Hosting a large-ish family gathering 101
November 4, 2017 10:04 AM   Subscribe

For this Thanksgiving, which happens to be right before my 30th birthday, I decided to invite my extended family and friends to Thanksgiving at my place in NYC. At this point it looks like it will be me plus 11 or 12 guests, most of whom are coming from out of town. I would love any tips you can give me about 1) being an awesome hostess in this situation and 2) the logistics of preparing Thanksgiving dinner for this many people!

Things that are already mostly handled:

-My parents are staying with me, and everyone else is staying in hotels/AirBnBs.
-The open layout of my apartment means that with a little moving around of furniture and repurposing of a large table I use as an art desk, I do actually have the physical space to seat 12-13 people at a long Frankentable. (I will have to borrow chairs, or buy cheap folding ones.)
-My kitchen is decent for NYC, and I am a decent cook.
-Everyone who is coming has been to NYC before, so they will know the basics of how the trains work etc.
-Everyone who is coming hates Trump. (I'm very lucky.)

I'm just kind of anxious because I know I will need to very carefully plan my 'pre-production schedule' over the week prior - buying and prepping enough food for the dinner and for pre-dinner drinky snacky stuff, cleaning my place and getting it ready for guests, etc. I keep thinking, like, "oh I'll need to get a tablecloth, and count my forks to make sure I have enough and buy more if I don't, and clean my toilet, and buy extra TP, and hide my vibrator super well, and..." I'm honestly thinking about repurposing the event planning templates that my boss uses to plan fundraising events!

Then there's the question of the rest of the weekend. My cousin excitedly asked me "and what are we doing on Saturday for your birthday??" and I was like "...oh crap I didn't even think about that." This group doesn't need a lot of herding or anything, but I've never had more than three out-of-town visitors at a time and I don't know how best to work out activities/hangouts for the rest of the trip.

But mostly... this is (by design) a bit of a rite of passage for me, a sort of coming-out party as a Real Grownup in my Actual Thirties, and to be perfectly honest I would like to dazzle my family with my incredible and seemingly effortless hostessing skills. So I would like to elevate this above my typical gatherings of this size, which are usually a lot of fun but mostly just involve chips and salsa and BYOB.

Tips? Tricks? Heartwarming anecdotes of the first time you hosted a family holiday? Anything will help!
posted by showbiz_liz to Human Relations (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well, first of all, your cousin needs to ask other people that excited question. Celebrations for all your birthdays but especially ones where your age ends in 0 can be outsourced to your family and friends, ESPECIALLY if you just did most of the legwork to allow them to spend a thanksgiving weekend in NYC among fellow Trumploathers. Call the cousin back quick and say "Don't tell me and spoil the surprise, but I'm so excited to find out what you guys are planning for Saturday, yay!"
posted by Don Pepino at 10:18 AM on November 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

If spreadsheets are your jam, then definitely apply the event planning templates. This is an event, after all.

Can you put birthday dinner plans on someone else's shoulders? Is everyone from out of town? That seems like Someone Else's Job.

Think about what day of tasks can be easily farmed out. I would advise against telling people ahead of time what to do (unless it's along the lines of bringing something.), but for people who arrive and say "what can I do" you'll want to have an answer (and given the constraints of an apartment kitchen, the 2nd or 3rd person to ask might get told "open this wine and go sit down")
posted by quaking fajita at 10:21 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

The two keys I learned from my mom are:
  1. Have a checklist for EVERYTHING. For a large/complex enough gathering, we usually do separate checklists for things to buy, things to cook/prepare, and other things to do (e.g. "iron the napkins").
  2. Make as much as possible in advance. Go down your list of "things to cook" and figure out how long each thing will keep and still be good. Use that to plan out when you'll make them. You'll also need to take into account which need the oven or stove, so you're not planning to bake more than one thing at a time (unless you have multiple ovens, of course). And also plan out how you'll reheat stuff. We tend to reheat a lot of things in the oven because it's relatively gentle, and we can cram several things in there to reheat at the same time.
I guess bonus tip is to not stress, and realize that no matter how carefully you plan, it will never be perfect. My mom has been doing big family gatherings as long as I can remember, and she's amazing at it, and there's still always some little mishap. It's ok. It happens to everyone, and your friends and family will still have fun. Just roll with it.
posted by primethyme at 10:23 AM on November 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

Agree with making as much in possible as advance. Last time I hosted a party like this, I cooked most of the side dishes the day prior. As primethyme says, you will have to plan out how to heat everything efficiently given your oven/microwave space, but that's much easier than trying to cook everything the day of. Definitely make your desserts ahead of time too.

