The Ultimate Tips For Hosting A Thanksgiving Dinner

| | | | | | | |

Are you hosting a Thanksgiving dinner? These 6 spot-on tips for successful holiday hosting are great ideas that will make your special meal a success.

Thanksgiving place setting with a burlap placemat, plaid charger, white dinner plate and fall accessories.Pin

This post and photos may contain Amazon or other affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase something through any link, I may receive a small commission, at no extra charge to you. All opinions are my own. See my full disclosure HERE.

It seems that hosting Thanksgiving in your home is either a time-honored tradition or else it’s a rite of passage as you enter adulthood.  

From the turkey prep to the table settings, the expectations of both you and your guests for great food and a great time are usually quite high. But there’s no reason that you (the host) can’t have a great time while still enjoying the entire process!

At my house, the Thanksgiving meal is the most anticipated meal of the year!  Even though the basic menu for the big dinner remains the same every year (under strict orders from my daughter), we make plans for the big day weeks in advance.

The guest list, grocery store list, and to-do list are put together well ahead of the big day.

the hands of two people writing on paper padsPin

Having a game plan in advance is the most important thing and is a great way to have a stress-free holiday. Plus, it allows me to be spending time with my family members instead of being stuck in the kitchen all day.

Whether this is your first time or your 30th to be the host for the Thanksgiving day meal, these are my best tips for hosting this favorite holiday meal in your home.

Use an hour-by-hour timeline

An hourly Thanksgiving timeline is a true lifesaver on the day itself! I somehow muddled through the special occasion for years until I finally stumbled upon the idea of using a timeline.

Image of printable Thanksgiving Timeline WorksheetPin

Trying to keep it all in my head, along with all of the other distractions of the day, just didn’t work.

​So, I created one to use myself and it was such a huge help that I’ve made it available for free to all email subscribers. You can sign up for access to it HERE.

Serve your meal buffet style

For easy entertaining, I always serve my Thanksgiving and holiday meals buffet style.

buffet table setup graphicPin

 It’s really the best way to serve, whether you have a big group or a small gathering.

  • If you have the space, set up the buffet for the main meal in the same room as the dining table. If there isn’t extra space where the big table is located, a folding table set up in your living room makes a good spot for a buffet too.
  • A buffet allows you to decorate your dining table without worrying about leaving space for side dishes and platters.
  • It’s a time saver for getting food on everyone’s plate while it’s still warm.
  • It avoids the nuisance of having to pass possibly hot dishes around the table, from guest to guest.
  • Even when serving buffet style, I place all the condiments such as salt, pepper, and cranberry sauce on the dining table.

TIP: Think about coordinating the buffet with what you use as table decorations by using some of the same decor elements in both places, especially if the buffet will be in the same room as the dining table

Thanksgiving place setting with a burlap placemat, plaid charger, white dinner plate and fall accessories.Pin

Set up separate dessert and drink stations

There are three different types of dessert people on Thanksgiving.

Some prefer to have their dessert as soon as they finish their meal and some prefer to wait for a while.  And then there are others who eat their main meal at someone else’s home and then join us just for dessert every year.

One of the best hosting tips I can give you is to set up separate stations for the meal, dessert, and beverages.  Having separate stations is a good option when everyone doesn’t want to eat dessert at the same time. 

My serving layout generally goes like this:

  • The buffet for the main meal is on the sideboard in the dining room.
  • The dessert station is set up on the sideboard in the breakfast room.
  • The drink station is either set up on a small side chest in my dining room or in the kitchen near the refrigerator and ice.

Don’t fret if you don’t have multiple areas in your home to spread the serving stations out!  When I lived in a much smaller home, my buffets were always set up on my kitchen counter.  In that instance I grouped the dinner items together, the beverage items together and the dessert items together.

I’ve also lived in homes with such a limited amount of space, that I set up a buffet in the kitchen for the meal and beverages, then cleaned that up and reset it for desserts and coffee

Thanksgiving place setting with a burlap placemat, plaid charger, white dinner plate and fall accessories.Pin

Encourage conversation

To be a good host, it’s important to engage everyone at your Thanksgiving table in conversation, even the more quiet guests. 

The conversation that goes on both during and after the meal is my very favorite thing and makes all of the prep work so worth it!

For conversation during the meal, I created a free conversation printable that you can print on your home printer so that you can place one at each place setting.

It’s my free Thanksgiving gift to you. Get the conversation starter by clicking HERE.

graphic image of conversation starter questions for Thanksgiving

When everyone has a tummy filled with delicious food and is relaxed from the frenzy of getting the food ready, the after-meal conversation is a wonderful place to learn family history, reminisce about shared memories, or maybe even tease someone a little with a funny story from their past.

Sitting around the dinner table after the big meal is some of the best quality time I’ve ever had with my family!

I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood, but my older brother is a wonderful source of information, plus I love any opportunity I have to “tell on” him!  

The after-meal conversation has also been a place where I’ve learned so much about much-loved members of our blended family.

