If it's your first Thanksgiving away from the family or you're hosting in your new place, a few key strategies can easily bring your friends together for the holidays without creating an economic crisis.
Before the big day, take inventory of what you have (plates, flatware, pots and pans, and glassware) and then make a wish list. Don't be shy: Ask friends and coworkers if they would mind if you borrowed a few glasses or a roasting pan. If you want to make everything look cohesive, go for an all-white table setting with white plates and platters.
Borrowing Hint: Hit up friends and family who are heading out of town. You know they won't be using their plates and silver pieces during the holiday.
You know you want to host, but have no idea what to serve. Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving has the most classic of menus, but don't let that dictate what you serve. If your comfort level in the kitchen is low, keep things simple. But if you are up for the challenge, experiment. Also, ask guests to bring a side dish of their choosing -- something that is a staple at their family's Thanksgiving. Hosting a potluck divides the work and shares your friend's holiday traditions.
Cooking Hint: If you are only serving a few people, just buy a turkey breast. They cook in less time, and you won't be stuck dealing with sticking your hand inside the bird or trying to make room for tons of turkey leftovers.
Not every kitchen is dreamy. An outdated tiny oven and uneven burners can make cooking a challenge. So you'll need to have a plan. Start by making desserts or casseroles in advance -- they can keep in the refrigerator for days. Also, look to slow cookers for help with dishes such as stuffing and sweet potatoes. If you don't have one, ask to borrow a friend's. You will be able to cut down your time in front of the stove.
Serving Hint: To increase counter space, turn a table, bookcase, or even a washing machine into a work surface by simply adding a cutting board on top.
If you have a dining room table, then you're ahead of the game. Just pull up extra chairs for everyone to squeeze in. If you are without a formal table, turn a long side table or counter into a buffet. Then utilize TV trays, the coffee table, and side tables to accommodate everyone while eating. Letting guests serve themselves in the kitchen also eliminates the need to put every item in a serving dish.
Hosting Tip: Think outside the dining room. If weather permits, set up a table on the front or back porch. By mixing things up, you are increasing your entertaining space. If sitting outside isn't an option, establish several smaller seating areas throughout your home. Then your guests can mingle around the entire house rather than be cramped in one room.
If the idea of hosting a Thanksgiving meal seems great but your wallet protests, opt for something less conventional and just as festive. Kick off the day by inviting everyone over early for cocktails and appetizers. There is no need to fully stock the bar; instead, just serve a signature drink. This lets you go ahead and make a pitcher or two ahead of time. Ask guests to bring over a bottle of wine or some beer if they'd like, but let them know you'll have a beverage and snacks waiting.
Or, offer up your home to friends after they have made the rounds to other dinner parties earlier in the day. Simply serve a few desserts, fresh coffee, and/or after-dinner drinks. And remember that the most important aspect of Thanksgiving isn't what you are serving, but rather who you are serving, so surround yourself with the people you care about most.