5 Smart Ways to Host Thanksgiving on a Small Dining Table

(Image credit: Martha Stewart)

For most of the year, living in a small space can be wonderful. It’s easier to clean, you don’t accumulate as much clutter, and ideally (if you’re a renter) it might be a little bit cheaper, too. But when the holidays hit, and you’re the designated host of your family or friend group, having a small space can be a bit of a challenge.

But that doesn’t mean you should hang up your apron and start preparing your Thanksgiving dishes to travel. Instead, you just have to be creative about how you plan your meal.

It might be a little less formal, and you might not have the lavish table showcased in your favorite glossy magazine, but you can have a wonderful, special meal. We got insight from three of our favorite small-space experts on just how to host Thanksgiving in a small space.

1. Decide what’s important to you.

If you want to have a lavish table decked out with fancy place settings and beautiful centerpieces, then you can find a way to do it, says Nicole Alvarez of Intentionally Small. If you do want to have that kind of Thanksgiving table, you’ll need to either limit your guest list or extend your table with a folding table, desk, or other surface where guests can eat. If having more of your family and friends around you for the holiday is your priority, then you can let some of the formality go and welcome more people to your home.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

2. Set up a buffet.

This is the easiest way to make use of a small table. Having all those serving dishes and passing things family-style really takes up a lot of space. Yes, it will look lovely, but if your guests can’t eat without knocking into something, that’s no fun for anyone. “If it’s most important to you to have everyone at one table, then set up a buffet station on your kitchen counters to maximize space,” Alvarez says. You might even end up using your table as the buffet and then having guests sit in the living room with plates on their laps. Just make sure anyone joining your Thanksgiving for the first time knows what to expect.

3. Or plate your meals for your guests.

Instead of going informal, you can also plate the meal for your guests in the kitchen. “There’s something to be said for that extra level of formality in a tiny home,” says Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves and author of the forthcoming book Simple Matters. “Serving family-style definitely requires more table space than filling up plates at the stove and bringing them to guests ready to eat.” Yes, it’s a bit more work for you, but it does make for a very impressive meal.

(Image credit: Chris Perez)

4. Skip the formal table, but don’t skimp on style.

While a formal table is lovely, and you do want Thanksgiving dinner to feel like a special occasion, it’s okay to do away with some of the formality if you are crunched for space. You can cut down on the number of plates you use or have silverware in mason jars in the center of the table. But you can still make your table feel like it’s Thanksgiving. “Opting out of formal place settings doesn’t mean you have to compromise on style,” says Boyle. “Tiny flower arrangements and tea lights can be just as lovely as elaborate centerpieces and towering tapers.”

5. Make it a progressive party around your home.

You’ve heard of progressive dinner parties that start with drinks at one person’s home and continue on to the main course and dessert at other host’s houses or apartments. Try adapting that setup for your Thanksgiving meal as well — but all inside your apartment. “Serve light appetizers and cocktails an hour before the meal while everyone is gathered in the living room, or outside (if the weather cooperates). Then move everyone to sitting at a formal table for the main meal,” says Sara Swezy of Studio Style Blog. “Then for dessert, my family likes to wait awhile before digging in, so you can have guests enjoy their dessert and coffee back in the living room.” And of course, if you and your Thanksgiving guests live close enough to each other, you can make it a whole-day affair and switch apartments. Think of it like a potluck where no one has to carry any heavy dishes of food.