How to Host a Stress-Free Thanksgiving
By Franki Hanke
I love hosting Thanksgiving, but hosting Thanksgiving is a lot. Don’t freak out yet, if you’re hosting this year whether for the first time or the fiftieth, we’re providing THE guide on hosting Thanksgiving.
If you’re prepping last minute, we’ve provided shoppable Amazon links for quick shipping on most items! May this be your best Thanksgiving yet.
Your front porch is your first impression for guests arriving, so bring some decor outdoors! Start with a wreath on your door, swap for a seasonal door mat, and layer in decor framing the entry for a welcoming arrival.
For more tips, tricks, and finds for decorating your porch for Thanksgiving, read This Autumn’s Cutest Fall Porch Decorations.
Thanksgiving dinner happens at the dinner table, so spend a little time decorating your table itself. I love a linen tablecloth for a subtle textural element that doesn’t overpower.
If you’re serving food on the Thanksgiving table, avoid a centerpiece that eats up space. Besides, cranberry sauce, appetizers, and pumpkin pie are some of the best centerpieces I could ask for! If you need space for food, use a table runner to add some interest and create a food staging area in the center of the table. You can coordinate your napkins with your runner if you’d like that continuity.
Alongside being nicer to use, linen table products will last a long time. By investing in washable table linens now, you can reuse them year to year compared to wasteful single-use items.
To plan your table, I recommend setting out the empty serving dishes you’ll put on the table and see the gaps. Fill those with a floral garland that runs down the table and/or faux floral arrangements. Depending on your weather or personal preference, you can lean into warm, autumnal florals or wintery greenery or find a balance between the two.
If you’re keeping food off the table, fill additional space with candles for warm lighting. Avoid too much height that will block your friends and family’s faces.
For an extra tip, buy additional of your chosen table garland to decorate other spaces in your home for a cohesive look between rooms.
Must Haves for Hosting Overnight Guests
Plan Ahead for Their Stuff
We often think about where guests themselves will sleep and sit, counting chairs and beds, but then we forget about their stuff.
Before people arrive, plan out where stuff will go.
Outerwear (Coats & Shoes)
Especially in cold weather, people will arrive with wet coats and shoes to store by the door. Do you have a coat closet by your main entry? Will it fit extra coats and shoes?
If not, upgrade your entry space. A small doormat creates a pinch point for people and shoes alike. An oversized mat gives extra wiggle room. I personally own two Waterhog doormats and stair treads and love them.
For longer stays, consider adding an open shoe organizer. While closed organizers are preferred for your own shoes, an open option lets guests know visually where to put shoes and avoids the classic shoe pile blocking the door.
If you need extra coat storage, add a coat rack. Much like an open shoe rack, a coat rack tells guests where to put coats, unlike a closet which people may not open uninvited. Plus, if you don’t always have so many guests, you can store an extra coat and shoe rack after the holiday season.
Whether you’re using a coat rack or closet, invest in some nice, heavy-duty coats that will avoid awkward coat slips and look better if visible on a rack. I’ve picked out two high-quality options depending on your personal style: wooden hangers are classic, but add velvet tips to reduce slipping or metal hangers are modern, but have notches to catch clothes.
Shop Entryway Must Haves: Waterhog Half-Circle Mat (1) | Waterhog Rectangular Mat | Affordable Shoe Rack (Black) | Affordable Shoe Rack (Bronze) (2) | Wooden Hangars (3) | Metal Hangars | Wooden Coat Rack (4) | Metal Coat Rack
Suitcases & Clothes
There’s a reason hotels always provide luggage racks. They are convenient and protect your back during a trip. Provide enough luggage racks for each guest to pop one up for their bag. Match your chosen rack to the wood tones in your decor so it melds into your home’s style. In a walnut wood, Winsome’s is sleek and sturdy.
If you’re planning a formal dinner, plan for guests to hang their dressier outfits. Provide a wall hook or closet bar for hanging.
Shop Luggage Racks: Walnut
Towels & Bathroom Toiletries
Bathrooms are often another pinch point for guests, depending on your space, plan ahead to have enough towels and hanging locations for everyone visiting. Add extra hooks in the bathroom so everyone has a spot.
Create a secondary spot for makeup outside of the bathroom so one person getting ready doesn’t delay showers for other guests. If you have a classic, elevated style, opt for this sleek, metallic mirror. If your style is more colorful or playful, try one of these color-blocked mirrors.
What to Do Early November
Clean Out Your Fridge
Well ahead of time, start thinking about Thanksgiving. In preparation for the influx of food, start emptying your fridge and freezer. Eat leftovers and use excess ingredients leading up to the big day.
Take stock of your pantry at home too and see if there are any items from your grocery shopping that you can use from your pantry stock first.
Brainstorm your menu and start gathering intel on who has the best turkey recipe!
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If you want some help preparing for guests, book a maid service ahead of time as many will book up ahead of these high-demand seasons.
