Thanksgiving is next week, and in New York City that means you could be hosting dinner for twenty in an apartment that fits eight, preparing a turkey the same size as your kitchen, and spending the day with relatives you haven’t seen in a year.
Actually, you don’t have to be, says Mark Addison, a design and entertaining expert who makes events run smoothly and stylishly at New York galas and corporate events, and has worked with celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Drew Barrymore and Rihanna. Here, he reveals tricks to throwing a holiday dinner in a small apartment, the key to being a great host, and how to manage disasters on the day.
What should we doing now to prepare to host Thanksgiving?
First, go through your cupboards and figure out what you have [china, serving dishes, flatware, tablecloths] and what you don’t. If you need to stock up, now is the time. Then plan the menu, décor and guest list. Make sure the day works for you and your family. You are a guest too.
Best way to host a dinner in a small apartment?
Think of your apartment as an entertaining space rather than a living space, and don’t be afraid to move your furniture around or into the bedroom. You can rent [or borrow] a folding table and chairs [if your table isn’t big enough]. If your space is small and there’s no room to sit down, consider a cocktail party. I call it “friendsgiving.” It’s a less formal party among friends. I am all about starting your own traditions.
How to prepare your home for the visitor onslaught?
If you have small children coming, remove breakables, and move as much out of the way of your entertaining space so it’s comfortable for guests and your peace of mind. Remember the bathroom is the second most visited place in your apartment after the front door, so make sure it’s clean with plenty of guest towels. Be prepared for nosy guests. If there’s something in your medicine cabinet you don’t want them to see, take it out!
Biggest mistake people make when planning Thanksgiving dinner?
Trying to wing it on the day, and/or making things too complicated. Thanksgiving is about getting together and giving thanks with friends or family, so don’t create a meal you can’t handle. If you have a small kitchen and a turkey is going to take over your entire oven, buy the turkey and concentrate on the side dishes. [Addison is tweeting links to favored recipes.] There is no shame in outsourcing, even if your mother- in-law may not approve.
Tips for decorating the table?
I love a mix and match table, so borrowing plates or dishes is a great idea, [if you are having a big dinner]. Décor can include a bowl of fresh fruit or vegetables representing the bounty of the harvest, fall leaves and flowers.
Is it okay to deviate from the traditional meal?
People do come to the table with certain expectations, so have a few things that are hearty staples like turkey and mashed potatoes. It’s also great to include your own personal traditions, like your grandmother’s recipe for pie.
And bar choices?
Keep it simple: beer, wine, a signature cocktail, and then relax and have a great time. I am a big fan of punch, and you can make it well in advance.
What is the trick to being a good host?
Keep your guests entertained. Have a schedule, have games ready for the kids, and let people know when you are going to eat. Music is very important, it sets the tone, so have a killer playlist. If anyone at the table starts to get testy, [e.g. if the conversation gets heated about politics], change the subject. It’s good to have a family announcement in your back pocket to do that. As a host it’s your job to keep things moving, and you can’t do that if you’re in the kitchen, so be with your guests.
How do you survive a disaster on the day?
I go through disasters at events, and if you overreact, then that will filter through to your guests, so have a calm head. If you have an undercooked turkey, then carve the turkey and put it back in the oven. If something gets burned, scrape it off or skip it, but don’t tell people.
How are you spending Thanksgiving?
We will be with my brother in Virginia, and I turn from party planner to sous chef. We have such a great time cooking together. I bring things down [to Virginia], I’m the porter of specialty items from New York.
We'll blink and it will be Christmas, and more entertaining!
Thanksgiving can be a good rehearsal, it gets you ready. But if you’re going to do both dinners, you might want to think about investing in tablecloths or flatware. And bless your heart if you are up for a double header!