If you want to keep people occupied while you finish cooking, I usually plan some kind of easy appetizer / drinks like wine and cheese, dip, veggies, fruit plate, etc. so people can nibble while you finish up the main meal.

I recommend you let your family come up with ideas for the rest of the weekend - that way you can focus on just making this meal! Good luck - and remember to have fun with it!
posted by FireFountain at 10:30 AM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, don't lay on it more stress than it demands. I get the "coming out as a grownup" notion, but I know sometimes when I have a lot of internal goals and visions for an event, I can get really stressed out about some of the most inconsequential tings and worried that it won't be just what I envisioned. It's Thanksgiving - people are going to show up and have a lot of fun and be festive and it's going to be great, even if some recipe fails or the plates don't all match or dinner is late or whatever. Have FUN and be easy on yourself.
posted by Miko at 10:32 AM on November 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

First, yes spreadsheet. For ingredients, for advance tasks, for day of tasks, for people who want to help or bring something, and for anything else you can keep track of. Check out a few recipes for whatever you plan on making, add a multiplier to the amount of time suggested. Check supplies like parchment paper, baking dishes, serving dishes/spoons now, match them up to your recipes. Hit goodwill or housing works for serving stuff now and not at the last minute. Get extras. Someone will show up with surprise pie or something. Or drop a spoon while the sink is occupied.

My napkin trick is get/create unique napkin rings so that each person can keep track of which napkin is there’s. Ditto to finding a way to keep track of drinking glasses. Wine charms, and someone is surely making a cute rubber band type marker for tumblers.

Food: You can lean on Trader Joe’s for this, as hard as you want. Snack things? Three kinds of cheese, two or three kinds of meat, two boxes of crackers, a few apples, a jar of honey or fig jam, and some pickles or olives. Boom. Cheese plate. You can buy all of that a week ahead. Trader Joe’s for wine. Buy the wine now. You can make pie filling ahead and freeze it, if you’re doing apple pie and have a recipe that you sauté before baking. Only make two kinds of pie, if you’re not a one pie family. Feel free to buy a pie or assign someone else pie.
posted by bilabial at 10:53 AM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

My napkin trick is get/create unique napkin rings so that each person can keep track of which napkin is there’s.

As one of the dastardly Millennials who is killing the napkin industry, thank you for reminding me that napkins are a thing I should probably get for this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, use the event planning forms! First, this next week, keep a big note pad and pen immediately accessible. Write down ALL the details that come to mind, making a long list. It might seem unmanageable at first, but next week you are breaking it all down day by day. It’s MUCH easier to have a daily list for the two weeks leading up to it. Walk around your rooms, envisioning where everything will be. Make sure you add a cleaning list and schedule. Remember to plan for leftover storage. Figure out when you will get yourself showered and ready.

I plan my menu now, printing out all the recipes and keeping them in a file (because I’m 60 and work better off paper.) I then make a grocery list, ordered by dish, so I can shop for one at a time. Do you have room in your freezer? If not, make as much room as you can, identify everything you can make ahead, make it now and freeze it. Today I’m making cranberry sauce and dressing. I already have gravy in the freezer. I will make a couple of casseroles next week. Keep the dishes simple if you can’t make ahead, spending a ton of time in the kitchen while your guests are there isn’t fun for anyone. Make sure you have your bar/drink situation worked out, including ice, you can’t really be a bartender while you’re also preparing the meal. Punch is easy and festive and you can make it ahead. Bartending would be a good job to assign to one of your guests. Don’t go overboard on the appetizers, you want your guests kinda hungry at dinner time. Have cash on hand to send someone down to the corner store for last minute needs.