Decorate in Waves
Break up decorating over the month to cut down on the exhaustion and physical labor all at once. When you pack your decorations for storage, consider grouping them in the order you prefer to decorate to make this process easier year to year.
If you don’t normally cook for the holiday, consider testing smaller side dish recipes ahead of the big day to ensure you like the recipe and to make it less stressful trying new dishes on such a big occasion.
Ask About Allergens
Contact all guests to be sure there are no allergies. Make clear notes about any allergies, and strategize with guests if specific plans need to be made for someone’s dietary requirements.
Especially for larger gatherings, plan to label food so people know what it is and if it’s safe for them to eat. Use these mini signs to write what a dish will be and what’s relevant for your specific guests to know. For example, “Mashed Potatoes – Vegan” or “Sweet Potato – Contains Cinnamon.”
How to Plan Thanksgiving Day
The logistics of cooking a Thanksgiving meal are one of the scariest parts, but it’s easy if you’re prepared.
Figure out your Thanksgiving menu early on and make a grocery list. Then, start grabbing shelf-stable items early before they sell out. If family members from your guest list are coming from a local distance, don’t be afraid of letting people bring food. Ask folks to contribute to the menu to simplify cooking.
If someone else hosted last year, asking them to bring your favorite dish can be a thoughtful, kind way to ask for them to contribute and call back to their turn at hosting. “I loved your apple pie last year, would you be willing to bring that this year?”
If your entire guest list is local, consider a potluck-style menu instead! By cooking much less, you can focus on the experience instead.
Plan Ahead with a Spreadsheet
I recommend making a spreadsheet that breaks down recipes into to-do lists and notes any prep you can do, time markers for its cooking, where it will be cooked, and which piece of cookware it uses. Spread tasks out throughout Thanksgiving week.
By doing this ahead, you’ll notice if too many things need the oven at the same time or if you need a second pan of a certain size and prepare for that.
Have a Snack Out
Thanksgiving meals seemingly always hit delays. To avoid hangry guests, plan something simple that can be snacked on all day long. A platter of veggies and a simple, even store-bought dip or mini sausages in a cranberry BBQ in a slow cooker work wonderfully for this. It keeps people patient and fed up till meal time.
Roast Turkey Separately
Opt for a secondary cooking location for Thanksgiving turkey as a turkey roasting pan will eat up a lot of oven space and time from other items. By using a turkey roaster, you keep oven space open for cooking side dishes.
Similar to the turkey, anything that can cook in the slow cooker will preserve oven space too.
Check Your Tableware (& Other Supplies)
Well before guests arrive, take stock of your plates, wine glasses, and silverware. Count quantities and determine if you need more. Remember that many people won’t reuse items between courses and plan accordingly. If you’re intermixing sets, practice your table setting to see how it looks ahead of time.
Don’t forget serving ware in your count-up. You’ll need a lot of separate spoons to dish plates. Another potential oops are household essentials like toilet paper, paper towels, and soaps that you’ll run through faster with more people around so refresh your stock.
Ditch place cards, unless you love them, as they add labor and people don’t always like being told where to sit anyway!
Make Recipes Shareable
If you’re letting folks help in the kitchen, prepare recipes ahead of time to be shareable. Print off your best recipes or share a list of their links ahead of time, so you don’t have to direct every step to your helpers.
Don’t DIY Everything
Sometimes storebought items are just fine! Better yet, turn to local bakers for help sourcing certain elements while supporting your local businesses.
Drinks can be simplified by grabbing a drink syrup that makes a delicious cocktail with just liquor and soda water. Batch make these with an attractive pitcher, and remember to provide an alcohol-free version for those who don’t drink to feel included. Either have two versions made with alcohol in one and not in the other or allow folks to pour their own shots to add to their drink to take a no-spirit base into their preferred strength of drink.
I always recommend a second pitcher with plain ice water too! Water is an essential palette cleanser, and it’s easier if guests can serve themselves.
Plan for Clean-Up
Storing all that food after the day is a game of Tetris few fridges are prepared for, so plan ahead for that. If you’d like to send guests home with some of the food, grab disposable containers for them.
If you’re storing most of your food at home, I recommend classic deli containers. They’re sturdy, stackable, and dishwasher safe so you can clean them up and store them for the future. They aren’t as pretty as glass containers, but they are super functional and take up less space stored when not in use for when you need way more containers than normal.
To limit waste, you can also ask local guests to bring their own containers to bring home some leftovers.
If this is your first Thanksgiving as a hostess, it feels like a lot. We hope these great tips have helped you plan, but as you go forward, don’t stress out. Thanksgiving is just an extra special dinner party and an excuse to see people you love. You don’t need perfect place settings or aesthetic charcuterie boards for a successful day. Just do your best, think of your guests, and enjoy the experience.
Now, take a deep breath. You’re prepared, and you’ll host a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. I know it!
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