5 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way Hosting a Holiday Dinner in My Small Apartment

Anyone who's hosted a dinner party knows the pressures and responsibilities associated with it. Getting the food, decor, and ambiance just right while keeping your guests happy can be a tricky balancing act. Multiply that by about 1,000 when you're hosting a holiday dinner party like Friendsgiving. At least that's how I felt when I recently hosted Friendsgiving at my tiny Brooklyn apartment.

While I knew having 12 of our friends over for Friendsgiving dinner would be stressful (I had at least two anxiety dreams involving a still-frozen turkey), being able to spend the holiday with some really great people outweighed the potential disasters I envisioned in my mind. And what's a challenge without learning a few things along the way? Read my biggest Friendsgiving hostess lessons below.

Improvise a Bar Cart

It's about the only thing standing between me and It-girl living room status. I picture myself à la Joan Holloway, serving guests perfectly mixed cocktails or a glass of whiskey from a gold, multitiered, perfectly styled cart. Unfortunately, this dream will have to wait a few years until I move to a bigger apartment with the space for one.

But I still loved the idea of our Friendsgiving guests being able to serve themselves drinks while simultaneously staying out of the kitchen, so I turned the space beside our record player into a temporary bar cart. This was one of the few times my fondness for collecting cute tea towels has paid off. By draping a tea towel over the surface and arranging bottles, glasses, and a cute antler-shaped bottle opener from my mother on top, I created a pretty decent bar cart substitute.

Make a Little Bit of Decor Go a Long Way

I dream of the day that I can host the ultimate dinner party with an elaborate tablescape, exquisite centerpiece, and perfect place settings. But that wasn't in the cards this year. Between wanting to save a bit of money and not having a lot of crafting time, I had to settle for the essentials. So I headed to a local market to gather a few festive gourds and arranged them artfully in my favorite dish. I was grateful that my mom sent me a gorgeous, rustic bouquet of sunflowers and eucalyptus just days before, which I displayed prominently on the counter. Even though I would have loved to get my Martha Stewart on and go all out with the Thanksgiving decor, these small touches were just enough to brighten up the apartment and set the tone for the season.

No Dining Table? No Problem

Living in our aforementioned tiny Brooklyn apartment means that we don't actually own a dining room table. Three wooden bar stools at our kitchen peninsula are about the extent of our capacity for formal dining. But our huge, sturdy wooden coffee table was a great alternative. We laid out all of the food on the kitchen counter so guests could help themselves to the abundance of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, potatoes, and desserts. Then everyone gathered around the coffee table, some in chairs and some just happy to sit on the floor. Besides, Friendsgiving is about bringing people together — what's wrong with getting a little cozy?

Get Creative With Seating

Another potential pitfall of not having a proper dining space is having a lack of seating — a major problem when you're having a dozen friends over for dinner. But my husband and I are nothing if not resourceful! And I had very conveniently convinced him we needed that new midcentury modern accent chair from Target just weeks before. We made use of almost every chair in the apartment. Bar stools, upholstered foot stools, and office chairs became part of our living room decor, and combined with our couch and two accent chairs, there was plenty of seating for everyone.

Accept That Something Is Bound to Go Wrong

For us, it was the roasting tin breaking and spilling turkey juices all over the inside of the oven, which caused our apartment to fill with smoke. At the time, I was (understandably, I would argue) very embarrassed. Our friends rallied around, taking turns holding fans pointed out the window. I watched as plumes of smoke filled the living room, surrounding our friends gathered in the tiny space. While it was definitely helping to fulfill my Mad Men/Joan Holloway image, I worried that our guests would choke or suffer smoke inhalation. But to be honest, I think it made the day memorable. As one guest pointed out as I was downing another glass of wine to deal with what was happening, "It just isn't a holiday without a little bit of smoke."