Hosting a Crowd-Pleasing Thanksgiving Dinner, Decoded

thanksgiving table

Our Food Stories

If this is your first year hosting a proper Thanksgiving, you may be feeling like you're a little in over your head: You have the turkey, the décor, the timing, and about a million other details to consider before the big day. If your stress is setting in, don't fret. We tapped Amanda Shine, whose New York-based company 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.) 

Meet the Expert

Amanda Shine is the co-founder of The Setting, a boutique creative agency that, among its many services, curates elevated events using the founders' expert entertaining skills.

Since The Setting’s motto is “entertaining should be easy, but elevated,” we knew Shine would be the perfect person to help us plan a charming yet un-stuffy event for 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 in the days leading up to the last Thursday in November. You can now let out a sigh of relief!

Plan Your Menu

Thanksgiving menu

Half Baked Harvest

Thanksgiving is all about feasting, so you need to start with food. Once you've established the number of guests you'll be having, create a tentative menu, and prioritize the dishes you absolutely want to make to wow your guests. Remember, you'll want to try your best to not run out of food during the big meal. It's better to have extras for leftovers than to not have enough day-of. 

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 cupboards 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.

Head To the Market

We definitely don’t suggest leaving 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 some cases). Making a list and ordering in advance gives you time to pick up any last-minute items you may have overlooked, Shine says. And don’t forget to plan for festive cocktails, too.

Decide on Your Décor

thanksgiving decor

Design: Anne Safe

“The most important thing about décor is to make your guests feel comfortable in a space you’ve made special and unique,” Shine notes. You can accomplish this by highlighting seasonal scents and colors. Get some warmly scented candles, holiday florals, and cozy throws that will create an inviting space, so your guests never want to leave.

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. Shine suggests, "Don’t forget to make up beds or wash linens ahead of overnight guests’ arrival."

Arrange the Decorations

thanksgiving table

Darling Down South

It can be fun to switch up your décor a little bit every year. 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,” Shine admits. If you’re in a last-minute bind, try adding cranberries to clear vases to add a pop of color to the table, she suggests.

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,” Shine says. If you want to serve your 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.

Get the Main Dish in the Oven

Thanksgiving turkey arranged on a platter with citrus

Foodie Crush

Timing is everything, according to Shine. You should account for the amount of time the main dish needs to cook (the rule of thumb is that you should figure one-and-a-half 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.

fossil smartwatch

Set the Mood

"You want your guests to enter into a calm, cozy, and welcoming environment," Shine reminds us. Begin by lighting some scented candles in the living space (opt for unscented candles on the table because you'll probably want your guests to be able to take in the heavenly smells wafting off the delicious food). Choose a playlist that fits the mood, and set out any last-minute touches like florals that may have bought earlier today to ensure ultimate freshness.

Lay Out Snacks and Drinks

Spiced Bourbon Punch

The Modern Proper

“As guests arrive, have snacks and cocktails ready for them to enjoy while the main course finishes in the oven,” Shine instructs. This ensures no one will get hungry, and warm cocktails will brush away the chill as they come in from outside. Make sure to have mocktails on hand for those who don’t want to partake in alcohol (and so little ones don’t feel left out).

Enjoy Yourself

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,” Shine notes.

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