Thanksgiving often conjures up lots of fun, surprises, challenges, and (yes) stress. While you may not always know how your new take on cranberry sauce will be received this year or whether your mashed potatoes will keep warm before the big meal, there are several steps you, as a host, can take to make sure the big day is one to remember. That in mind, we created this list of tips, tricks, and unsolicited advice (we couldn’t help ourselves) to help you feel confident that all of your guests will leave not just full, but happy too.
Oh, and we didn’t forget about the guests! We’ve got plenty for all of you, too, to make sure you’re up to date on classic etiquette for a major holiday like this and on your best behavior. (You do want to get invited back next year, right? Thought so.)
FOR THE HOSTS
1. Get creative with the apps.
When it comes to turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and pie, people like traditional preparation more than you think. Stick to what you know, particularly if you’ve made it before and know it’s a hit. Branch out with the party starters. This eight-ingredient cranberry jalapeño dip never disappoints.
2. Don’t stuff the bird.
If you really love doing the traditional stuffing, we won’t stop you. But not stuffing the turkey will save you lots of time and effort. Plus, it’s a lot safer to bake it on the side!
3. Fried shallots anywhere on the menu will win you instant MVP status.
Don’t get us wrong, we love French’s fried onions. But crispy shallots, be it in your salad (try our editor Rachel’s big holiday make-ahead salad) or on the green bean casserole, take things to the next level. Plus, they’re a great way to incorporate a mild onion flavor into your dish for harder-to-please eaters.
4. Two words: dry brine.
The key to a super flavorful, never dry, crispy-skinned roast turkey? Dry brining! Go on, be the turkey hero.
Repeat after us: No one wants mashed potatoes that have lost their irresistibly creamy texture. Once they’re ready to serve, immediately transfer the spuds to a slow cooker set to low to keep them warm (and desirable).
6. Canned biscuits are OK. (In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re gonna disappear first.)
We love a homemade Parker House roll as much as the next person, but a from-scratch bread basket is such a flex that it’s far from necessary. If no one else has offered to bake biscuits or rolls, please do yourself (and guests) a favor and pick up a few of those beloved tubes.
7. Don’t serve salad as its own course.
You’ll minimize extra work and serving a lighter, brighter dish alongside the rest of the meal breaks up the heavier dishes. And while this isn’t scientific, we strongly believe it will actually help people eat even more of all the other stuff.
8. Thanksgiving Butter > softened butter.
While we’re talking rolls, instead of just putting out softened butter for them, make our newest obsession, “Thanksgiving Butter“, a melted herb-y butter for dunking that everyone will remember.
9. Serve at least one fun non-alcoholic drink.
Sure, some people will want to get tossed, but not everyone. A mocktail is the best way to ensure even your guests who don’t or can’t drink feel just as merry.
10. No one actually cares if the pie looks pretty.
Crimping and latticing pie crust is hard work! If you’re not as skilled in the pastry department, there is zero shame in grabbing one of our favorite store-bought pie crusts.
11. Offer guests a drink as soon as they arrive.
Signature cocktail, wine, glass of water, coffee—make people feel taken care of immediately with a drink in hand.
12. Seat strangers next to one another.
Place cards might seem overly formal, but putting people together who don’t know each other well is a good (yes, forced) way to do introductions and keep the conversation interesting.
13. Have some topics of conversation in your backpocket.
Good for both awkward silences and heated moments, safe but juicy conversation starters (Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, Oscar predictions, and upcoming vacation plans) can help save the meal.
14. Greet every guest — and check in with them at least once throughout the night.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of hosting, but making sure each guest feels seen — even with just a quick hello — is so important.
15. Make labels for each dish.
And list allergens. This will save you from being asked 1,000 times what something is.
16. Plan a pre-pie activity.
Consider going for a walk, busting out a board game, even playing a round of tic-tac-toe.
17. Send guests home with leftovers.
Cheap deli containers, often used by professional chefs, are perfect for giving people favorites to take with them.
FOR THE GUESTS
18. Don’t show up with a candle.
They’re overdone. Banana bread, on the other hand, will be much appreciated come breakfast time the next morning. More solid options: a cookbook or fancy cheese.
19. If you’re bringing wine, go screw top.
Before you scoff, you can get quality wines without a cork these days. Plus, they’re easier for anyone at the table to pour.
20. Do not arrive visibly drunk or tipsy…
The meal is long; wait to have a drink once you get to the party.
21. Or right before the food is served.
Put in some time to mingle before everyone sits down.
22. Do not leave immediately after the dinner is done.
23. Let your host know if you have a dietary restriction at least two weeks before.
Ideally they’ll solidify the menu with your allergy in mind.
24. If you’re making something, bring it on your own serving dish.
The host has enough going on. Do them a favor and arrive with your dish in something pretty.
25. Ugh, skip work talk.
Sure, it’s nice to celebrate wins like raises or promotions, but no one really wants to talk about work. There are more fun things to discuss! (See Rule #14.)
26. Ask people questions about themselves.
Studies show that (shocker) people’s number one favorite conversation topic is themselves. Make the most out of your time connecting with friends you may not see for awhile by letting them go on — and be a good listener!