Your goal for the day of is to only have to cook the turkey and heat up the hot stuff, make the punch, light the candles! A successful dinner is one that YOU enjoy. So plan as much as you can ahead, including laying out serving dishes and setting the table, all that. Look at your list and figure out how to do it all ahead of time. I actually plan my menu by using dishes I can make ahead and freeze. If you have to work on Wednesday and your parents will be at your apartment, maybe give them a list of stuff to help you with if your relationship makes that possible.

You can memail me if you want! My job description these days is “Southern Matriarch” and large family dinners are one of my specialties. And I was a project manager before I retired, ha!
posted by raisingsand at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I sit down with all my recipes, set an eating time, and work my way backwards into a single master schedule for day of. Preheat oven to 350 at 1:30, turkey goes in at 2:00, start boiling water for potatoes at 2:15, potatoes go in at 2:30, etc. This lets me keep track of several dishes at once, get them all on the table at the same time, and makes it easy to tell where timing is too tight or a recipe or I have to swap something out because the bread needs to bake at 450 but that'll scortch something else in the oven at the same time. I often include recipe bits (add 2T. butter to sauce and stir five min) so I don't have to reference the recipes individually.

Then I go back through and say "okay I've got ten empty minutes here, I can open the wine and set out the crackers" or "this empty half hour will be good for chopping onions."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yes, use the templates! I also am a fan of drawing diagrams of which dishes will go where once served (eg position on the dining table and/or buffet) so I can be sure there's room and nothing is accidentally left out. Day-of, I put post-its on the surface where the dishes will go, which helps me (and anyone helping me) stick to the layout. The layout always needs last minute tweaks, but at least you won't suddenly realize you have no room for the turkey/other roast beast.
I am always grateful if there is someone capable of being official carver.
Not sure if your templates have a timeline but I always make one (more for cooking/heating things than how I expect serving to go).
Pre-made (as in Trader Joe's or the equivalent) appetizers are your friend. Or 3-6 cheeses, a couple pounds of grapes, a couple boxes of crackers or presliced baguettes and a thing of mixed nuts. An extra good helper arriving a little early might take over setting out the apps for you.
I assign a chief steward. They're responsible for knowing what wines/other drinks we have, opening them and getting them to the table, plus pouring if needed.
Everyone gets a water glass filled up with ice, then water at the last minute. A couple of pitchers of water on the side table so no one has to go running into the kitchen for refills.
If other people are coming to help set up, divide the tasks mentally now. The Why-helpers ("why do you want me to cut it like that? Why aren't we arranging it like this?") get tasks that both must inarguably be done and ideally that will occupy them for a bit, eg Wash the grapes, while the people who can either do what you need them to do without negotiating or can adapt on their own get everything else done.
Putting someone in charge of music and movement can be good, too. On your signal they can help usher people from one activity to the next.
Decide whether you want everyone to clear dishes (I don't recommend it) or have a helper or two. They should be aware of exactly how you want dirty things to be placed/stacked in the kitchen, and it can be easier to divide clearing by type (eg one person takes all the plates, another gets serving dishes and spare silverware, someone in the kitchen scrapes and sorts quickly while the others take in dessert, plates, clean silverware, coffee).
The more you can parcel out tasks, the easier it is, since it means you have a ready answer when the Is There Something I Can Help With folks arrive. They are wonderful, but without some planning even a nice request can feel like just one more stressful thing.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Delegate, delegate, delegate. (After all, part of being a grown-up is knowing which jobs to take on yourself and which to farm out.) Wine steward. Bartender. Appetizer-refiller. Table-setter. And, of course, birthday party planner. It's a double win for you: everyone will have a good time taking care of their respective jobs, and you don't have to do everything yourself.
posted by DrGail at 11:48 AM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Consider renting the folding chairs and having them dropped off and picked up. I've thrown some big friend Thanksgivings (in LA though) and rental tables/chairs with pickup and delivery was really cheap and easy.
posted by justjess at 11:51 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I post an actual timeline of when to prep what and what goes in/out of the oven at what time on the kitchen wall.

