This year will be the first year I’m hosting a proper Thanksgiving, and to be perfectly honest, I feel like I’m in over my head—the turkey, the décor, the timing. Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is new to me unless you count my college semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I prepared a meal for three friends. Side note: One guest was my Scottish roommate, so I resigned myself to knowing it would be her best Turkey Day ever since it was her first.
But back in the States where American hosts have the holiday down to a science, I realized I needed a little help before the big day this November. That’s why I chose to tap The Setting’s Amanda Shine, whose New York–based company not only sells personalized hand-thrown ceramics, but it also helps plan one-of-a-kind experiences for clients (along with co-founder Billur Kazaz, the two have traveled across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to plan special events). Since The Setting’s motto is “entertaining should be easy, but elevated,” I knew Shine would be the perfect person to help me plan a charming yet un-stuffy event for my family and friends. “Keeping yourself organized ahead of time allows you to enjoy the company of your friends and family,” she says.
Below find Shine’s advice for hosting a memorable Thanksgiving dinner, complete with a rundown of what to do the week before, the night before, and the day of. You can now let out a sigh of relief (I know I just did).
ONE WEEK BEFORE
Plan your menu
Thanksgiving is all about feasting, so you need to start with food. Once you’ve established the number of guests you’ll be having, you can create a tentative menu and prioritize the dishes you absolutely want to make to wow your guests, says Shine. In her opinion, the biggest holiday faux pas is not preparing enough food. “Always cook more for guests than anticipated, as you’ll likely have additional guests the day of,” Shine advises.
Make room for your haul
There’s nothing worse than coming home with all of your groceries and realizing you have nowhere to put them. Shine suggests taking the time to clean out your refrigerator and cupboard to allow space for all of the food you’ll need to prepare. You’ll also want to clear a spot in the fridge so you can stock some drinks.
Take a trip to the market
You don’t want to leave your shopping trip until the last minute only to find out that the store is out of some of your key items. Go a few days before or schedule a grocery delivery to make it super simple (and to avoid lugging a turkey up a few flights of stairs, in my case). Making a list and ordering in advance gives you time to pick up any last-minute items you may have overlooked, says Shine. And don’t forget to plan for beverages, too.
Decide on your décor
“The most important part of décor is to make your guests feel comfortable in a space you’ve made special and unique,” says Shine. You can accomplish this by highlighting seasonal scents and colors. You’ll want to get some warmly scented candles, holiday florals, and cozy throws that will create an inviting space so your guests never want to leave.
THE DAY BEFORE
Prep as much as possible
The day before is the time to prep until you can’t prep anymore. Make sure all your platters and dinnerware are clean, and chop up veggies or whip up pie crusts so tomorrow will be a breeze, says Shine. Don’t forget to make up beds or wash linens ahead of overnight guests’ arrival.
It can be fun to switch up your décor a little bit every year, says Shine. Now’s the time to lay everything out, including your tablescape. Need a few fun suggestions? “It can be as simple as painting small pumpkins in different metallic shades to line your dining table or injecting seasonal blooms like wheat,” says Shine. If you’re in a last-minute bind, try adding cranberries to clear vases to add a pop of color to the table, she says.
Set the table
“While having a beautiful presentation is important, let your creativity and personality shine through by setting the table with your favorite dinnerware—whether it matches or not,” says Shine. If you want to serve guests family-style, you can place dishes on a cutting board or marble slab in the middle of the table, and add a few rosemary garnishes for a festive vibe.
THE DAY OF
Get the main dish in the oven
Timing is everything, according to Shine. You need to account for the amount of time the main dish needs to cook (the rule of thumb is that you should figure 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per guest when you’re having a larger bird, and plan for two pounds per person if the bird is 12 pounds or smaller). While the turkey (or its substitute) is cooking, you can focus on preparing the sides.
Set the mood
“You want your guests to enter into a calm, cozy, and welcoming environment,” says Shine. Begin by lighting some scented candles in the living space (opt for unscented candles on the table, though, says Shine). Choose a playlist that fits the mood, and set out any last-minute touches like florals that might not have been put out yesterday.
Lay out snacks and drinks
“As guests arrive, have snacks and cocktails ready for them to enjoy while the main course finishes in the oven,” suggests Shine. This ensures no one will get hungry, and warm cocktails will brush away the chill as they come in from outside. Make sure to also have mocktails on hand for those who don’t want to partake in alcohol (and so little ones don’t feel left out).
The most important part of any holiday is being able to relax and enjoy the moment with your loved ones. Of course, not everything always goes as planned, so brush it off if there’s a hiccup, and keep moving. “Remember, a good meal and good company is plenty to be thankful for, so be sure to indulge in this time,” says Shine.
Showcase your holiday appetizers or side dishes on this stunning plate.
Do you have any tips to add when it comes to hosting a Thanksgiving dinner? Share with us in the comments.
Up next is the best easy Thanksgiving desserts that seriously impress.