Whether you’re hosting just your immediate family or planning a virtual get-together, chances are that your Thanksgiving is going to look pretty different this year. But there’s one thing we know we’ll be avoiding: the usual holiday stress. “The extra pressure of putting together a big dinner is the last thing anyone needs right now,” says House Beautiful contributor Eddie Ross, owner of event space Maximalist Studios. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still host a stylish celebration: From decor to dessert, there are smart tips that will save you time, money, and a lot of headaches all while creating an unforgettable experience for you and your guests. See how Ross planned a truly stress-free Thanksgiving dinner for a few close friends.
Outsource your cooking...
To quote the great Ina Garten, “store-bought is fine.” Rather than spending two days in front of the stove, order your starter and sides from a favorite restaurant and get dessert from your go-to bakery—you’ll save yourself time while supporting local businesses. The key is to decant into a beautiful serving piece and add your own garnishes before serving so it doesn’t feel store-bought. “If you’re serving soup, add some sauteed mushrooms and a crostini with Boursin cheese,” says Ross. “For the pies, make your own whiskey bourbon whipped cream and drizzle on some good caramel sauce. It’ll feel totally homemade.”
You can also have guests pitch in by bringing a side. “Since you'll likely be a small group, it’s not a big ask,” says Ross. “People always like to get involved—and they’ve probably spent the last seven months practicing their cooking skills, so why not show them off!” Assign guests different categories, like an orange vegetable or a starch, to make sure that there isn’t any overlap.
...but go big with the turkey.
The one thing that Ross advises making yourself is the Thanksgiving turkey—and even though it might seem counterintuitive, you’re better off getting a larger one, he says. “No matter what size turkey you get, it’s going to be the same amount of work, so even if you’re just six or eight people, make the bigger turkey and have plenty of leftovers to send home with everyone,” he says. Plus, “a grand turkey always feels more festive!”
Curate a cheese board that only looks fancy.
If you’ve ever bought a pre-assembled cheese board from a specialty shop, you know that they can get pretty pricey. “A really high-end one can cost you $200 or $300,” says Ross. Instead, follow his tips for creating your own stunning setup: First, start with a decorative base, like a large cutting board or piece of marble. (Ross likes to scour thrift shops for old marble tabletops to use as cheese boards.) If you have a cheese counter at your local market, give them your desired budget and party size and ask them to suggest four or five different types of cheese. For the extras, like fancy crackers and preserves, skip the specialty store and head to Home Goods. “It’s the best—that’s where I go to buy all of my oils, vinegars, flatbreads, you name it!” says Ross. “You can find the same exact stuff as in a really high-end market at a fraction of the price.”
Splurge on a single arrangement.
Unless you’re an especially talented floral artist, your best bet is to order one showstopping centerpiece from your local florist—just tell them what colors you want to use and ask for something lush and seasonal—and then head to the grocery store (Ross likes Trader Joe’s) to buy a few bunches of flowers in a similar palette. Use the big arrangement in the foyer, on the mantle, or buffet table, and then arrange the additional flowers in a few vases along the center of the dining table.
Use the good silver—and your dishwasher!
If you have good china or silver, this is the time to use it. “Using real linens might be a lot of work for a group of 20, but if you’re having a small party, you’ll only have a few napkins to wash,” says Ross. And if the thought of hand-washing dozens of pieces of flatware makes you avoid pulling out the family silver, listen up: “People constantly say you can’t put your fancy stuff in the dishwasher, but it’s absolutely not true!” says Ross. “Back in the ‘60s, dishwashers were like going to the car wash, but modern ones are so gentle—they practically massage the stuff off.” Just make sure that none of your silver is directly touching stainless steel (it causes a reaction that can damage the silver), and hand-wash knives, since the steam from a dishwasher can loosen the handle.
Don't worry about matching.
Another perk of setting the table for a smaller Thanksgiving? You’re a lot likelier to have a set of six matching dessert plates than a few dozen, which means you have more options to choose from. But don’t worry about making sure that everything matches—in fact, your table will look even better if you mix different patterns and colors. (And no, they don’t have to be typical “Thanksgiving” colors; “Think beyond the browns and oranges and bring in some bright, happy colors to make it even more cheerful!” says Ross.) If you’re not sure how to tie it all together, that’s where a DIY tablecloth comes in: “Once we knew which pieces we wanted to use, we just went to Calico and bought a few yards of a coordinating fabric to use as a table covering,” says Ross.
Add a few special touches.
If you have the bandwidth, adding just a few special details can make a big difference. “Place cards always make a table feel more memorable, no matter how big your party is,” says Ross, who used a local calligrapher to write out friends’ names. For extra credit, top off their place setting with a little souvenir like a miniature picture frame or a pretty ornament that they can take home.
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