You can rent 14 place settings and chairs, if you wish.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2017

Be thoughtful about scheduling oven time. I've gotten in trouble when I've forgotten that the pies and the casserole and the turkey all need to have different temps and be in the oven at the same time.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:37 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

May I suggest that you think up jobs in advance for your male relatives, and ask them to do them regardless of whether they offer to help? If you wait on assigning jobs based on who asks for them, dollars to donuts you’ll have a bunch of women helping you out, and a bunch of men enjoying the fruits of their labor.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2017 [29 favorites]

Having enough serving dishes & serving spoons is a big one - Thanksgiving involves so many serving dishes. Also think through your gravy strategy, if gravy from roasted fowl isn't something you make often. Do you have a gravy separator? (I think even when you're a good cook, cooking for Thanksgiving can be a bit nervewracking because it involves techniques & dishes that might not be part of your normal routine - but mostly that means things with way more butter than you would use on a daily basis, so everything comes out delicious anyway.)

I love hosting Thanksgiving at Frankentables in not-quite-big-enough living spaces. I'm not sure I've ever achieved "flawless hostess" but there's a 'let's get together & put on a show' aspect to it that I really enjoy. Do let people help to the extent you're comfortable with - I think that's where some of the heartwarming memories come in, in the collective problem solving and taking care of each other.
posted by yarrow at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

At every thanksgiving I've ever been to every mishap is entirely forgivable and forgotten as long as there's booze. YMMV
posted by raccoon409 at 1:56 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you plan to roast a turkey, test fit everything. I had to remove the handle from our roasting tray when we made New York Thanksgiving! We passed that roasting pan to the next tenants, whom we knew.
posted by advicepig at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2017

Yes, count your forks, seriously! I've had to buy extra forks three Thanksgivings in a row somehow.

If you have a tiny NYC oven, don't despair, you can do Thanksgiving for 12 in it (I have!). The trick is to pre-prep all the components for casseroles the day before (that's another tip - take Wednesday off work if you can, that makes all the difference). Then, working backwards from your meal time, plot out your oven and range space and temperatures, putting the dishes that hold heat on first and keeping them warm on top of the oven as the last dishes warm up. You may also need to buy an extra oven rack to fit everything in.

If you haven't hosted anything big before, think about whether you have enough serving dishes and implements in advance. They don't have to be the "proper" ones, but it's annoying to serve mashed potatoes with a soup spoon, so it's worth thinking about in advance.
posted by snaw at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don’t forget Tupperware! At the end of the meal, you need a huge variety of boxes for the leftovers. Also foil and plastic wrap. Yogurt containers may be cheap and ecological but you can’t tell what’s in them the next day when you want your relatives to go make themselves lunch.

Hint for napkins: when they come out of the wash, don’t put them in the dryer. Lay them flat, in a pile, and really smooth them out with your hands. Let them dry this way, in a pile. This gets 90% of the wrinkles out, and frankly that’s plenty flat. Or buy the bistro style which come out of the dryer unwrinkled.

I like to lie in bed and think through every step ... parents arrive. Where do their shoes and bags and luggage go? Cousins arrive. Same thing. They’ve got a starving kid. What do you feed her? Aunt arrives. She Needs a cocktail ready to go to be wowed. ... At the table, what do you need? Salt and pepper. Butter if there is bread. Matches if there are candles. Rags for cleaning up spills. Music? Tissues because someone will have a cold. Bandaids because someone will cut themselves chopping onions. Extra phone chargers and a designated place for them so you don’t have $2000 worth of iPhones next to the stand mixer that spatters. Does your family need to watch a concussion-fest on TV? Will that leave room for conversation somewhere? Have your WiFi password written some place easy for people to read so you don’t have to repeat it twelve times specifying each capital letter each time. Have places for trash and recycling easy to find and clearly labeled. Shoes off? Sign on door and basket or something for all the shoes.

Have fun!!!
posted by Capri at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

- I make a written menu and put it on the fridge to help me not forget stuff and to answer some of the what's this? questions.
-A cooler with a hot water bottle in it will keep things warm
- you'll want a cooler & ice, too
- I always buy extra extra chicken/turkey stock, cream/sour cream/milk, and butter.

