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Thanksgiving Entertaining Tips For a Large Crowd

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It's that time of year again. These Thanksgiving entertaining tips will help you serve a large crowd with no stress.

Every year I host a crowd of at least 20 people for Thanksgiving.

There is lots of food, laughing, and great conversation. And the one thing that is always missing – thankfully – is stress.

I won't have it.

People seem to be surprised at this.

20 guests and no stress?

What is your secret?

The Two Most Important Things

There really isn't a secret – I just do two things:

  • keep my expectations low (my guests are not demanding either)
  • and planning ahead

Be Realistic

The most important of all the Thanksgiving entertaining tips that I will share is this: keep your expectations low.

If you have this storybook image in your mind of what the perfect Thanksgiving dinner should be like – scrap that right now.

That vision will be your undoing.

Instead, understand your limits and work within those.

Not enough space? Bring out the folding chairs.

Low on time? Buy the pies.

You get the idea.

My Top Thanksgiving Entertaining Tips

Decorate With Flowers

Flowers are a warm and welcoming way to bring a little holiday spirit into the home.

I love holiday decor, but I don't have enough surfaces to accommodate decorations and plates and cups too.

My end tables and coffee tables are virtually empty when guests arrive, so they have a place to put their appetizer plates and wine glasses.

Placing a one or two pretty bouquets throughout the house sets the holiday mood.

Make a Playlist

Music is also a good way to set the mood and break the ice when the very first guests arrive.

If I don't have a playlist ready to go, I end up scrambling around my iTunes for good music at the last minute.

Also, if I don't plan this ahead of time, my technology will always (read Murphy's Law) decide not to work.

Go Buffet Style

In my small house, 20 people is a squeeze. I have long given up on having everyone seated around one big table. It's a great plan for a small group, but it doesn't work for us.

I happen to have a long counter space in the kitchen – so this becomes the buffet.

People can serve themselves and I don't have to keep popping up from the dinner table to refill serving dishes. I put large quantities of food right on the buffet and my work is done.

Anywhere Seating

We have one dining/kitchen table in our home. It seats 8 people.

So, our holiday dinners are more like an open house. People take food from the buffet, they mingle and they move to different groups.

Usually the kids eat first and sit at the table.

Then the adults join in taking the vacated seats or taking plates into the living and dining room.

It is casual and maybe not the ideal way to enjoy a holiday meal. But everyone seems to be having a great time, and they come back year after year. So, I guess it works.

Go With Paper and Plastic

Oh the horror!

There, I was brave enough to say it. Yes, we use paper plates at our Thanksgiving table.

Not just any old paper plate, though. I get the Thanksgiving themed oval platters with matching napkins.

The oval platters are sturdy and perfect for loading up with Thanksgiving yumminess.

I also use plastic utensils – but go for the ones that look like silverware (the first time I used these – people thought they were the real thing).

Our spread still looks classy, yet practical.

Real Wine Glasses

This goes against the grain of my other Thanksgiving entertaining tips, but there is something about drinking wine out of a real glass vs a plastic cup.

I got this set of 12 wine glasses for under $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Since not everyone drinks wine, that quantity was perfect for my crowd.

Keep the Menu Simple

Finally, if you don't want to be cooking throughout the entire evening – keep the Thanksgiving menu simple.

Choose recipes that you can make ahead of time and if your guests offer to bring something, take them up on the offer.

Enjoy the Company

By lowering your expectations, planning ahead, and following some of these Thanksgiving entertaining tips you can serve dinner to a large crowd with very little stress.

Share some of your secrets in the comments below.

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Donna Merrill

Sunday 13th of November 2016

Hi Neena,

I used to have the huge crowd of family coming to my house every Thanksgiving. Because we were pretty far away by car, it was a 4 day stay...Phew That took so much planning.

I like to have a buffet style when dealing with 20 or more people. I also like to prepare food ahead so I can just heat it up. You should have seen my freezer when I was entertaining lol

But now the family has all scattered thousands of miles away and we still eat together - the only thing is we have our computers open and see three families at once. It's a blast and I don't have to prepare anything. God bless technology.

-Donna

Neena Nandagopal

Thursday 17th of November 2016

Hi Donna, What a creative and modern idea of celebrating Thanksgiving via Skype. No cooking, no clean up - I love it!

What would the Pilgrims and Indians have thought of that, I wonder?