How to Keep People Out of Your Kitchen When Holiday Cooking

How to Keep People Out of Your Kitchen When Holiday Cooking
Photo: Vera Petrunina, Shutterstock

As I sit down to expound on this topic, I’m taking deep breaths. Are my lips pursed? Yes. Are my nostrils flared? You betcha. Is my butt clenched? Probably. Even the mere thought of people crowding the kitchen, asking me questions, standing right in front of that drawer at the precise moment I need to open it, and generally making noise while I need to focus and finish my holiday cooking assignment infuses me with ambient, imagined anxiety.

While some easygoing, preternaturally social creatures may find it energising to be surrounded by loved ones while they prepare food, some of us can’t handle the stress of talking and concentrating at the same time, and are one interruption away from losing our shit.

While it’s understood that the intentions are fantastic — chit chat, warm-hearted togetherness, hugs, helping! — some hosts simply don’t want anyone to interrupt their flow. (And one person’s “flow” is another’s “deadline pressure.”) If you function better in a quiet environment, here are some helpful ways to keep guests out of the kitchen, without being a jerk and ruining the true meaning of the holiday.

Set up drinks and snacks in another room

People are drawn to the kitchen because of its central, cosy vibes; it’s the focal point of the house, and it offers feelings of warmth and comfort. But people also want to be where food and drinks are. Set up a snack table in another room (or rooms) of the house — and don’t forget a drinks station. The sound of a cocktail shaker can do wonders for drawing people closer to its party aura. Be sure to move all those beers and canned wine spritzers out of the fridge and into a cooler — in a room far away — for guests to enjoy.

For drafty rooms, build a fire or set up a space heater to make it more inviting. (And a note on football. While it may be virtually impossible to keep the TV off, realise that a football game will potentially alienate half of your guests — or more). Put on a movie like Elf in another room for all the non-football watchers.

Get a heat lamp and take it outside

Take the “other room” a step further and move all the appetizers and beverages outside. If you live someplace where it will be chilly, invest in a heat lamp to draw everyone out. You can even set up yard games like corn hole, adult Jenga, lawn bowling, croquet, or get an impromptu flag football game going. Tell everyone to dress warmly as they’ll be spending some time in the great outdoors.

Assign a bouncer to keep people out

You don’t need an actual bouncer (though that does sound amazing), but a deputy or wingperson if you will, agreed to beforehand, whose sole responsibility is to keep people out of the kitchen. They may tell everyone things as innocuous as, “Let’s all sit in here,” or “Mary is getting stressed. Let’s leave her alone.” An edict coming from your Thanksgiving deputy will garner more sympathy than if you simply say “Go away.”

Set up other activities

Some people have a hard time not contributing on the big day. Why not give their idle hands something else to do? You could have a gingerbread house-building table, where teams compete to assemble the best looking house and win a prize. Set out some construction paper and markers and ask folks to come up with their best Hallmark Christmas card rejects. A 1,000-piece puzzle challenge, a round of Cards for Humanity, or What Do You Meme? can all get people out of your hair.

Devise a list of jobs ahead of time

Some helpful souls, no matter how many times you tell them to relax and enjoy themselves, simply can’t rest until they have a job. Brainstorm a list of things you’ll need help with on the day of. Maybe it’s bringing drinks up from the basement, setting the table, writing people’s names on place cards, chopping veggies, folding napkins, or peeling potatoes. Have a list you can easily reference for persistent guests.

Try not to look frazzled

Easier said than done, we know. Looking frazzled may be a deterrent to keep some from approaching, but it’s a cue for others to help because you look like you need it. Sometimes a look of concentration or “thinking face” can come off as flustered, signalling others that you need a lifeline. Try to remain of pleasant, calm visage, so others won’t think you are in over your head. (Though not so pleasant as to invite conversation. We know this fine line is not easily walked. Breathe from your diaphragm. Meditate. Practice in the mirror. Take an acting Master Class? Results may vary.)

Tell them to scram

When all else fails, there is always a lighthearted way to tell people you need space. (They are your family and close friends, right? That should afford you some degree of honesty). To go the polite but direct route, try a smiling, “I need a little more time. Can everyone go into the other room until I finish?” If your family is more blunt, you can always keep it real. Take a cue from Joe Geronimo Martinez on Quora, whose solution was to announce: “No one is coming into my fucking kitchen. Understood?”

Log in to comment on this story!