Have fun; you'll be great.
posted by theora55 at 4:31 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Napkins: cotton. absorbent. Do Not get slippery napkins. First, they will slide off laps. Second, when aunt Doris drops a fork full of pie into her lap, a cotton napkin will somehow grab most of the pie. A slippery napkin will just laugh as the pie slips off. Or worse, drags the napkin off her lap. I don’t suggest white napkins. They show everything.

If you’re renting chairs/tableware, get a chafing dish or two and some Sterno cans. It takes the pressure off having everything come out of the oven at the right time. Use the sterno for things that can ‘keep cooking.’ Just also be careful that nobody drops their napkin under the dish/next to open flame. Figure out what soft drinks people will be having. Bonus if they’re mixers for cocktails. Get twice as many as you think you’ll need. Put them in a cooler with ice. Block ice stays cold longer so you can get it earlier. This frees up your fridge for food, and also keeps thirsty people from wandering into your kitchen and opening your fridge. I don’t know who in the city sells block ice but I’d put money on Food Emporium. Maybe Key Food. Ask them now when they get ice deliveries. Try to be in and out first thing in the morning on ice day so you can avoid doing real shopping during holiday rush.

If you’re a candles at dinner family, get very sturdy candle holders and good quality candles. If you have candleholders but they’re waxy, but them in a ziplock bag and freeze them for a few hours. Wax should peel or flake right off. You probably know about wick length, but it’s worth looking at when you light the candles.

Flowers? Do you want some? If you want to order for delivery schedule that soon. If you’re picking up, plan for something sturdy and get them Tuesday. You can also go with a plant, for more flexibility.

Along the lines of napkins, get extra dish towels and oven mitts. Bar mops or bar rags are probably most economical. Plain white. Wash them at least twice before the big day, you want to get all the fabric sizing out of them so they’re absorbent and not linty. Have supplies on hand for red wine stains, oil stains, etc, something will spill, either on your furniture or aunt Doris’s skirt. Hand towels in your bathroom should also be easily available. Have a couple of old bath towels handy for some kind of major mess. Read up on how to handle a grease fire because I’m an anxious person, not because I think you’ll actually need it. Get a fresh pack of sponges. Post Thanksgiving cleanup is brutal. If your cookware is stainless steel, get more steel wool pads. If you don’t have a dish washing wand/brush (I much prefer them to sponges, I don’t buy sponges any more), this will be a good time to treat yourself. I like the kind with replaceable scrubber heads, oxo makes a good one.

Will people be wearing shoes in your apartment? If not, have slippers or socks to offer. People get cold, people are sometimes embarrassed by their feet or their stockings. Whatever. Just have a pile of silly fuzzy unisex socks or whatever. Get them even if you think you’re ok with folks wearing shoes in your place. Someone might step in poop or the weather might be really rainy. Have a plan for what to do with umbrellas if it is rainy.

Will you be playing music? Watching the parade? Some other media offering? Work out the kinks of that now.

Medicine stocks: burn cream, antihistamine, Pepto or Imodium, lotion, pain relief, a cough/cold reliever. People traveling all that way may find themselves feeling under the weather, but they’re still coming to dinner. Feel free to also put a bottle or two of hand sanitizer out. And make sure there is hand soap in the kitchen.

I like the Trader Joe’s chicken stock concentrate that comes in tiny pouch tubes. For soups I use it at half strength. No need to lug cartons of stock, and you also don’t have to make scratch stock if you’re not up for it. As much as I love the idea of taking the day before off, shopping will be a zoo the few days before. Try to get the shopping done the week before. Have a plan for the turkey carcass. If the plan is soup, you can make a mire poix the day before, or have a frozen mire poix made now. You can also just freeze the turkey bones and deal with it later. Or you can throw the turkey bones away. Have a plan, be confident in your plant. Someone in your family may have very strong opinions about the carcass, or nearly anything else. Know where you’re willing to be flexible and know where you’re not.

