Happy host, happy holiday: Make the most out of entertaining with organization, working ahead

Thanksgiving kicks off the season of holiday dinners, family gatherings and parties to kick off the new year. While it is a time of celebration, it can also be a source of stress for those responsible for hosting these get-togethers.

The idea of preparing for visitors and planning a meal for many can be daunting, especially to those who are new to host or hostess role.

“I think the stress comes from worring about if (guests are) comfortable, worrying about entertaining them, do you have the food they like the wine … those are things I strees about,” said Jessica Dolan, owner and “bringer of order” of Room to Breathe, a home organizing and staging company in State College.

She suggests starting with the outside — cleaning up your yard and walkway — and then working your way inside, paying attention to not only the appearance, but the feel and smell of the house. The temperature should be comfortable for guests, and the scent of a candle, while pleasant, shouldn’t be too overpowering.

Living quarters

One of the more involved tasks can be preparing a space for guests to stay since “guest rooms often become the catch-all rooms for people,” Dolan said.

Before your guests arrive, take time provide them with some space by making room in the closet or cleaning out a dresser drawer.

If you have pets, vacuuming furniture and washing blankets and bedding will ensure a clean, fresh space for your guests.

Simple touches to make the room prettier, such as openning up blinds and making the bed, can make a room more inviting.

Dolan added that a local travel book and a vase of flowers can help provide “space where you want to hang out.”

“I love to have a home that is inviting, peaceful and relaxing for my guests,” she said. “I try to create a home away from home for them.”

If you don’t have a designated guest room in your home, “making sure your guestes have space” of their own, Dolan said. “Don’t make them sleep on the living room sofa if you like to watch the news at 11:30 at night.”


Dolan says to keep dining simple. She suggests planning ahead “so you don’t have to run out at the last minute” and using one-dish meals.

“Who doesn’t like lasagna,” she said.

Dolan said it’s also a good idea to ask if guests have any dietary needs prior to their visit. She also says to have a small variety of breads, juices and other breakfast and snack foods.

And for guests who are not traveling far, Dolan said some of her clients have held pot luck meals where each guest contributes a dish.

The main event

Whether your guests have settled in or are just coming over for the afternoon, the holiday meal is the main event and a lot of pressure.

Local food blogger Melanie Preschutti says that organization is the key to it all.

When hosting a sizable Thanksgiving dinner for 18 to 24 people, Preschutti says that to start, you need to “be your own CEO.”

“Nobody can organize your turkey day dinner for you,” she says “You have to take charge of your turkey dinner.”

Deciding upfront how you want to entertain your guests will make you more confortable, she said.

Make list, check twice

Once you have a guest list and a headcount, it’s time to plan your menu — and your detailed, budgeted shopping list.

The list should include all elements of the meal, such as wine, and “everything down to a package of toilet paper,” Preschutti said. “With 24 people coming to the house, … these are oftern overlooked things.”

For Thanksgiving, Preschutti suggests sticking to a traditional meal. “I think 9 out of 10 people come to Thanksgiving expecting turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes,” she said. It’s like “Christmas without the presents.”

All this planning, she says, can be done up to a month in advance.

“It totally eases the stress level if a month in advance you know what you’re doing you know what you’re making … and you know it fits in your budget.”

Specialty delivery

Two weeks prior to your planned dinner, order as many specialty items you may need in advance. For Thanksgiving, these item may include extra shrimp, oysters, cheeses and, of course, the turkey.

For a large crowd, Preschutti recommends cooking two medium sized turkeys, which will give you more meat, instead of one large one.

By ordering in advance, she says, you can’t “complain if you can’t find what you want on your menu.”

“This town is full of great grocery stores and specialty food shops,” she said. “Order it in advance (and) give them notice. That’s a steress reliever right then and there.”

Cook like a chef

In the last last week before your dinner, prepare as much as possible, says Preschutti. This includes “chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing,” and making things like apple sauces and chutneys in advance.

All this preparation ahead of time will “allow people to cook like chefs,” Preschutti says, referring to TV hosts who have the ability to breeze through cooking steps since the chopping is already done.

Two freezable tips Preschutti gives for this point in time are preparing horderves and pie crust. Making two types of horderves, freezing them, then popping them in the oven the day of your event will simplify the workload. Additionally, Preschutti adds that pie crusts can be prepared in advance, rolled flat, put between layers of parchment paper to freeze flat. When it’s time to make the pie, simply fill and bake.

Ask for help

The one week mark, Preschutti says, is the time to ask for help if you need help if you need it.

“Deligate, and deligate accordingly,” she said. Just be sure not to “let it turn into pot luck.”

For instance, if you need an extra pie, ask someone on your guest list who you know bakes great pies.

And if outside help is offered, Preschutti said, there’s always assistance needed with cleanup.

The big day

There are two ways to serve your meal once it's prepared: sit-down or buffet.

For a large group, Perchutti recommends choosing the latter.

"People enjoy being able to move around on Thanksgiving day, and it’s a lot less stress on the host or hostess," she said. "Let tham all get up, move around, watch football games."

Once the meal starts, don't rush it, Perschutti said — particularly dessert.

"People like to wait a half hour … and that’s kind of your cleanup time."

During that time, she says, put glasswear and silverwear in the dishwasher first. Plates can easily be stacked and set aside for later.

Other holiday meal tips Perschutti offers:

“I always plan for leftovers, and I always invest in plastic or reusale containers," she said. "If you bring them back next year, I refill them.”

And she's never gone a year without returning tupperware.

“It’s funny, but it works.”

“It’s your time to share this meal with everybody, and everybody will love you for it.”