You have a lot of friends and relatives, but you also have a tiny apartment. How can you fit all your loved ones into a small space for holiday gatherings? Beyond simple space considerations, you may also need to handle the nuances of various family/friendly relationships, different age groups, and various seating or dietary needs. Here are a few tips for a successful, rather than a hectic, Thanksgiving experience.
Round table discussion
You probably don’t have enough table space in your apartment for the number of guests you’re inviting, so you’ll likely need to look into buying or borrowing a table or using your existing furniture in alternative ways. A coffee table can be a serviceable dining surface, and may work well for families—the young kids can sit on the floor around the coffee table, while parents can supervise from the couch. As long as everyone is well-equipped with napkins and you have paper towels handy, the arrangement shouldn’t be too detrimental to the pristine appearance of your living room.
If you have enough room to squeeze in a folding table or a borrowed table, make sure to allow additional space for humans to sit and maneuver in the seats you arrange. Just because you can fit a chair in a space doesn’t mean that someone can pull it out and settle down comfortably (and comfort is an especially important consideration on a waistline-expanding holiday like Thanksgiving!). Having a table to sit at isn’t much compensation for being squished against the wall and going through an epic struggle to enter or leave one’s seat. To create more space, consider converting your bedroom (or another room not needed to host the festivities) into a storage area of sorts for some of your “regular” furniture items, like bulky armchairs or awkwardly sized end tables. This is a doubly productive step in that it opens up space in the rest of your apartment and frees you from worrying about cranberry sauce or rowdy guests marring some of your nicer belongings.
To assign or not to assign?
Assigned seating may be more necessary for a group in which few individuals know each other, or a group containing some people with old grudges or mutual dislike. If you’re dealing with family members and close friends, however, people will likely arrange themselves in ways that make sense. If you want to have a kids’ table, you can make the distinction obvious by using a more sophisticated table setting for the “big people” table and a more fun arrangement for the kids’ table. The youngsters can even participate in a craft project and make their own tablecloth; this will help keep them busy while they wait for the food to be ready. (This assumes, though, that you have an area in your apartment you can abandon to children and craft items, which is always a messy undertaking—perhaps the balcony, or a bathroom… or maybe you don’t want to get into kids’ crafting at all!) You can also stock the kids’ table with a few plates of kid-friendly food for picky eaters—ask the parents what the kids are into, or make a kiddie staple or two such as mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly.
If you don’t have kids involved in your gathering, but still have to split up tables, you could go the placecard route (use pumpkins, leaves, or plain old paper) or be free and easy with the arrangements. An interesting approach to mingling people is asking everyone to switch seats for the dessert course; this could work out either very well, very awkwardly, or somewhere in between, but it’s certainly worth a try.
Food comes first
To alleviate concerns about diet, you may want to collect all the food in your kitchen, or on a centrally located table, so that everyone can simply choose the food he or she desires. This will prevent you from having to place the right serving bowls on the right tables, split dishes into various bowls, or worry about passing dishes not just around the table but around the room—or rooms, depending on how many people you have in your home and how you’ve arranged them. This allows for people to take as much as they’d like, come back for seconds, and not worry about having to pass on particular dishes. There may be a line at the beginning, but there will be more space on the table and happier diners in the end. You may want to show people their seats before herding them into the kitchen, so that everyone knows where to return to when their plates are full. Once your guests’ plates are full of cranberry, pumpkin, and assorted other goodness, they’ll want to sit down and dig in, not stand around confused about seating. You might even consider seating everyone first, then releasing people to get food in shifts. The easier it is to get food and sit down (or sit down and get food, if you put the goods on the table itself), the happier everyone will be.
The big impact of the big game
Depending on your guest list, the television’s physical location, or the game’s temporal situation, the TV and impending football games can have a big impact on your dinner. You definitely don’t want to serve the main course at game time, when some diners may be distracted by visions of pigskin, but you also don’t want to sacrifice your big day to the mighty gridiron. Ask your guests what game they’re set on watching, and allow the TV to be turned on only when the plates are cleared and the tables, as necessary, folded up. This will create a food- and family-focused atmosphere during dinner. The extra chairs you’ve obtained for dinner seating will function well for social time, rearranged around the television for the game (if you must); around a card table, for some friendly post-dinner competition; or just around the room, for catching up with your loved ones.
Your guests will insist and insist and insist again on washing as many dishes as possible, but you should do your part to alleviate the necessity for their assistance. Consider using paper plates or recyclable plastic plates—this may even be a necessity if your china cabinet is not well stocked. If you have a dishwasher, you can load it up again and again throughout the day, freeing your guests from time spent at the sink. And, finally, soak, soak, soak—the scrubbers of even the most expert dishwashers won’t help clean a determinedly crusty pan. Your guests should get to enjoy themselves, not do your dishes, so help make the process as simple as possible for those who simply insist on helping out no matter how much you say no.
If you plan your Thanksgiving gala in advance, you’ll know who’s coming, what you’re eating, where everyone’s sitting, and what (if anything) you’ll do other than eat. The most important component of a Thanksgiving gathering is a relaxed host, and a well-prepared host is a relaxed one. Think ahead this week and next so you can enjoy the meal you’ll have worked hard to plan.