Simple things that make or break Turkey Day.

By Rochelle Bilow
Updated October 31, 2017
Credit: Manny Rodriguez/Getty Images

I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for years, but the hardest job has always fallen on my mother: Every year, our family treks to my parents’ house in Upstate New York. Although I baste the turkey and crimp the pie crust, my mother plans and handles all of the sticky logistics such as when to buy the turkey, how many serving platters are needed, how to set the table, and where we’re going to store all those leftovers… These are all considerations that have never even entered my mind. Until this year.

This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving. Everyone is coming to my house, which means that not only am I going to cook the meal, I’m responsible for figuring out where everyone’s going to sit, what they’re going to eat off of (because my four mismatched plates won’t do), and how to entertain everyone while the feast roasts, simmers, and bakes away.

Planning the menu was easy. Organizing everything else was a bit of a challenge. Hosting Thanksgiving simply isn’t as casual as a Friday night dinner party with friends — nor should it be. But because of that, there are so many odds and ends to consider that might not otherwise cross your mind. And so I present: The 9 totally-random-but-important things you’ll need when hosting your first real “adult” Thanksgiving.

A tablecloth

My boyfriend and I eat all of our meals off of the cheapest Ikea table we could afford. Although we treated it with an attractive stain to improve the color, it still gives off major “I was cheap and belong in a college dorm” vibes. The best fix, short of buying a brand-new table? A simple, sophisticated linen tablecloth. Linen is the ideal fabric, because it can handle a few wrinkles without coming across as messy or disheveled. Measure your table, then add 12 inches at minimum to the diameter to account for the “drop;” add more if you want a formal look. Do your math!


I use cloth napkins for everyday meals, but this concept was foreign to my partner, who was happy tearing off a length of paper towel to catch any dinnertime spills. Although you certainly don’t need to invest in the reusable variety, you will want to have something actually labeled as a napkin on the table for guests. Extra-thick Bounty and your guests’ sleeves won’t cut it for Thanksgiving.

Serving platters

Serving dishes and platters are extraneous for everyday meals — why transfer the instant rice to a separate dish just to spoon it onto your plate? — but they’re a must for formal dining. Remember that in most Thanksgiving scenarios, your guests will be serving themselves from the table, not the stovetop. Anything that comes from a sauce pot, skillet, or roasting tray should be transferred to a heatproof platter or serving bowl. Most casserole dishes can be brought right to the table, but don’t forget a trivet to rest it on, so the heat from the dish doesn’t damage the table or your guests’ hands. And of course, you’ll need a large, wide platter for presenting your gorgeous carved turkey.

Serving utensils

Plan on having a set of utensils for every platter. That way, you’ll avoid passing utensils back and forth across the table, or worse, forcing your guests to scoop up a second-helping of stuffing with their already-used spoon.

More glasses than you think you need

I drink everything, from tea to wine, out of a small ceramic cup I bought years ago. But a formal dinner calls for multiple glasses. Plan on everyone having both a water and wine glass with the meal, as well as extras for before and after. It’s not the biggest deal in the world to have to wash glasses midway through the day, but it is cumbersome. If you don’t want to break the budget on fancy stemware, scour thrift stores for old wine and water glasses. A quirky, mismatched set can be even more charming than costly goblets.

Ample “comfy” seating

You’ve no doubt accounted for everyone’s place at the table. But what about the time before dinner? While you’re bustling about in the kitchen, you’ll want to offer your guests a cozy place to relax. A welcoming living room space goes a long way in saying, “I’m happy you’re here and want you to stay” (even if you’re not, and don’t). Of course, some guests will congregate around you in the kitchen no matter what — but it’s nice to offer a cushy couch and plush armchair for quiet in-between-eating moments.

Games, a television, and magazines

For many, Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without the game or parade on TV, even if it’s in the background. If your family isn’t the television type, offer other means of entertainment while they wait for and relax after dinner. A deck of cards or a Scrabble board are both tried-and-true ice breakers!

Watch: How to Make a Thanksgiving Leftover Breakfast Casserole

Containers for leftovers

A gracious host offers leftovers to his or her guests, so you’ll want to have enough takeaway containers to account for the food you plan on keeping and the food you’ll be giving. This is not the place for expensive glass containers — pick up a couple multi-size packs of inexpensive plastic containers, and you won’t be upset when, months later, your sister still hasn’t returned the one she borrowed.

A first-aid kit and medicine

Nobody plans on accidents, upset stomachs, or headaches. But they happen — and if they do, you’ll be ready with bandages, antacids, and aspirin.