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A Helpful Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving dinner table arranged with food and plates

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? It’s one of the biggest family holidays, and the one most associated with the menu. Thanksgiving dinners throughout the country are so rich with family recipes that each is a slightly different culinary experience. Do you roast your turkey or fry it? The dressing, is it bread, cornbread, or oyster? Sweet potato or pumpkin pie (or both) for dessert?

Whether you’re going with a traditional menu or a different one that’s more suitable for your guests, hosting Thanksgiving takes careful planning. Even the most seasoned holiday host takes advantage of the Thanksgiving hosting ideas we all share as November approaches. But if this is your first time and you’re wondering how to host Thanksgiving at all, don’t stress! 

The key to hosting Thanksgiving is to plan everything, and plan early. Set your timeline – don’t worry, we’ll give you some pointers – and leave as much breathing room as you can on the day before and Thanksgiving Day. Give yourself time to accommodate last minute tasks, as well as to give yourself a chance to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Starting with a timeline that you can tweak to fit your schedule, we’ll take you through the basics, sprinkling in some tried and true Thanksgiving hosting ideas to inspire you. We’ve gathered a few clever time-saving tips you’ll want to consider too! Step by step, you’ll be ready by the big day.

Three Weeks Before Thanksgiving Day

Make a Plan

Dedicate a file or notebook for this year’s Thanksgiving plans, and make checklists as you go along. Start with the basics: how many guests do you expect, and how many of them are children? What time do you want guests to arrive, and how do you want the day to flow? 

You’ll want to decide whether to serve family style, with dishes on the dining table, or buffet style. A good rule of thumb is to go with a buffet for eight guests or more. In that case, know where you’ll set the food, and if you want different stations for appetizers, dinner, dessert, and beverages.

Make sure you have enough dishes, glasses, flatware, for your guest list. Identify a serving dish for every menu item that requires one, and make a note of anything you’ll need to borrow or buy. Plan out the seating, and make sure you have enough chairs.

Now is the time to start thinking about decorating. Consider centerpieces and other Thanksgiving themed arrangements. If you’re preparing multiple rooms for use, decide how you want to make them welcoming and festive, so jot down some thoughts about flowers and other decorating ideas that you can fine tune a little closer to the day.

Create a Menu

This is not the time for new recipes. It’s best to plan side dishes you’re comfortable with making, and if you have a recipe you really want to serve but haven’t done before, try testing it out once or twice. Take the time to gather your recipes and start a grocery list. It’s likely to be a long one, so try to break it up into non-perishables you can buy a week or so ahead, and perishables you’ll need to pick up a day or two before Thanksgiving.

Plan your appetizers, desserts, and beverages with simplicity in mind. It’s easy to get carried away, with delicious sounding recipes wherever you find thanksgiving hosting ideas. Ina Garten likes to make one appetizer and complement with prepared items. Cheese, charcuterie, olives, and pickles might be all you need to dress up an appetizer selection.

Similarly, you might want to serve a special cocktail for the day in addition to bottled and can options. Deciding early where you want to focus the most energy and what you’ll just buy ready to go will help you manage your time. Finally, remember to delegate. Identify which guests can bring a side or dessert, and add their names to the menu by the dish they’re bringing, so you can have an easy reference.

Order the Turkey

In order to have enough to serve and have a day’s worth of leftovers, you’ll want three quarters of a pound of turkey for each guest. It’s a good idea to order the turkey as early as possible. This is a good opportunity to look at sides, appetizer trays, and desserts that can be pre-ordered to lighten your workload.

Confirm the Guest List

Get as close to an accurate headcount as you can within two weeks. This is a perfect time to ask for help. If you still could use a hand with sides or desserts, have easy recipes handy to offer if someone asks. You might want one or two people to arrive early and help out – now’s the time to ask. If you need someone to bring tableware or chairs, be ready with a list for those ready to volunteer.

Order Thanksgiving Centerpieces, Flowers, and Decorations

You’ve done the hard work, and your plan is looking good. Time to make yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and shop for flowers. By now you should have an idea of where you want decorations, and thinking about making DIY Thanksgiving centerpieces or looking up Thanksgiving flower tips to brighten up everyone’s holiday is a delightful final task. You can put your personal touch on the day with flowers that reflect your aesthetic, with decor elements to complete your Thanksgiving tableau. Once you’ve chosen your Thanksgiving flowers, place your order. Finalize as much as you can early, so you’ll have time for last minute surprises.

One Week Before Thanksgiving

Set the Table

Your first trial run will reveal any details you might have missed, so set the table just like you plan to on Thanksgiving Day. Remember serving utensils, bread baskets, napkins, and glassware. Make sure you have room for flowers and decorations where you’ve planned for them. This should leave you with a complete list of anything else you need before the big day.

Grocery Shopping

Time to shop for the non-perishables on your list. If you want to knock off the whole list at once, schedule your grocery shopping within two or three days, and perishables should be fine.

Prepare for Overnight Guests

If you’re hosting guests overnight or helping with overnight accommodations, tend to any details so the transition from Thanksgiving dinner will be smooth. Make sure you have plenty of hand towels and soap to last the day, as well.

The Week of Thanksgiving

Take Inventory

Check for anything you might still need, and make sure food thermometers and small appliances are working properly. Confirm with anyone who has promised to bring something, and check to make sure everything you’ve ordered is on track.

Start Food Prep and Cooking

There should be side dishes and desserts you can make ahead as early as the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If you have room to store them, take advantage of another opportunity to leave yourself time on Thanksgiving Day. You can clean potatoes and other vegetables ahead of time as well. 

Thanksgiving Day

Wake Up Early

Get as early a start as you can, set tables and serving areas. If you’re roasting a turkey, get it into the oven, and make sure your sides are ready according to plan. Start with the things that require your closest attention, because you may have company before you expect to. It seems like there’s always someone who arrives early, so be ready for them – perhaps with a task to assign them!

Keep your eye on the food, have a drink, and enjoy the day with your guests. Remember that the reason there are so many ways to find advice on how to host Thanksgiving is because nobody gets it perfect. Give yourself a pat on the back and accept the accolades for bringing everyone together in your unique style!

More Time-Saving Thanksgiving Hosting Ideas

Set Boundaries

Especially if you have a lot of people coming for Thanksgiving, be firm about when they should arrive, what time you’ll serve the meal, what time to end the day, and ask for RSVPs. If there are rules for parking, communicate them, and have activities and distractions planned for when your kitchen gets too crowded.

Cook the Turkey a Day Ahead

If you’re not concerned with presentation, roast your turkey the day before, carve, and keep in a crock pot, on top of a coil of tinfoil to keep it from resting on the surface. To heat, pour some gravy in the bottom to keep it moist.

Check Rental Companies

If you don’t have enough glasses, dishes, or flatware, check your local rental companies. Not only can you rent what you need, but at the end of the day, all you have to do is pack the dirty ones in the containers they arrived in and return them. Less clean-up? Yes, you’ve earned it!

More About Thanksgiving Flowers

Thanksgiving flowers can tie your dining and serving tables together with a look that reflects your personal style. Hosting Thanksgiving is a lot of work, so you should put your signature on it! In addition to traditional fall flowers, you’ll find centerpieces and bouquets in vibrant contemporary styles, as well as striking combinations of dried flowers. Ordering Thanksgiving flowers online is a nice reward for you, and your guests will rave about the beautiful fresh blooms you chose. Your order from The Bouqs will deliver Thanksgiving cheer with the freshest, longest lasting blooms you can have delivered, from the farm to your door in time for the festivities!

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