This isn’t from Thanksgiving dinner, but you get the idea. This is what it’s all about!

group of people sitting around two tables in a dining room during a meal

Here are a few ideas to get a conversation going, especially if everyone at your table isn’t a member of your family or if your guests just don’t seem to be in a talkative mood:

  • Set out a bowl or a jar with slips of paper and pen and request that everyone write at least one thing they are thankful for.  Pass the jar around during the meal, or assign one person (children love doing this!) to read them either during or after the meal.
  • Ask your guests to fill out a slip of paper, to be placed in a jar or a bowl, with a prayer request.  Those requests could be included in the prayer at the beginning of the meal or talked about/prayed over as part of your after-dinner conversation.
  • Click HERE for my list of 5 conversation starters.
  • Click HERE for a list of 10 questions to ask your family around the table.
  • I LOVE this Table Topics Conversation Starter collection from Amazon!  Click HERE for more information.

And one last tip for encouraging fun conversation at your table – make sure your centerpiece doesn’t block the visibility of guests sitting across the table from one another.  It’s hard to carry on a conversation with someone when you can’t see them!

Thanksgiving place setting with a burlap placemat, plaid charger, white dinner plate and fall accessories.Pin

Make sure you’re prepared for leftovers

Raise your hand if you have a love affair with Thanksgiving leftovers!  Everyone at my house sure does! In fact, I purposely cook extra so that we’ll be sure to have leftovers for those who drop by over the following weekend.

Here’s what you’ll need to be prepared for sending leftovers home with others and for any leftovers that you keep yourself:

  • Chinese takeout boxes work great for sending leftovers home with guests.  Click HERE for one-pint boxes with a handle.
  • A variety of shapes and sizes of food storage containers.  Click HERE to see my favorites.
  • Fitted, reusable bowl covers.  THESE are ideal for storing food in their original serving containers.
  • Handy popup aluminum foil wrappers can be found HERE.
  • Many people are huge believers in eco-friendly, reusable beeswax wraps.  You can find them HERE.
turkey and other thanksgiving food on a tablePin

Accept a helping hand

I’m one of those who used to think that I had to do ALL the work by myself in order for everyone to completely enjoy themselves when I hosted Thanksgiving (or any other large group gathering for that matter).  I refused genuine offers of help and would never dream of actually asking someone to help me!

4 women in a kitchen cooking Thanksgiving dinner

It took me a few years, but I finally realized two things:

  • Refusing the help of others actually seemed to make everyone feel more stilted, even though those in attendance were close family and friends.  There’s something about everyone working together that creates a relaxed atmosphere and a feeling of togetherness.
  • While others may have enjoyed not being asked to help, my approach resulted in me being worn out well before the day was ever over.  Picture someone with a grumpy attitude and a face with a pasted-on smile.  Sadly, there have been many times when that was me.

Help comes in many forms when hosting Thanksgiving!  It isn’t just help with the dishes – it’s help with simple things such as the meal prep, extra hands for setting the food out, refilling empty serving dishes, help setting and then clearing the table and so much more.

And don’t refuse those offers to bring something!  Whether it’s a side dish, a dessert, or something else, asking guests to bring their favorite dish will add a huge amount of variety and fun to your meal. You might just find a new must-have recipe to add to your menu next year!

Just writing this post about Thanksgiving entertaining has me so excited for the big day to arrive.  Let’s make this the best Thanksgiving dinner ever! I wish you and everyone who graces your table a very, very blessed and joyous Thanksgiving!

Pinterest graphice for How To Host A Thanksigivng dinnerPin

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Although our home is fairly small, I do have a large formal dining room and a large kitchen table, so our buffet is set up on the kitchen table and then everyone carries their plates (just a few steps away) into the dining room to eat. You’re so right, Suzy, having a buffet allows for plenty of room on the dining table for your centerpiece, candles and the extra plates (bread and butter, for example) that come with a more formal meal. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to head back to the kitchen for seconds (and thirds) and any gravy drips, cranberry splashes, etc., are confined to my kitchen linens and not my dining room tablecloth. Clearing the table after we’ve eaten is easier, too, without lots of serving dishes on the table. That allows for a few rounds of our favorite boards games or just warm conversation before the pies are cut and the coffee served.

  2. Thanks for reminding me it’s just about time to start thinking about Thanksgiving. I usually set up a buffet in my kitchen, too…our dining room is also just a few steps away. It’s just easier that way. Even though the buffet is casual…my china is always used to make it special. Guess I better get busy and start planning the menu…which is always the same, too. Enjoy your Day! 😉

  3. I think I am going to try a Thanksgiving buffet the next time I host. It sounds like alot less work than bringing everything to the dining room table, plus it will be nice to keep the centerpieces on the table. I also like the idea of the separate dessert and beverage stations. I am probably taking this year off from hosting, so I will have to pin this post for next year, or for Christmas.

  4. Eliza Wolford says:

    Such great tips – I especially liked the part about creating conversation topics! This year is my first hosting Thanksgiving (a rite of passage for sure), and I’m beyond nervous/excited. I’ve started prepping extra early, and even had my floors refinished to make sure my home is in tip-top shape. I feel much more at ease after reading your post, and am so excited to see how it turns out.

  5. Leah McDaniel says:

    Love this. I love hosting, and all of these points are great tips for making it happen without a hitch!