The holidays are great—who doesn’t want to get together with friends and family and eat and drink for hours? But hosting an event like Thanksgiving can also feel like a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s nice not to have to travel during one of the craziest times of the year, and it can be cozy to have friends and family come to you. On the other hand, it’s a hell of a lot of work. Cooking for a big group requires a lot of forethought, time, and prep—not to mention the costs of all that food and booze can add up quickly.
But before you throw in the towel on playing host, just know it’s possible to make this daunting undertaking a little bit more manageable. If you’re a first-time host, avoid rookie mistakes by stealing tips from experts who have tons of experience planning and executing flawless meals and events for large groups. Instead of learning through your own trial and error, learn through theirs.
The last thing you want to discover the morning before guests arrive is that you’re short on chairs or wine glasses—or that you bought all the special ingredients required for the meal, but are almost out of an everyday staple like olive oil. It’s also not a bad idea to buy dupes of certain helpful, high-use items like chopping knives or colanders. “Check your kitchen toolbox and make sure you aren’t missing anything essential,” says Los Angeles-based private chef Theodore Leaf. “I like to have several peelers on hand so when people offer to help, the work can get done much faster.”
It’s smart to set the table and get centerpieces or bouquets ready in advance, since these things don’t require freshness (well, at least not as much as food, that is). Also, it can set a positive tone. “Every time I actually set the table the night before, I wake up the morning of Thanksgiving feeling calm,” says Leaf. “There’s something about knowing that everyone has a place and your flowers look great that starts the day off on the right foot.”