Traditional dinner parties are once again on the rise. With the growing trend of Friendsgiving and cocktail-style holiday parties, more and more people are welcoming loved ones around the table for multiple Thanksgiving feasts each year. And yet, with the busy holiday season approaching, how do you host a party without adding stress to these already hectic months? As with all things, hosting a dinner party at home requires a lot of planning. The more we determine details beforehand, the more we enjoy the party itself. Spacing out the decision making, shopping and prep make for a festive planning process from start to finish.
Begin by determining the best type of evening for your house’s layout and the theme of your evening. For example, are you keeping things casual or would you like to go a more formal route? You may choose a more formal seated dinner versus a more casual buffet-style evening. Do you have outdoor dining areas as well? Do you plan to stay in the dining room most of the time, or will you require guests to migrate to different spots in your home as the night progresses?
Next, tackle the menu, taking into account theme, dietary needs and budget. And most importantly, set yourself up for success while hosting on the night itself. In the end, you want to have time to talk with your guests and enjoy all the hard work you threw into this festive evening.
While being the host or hostess of a dinner party can be stressful, there are ways to stay organized and prepared for your event. Below are some tips on hosting a dinner party at home for Thanksgiving.
Initial Planning Stages for Hosting a Dinner Party
Guest List and Invites
It all starts by picking a date. Be aware of any pre-scheduled parties, holidays or birthdays on the horizon. If you’re inviting a small group, it’s even beneficial to poll the group before choosing a date—this way, you’ve already requested that the date be set aside.
Guest list size depends on the type of gathering and the layout of your home. Remember that a certain percentage of guests will have to decline the invitation for scheduling conflicts, so don’t worry if the guest list is up to a third over your ideal number. Online or paper invites will catch the guests’ attention more so than a Facebook invite, but use your discretion based on your friend group. Remember to include an RSVP date if you need a headcount for buying food and supplies.
Quick tip: include a note in your invites inquiring about food and/or pet allergies. This helps you create early party shopping lists and gives your guests a heads up about your furry housemates.
Start Your Party Prep List
Begin shopping and décor lists with a simple brainstorm. What are your favorite items to prepare? Is there something you’ve been looking to try? Next, break up tasks into three sections: food, supplies, and home prep. Within these three lists, consider creating a timeline as well; this helps put the preparation in perspective and reminds you to take everything step by step. Whichever tasks can be completed earlier on—such as general deep clean of the house or crafts and décor—simplifies prep down the line. In the final moments, the house should be a clean slate for last-minute preparation.
Here are a few things to consider to get you started:
• Is there a color scheme to my party?
• What type of décor do I need vs. how much do I already own?
• Am I using disposable dining supplies or my own dishes?
• Which food items can I prepare a day ahead of time?
• Do I have food to welcome my guests as soon as they arrive?
• What kind of entertainment will I have – TV, games, etc.?
• Can I delegate any tasks to friends and family?
Shopping and Preparation
Choosing what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner has many contributing factors. Consider timing, dietary needs and what you love to cook. Stick with recipes that you’ve mastered, and don’t feel guilty if you have to go and purchase a few store bought dishes to save some time.
When planning a party menu, everything has an ideal timing. Create a balance of make-ahead items, pre-made snacks and hot food prepped in the oven. Consider the number of burners, oven space and prep area when timing out the food as well. If you require any special ingredients, seek these out ahead of time, not in your final shop.
Next, check in with RSVP’s guests and if they’ve volunteered to bring a main or side dish, dessert, or drinks. If you’re throwing a potluck dinner, ask guests if they require oven space for reheating, space in the fridge or freezer, or special mixers for cocktails, and make a list where you can all keep track of who is bringing what to the party.
When planning a budget-friendly evening, remember that simple items such as small plates, cheese platters, and vegetable spreads go a long way and still look impressive. Each snack doesn’t need to be complex or expensive to start a conversation and keep guests happy.
Organizing Your Party Space
A day or two before, choose an easy-to-find storage container for all unnecessary items laying about. This clears up surfaces for food and holiday décor. Next, take any large platters or silverware out of storage and test food displays or tablescapes. Clear as much room in the kitchen as possible, as this will be the central headquarters for food prep. Be sure to pre-determine a garbage and dish plan as the night goes on, and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to other family members.
In every hosting area, consider re-arranging traditional seating areas to create natural pockets of conversation for your guests. Even at around-the-table dinner parties, guests will want to mingle and snack in a different space before dinner is served. Make sure they have access to the bar in a traffic-free spot, and spread food throughout the space so it’s always within reach.
It’s always a great idea to move your guests away from the dining table into another space to enjoy dessert, drinks, and each other’s company. If you have another area to entertain guests in, be sure to tidy up and prep that space for your guests as well.
If possible, put up your decorations and set your dining table the night before to save some time for cooking and other surprises the day of the party.
Use Your Outdoor Living Space
If you have a patio or outdoor dining area, and the weather is warm enough during this time of year, don’t hesitate to utilize it. Prep the outdoor space with blankets, candles and other comforts. Place snacks and even an additional bar outside if possible. Consider fun fall outdoor decorations for keeping the patio cozy in the fall.
Day-Of Hosting Tips
Setting the tone comes down to preparing as much as possible before the party itself. Prep and organize any food—even those that can be chopped or marinated—the night before (or sooner, if possible), and delegate helpers to lay out fresh snacks during the final moments before guests arrive.
In the hours leading up to the party, switch on a festive playlist and set the tone both for yourself and guests on their way. Assign a close friend or family member to help with answering the door and directing coats and potluck items. Since hot food items usually begin their cooking just before or when guests arrive, create a timer system for yourself that keeps you attentive but out of the kitchen to chat and welcome your guests. Remember to remain flexible as impromptu guests may show up and other unexpected things can happen that day – don’t let those things deter you. All the hard work you’ve put into your dinner party will be worth it.
Above all, remember that Thanksgiving is a time to come together after a long, busy year. Everyone is grateful for the open home you’ve provided and will be thrilled to help in any way. With a little foresight and planning, throwing a Thanksgiving dinner party is an exciting way to spread your home’s love to family and friends, and to make lasting memories for years to come.