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Home & Garden

Setting the Table

Preparing for Thanksgiving company can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.

Setting the Table
By Joan Tupponce

The holidays are supposed to be a happy family time, but they can also be extremely stressful when you’re trying to gather everyone together for a Thanksgiving meal. Everything from logistics to personalities can cause havoc if you are not prepared.

Planning the logistics of a family Thanksgiving should start early – in other words, start now if you haven’t already, says Courtney Spencer, owner of Merriment Events in Richmond. “The week of Thanksgiving I plan out what I am going to make ahead and label each dish,” she says. “For the day of Thanksgiving, I create a timeline when the turkey has to go in, and everything gets to be timed out.”

As you would imagine, large family gatherings require much more preparation than smaller get-togethers. If the number of guests exceeds your dining space, you may have to rent tables.

“You want to keep the meal casual, comfortable and fun,” Spencer advises. “If you have 30 to 40 people, they may have to be spread out in different rooms and different tables for practicality.”

The first thing you want to do before making arrangements is to make sure you have enough space to add tables and chairs in the rooms you want to use.

“For everyone to sit comfortably, you need approximately a 10-foot by 10-foot space for each table with chairs,” says Nina Whittleton, president of Classic Party Rentals of Virginia.

You’ll probably want to think about seating arrangements. “Never forget about those left-handers,” Whittleton adds. “They need to sit on the proper end of a rectangle table and need extra space at a round table if seated beside a right-handed person.”

There always seems to be a question about a children’s table – do you need one or not?

“Yes, you do need one,” Whittleton says. “They will enjoy themselves and so will you.” Be creative with the children’s table.

“I love the tradition of leaving a piece of paper at each seat and have them trace their hand to make a turkey,” Spencer says. “You can unroll craft paper for a table covering and put crayons down.”

Keep in mind you’re not running a restaurant so you don’t have to serve your guests individually unless you are planning a more formal occasion. Buffet style is the best way to feed the family.

You’ll want to keep family and guests occupied while you are making final preparations. Try setting up a wine bar or a beer tasting area for fun. “That will get a conversation going,” Whittleton says.
“Label all the beer and wine as to where it came from and add the address so guests can visit the brewery or winery another day.”

When doing seating arrangements, follow the rule used in weddings and group people in ways that will spark interesting conversation. Always try to seat people that get along together with each other.

Most all of us have experienced a Thanksgiving meal when there was tension in the room. You can work to alleviate that extra stress.

“Thanksgiving is having an open heart, so how do you maintain having an open heart when you are facing people you don’t enjoy?” asks Henrico County-based marriage and family therapist Margaret Norman. “You have to have perspective of who is coming to visit and set self-care boundaries.”

If people look like they may start an argument or there may be a disagreement, try to stop it as soon as possible. “Some people look for opportunities to cause commotion, and this is the perfect setting for it,” Whittleton says. “If you think it will be your adult children, warn them in advance that certain subjects are off limits.”

When someone is inappropriate, “pick and choose your battles well,” Norman says. “Deferring the conflict is the best choice. You can always address something later, but you can’t undo a spoiled holiday.”