Your friends all mentioned wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving together this year. You, overcome with love for the holidays and overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of finally being in the same city with all the people you love, stupidly volunteered to host Thanksgiving at your small apartment with a little coaxing from your girlfriends. "Your apartment is perfect," they said. "It'll be fun," they said.
Has anyone ever told you that your friends are guiltless liars? Cue anxiety-inducing, crippling, life-ending panic. You can maybe fit four seats in your living room comfortably, and you don't even have a dining room. The last time you used your oven, the pork chops were ready 45 minutes before the scalloped potatoes, because you didn't have enough room to warm them both at the same time. And, uh, do the plastic forks and knives you routinely pocket from the Chipotle down the street count as acceptable silverware?
Good news! You can make this work. Maybe not with plastic silverware, but you can make your teeny, tiny apartment your bitch this Thanksgiving. You can show the cramped space who's boss. You can use your laughable square-footage to your advantage (even if you cry a few times in the process.)
The trick, dear friends, is being creative.
1. Repeat after me: BYOSD
Instead of BYOB, allow me to introduce you to the dinner party hack that's been saving hosts since basically the dawn of time: Bring Your Own Side Dish. Once you have your initial guest list set, assign people a dish to bring. Keep track of who's bringing what so you don't double up on any dishes. It takes the pressure off you to man everything in the kitchen, so you can focus on the staples.
2. Don't be afraid of mismatched seating
Don't go crazy trying to secure enough seating for everyone. Chances are you won't find all of what you need in one place — and if you do, you're probably not going to want to pay the hefty price tag to buy it (and then store it). Instead, be practical. Use your couch, your loveseat, and bistro chairs, and create clumps of seating. Rid yourself of the idea that you'll all fit together at one long table. You're not Blake Lively. Just accept that.
3. Room temp is a much better goal than piping hot dishes
I took a cooking class once where the head chef recommended that you serve all your dishes at room temperature when possible. While it's not something I do each time I cook, it is the rule I follow when cooking for large groups. Not everything that you place on the table needs to be piping hot. Vegetables, warm fall salads, and even the turkey can be served at room temperature. Another rule? Litter your table with cheese, crackers, and nuts. They're good snacks for guests to grab while they're waiting for the main course.
4. Keep the windows open
Yes, it is the middle of fall and yes, it is really freakin' cold outside. But once you stuff all your guests into your tiny living room, you're going to need all the air circulation help you can get. Plus, you'll have the stove and the oven going, which will organically add a little heat to the room. Better to be a little bit on the chilly side than to feel like you're roasting along with the bird.
5. Put your plans on paper first
Before you so much as think of inviting anyone, put your plans to paper — and get comfortable with the idea that you're going to have to try a lot of different options before finding a layout (and a head count) that you're comfortable with. Since there's no telling what will work best for you, don't feel tied down to the idea that everything has to flow in the same shape and direction. It's OK to have a few tables angled one way and a few more angled another. Just keep in mind that there should always be a clear "route" to the kitchen and to the bathroom from no matter where your guests are seated.
6. Keep everything within arm's reach
Water, booze, condiments, serving dishes, spare napkins — anything you anticipate that your guests will want, keep it well within their reach. It'll limit the amount of getting up and down that'll take place, and the more moving parts you have, the more limited your space becomes.
7. Assign seating
It may feel really young and immature to "assign" your guests seats, but it's actually a really practical way of keeping seating disputes to a minimum, and directing your guests to exactly where you want them to go. When you're planning out your guest list and the flow of your room (see above: point #5), attach names to the tables. Since your space is small, it'll naturally feel like everyone is "together," but having a little organization never hurt anybody, either.
8. Stick to your guest list
I know that Sarah's cousin and his best friend are going to pop up at the last minute looking for an invitation to your festive fete, and Mark's probably going to insist that his new girlfriend, Cait, spend some quality time with all his biffles on such an important holiday. The long and short of it is that you can say no to all of these people! Yep, just say, "No." When you're dealing with minute square-footage, you don't have the luxury of making room for everyone and their mom (literally). Keep the guest list intimate. Meet all the extras for drinks afterwards.
9. Double up on the dinner buffet
I recently went to dinner at my boyfriend's mom's house, where she attempted a buffet-style Yom Kippur celebration for eight of us. It was a disaster. There were too many of us standing up and waiting in line, the people at the food were taking too long to make up their minds (seriously, just TAKE the damn dinner roll, Uncle Marv), and everyone wanted to know the same thing about each of the dishes, which turned the innovative and easy idea into a mad house of epic proportions. My advice to you? Create multiple buffets, and reserve a few dishes for the tables.
10. Be a minimalist
You have one goal: feed all of your friends… OK, and try not to get cranberry sauce on your white blouse. Anything that doesn't help you reach that goal is just background noise. So before you start decorating and arranging, clear out everything you don't need. If you're not using the coffee table, stick it in your room. Same goes for the three magazine racks and that larger-than-life bookshelf that takes up half of the dining area.