I love to think of Thanksgiving as one big dinner party. For a planner and entertainer like me, this is the Super Bowl of dinner parties. I love planning it. You could say I geek out just a little.
Last year, we took our family vacation the week before Thanksgiving. We arrived home at 5:30 pm the day before the Super Bowl of dinner parties, and began to execute the event plan already in place. The kids unpacked their stinky clothes. The Dad ran to the grocery store for the few things that I couldn't buy the week before, and I got to work on the details.
Every year, our guest head count varies. It just so happened that last year, we hit the 24 person mark. This was epic. And it was going to be amazing.
I have 6 preferences and tricks for my Thanksgiving dinner parties. Hopefully, they will be helpful for your Thanksgiving or any other dinner party you might host.
1. Everyone has a place to sit. Notice that I did NOT say 'everyone sits together,' but that everyone has a place to sit. And by that, I mean a seat and an eating surface.
Ideas for YOU that work for me:
--Walk around your house - you will find that you have extra tables and chairs here and there. Two folding chairs here, two desk chairs (and not the kind with wheels) there. Make tables of four or six in your living spaces. You can usually get 4 to 6 people at a 6-foot table.
--If you have three 6-foot tables, you can put them together to make a square. Then, use a king-sized sheet as your table cloth. Seats 10 to 12. If you don't have 6-foot tables, hopefully, you have neighbors. Offer them something in exchange for the trouble of borrowing the table.
--Rearrange the furniture. It is not permanent, and you'll have more space for tables and chairs when you do.
--A fun, retro idea - for those of you with TV trays, you could go 'retro' and have your guests in your living room with their own TV trays, just like your grandma and grandpa used to eat their Swanson TV dinners. Feel free to find a "Leave it to Beaver" episode and play that on your TV during dinner.
2. No paper products. Over the years, I have collected a supply of glassware and dishes from relatives. Do they match each other? The answer is absolutely not. But in a pinch, there is nothing wrong with Star Wars plates. Let's be honest, for the next decade, Disney will be releasing a Star Wars movie every year, so use your Star Wars plates and consider yourself trending with the times. Note: Adults and teens alike fought for a space at the Star Wars table, complete with Darth Vader and Han Solo drink ware and light saber napkin rings (also known as glow bracelets left over from Halloween).
Ideas for YOU:
--With multiple tables scattered around your house, you can use multiple themes. Have a lot of princesses in your house? Just watch as ladies of all ages vie for their spot at the Princess Table. This is also a good time to sneak out a few holiday dishes early. Red plates look lovely when paired with browns and oranges.
--I've been doing this for years: wash cloths. I saw something on Oprah years ago about reducing the use of paper napkins, so we've kept a drawer of colorful wash cloths on hand to use as our napkins ever since. You can buy a pack of 12 for around $5. Roll them up and wrap them with a ribbon, or just put them under the silverware. It totally works.
3. Pull out the glassware. Mix and match as much as you want. It's okay if it doesn't match. We received a few lovely sets of low-ball glasses as wedding gifts, so not only do we take them out on Thanksgiving, but we also give thanks for their continuing love and friendship (aww!).
Ideas for YOU:
--IKEA has a great supply of glassware (and tableware, for that matter). If you plan to have wine, it won't hurt to invest in some wine glasses. I keep them in a storage bin while they are not in use.
--If you have plastic kid cups, use them. Find ways to incorporate them into the table. Just because it's a dinner party doesn't mean you have to be fancy or stuffy, I just try to avoid adding the throw-away products onto the table.
4. Use real silverware. I'll admit. I'm the girl that goes to Chipotle and picks up a plastic fork for my burrito bowl. But that's because I love eating a burrito bowl with a plastic fork, and it's weird to me when I use real silverware. On the other hand, it's weird for me to eat turkey and mashed potatoes with a plastic fork. (Note: Like I said, these are my guidelines for a dinner party, and, if as my guest you asked me for a plastic fork, I would totally give you one. Conversely, if I was your guest and had a plastic fork, I would gladly accept it and chow down).
Ideas for YOU:
--If you are thinking, 'where on Earth am I going to come up with extra silverware?' then this is what I suggest: estate sales, Goodwill stores or clearance end-caps. But a cost free option is just to ask your closest neighbor, bestie or family member to bring their silverware. I called my mom in a panic last year...'I need forks and knives!' She brought me a baggie of everything she had. And the kids used the smaller-sized forks, while adults received the forks with the longer tines.
5. Clear out your coat closet. Remember when we'd go to parties and the hosts would say, 'just throw your coat on the bed'? Well, our beds are up a flight of stairs, so now, I take our family coats and put them on our bed. Now, we use the closet for our guests' coats.
6. Let people help. Truth be told, you'll have guests who insist on helping in some fashion. That's great! Accept the help! Here is a list of ideas of where your guests can help if they're asking to lend a hand.
Greeter: If this is something that you cannot do because you are in the kitchen, enlist someone to open the door and hang the coats.
Bartender: Someone who can provide the guest with their first beverage.
Water: Someone who can fill up the water glasses.
Gravy Maker: Even if it's from a package, it's best if made at the last minute.
Gravy Assistant: If you make it over the stove top, then you need someone to mix it. Forever.
Photo booth: Great project for the kids. Hang a sheet over the messiest bookshelf you've got and throw your kids a cell phone. Make your own props or find them at a party store. Get the kids involved by asking them to take all the photos they can.
Additional side dishes or desserts: Thanksgiving is all about gathering and giving thanks. And for most, it's about traditions. When the traditions are jumbled up, because of a life change, it's the flavors and smells that remind you of those times that bring the most joy. If your guest offers to bring a side dish or a dessert, ask them to bring their favorite dish or dessert to share. It's lovely to hear the stories behind the favorite dish, and it also is a reminder of tradition's past.
Let our lives be full of both thanks and giving this holiday season.
Need any more ideas? Please send me an email and I'd be happy to help!
Amanda DePhillips is a Minnesota girl, married to an Iowa boy. She loves her two girls and holidays, Up North; she's a promoter of memorable experiences, and a collector of great moments. She is also the owner of Ready Set Plan, a planner of experiences: events, travel and photography.