The turkey is hot and ready, but the green beans are still cooking. Your brother decided to bring his new girlfriend and now you need an extra place setting. You’ve run out of wine and need to run to the store…we have all been there. Hosting can be stressful, especially as we navigate the new normal of gathering together this holiday season. Leave it to our expert event production team to provide some useful tips for being prepared and staying organized when hosting Thanksgiving dinner.



When sending out the invites, include a date your guests must RSVP by. Make sure that day is early enough before Thanksgiving so that you have time to go get any extra food, drinks, seating, table settings, etc. Having your guests RSVP allows you to know exactly how many people to expect so you can plan how much food to prepare. And, maybe tell those friends and family members who tend to be late, to arrive a little earlier than planned! Just like asking your participants to register for your event ahead of time, planning and knowing who might show up makes a big difference. 

2. Grocery List 

Plan out your entire menu, collect your recipes and then break it all down into individual ingredients, which makes it so much easier to prep your shopping list. It’s a nice courtesy to ask your guests if they have any special dietary needs ahead of time, in case you’re unfamiliar with them. Buy a bigger turkey than you think you may need; it’s always better to have more food than not enough food. Plus, if there is an excess amount of food leftover, you can send your guests home with the extras! Be prepared with extra plates and utensils just in case you need them! Lastly, don’t forget the kids! Some kids are selective in what they will eat, so having a few choices that most kids will eat, aside from the traditional holiday foods, will make sure all your bases are covered. 

3. Time It Out 

Use pen and paper to write down each dish and how long it takes to prep and cook it. Create an hour-by-hour schedule for Thanksgiving Day, plus the two days before. Go through all of the recipes you are going to use to map out what needs to be done when, for every single step of each recipe, and put it on a timeline that ensures everything is finished around the same time. Include what temperature the oven should be at for each half-hour of the schedule, so you’re not caught by surprise when you realize at the last minute that you need to cook your stuffing at 450 when you’re cooking your turkey at 350. You may need to adjust your cooking times and temperatures to find a middle compromise temperature in that situation. Here’s what the schedule for Thanksgiving 2019 looked like. As an event production team, we know how important it is to manage our time given the sequence of events that need to occur.  

4. Do What You Can Ahead of Time 

Anything you can cook or prepare before Thanksgiving Day will make the actual holiday less stressful. Chop veggies, set the table, put out garbage cans and bags near your seating areas, stock your refrigerator with drinks, and clear off any counter space that you may need. Any side dishes that can be made ahead of time and reheated are a bonus, some even taste better after sitting overnight. That way you only have to focus on your main dish. You can also take this prep time to think ahead about what you’re thankful for, so when everyone goes around the table on Thanksgiving Day, you already know what you will say! 


5. Start Early 

It may already be too late for that by the time you are reading this, so start NOW! You may regret starting late and being rushed, but you’ll never regret starting early and having a head start. 

6. Set Aside the Dishes 

When hosting a large gathering, make sure to pull out all the serving trays, baking dishes, and utensils needed a day or two ahead of time. Put sticky notes on each one marking what will go there, so there is no need to rush around trying to find a good dish for the cranberry sauce or spoon big enough for the mashed potatoes. 

7. Delegate!  

Let’s say you’re great at cooking meals, but baking desserts isn’t your specialty. That is where your guests come in! Ask your guests if they would be willing to bring a pie or two! You can also ask someone to bring an hors d’oeuvre (just make sure that person isn’t the same one who is the one who tends to always arrive late). If you have friends or family members who live with you, put them in charge of setting the table, greeting the guests, and making sure everyone always has a filled beverage. Having others help out and take care of the little things can help you focus on the main dish and relieve some of that hosting stress! As event planners, we play the strengths of all the individual members of our team, which is essential to a successful event. The same goes for hosting Thanksgiving dinner, so don’t shy away from asking for help! 

8. Cook Smarter Not Harder 

Try making your mashed potatoes in a crockpot! You can cook the potatoes, mash them up,  and keep them warm all in one pot! This saves time as well as decreases the amount of dirty  dishes to be cleaned later. Just put them in, and leave them alone while you get everything else  ready! 

Clean-up and Leftovers

9. Make a Plan for Leftovers 

Most big dinners end with leftover food, so there are a couple ways that you can prepare for this. Either make sure you have enough Tupperware to send people home with, or ask your guests to bring their own that you can fill up before they leave! If you feel like giving extra this holiday season, take time to research local homeless or women’s shelters that you can drop off leftover food to. 

10. Make Sure Your Dishwasher is Empty 

If you’re not using disposable plates and utensils, make sure your dishwasher is empty before the big day. This will help ensure you can maximize your efficiency when cleaning up. 

11. Enjoy Yourself!

Cleaning up is necessary, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately after you finish eating.  Enjoy each other’s company for  a bit! How long has it been since you’ve sat with these people?  How long until you do it again? Plus, if you’ve followed all of these tips so far, you’re in for an  efficient and easy clean-up. Take some time to be thankful and celebrate the historical  significance of this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Planning Thanksgiving dinner is a lot like planning a large-scale event. You need to know how many people will be in attendance so you know how much food to prepare, what accommodations you may need to make, and plenty of organization and preparation to make sure everything runs smoothly. Do you have any hosting tips for Thanksgiving? Let us know what they are in the comments! 


Monica Roos

Monica Roos is one of the newer members of the Event 360 team, working as the Social Media Coordinator. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2017 and working in the broadcast journalism field for four years, Monica is excited to work in the growing and exciting field that is all things events while working with great nonprofits that support good causes. When Monica is not working, you can find her cooking, hanging out with friends, or spending time with her two high-energy pups.

Share Button