7 Ways to Maintain Kitchen Solitude (and Sanity) on Thanksgiving Day


Photo by: ANNA PALMA


Guests love helping the holiday host. But too many cooks in the kitchen can make for an overcrowded workspace and a less than cohesive menu. Luckily, there are plenty of ways for friends and family to feel—and actually be—useful on Thanksgiving Day without any of them invading your sacred space (or showing up with three pounds of cranberry-and-whipped-cream “salad”). Like your big dinner, it just takes a little planning and preparation. Here are seven tips for making your guests feel useful outside the kitchen—while keeping yourself calm inside of it.

1. Ask for Non-Food Contributions

Perhaps your mother has a special serving dish or table cloth you’d love to incorporate. Or maybe your sister wants to set the table with your grandparents’ china. Ask friends and family to bring something that will make the day feel even more special, but don’t forget the practical things, either! Someone may need to bring a few extra chairs, and you know that no matter what, you’re going to need more ice—so be sure to put someone in charge of showing up with a cooler full. And when your rich aunt insists on bringing something, tell her to bring really good wine!

2. Set Up a Drink Station

Whether you make a fabulous big-batch fall cocktail in a self-serve dispenser, or leave out ingredients and instructions, a drink station gives guests a lively gathering space that’s not the kitchen. Even better, it provides them all something to do: help themselves to a beverage. Be sure to set out water and non-alcoholic drinks, too, and put a friend or family member in charge of refreshing supplies—preferably someone who already knows his or her way around your kitchen and will bring you a drink when the time comes. Cheers to that!

3. Designate a Door Person

Your guests know you’re thrilled to have them; that’s why you invited them! And as much as you’d love to greet everyone the second they walk through the door, putting a friendly helper in charge of welcoming people means you don’t have to abandon the kitchen every 10 minutes to take a coat and offer a drink. While your designated greeter hangs the coats, your newly-arrived guests can head on over to your fabulous drink station and help themselves to a festive cocktail.

4. Make an Oven Schedule

You’re the maestro of Thanksgiving dinner, so of course you already know what needs to go in the oven when and at what temperature. But a printed copy of your game plan, posted somewhere near the oven, can help keep things running smoothly on the big day. A second copy should go to a timekeeper—someone who can check in on you periodically (be sure to tell them how often) to make sure you’re staying on schedule, as well as offer an extra set of hands (or oven mitts) if necessary.

5. Put a (Small) Team in Charge of Dishes

It’s great when everyone tries to chip in on the cleaning, but there’s usually only room for one or two around the sink and dishwasher. Designating a small team to clear and clean the dinner dishes helps to avoid an overcrowded kitchen and leaves you free to start plating your beautiful pies. And while they’re clearing the dessert plates, you can sit back, relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and reflect on your pretty spectacular (if we do say so ourselves) Thanksgiving.

6. Create a Special Space for Kids

Be the cool relative who reinvents the kids table this year! A day or two before Thanksgiving, create a space children actually want to use by stocking a designated station with age-appropriate activities, including books, art supplies, and toys. Then, appoint a “kidsitter”—whether it’s a responsible teenager or a goofy uncle—to help keep the peace, refresh supplies, manage spills, and generally hang out and have a good time.

7. Have Someone on Call to Run Last-Minute Errands

No matter how much you’ve planned and how well you’ve prepped, there’s always the chance you’ll need something at the last minute. Arrange ahead of time to have a runner (preferably someone who won’t spend too much time at that drink station) ready to hit the road for any emergency supplies like paper towels or ice. Maybe they’ll only end up running to the basement for an extra chair, but hey, that’s still one less time you have to step away from the stove.

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