If you’re making wet things ahead like cranberry relish or gravy, you can freeze them flat in ziplock bags, then line the bags up in the freezer once they’re solid. No need to play round container jenga in a cube freezer. Just verify bag size before filling bags to be sure they’ll fit. If you’re baking cookies or making any dough from scratch you can measure the dry ingredients into a ziplock bag now. Just write on the bag which recipe it’s for. This one sounds obvious, but bringing butter to room temperature is faster if you take it out of the box.

If you have a steam pipe radiator that needs to be wrapped, do that soon or have your landlord have someone do it. Never fun to watch someone lean against one of those.

It might be worth a splurge to have someone come over to clean your place after the whole family is gone.

I’ll probably think of more.
posted by bilabial at 5:59 PM on November 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Don't try to do everything by yourself, part 1: Accept the help that's offered by your guests, ask for more help if you need it, and be comfortable with clearly and kindly directing people around your kitchen. Especially accept cleanup/dishwashing help.

Don't try to do everything by yourself, part 2: Storebought is 100% a great option for some things. Even if you pride yourself on your cooking and dedication to quality ingredients, you probably already know what storebought/locally-purchased dinner rolls, desserts, and maybe even party trays you consider worthy. Take advantage of those so you can focus on the stars of the dinner.

Don't try to do everything by yourself, part 3: You don't have to plan the whole weekend for your guests. Identify a couple options for group activities that people can show up to if they want, and also be clear about if/when people are welcome to just come hang out casually at your place. Maybe have a few go-to suggestions on hand for if people ask "What should we do in NYC?"

Things I have previously forgotten in advance of hosting large gatherings and now make sure I think about every time:

- Extra ice
- Beverages I don't normally keep around (I am a cocktail, wine, coffee, and diet soda person, but I often host beer, tea, and La Croix people)
- Food storage containers for advance prep and leftovers
- Does my probe thermometer still work?
- Do I have enough parchment paper, press-n-seal, etc.?
- Is there plenty of extra TP in the bathroom?
- Are the things I don't want lying out while my family is visiting (sex ed books, erotic art, stray bottle of lube, CBD cream, etc.) safely tucked away?
- Wifi details on posted on the fridge so I don't have to keep spelling the dead language password out for people

And one last piece of advice: You WILL forget something. Something WILL go wrong. It's OK! It's how you learn for next time, and people will still remember how wonderful it was to have Thanksgiving at showbiz_liz's home.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:05 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

OH! A probe thermometer with a wire and an alarm. Set it to the internal temperature that you want. This way you don’t have to keep opening the oven, you don’t have six people checking the bird, and you can focus on other things. Also bonus reduced risk of someone getting burned.

You may also consider getting turkey parts - if you’re an all dark meat family there is no need to have turkey breast on the table, though I realize with 12/13 people there’s probably someone to eat anything.
posted by bilabial at 6:56 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anyone you actually want helping you in the kitchen, involve in the planning early so that you know what you're each doing and you're not tripping over each other too much. Enlist the help of anyone who knows your apartment well to help less familiar guests so that you can cook in peace. Or think up jobs for people who are kitchen menaces that will get them out of the kitchen, make a list of them, and post the list on the inside of the medicine cabinet door along with the wifi password and the answers to any other common party questions. In the deadheat portion of the evening when you're trying to make everything come out at the same time, the chorus of whatcanIdooz and wheredoyoukeepyourwhatsits is maddening. I did not prepare for this when I started doing thanksgiving, and I always regret it when a certain beloved relative begins creating her beautiful signature relish tray with homegrown herbs and vegetables that have to be washed in the sink when I'm trying to peel potatoes there and cut up very slowly and carefully over the course of about two hours with a tiny paring knife that has to be found and some of them peeled with the peeler I'm still trying to use to peel the potatoes, dammmmmmiiiiiiiit, and then arranged lovingly on a tray, and which tray would I prefer she use, when the kitchen is destroyed and I'm trying to think very hard about oventimes and not overcooking the broccoli and counter space is scarce and valuable. On the other hand, that same beloved relative has to be there at gravymaking time or the gravy will be All Wrong, and anyway the signature relish tray is a cherished tradition at this point, so it would break her heart and mine to boot her out of the kitchen, so I have to work around the relish tray circus every year. This is your first one of these, though: you might be able to head off the relish tray!
posted by Don Pepino at 7:06 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do your mom or dad like to cook? Or organize? You could possibly designate them to do some of the prep, and they'd probably be delighted to be so needed. Don't forget to count your platters and serving bowls and spoons, plates, silverware, coffee cups. Prepare to serve coffee and tea, pre-dinner cocktails, wine with dinner, etc. It can be overwhelming and I think you are a champ for hosting your own birthday dinner. Definitely discuss in advance! Maybe outsource the wine/beer to a helpful relative, too. One or two fewer things can add up to significant stress relief . . .

