9 Steps to a Beautiful and Stress Free Thanksgiving | Step One - Who's Coming? The Guest List.

Over the river, and through the wood,
 And straight through the barn-yard gate.
      We seem to go
      Extremely slow,—
 It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the wood—
 Now grandmother’s cap I spy!
      Hurrah for the fun!
      Is the pudding done?
 Hurrah for the pumpkin-pie!

Lydia Maria Child, Thanksgiving Day

2016 Thanksgiving Guide

Corrina and I have hosted Thanksgiving every year since the beginning of our relationship. Long before we were married, Thanksgiving had become our personal Super Bowl. It married my love of cooking with her love of hosting. It allowed for celebrating that union in grand style with our closest friends and family.

On our first Thanksgiving, we flew by the seat of our pants.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) we had a nice, albeit uneventful, Thanksgiving. The turkey was moist and delicious … when it finished roasting, an hour and a half later than planned. This may have had something to do with it still being a little frozen when it went into the oven.

I made up for it the next year. This time the turkey was done an hour early. I learned a valuable lesson that year.  If you brine your turkey, the brine acts like an insurance policy against dry turkey and poor timing.  

2016 will be our 10th Thanksgiving hosting together as a family. We have two children now which adds a whole new dimension to hosting such an event. As we plan our Thanksgiving I would like to share our process with you and impart some of the lessons that I have learned. My goal is that this will be a step by step guide to hosting your very own Thanksgiving. Some of the lessons I’ve been taught by the hosts and hostess of our past and some that I have learned the hard way.

It really does not matter if this is your first time hosting or your 21st time hosting. Your friends, family members, maybe a stranger and the occasional “odd” uncle all staring up at you from their seats as you serve them a bounty of dishes that you danced all day, night, and week to make. What are you made of? Steel? It can be nerve racking!

And that leads us to step one. Who’s coming?

Step One - Who's Coming? The Guest List.

So you’ve decided to host Thanksgiving. Congratulations! You might be nuts.

The guest list is very very important. It will dictate many things about the day; how much food to prepare, how many seats to set, and most importantly, how many hands you’ll have to help wash dishes.

There is no time like the present to start thinking about the guest lists. There are two approaches you can take to this. First, how many people can you accommodate? Second, forget how many people you can accommodate. Who do you want to share your table with on Thanksgiving? If you choose number two, you may need a bigger table. We’ll get to that, though. That’s something that we can help you with.

Seats at the table

A formal table spacing is 24” per adult. Depending upon your desired level of formality you can adjust that number accordingly. Kids take up less physical space at the table, but a place setting is a place setting. It’s a good idea to keep both of those things in mind when determining room at the table.  

With a sit down dinner you will be locked into a 20” to 24” space requirement. Chairs and plates are the size they are. If you choose to go with a more casual buffet style, you can get away with a lot less. If Thanksgiving dinner is being served at a time that conflicts with football you may not see everyone at the table at the same time anyway.


Do you want to send a written invitation or will a phone call suffice. For a formal event a written invitation is worth the expense. It helps to set the tone long before everyone is gathered around your table. For everything else, I like online invitations. They’re less formal than something sent through the mail, but it still says “I’m taking my job of hosting serious and I would like it very much if you were to respect that and act accordingly, thank you very much.”

There are plenty of great options available. Anywhere from from a free service to “Yeah? No, seriously. How much is this?” I have used Punch Bowl and Evite, but I like Greenvelope the best.

No matter what form of invitation you choose, you’ll inevitably still have to make some phone calls.

Dietary restrictions

The invitation is a wonderful tool to ask for feedback regarding food allergies and dietary restrictions. In no way are you obligated to change your entire menu to accommodate, though. If that were the case vegans would never be invited to anyone's Thanksgiving, BBQ or birthday party. But every guest should always be able to leave your table having had enough to eat and enjoyed themselves. This usually means, at the very minimum, one dish from every course.

Bringing a dish

This depends on your assessment of your invitees. If you only have one or two who would actually enjoy preparing a dish to bring, it is best to omit any reference from your invitation. Those are conversation that you could have in person or over the phone.

If the majority of your guests love to cook it can be a great way to share both the burden and pleasure of feeding your friends and family. Starting that conversation now will allow you to plan your menu sooner rather than later.

If you decide that you do want to solicit dishes in your invitation, it is best to offer a category or two of dishes that you would like people to share, such as hors d'oeuvre, wine or dessert. You can keep track of dishes through a Google doc shared with your guests or something more formal like Thing to Bring.

After many Christmases without any Tupperware left, we started to also include something to the effects of, “I am excited to share my table with you and share what food remains, but if you would like to take some home, please bring something to take it in.” Now we just purchase a large pack or two of cheap Gladware before hand knowing that it’ll leave and never return and that’s okay.  

Kids tables

I detest the idea of kids tables. It’s understandable that depending upon who you invite and who RSVPs, that you may want to protect your children from the potential shock of dining with them. But maybe it’s worth the risk.

As our family has grown and as our siblings have created nieces and nephews and our friends have created little ones, it can be tempting. As our table has grown our Thanksgivings have changed. But some of the little people we don’t get to see very often. By next year they will be a completely different person and the year after that they’ll be a teenager and want nothing to do with us. No, I want them close by so they can participate in the conversation and festivities.  

We are all trying to raise healthy and happy adults with strong family values. Having children be a part of the dinner and not apart from the dinner will create better conversations and incredible memories. No amount of adult conversation is worth my children missing out on four generations gathered around the table to give thanks. That’s something they won’t always be able to do.

A place for everyone at the table

It was our Thanksgiving journey that led us to find Home and Timber’s specialty.

Are you ready for the sales pitch?

Home and Timber does tables that do away with the kids table. Tables that have a place for everyone. Tables that aren’t just a table with a card table stuck on the end with two or three table cloths over top. No. We do tables that “wow”!

Home and Timber has 28 different table styles that are available with up to either x12 12” leaves or x6 16” plank top leaves. Go from comfortable seating for six around a 42” x 60” trestle to seating for eight with two leaves to seating for 20 with all x12 leaves.

To help with seating 20, we offer a selection of hardwood chairs that can be crafted in a matching wood and finish or beautiful matching extension benches that expand along with the table. They go from seating 3 or 4 to seating for 6 or 8!

All made in the USA from the premium solid American hardwood of your choice and finished in one of six breathtaking finishes.

Custom made. For you.

It’s not too late to make this the Thanksgiving they will never forget.  

Stay tuned for Step Two


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