13 Tips to a More Organized, Less Stressful Thanksgiving 

A small dinner party takes planning. But the biggest eating, cooking, and entertaining holiday of the year – it’s a monster. I’ve got 13 tips to a more organized, less stressful Thanksgiving holiday, so you get to enjoy the day (almost) as much as your guests!

Author’s Note to all the gracious guests out there: I’ve written this with the host in mind. However, my hope is that you’ll find this an enjoyable read, and uncover ways to help your host make this the best Thanksgiving yet.

1. Decide on your menu early

Assuming that you already have your guest list and have set a start time, this is the next most important step. The menu will dictate the planning process, so it’s an important one to firm up early on – jot it down and stick to it.

2. Ask guests to bring specific dishes

Don’t leave this up to chance. You’ve planned your menu and have a vision for the evening, now let others help.

In addition to dishes you request, be accommodating and understanding of your guests’ traditions. Many people have dishes that without them, it just won’t feel like Thanksgiving. If someone has to bring green Jello with marshmallows, don’t put up a stink. They might be the only one to eat it – but so what? They’ll be happy and can bring home their bowl with any leftovers.

3. Besides the turkey, your other absolute responsibility is hors d’oeuvres

No doubt you will make several dishes, and it seems like an easy one to assign, but hors d’oeuvres should not be farmed out to guests, and here’s why…

Appetizers should be set out and ready when your guests begin arriving. Since you cannot rely on any particular guest to show up right on time, and they should be there when any other guests do, app duty falls to you.

Apps should be light and easy. Don’t spend time on intricate or fussy apps, and don’t serve ones that will fill everyone up before the main event. Cut vegetables, cheese and crackers, dips, olives and pickles are great options.

Folded cloth napkin with a Thankful paper note tag resting on a white plate on a wooden table

4. Speaking of imbibing, have a drink plan

Water should be readily available, as well as non-alcoholic beverages, wine, and anything else you may choose to include.

Most likely guests will bring a bottle of something to share, but as host you should have enough to cover.

Set up a beverage station or area separate from food staging if you have the space. Don’t forget to set out glasses, as well. The bar can be set up a day or two ahead, minus anything needing to be chilled.

5. Set out your serving platters

A day or two ahead, select appropriate servingware and utensils, label what dish is used for each and set dishes where they’ll go. Advanced planning means no rummaging around at the last minute trying to find the right platter.

6. Set your table and table decorations at least a day ahead

If you are assigning seats, put out name tags. If you are having a kids table, consider including a small craft or holiday-themed coloring pages.


You’ve got your guest list, have done your research, and know how long the turkey will take to roast. Cooking time is never precise though as it depends on several factors, such as your oven being calibrated correctly, the temperature of the bird is when it goes in, and if it is stuffed, trussed, or spatchcocked. Even if you have in your head a firm 5pm sit-down time, know that you need to be flexible on this.

Be sure to allow for a half hour of resting time when it comes out, as well. If you carve the bird straight out of the oven, it’ll be a mess- the juices will run all over your platter – and the meat will be dry.

P.S. I have respect for the traditionalist out there, though using the pan drippings to make gravy when the turkey comes out of the oven is the last thing I want to be stressing about right as we are ready to sit down.  I love a make-ahead gravy that can be warmed on the stove before serving.

Cranberry tart on a white plate sitting on a table that has a beautiful foliage centerpiece

8. More on timing

What can you get done ahead of time? Are there dishes that can be prepared a day ahead? A few days ahead? Popped in the freezer? Don’t try to cook everything in one day. Make sure you’ve chosen dishes that can be made in stages.

9. Make sure you’ve accounted for oven space

That turkey will need a half hour to rest, so you will at least have a free oven for 30 minutes before sitting down to dinner. But what else will need to be heated before serving? And for how long? Do any of your guests’ dishes require oven space? Do the math and plan ahead.

Turkey roasting in a pan

10. Do you have a slow-cooker?

This is a great tool to use as a stand-in for a chafing dish or warming drawer. If you need extra help getting dishes to the right temp but are low on oven space, crock pots are a good option.

11. All desserts should be done ahead, either by you or your guests

Know what plates you are going to serve on, and make sure you will have enough forks or spoons. If you don’t have enough, ask someone to bring a set. Guests always want to know how they can help – accept their offers!

12. Think it’s over?  Nope. Leftovers!

Having take away containers on hand is a great idea so that guests can pack leftovers as they leave. I’ve even seen cute Thanksgiving decorated foil and paper containers available in stores.

13. Finally and most importantly to remember…

Thanksgiving is fun! You are the host, but this holiday is all about family and friends gathering together, and it’s meant to be a group effort. Ask for help, delegate responsibilities, and by all means let others help do the dishes.

🔗 Don’t miss. All the great things.

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5 months ago

I love the candles and hurricane candle holder as the centerpiece, where did you get them?