If you confide in your parents that you would welcome their assistance with this project - and I am already making lists for a group of merely 8 (and actually, Thanksgiving day is my daughter's birthday too) - they would probably happily round up guests for certain tasks, taking on the responsibility for asking them. People who love you really do love to help! Happy birthday!
posted by citygirl at 7:22 PM on November 4, 2017

If you can borrow a chafing dish or counter top convection oven that would be awesome, it is really nice to have two ovens to be able to do things like warm bread and plates while the main oven is on.

Someone has to carve the turkey, decide who and ask electric or manual? Plan accordingly.
posted by fshgrl at 9:13 PM on November 4, 2017

Rent *everything*! You don't even have to wash the stuff when you give it back (!) - dishes, glasses, silverware, chafing dishes, coffee urn if you have huge coffee drinkers, etc. You can even rent napkins, tablecloths, etc.

I don't know if you have access to a car or subscribe to zipcar, but there's a huge Shoprite in Hoboken (along with a Trader Joe's). I prefer to pick out all my own produce and stuff instead of doing Fresh Direct/Peapod.

One other thing - make sure you check your kitchen knives/silverware/serving utensils before you throw your trash out Thanksgiving night. I know it sounds dumb, but I lost two of my good Wustoffs one year. Too many well meaning people helping clear/wash dishes and I'm almost certain they got tossed in the garbage.

Good luck and happy birthday!
posted by dancinglamb at 2:40 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Borrow or rent the chairs if you can. Cheap folding chairs are typically not very comfortable to sit on during a long dinner.
posted by Ms. Next at 6:12 AM on November 5, 2017

I've gotten in trouble when I've forgotten that the pies and the casserole and the turkey all need to have different temps and be in the oven at the same time

On this note, you can probably just cook everything at 375 and it'll be okay.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:38 AM on November 5, 2017

If you plan to roast a turkey, test fit everything. I had to remove the handle from our roasting tray when we made New York Thanksgiving! We passed that roasting pan to the next tenants, whom we knew.

I love that. Another solution there is to spatchcock the turkey. Then you don't have to worry about height, at least.
posted by fedward at 9:30 AM on November 5, 2017

Like a few people above, I do a full timeline of when various things need to go into the oven or on the stove. One big thing is that a lot of stuff can be made, or at least prepped, ahead of schedule. You don't have to worry about having pie and turkey in the oven at the same time if you've already made the pie. Since pie should typically be served at room temperature, this works out. When you pull out the turkey to rest (and maybe even be carved) you can then finish the stuffing and heat the rolls, or whatever, but it helps to have a plan. (Also anybody who makes fun of you for this will either come around by the time plates hit the table or find themselves uninvited the next year).

If you do this in a spreadsheet you can even break out the oven and burners, so you can identify when you have five things to cook and only four burners, or whatever, and then head off that problem before it happens.
posted by fedward at 9:40 AM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

This has been so incredibly helpful! I will try to remember to report back on how this all goes, but I just wanted to drop in a great tip I got from a coworker: pizza delivery bag! This thing is big enough to put like six casserole dishes inside, if you have something to put between them when you stack them (cheap cutting boards will do). I plan to reheat dishes two at a time while the turkey is finishing and then put them in the bag.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:43 AM on November 16, 2017

On this note, you can probably just cook everything at 375 and it'll be okay.

You 100% totally can. If there's anything that needs more browning on top, you can just turn on the broiler for 5 minutes.
posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on November 16, 2017

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