Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year? We’ve got you covered! Camille Styles is the founder and creative director of lifestyle and entertaining blog CamilleStyles.com, as well as the author of Camille Styles Entertaining, a book that inspires readers through the seasons with ideas for life’s big celebrations. Here, the Austin, Texas-based lifestyle expert shares her top tips for throwing a fabulous first Thanksgiving dinner.
My husband and I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner for both sides of our family since the first year we got married. Though we’ve had our share of hiccups (from faulty plumbing to a fried turkey that burnt to a crisp), each year gets a little more seamless, and yes, delicious. If you’ll be taking on hosting duties this year, never fear: I’ve made all the mistakes first, so that you don’t have to. Here are my favorite ways to honor tradition, put a fresh twist on the big meal, and avoid any disasters in the process.
Create a Thanksgiving day timeline
There’s only one way to ensure a stress-free and seamless Thanksgiving: detailed, down-to-the-minute planning. Create a timeline counting down the 24 hours before mealtime, listing exactly when all menu items should be prepared. Then put that list on the refrigerator door and follow it to the letter.
Create “zones” in your space devoted to specific activities
Before guests arrive, designate a spot for coats and purses, a place for younger kids to play, and a self-serve bar that’s separate from the food so that guests flow throughout the room and maximize available space.
Rethink your furniture arrangement to create more space
So your four-person kitchen table won’t fit all the friends and family you’d like to seat for the feast? Consider moving the dining table into the living room, and extending it with folding tables that you can line up end-to-end and cover with a pretty autumnal tablecloth.
Include a couple of menu items that can be served at room temperature so that you’re not scrambling to get every single item out at once
I’ll make an appetizer like a cheese and meat board that can sit out unattended for a a while during cocktail hour. Sides like a Brussels sprouts salad and cranberry sauce are delicious at room temperature, so you can put those out first while you slice the turkey and keep the sweet potatoes warm in the oven.
Try out an unexpected color palette
In lieu of the more traditional autumnal oranges and browns, I like using a palette of indigo, earthy wood, organic greens and white. Then, to create a unified design, I’ll use table linens, dishes, serving pieces and flowers that fit into that color family. Sticking within a limited palette is the quickest way to make a major visual impact while keeping the details simple!
Think beyond the floral centerpiece
In the fall, I love to forage for beautiful leaves and interesting berries or acorns to incorporate into a centerpiece. Pomegranates, winter squash and pears also make unexpected additions to the table and are a modern spin on the iconic image of an abundant cornucopia
Incorporate tradition in new ways
Since Thanksgiving is all about tradition, I love to honor the past by incorporating family heirlooms or treasured antiques on the table. I’ll add a metallic glint with my mom’s vintage brass candlesticks that add a bit of polish to the otherwise natural centerpiece.
Serve food buffet-style
Although I love a family style meal where big platters are passed around the table and shared, Thanksgiving is a day when I usually set up a buffet near the dining table. When a menu calls for more than three items, it’s nice to move everything off the table so that things don’t feel too crowded.
Ask for help
The holidays are a great time to enlist the help of family and friends and ask everyone to contribute one of their favorite dishes to the meal. I have everyone “sign up” in advance so I can make sure we’ve got all the bases covered and there’s not too much overlap (or you might end up with three pumpkin pies!)
Don’t strive for perfection
This is a holiday that’s about counting our blessings, so ditch the pressure, stress, and unrealistic expectations, and instead embrace an attitude that puts the focus back on having fun and creating great memories with the people you care about.
Need some more inspiration? Here are 10 essentials you need for entertaining this Thanksgiving!
A Modern Tray
You don’t need to worry about bringing everything to the table and clearing it all little by little—serve your guests (and clear the mess) in style with a sleek and modern serving tray.
SHOP NOW: Trouva, $26.18
Plates in an Unexpected Palette
Just like Camille suggests, have a little fun with your table color palette instead of sticking to “fall” colors! We like this palette of blush, white, and adding a little drama with black or slate gray.
SHOP NOW: ABC Home, $78+
A Unique Take on the Chip and Dip
Leave the expected (boring) chip and dip sets in the pantry and pull out something with a little more flair, like this orange cut-out bowl. Because serving snacks should still be festive!
SHOP NOW: Urban Outfitters, $46
A Cheese Board (or 3)
There’s no such thing as too much cheese when you entertain (or in general) so make sure you’ve got plenty of cheese boards at the ready for serving ease.
SHOP NOW: Terrain, $68
Photo Courtesy of Sur La Table
A “Make Anything in This” Dutch Oven
These Le Creuset Dutch ovens are classics for a reason. They last forever (seriously, generations), they look beautiful oven to table, and you can make half of your Thanksgiving dinner just using them alone (granted you’ll need more than one!).
SHOP NOW: Sur la Table, $339.95
A Heavy-Duty Cutting Board
When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner prep, there’s no room for wimpy cutting boards. Do yourself a favor and get this beauty—it’s a real hard worker with a deep juice groove on one side, a phone slot on the other, and lots of roominess for your very own chopping olympics.
SHOP NOW: Food52, $99
A Non-Fussy Tablecloth
Time to buck tradition! Don’t go buying a plastic one, but there’s no reason a relaxed linen covering can’t be made just as pretty as your grandmother’s white lace tablecloth.
SHOP NOW: H+M, $49.95
Carafes For All The Beverages
Whether you’re serving up a batch cocktail or a bevy of fresh squeezed juices, do *not* put any ugly plastic jugs on your tables! Just get a few of these beautiful (and inexpensive) carafes for an easy presentation upgrade.
SHOP NOW: H+M, $17.99
Non-Turkey Place Card Holders
Yes yes, we know you know better than to use those odd ceramic fall themed place card holders, so do yourself (and your guests) a favor and check out these modern beauties. Oh *and* the double as napkin rings—two birds, one stone!
SHOP NOW: Food52, $40+
Tupperware You’re Not Ashamed of
You’ve had that warped, cheap plastic Tupperware forever. This Thanksgiving, give yourself the gift of these beautiful containers, (hello, colors!) so you can smile as you’re putting away the leftovers instead of grimacing.
SHOP NOW: Food52, $25+