kind? [Note: this can be a great project for little ones who are underfoot.]
- Which serving dishes/platters and utensils will you use for each dish? [Tip: it is helpful to put a note in/on each dish to remind yourself of what food item should go where during the last minute rush.]
Prepare everything you can in advance
- Polish silver
- Clean crystal
- Iron table linens
- Clean the oven (Thanksgiving tends to bring “peepers”)
- Decide what you will wear (and make sure it is clean)
- Buy all shelf stable items and paper products
- Buy wine/liquor/champagne/seltzer/soda/etc.
- Prep food that can be made in advance
- Set up a playlist to run during the day
Early Thanksgiving Week:
- Run laundry
- Complete your grocery shopping
- Thaw your turkey, if frozen
- Set up for overnight guests
Wednesday Before Thanksgiving:
- Cook cranberry relish/sauce
- Prepare side dishes that can be refrigerated
- Dry bread cubes for stuffing (if you are using fresh)
- Chop onions & other vegetables
- Prepare salad ingredients
- Pre-measure ingredients/spices for food you will prepare on Thursday
- Bake pies
- Thaw whipped topping
- Buy extra ice, if needed
- Chill white wine/champagne/soft drinks
- Set the table
- Empty trash and add extra bags to the bottom of your bins
- Get turkey in the oven
- Prepare side dishes and keep them warm in a slow cooker or warming drawer
- Set up the coffee/tea so you all you have to do is push “start”
- Prepare and set out appetizers and drinks
- Assemble and dress the salad
- Uncork the wine
- While turkey is sitting, make the gravy and bake the rolls
- Light candles
- Fill water glasses
- Take the “holiday photo”
- Serve and relax!
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A few extra thoughts:
Once Thanksgiving Day arrives, enjoy it. Don’t sweat over food that gets burned or items that get spilled. Relinquish perfectionism and focus on making positive memories with your friends and family.
Don’t be afraid to delegate. Most guests want to help, but they need to be assigned a job. Helpers can be enlisted to fill water glasses, dress the salad, light the candles, carry items to the table, say grace, wash dishes, etc.
It is a nice gesture to offer guests the opportunity to take leftovers home. Consider stocking up on some affordable plastic storage containers that you don’t mind giving away.
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What tips do you have for hosting Thanksgiving?