There’s some misguided moral notion—perhaps a hangover from that first Puritan Thanksgiving—that working to the point of fatigue is good for you. Wrong. You already work hard enough.
If you’re hosting, you’ve opened your home to friends and family for this holiday and you’ve probably taken on the lion’s share of cooking. Distributing the remaining work on the big day will give you more time to spend with your loved ones. Best of all, everyone will feel they’ve contributed to Thanksgiving.
In getting ready for Thanksgiving, people put too much thought into how to cook the turkey (there are lots of perfectly good ways to cook a turkey) and not enough thought into how to spread the work. The result: Well-cooked turkeys and exhausted hosts.
My mission is to increase home entertaining by making it better and easier, so I’ve put together the following list of rules and roles for guests. Please share the suggestions below and enjoy a better and easier Thanksgiving.
(My thanks to my blog subscribers who contributed to this list.)
Three Rules for Thanksgiving Guests
1. Don’t arrive early.
The early guest is the unwelcome guest. Hosts should always have one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival. In arriving early you disturb that hour and essentially demand that the host put down their oven mitts and pay attention to you. A carefully crafted schedule goes right out the window. Not cool.
2. Stay out of the kitchen.
Even the most experienced host needs to focus on the tasks at hand. In this case, the task at hand is the complex coordination of multiple dishes in and out of the oven—not entertaining guests who wander into the kitchen to chitchat. Unless you’re explicitly invited into the cook’s lair to help, find another place to hang out.
3. Don’t do things halfway.
If you’re bringing something for the host, bring all the components. For example, if you’re bringing flowers, bring them arranged in a vase. Bring food on the platter in which it will be served, if room temperature, or in the casserole in which it will be heated. And don’t bring something straight from your refrigerator that needs to be reheated. At least bring it to room temperature, or consider heating it and bringing it warm. Remember to retrieve your platter or casserole when you leave.
Nine Ways Guests Can Help at Thanksgiving
Ideally, Thanksgiving is a team sport. Here is my suggested line-up.
1. Staff Photographer
A Staff Photographer will take responsibility for documenting the holiday and distributing photos via email or an online album (make sure they collect everyone’s email address before leaving). Ask them to bring a camera or make sure your own camera battery is charged. This is a particularly good task for a tech-savvy young person.
2. Music Director
If you know someone with particularly good taste and a good music collection, ask them in advance to put together a background music playlist and be responsible for playing it. Otherwise, simply ask this person to pick from your collection. The Director should also pay attention to volume and replenish music as needed.
3. Maitre d’
As in a restaurant, the Maitre d’ acts as host, warmly greets guests, helps with coats and takes care of guests with any special needs, including children and seniors. The Maitre d’ can also help take care of host gifts.
4. Head Bartender
A Head Bartender, preferably someone who knows something about liquid refreshments, should arrive 30 minutes early to set up the bar, procure ice and cut bar fruit. Your Head Bartender can also help you manage early guests (more on that below). If you’re serving a “house” cocktail, he or she can help you prepare it in advance.
5. Beverage Steward
This appointee gets the dinner table ready to receive guests by lighting candles, opening wine and pouring ice water before guests sit down. The Steward should keep a full pitcher of ice water ready and refill water and wine glasses as needed. Make sure your Beverage Steward knows where backup wine is located. The Beverage Steward could also be responsible for making or initiating Thanksgiving toasts. (If you don’t have a tradition of Thanksgiving toasts, this can be a nice addition to the proceedings.)
6. Sous Chef
A Sous Chef is an Assistant Chef. Depending on the size of your kitchen, you may want to designate only one Sous Chef or several. Make sure your Sous Chef understands that the kitchen is for getting the meal ready and not for socializing, and be sure to provide them with aprons. Sous Chef tasks can include:
• Hors d’oeuvres: Garnishes platters and oversees service of hot hors d’oeuvres.
• Buffet: Sets up buffet or brings platters to dinner table. Refills platters as needed.
• Gravy: Makes sure hot gravy is ready, served and replenished.
• Turkey Carver: This role is self-explanatory, but this person should be adept and experienced so as not to botch the main attraction.
• Dessert: Makes sure dessert is ready to go. Takes ice cream from freezer to temper, warms anything that needs to be warmer, puts cakes and pies on plates and organizes serving utensils.
The Busser should work in concert with the Prince or Princess of Pots & Pans (see below) to separate flatware and carefully scrape and stack dishes near the sink until ready for rinsing and washing. Under no circumstances should dishes be placed in the sink until they actually need to get wet. Cocktail glassware should go directly into an empty dishwasher along with any cocktail tableware before dinner. Dinner glassware should stay on the dinner table until the very end because glassware takes up lots of precious counter space.
8. Prince or Princess of Pots & Pans
As one of your most important appointees, a Prince or Princess should arrive 30 minutes early to wash, dry and put away any straggling pots and pans, empty the dishwasher and set up the busing area. The Prince(ss) should make sure one load of dishes is run during the meal, then empty the dishwasher and reload it. A critical task is to keep the sink free of dirty dishes and pots because, as I like to say, once your sink is full, you’re sunk. Make sure you have plenty of clean and dry towels for the Prince or Princess.
9. Minister of Leftovers
The Minister is responsible for leftovers, including to-go containers and bags. After dinner, it will be their responsibility to equitably divvy up leftovers and distribute them, making sure they leave a rightful share for the host.
Two Videos to Make Your Thanksgiving Prep Easier
Weekends at Reading Terminal
Look for our At Home table in the Center Court of Reading Terminal Market on weekends between now and the end of December. My sous-chefs will be there all day to sell books and I will be there as much as I can to sign books. All books come with book-owner’s access to At Home Online, our companion website.
Mt. Airy’s Weavers Way on Saturday, December 19th
I will be signing books at Weaver’s Way Co-op in Mt. Airy from 11 AM to 2 PM on the Saturday before Christmas. Weaver’s Way Co-op, a natural foods grocery, is at 559 Carpenter Lane at Green Street.
The Perfect Holiday Gift
At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining with At Home Online, the companion website for book owners, is the perfect holiday gift. At Home is not available in bookstores, but only from athomebysteveposes.com. Order now.
Thank you for visiting. Steve