Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

Play By Play For The Big Day

Written by Patti on November 23rd, 2009


Thanksgiving is here in four days.  I want to make sure you have everything you need.  Grocery stores aren’t usually open on Turkey Day, so lets get cracking.

I just found the coolest website called To Do which has lists for everything.  For a list junkie like me, this is heaven.  But if you are not, I will not subject you to my list proclivity. Except for this one Thanksgiving list. It is so fab.  I have just altered it a bit to fit our needs.

* Take inventory of your dinnerware.
If you don’t have enough matching china and cutlery, use complementary colors or patterns, or go eclectic by mixing and matching.
* Check your equipment:
o Table (one large enough for all your guests)
o Chairs for all of your guests
o Dishware:
+ Dinner plates
+ Dessert plates
+ Coffee cups and saucers
o Silverware:
+ Polished forks, knives and spoons
o Glassware:
+ Water glasses
+ Clean wine glasses
o Linens:
+ Clean napkins
o Tablecloth (large enough to fit your table)
o Cooking and serving items:
+ Roasting pan: Is it the right size for your turkey? Will it fit into your oven? (Don’t laugh: It’s easier to buy the right pan today than it will be on Thanksgiving morning.)
+ Big-enough bowls, pots and serving platters
+ Trivets
+ Bread basket
+ Sauceboat
+ Gravy pitcher
+ Well-sharpened knives
+ Coffeepot
+ Sugar bowl
+ Cream pitcher

* Make a seating chart.
* Work on your shopping lists.
Include ingredients for all of your dishes, plus candles, table linens, flowers, etc.
Don’t forget tonic, seltzer and apple cider for the kids. Prepare a grocery list by dividing it into two parts. (1) items that can be purchased immediately, and (2) items that need to be bought the day before Thanksgiving.
* Begin cooking.
Relish will keep in the fridge for a week; gravy freezes well.
* Select a wine.
Caterers recommend providing a half bottle for each guest
* Consider hosting a potluck. Or if you’re really wigging out – take out or restaurant reservations.
As the host, you’ll take care of the turkey. Two weeks before the meal, ask guests to bring specific dishes, like sweet potatoes, extra stuffing and gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables, dessert, wine and so on. Request that people bring serving dishes for their contribution and be responsible for its presentation. The best potluck foods are those that can be served at room temperature.

* Tidy up the house.
* Decorate your home for the holiday.
* Put clean towels in the bathroom.
* Make a final shopping list.
Remember ice, cream for the coffee and nuts for nibbling in the living room.
* Save food containers and paper bags.
For packing up leftovers and handing them out to guests on their way out. Bags and newspapers also come in handy for making paper turkeys.
* Collect chairs, benches and large pillows.
To ensure ample seating for everyone in the dining- and living-room areas. Folding chairs are fine if you outfit them with a seat cushion or slipcover. Small tables are good for guests to place glasses and dishes on. Cover folding tables with a tablecloth.
* Confirm the number of guests who will be attending the holiday dinner.
* Take a look at the online Thawing Video.
So you are prepared! Begin thawing frozen turkey by placing it in a shallow tray in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing for every 5 pounds of turkey.


* Defrost your turkey (if it’s frozen).
Remember that you have to allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds if you’re going to defrost a turkey in the refrigerator. That means a 15-pound turkey will take three full days, so get started on Monday. If you choose to prepare a fresh turkey, purchase it one to three days before Thanksgiving and store it in the fridge until time to cook.
If you miss that deadline, you can defrost the bird faster in a sinkful of cold water, allowing about half an hour for each pound of turkey and changing the water occasionally. (It will still take 7 1/2 hours for that 15-pounder, so do it after work on Wednesday, then refrigerate it.)


* Do your final food shopping.
* Make a cooking schedule for Thanksgiving Day.
If guests are invited for 5 P.M. , count backward from a 6 P.M. dinner, writing down the time everything goes into the oven or the microwave. Don’t forget the dishes that will have to be reheated.
* Prepare and freeze appropriate side dishes and desserts.
Don’t forget to thaw out the breads and biscuits you made earlier this month.


* Set the table.
* Clear out the coat closet for guest coats.
* Clean the guest bathroom.
If possible, make it off-limits to the family.
* Take the gravy out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator so it can defrost.
* Decide on a table centerpiece.
Flowers or collections of candles work well. Line votive candles down the center so the entire table is aglow. Since it’s fall, you could also try an arrangement of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Place pumpkins, gourds and wheat around the house for decorative touches.
* Prepare yourself, too.
Today’s a good day to decide what to wear and to mentally take yourself through Thanksgiving Day. Don’t worry about potential mishaps. Remember that the important thing is that family and friends are together.
* Prepare and refrigerate moist ingredients for the stuffing.
Store dry ingredients in a separate container. Thaw pie dough and bake the pie. Set your beautiful table with elegant folded napkins.


* Don’t forget breakfast.
Your family will be happier sitting down to an afternoon feast if their stomachs aren’t completely empty.
* Make the stuffing in the morning and stuff the turkey right before it’s ready to go in the oven.
* Enlist helpers to set the table before guests arrive.
Those who are not setting the table can arrange the vegetable plate or other pre-dinner platters. Encourage reluctant children (and adults) to pitch in by announcing that the worst sourpuss will have to scrub the turkey pan at the end of the night.
* Remove prepared side dishes from the freezer.
Just before roasting the turkey, combine stuffing ingredients or place in an oven safe dish or foil.
* Roast the turkey.
* Within two hours after roasting, remove stuffing from turkey and carve meat off bones.
Then, chill in refrigerator before wrapping for storage. Once chilled, wrap turkey and stuffing separately.
* Once guests start to arrive, give each child an assignment.
Such as greeting the guests at the door, taking people’s coats, making a new member of the family feel at home, or getting the younger kids prepared for dinner.
* The table’s set, the guests have arrived, and it’s still a while before dinnertime?
Suggest that everyone write thank-you notes to family members and friends who couldn’t be with you on this night, telling them why you’re grateful that they’re a part of your life and that you’re thinking of them. Have extra stationery, pens and stamps so guests can join in.
* Have a great Thanksgiving!
Be sure to send your guests home with leftovers.

The Day After

* Freeze leftovers if you plan to store them for a long time. Wrap in heavy foil, freezer.

Go get ’em Tigers! You are going to blow the in-laws out of the water this year!

xoxo, Patti


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. My head just exploded. I’m happy to say I am responsible for a dessert on Thursday for dinner with Mike’s family…and that’s all I have to do besides just enjoy my trip!

    Have a wonderful holiday, dear!


  2. Patti says:

    Thank you Darling! Exploding heads must be served in a turkey shaped tureen this year. lol

  3. Thanks,Patti! Very thorough and confirmed my mental lists and plans. I’m doing dinner for 10 and only do this every few years. Lots of work but nice to know we’re capable.