Expert Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Local pros get super honest with their (often hilarious) tips on making Thanksgiving delicious, chic, and fun.
Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie - Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the most nerve-racking day for so many hosts. You’ve got family, friends, and in-laws descending on your home with high expectations—and you want to wow all of them. We chatted with some of Indy’s best entertaining pros for their tips on how to pull the perfect Thanksgiving together, from table decor to food prep and making piles of dishes disappear.

Home & Table

Mop your floors and clean your bathrooms hours before your event so that the cleaning product smell doesn’t linger. Never light scented candles, you monster. Entering a space is a sensory experience. Let them smell THE FOOD. Have onions cooking on the stove even if you are not using them (because you can always use caramelized onions, duh).” 

Lauren McGraw, event director at Bluebeard and the soon-to-open Kan Kan Cinema

Think outside the box when decorating your Thanksgiving table. Use food items such as corn, gourds, cabbage, pomegranates, etc., to create centerpieces. Pops of color can be added with a table runner: dark purple, gold, or even blue can create a unique and unexpected touch. Don’t skip the candles. The flickering glow creates an intimate mood perfect for sharing a meal with friends and family.”

-Audra Sternberg, co-owner of Common House Indy

table set-up
unfocused light strings

Guest Services

“The key to making guests feel comfortable in your home is to take time to practice mindfulness as you prepare for visitors. Spend the day finding things to be grateful for.”

Spellsisters Tarot owners Kelli Jenkins and Hayley Trussell

Get a wingwoman. Someone who can anticipate your needs and help with the flow of the event without explanation. If you do not have someone like this in your life, find one.”

—Lauren McGraw

Booze & Bevs

Opt for batched cocktails or self-serve wines. Pour your guests their first drink and have a convenient and easy location for them to refill when they need. Have a few choices for the non-drinkers—sober people want to party, too! 

—Lauren McGraw

friends drinking

The Food

Turkey kind of sucks in my opinion. I gotta think that everyone knows it on some level—though my husband completely disagrees with me on this. You look at it wrong and it turns out dry as hell. Yes, I know there are ways to make sure it turns out moist. However, for the most part, everyone has eaten a few dry-ass turkeys cooked by relatives growing up. I sure did, so I guess those memories just stuck. Turkey is just SO BORING.

So, if you’re like me, to hell with tradition! Cook a duck! It has more fat so it’s less likely to become dry even if you fuck it up. Or get wild and prepare a prime rib. The possibilities are endless. You’ll be a hero!”

—Chef Ally Benedyk, co-owner of Love Handle and one of the brains behind Strange Bird’s menu

“Mise en place (French for everything in its place) is not just for the kitchen. You are there to be with your friends and to facilitate networking, not scrambling to find a serving spoon or an extra chair. (Serve) simple, non-messy snackie bites upon arrival. Something cheesy, something salty, something sweet. I love it when Chef (Abbi Merriss) sets out Combos for a super fancy wine reception. A twist on a family recipe that has been modified into perfection, but still takes someone back to a food memory, is what I always want.”

—Lauren McGraw

small gathering with table of food in foreground
washing a fork

The Aftermath

“Get people out. I have a pretty easy out because I have two toddlers, but we still get hangers-on every once in a while. Just tell them to leave. It is that simple. Pay for them to leave if need be—call them an Uber, get them a cab, whatever. Just don’t be passive-aggressive. Thank them for coming and make sure they are safe. We are old enough to not deal with the guilt-creeps. Get them out of your house, make some tea, and listen to your meditation app. Dishes can come out of hiding in the morning.” 

—Lauren McGraw

Choose thoughtful disposables or plates that can easily be reused. Clutter is ugly, so being able to stash used items somewhere besides the sink is key. Having a discrete bus tub to be taken care of after your guests leave is also helpful. Nobody wants to look at dirty dishes—and you don’t want your guests to feel like they need to wash dishes. Ever. ‘Damnit, Lisa, get away from the sink’ is something that I never want to say.

—Lauren McGraw

Sarah Murrell is a regular contributor to Indy Maven. 

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