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7 Cheap, Easy Ways to Up Your Thanksgiving Hosting Game

Local event planners share their best last-minute tips.

Photographs by Elisa Bricker Photography, courtesy of Anne Book from Anne Book Event Design.

Hosting the holidays does not bring out the host(ess) with the most(ess) in all of us. The stress, the mess, the Insta-worthy details nagging to be included. Whether this holiday has creeped up on you (where has November gone?) or you could just use a few more ideas, we talked to local event pros and gathered their best last-minute, easy-to-do Thanksgiving hosting tips. 

Create a vibe. 

A little ambiance goes a long way. “Play some jazz music, light a fire in the fireplace, simmer some holiday potpourri in a pot on the stove, and be mindful of the lighting,” says Kawania Wooten of Howerton+Wooten Events. “Don’t turn on all of your overhead lights. Instead, use some lamps and light some candles.”

Anne Book of Anne Book Event Design says she puts candles everywhere, using everything from her grandmother’s candelabras with colorful tapers to these etched shot glasses from Crate and Barrel for votives. You can even add uplighting to the corners of your dining room to take it up yet another notch, suggests Wooten. (We found this two-pack of uplights on Amazon that can arrive in as little as two days.)

Offer hors d’oeuvres to guests as they arrive. 

“For years, I ‘paid’ my son to greet guests at the door with me,” says Wooten. “There’s a cute factor, but it also immediately sets the tone for the evening. He would be holding a tray of appetizers and hors d’ oeuvres from Trader Joe’s—the place to go for easy-to-make appetizers and hors d’oeuvres.”

If you can’t be by the door, Margo Fischer of Bright Occasions suggests still having appetizers ready. “A cheese and charcuterie board is always popular, and it’s easy to pick up ingredients in the cheese and deli aisle,” she says. “Growing up, we would always have the horned dorset dip with veggies and crackers. It’s a crowd favorite and super easy to make.”

Allow time for other things by prepping your space the night before.

Set your dinner table, including the buffet, the night before, suggests Tiffany Rivera of Simply Breathe Events. Once you’ve decided where everything will go, add a Post-It to every platter or dish to note what food it’ll hold the next day. The process, she says, cuts down on day-of decision making about which bowls or dishes to use or where they will go. 

Get crafty with a cocktail station.

Wooten suggests setting up a self-service bar with the ingredients for a signature drink, along with a framed recipe so guests can make it themselves. Fischer likes this apple cider bourbon recipe.  Alternatively, says Book, you can serve ready-made cocktails in chilled glasses. “Last year,” she says, “I pre-batched this blood-orange margarita and poured it into cute glass containers with lids that sat on ice.” She also recommends putting chilled wines, Champagne, and bottles of still and sparkling water in a punchbowl of ice. 

Photograph by Elisa Bricker Photography

Decorate with things you have at home or can get from the grocery store.

“Mini pumpkins or a vase full of cranberries are a fun and seasonal way to add color to your table,” says Fischer. Satsumas and their leaves, grapes, figs, and foliage from your garden—or these pheasant feathers—can also be added to vases, bowls, or silver julep cups you may already have, says Book. Velvet ribbon and napkin rings add texture and sparkle, too—this year Book’s using a window panel with tassels from Anthropologie as a bar drape.

If you have kids at home, Fischer suggests having them craft individual turkey place cards with hand tracings using paper and crayons and stickers for decoration. 

Get creative with a table runner.

You don’t need anything fancy to put together a holiday-worthy table runner. One year, Book says, she used a long mohair scarf from Target. Melissa Williams of B Astonished Events recommends gathering leaves from your yard to put atop a plain runner, then adding some fruits or vegetables along the top. If you do make a store run, she recommends Michaels for tapered candles and holders.

Add flowers.

Williams suggests checking your local grocery store for a ready-made floral centerpiece. Fresh out? You can combine blooms from your local market with greens and other flowers foraged from your yard, Book says. Just mix them all together in interesting containers. And make a couple, says Book: “Don’t forget your powder room, bar, coffee table, and dessert display.”

Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.