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Holiday entertaining made simple

Thanksgiving dinner setting

Tips from a SAIT Hospitality and Tourism instructor that will make you give thanks

The calendar is marked, the invites have gone out and Grandma’s prized stuffing recipe is on standby. In just days, you’ll welcome friends and family into your home for a Thanksgiving feast.

Hosting the annual gathering is no small task. Between grocery shopping, food prep and decorating your space, it’s easy to feel you’ve bitten off more (turkey) than you can chew.

Alita Brown is an instructor in SAIT’s Hospitality Management program and an expert in entertaining.

“I really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s not uncommon to have up to 16 people in our house for an event.”

Make hosting easier by taking a page from Brown’s book — break down event prep into bite-sized pieces so you don’t become overwhelmed.

Here are her tips for hosting a top-notch event:

One week before the event

  • Confirm the number of guests. Will the crowd be family, friends, new guests or a mix?
  • Clarify any food allergies or preferences.
  • Pick a theme and décor. Consider the details like napkin colour and flower arrangements.
  • Decide on the menu. Will it be a potluck?
  • Make dessert and freeze it.

Two days before the event

  • Set the dining room table:
    • Use an underlay cloth beneath a decorative tablecloth — it prevents spilled wine from ruining a wooden table.
    • Dress each place setting with a decorative charger plate, napkin, name card (a fun project for the kids), water glass, wine glass and cutlery. Only use side plates for eight or fewer guests due to space constraints.
    • Polish the glassware and cutlery if they have water spots.
    • Pull extra chairs out of storage as needed.
    • Find out if you’ll have enough serving ware by placing serving dishes and utensils in the middle of the table — it’s a helpful visual.
  • Purchase the food you’ll be serving.
  • Buy alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages:
    • Stick with one brand of white wine and one brand of red wine — at least three bottles of each.
    • Make sure you have at least six beers on hand for the guests who don’t like wine, along with other popular options like vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, cognac and port.
    • Stock up on sparkling water, tonic, cola, ginger ale and juice.
    • Buy a few fresh lemons and limes for garnish.
  • Set the bar area. Do you have enough clean glasses?
  • Put out the rest of your event décor.
  • Ensure your house is stocked with enough toilet paper and tissues.

Day of event

  • If you’re preparing a roast, put it in the oven before noon — cook it low and slow.
  • Finish other food prep as required.
  • Vacuum the house, top up the toilet paper and tissues and wipe down mirrors. These are great tasks for spouses and older kids.
  • Give yourself one and a half hours to shower and get ready before your guests arrive — no one likes to feel rushed.
  • 15 to 30 minutes before your guests arrive, pour yourself a glass of something delicious and wait for the fun to begin!

Stressed about post-dinner cleanup?

“In our house,” says Brown, “those who cook and prep the house aren’t responsible for washing dishes.”

Cheers — it looks like you’re off the hook.

Check out the School of Hospitality and Tourism to see what else you could learn from SAIT’s expert instructors.


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