With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, many Americans grapple with how to keep their guests safe amidst the coronavirus pandemic. People who live in mild climates that allow for outdoor gatherings into late November always have the option of hosting an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner.

While the gathering might look a bit different than other years, an outdoor Thanksgiving feast can be just as memorable. The only caveat is to plan one or two backup days in case of rain or other weather conditions that make it challenging to gather outdoors.

Start by Preparing the Patio for an Outdoor Thanksgiving

The traditional long kitchen table that Americans are accustomed to gathering around on Thanksgiving probably won’t fit well on a patio. Setting up a few small tables spaced apart allows seating for all guests while also increasing safety.

The host might consider asking guests to sit at tables only with members of their immediate household. If the weather does get cool that day, outdoor heaters will help to keep everyone comfortable.

Hosts should not forget about decorating once the outdoor setup is complete. Pumpkins, gourds, and artificial leaves are just some décor ideas for an outdoor Thanksgiving. Hosts or guests who have young children can ask them to color some turkey pictures to use as placemats to bring some extra smiles.

Outdoor Thanksgiving setup with social distancing

Backyard social distancing done right by My 100-Year Old Home

Determine How to Keep Food & People Warm Outdoors

With several separate sets of tables and chairs, serving food buffet style works better than family style with all food in the center of the table. One possible downside to this scenario is the food becoming cold before guests go back for seconds or even before the last guests serve themselves the first time.

Thanksgiving hosts might consider serving food in chafing dishes with a separate dish for each item. Placing food on a kitchen table or counter indoors and asking guests to plate their food and take it outdoors is another possibility.

For keeping your family and guests from freezing, consider using stand-up patio heaters near dining tables or outdoor fire tables for guests to informally gather around.

Make Sure Guests Have Adequate Lighting

It may be challenging for guests to see well outdoors depending on the time of day and whether the hosts serve Thanksgiving dinner on an enclosed patio. Candles, which might already be part of the centerpiece decoration, can help to add a warm festive glow when lit.

Hosts might want to choose electric candles over traditional candles with an open flame if children will be present just as a precaution. Natural sunlight may provide enough illumination on its own, especially when serving the meal on an open patio.


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Make a Plan for the Family Pets

Dogs and some cats like to be where the action is, and many household pets are in the routine of hanging out in the backyard with their human family. Thanksgiving is an exception because most people don’t want animals around them while eating. This is especially true if the dog or cat tends to beg for food or jump up on the table. That means the holiday host will need to decide what to do with the family’s pets before guests start to arrive.

Placing pets in a spare bedroom with food, water, and a litterbox for cats is usually the best bet. The garage is another option as long as it is safe and warm enough for pets to remain comfortable until people have finished eating.

Keep in mind that some people have allergies to animal dander and may need to keep away from dogs and cats entirely. Boarding pets for one day can be a good option in that case. It also allows hosts to prepare the Thanksgiving meal without the family dog or cat underfoot.

Set Up Some Yard Games or Craft Tables

Children will quickly become bored if the host does not serve the Thanksgiving meal right away and there is nothing for them to do in the backyard. Setting up some simple yard games away from the eating area is one way to keep them entertained. Another possibility is to set up a card table with coloring books, crayons, and art supplies. This will allow the kids to keep themselves busy after everyone has finished eating and the adults want to sit and visit for a while. The adults may even want to join the yard games after dinner.

Little has been typical about 2020, and it appears that Thanksgiving will be no exception. Remaining flexible is key to ensuring that everyone enjoys their time together. Taking the traditional Thanksgiving meal outdoors is just one way to stay as flexible as possible in uncertain times.