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10 Tips for Throwing a Fun and Festive Friendsgiving

Pop the champagne, y’all! It’s time to kick-off party season with everyone’s favorite made-up holiday: Friendsgiving!  This turkey day riff, which typically acts as a replacement or addition to the family-based feast, has gained wild popularity over the last decade. And, Friendsgiving has the reputation for being a wee bit more fun and festive than its more straight-lace older sibling, Thanksgiving.

Over the years of Friendsgiving merriment, I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 tips for throwing a fun and festive event.

  • Make It a Potluck. To alleviate some of the burden of hosting this monster-meal, it is typically best to approach Friendsgiving potluck style.The host should always tackle the main dish, in this case the Turkey, either by putting their oven to work, or simply ordering a full-cooked bird from grocers such as Whole Foods. There are two, perfectly reasonable approaches to filling out the rest of the meal. The first being simply responding to RSVPs with a request for a specific dish. The second is to include a sign-up list for dishes on the invite. Evite has added a special feature that makes this simple for everyone to track, including the host. I’m usually fairly generic about what I request as Friendsgiving can be a great opportunity to riff on turkey-day classics, especially if it’s a party not thrown on the actual holiday. There are a couple of things I am specific about. First, I always request that dishes show up fully assembled. Second, when hosting large parties that aren’t a celebration for a specific person or couple, I ask everyone to bring whatever they or their family enjoys drinking to share with the group. It keeps the often very-expensive burden of beverage buying from falling solely on the host, plus ensures there are plenty of non-alcoholic options.
  • Buffet Is Best. While Thanksgiving is classically served family-style, the typically less-formal Friendsgiving is best set up as a buffet. I usually have four different zones set up for guests to place their dishes, one in the center of things for appetizers, a bar area for drinks, a buffet for the main dishes, and a spot for desserts. The host should always be stocked with extra serving utensils (something guests always forget to bring). It is also a nice touch to include display cards for everyone to label their dishes, which helps if there are food allergies or aversions in the mix.
Photo by RawPixel
  • Be Creative About Outsourcing. As any good host knows, and as highlighted in this past post, great food is only one slice of the pumpkin pie in the equation of pulling off a great party. Everyone has friends who don’t love to cook. When creating my guest list, I always take a minute to think about my non-foodie friends’ hobbies and skill sets and find something else they might enjoy contributing. Have a music lover in the group? Assign them the job of playing DJ for the night and picking up several bags of ice or a pony keg. Do you have a friend who’s a decorating pro? Have them bring a few fall bouquets over early and help you get the ambiance right. Got a mixologist, or cocktail-connoisseur in the group? Assign them mixing up a signature cocktail for the evening.
  • Start with a Signature Cocktail. Wait? Did someone mention cocktails? Why yes, I did my friends, so let’s get into it. Serving signature cocktails to guests right when they walk in the door is a festive and inviting way to start an evening. My go-to Fall favorites typically include something involving Bourbon and apple cider or a Champagne-cranberry-infused mixture, all garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Since it’s best to do as much as you can in advance, batching, which is a fancy term for preparing a large mixture of the cocktail ahead of time, is the way to go. Then, all the host needs to do at go-time is simply shaking, stirring, or adding ice, or topping off the beverage with a touch of effervescence such as champagne or sparkling water. I like to make a version that is easily converted to a mocktail, by simply subbing sparkling water or Sprite for clear liquor such as Vodka or champagne, and sparkling apple cider for brown liquor such as whiskey or bourbon. If you assign a friend to this task, make sure they show up at least 30-minutes before party time, and that you know their glassware requirements. Also, I try to keep cocktail hour to one hour, then serve dinner, something that if noted on the invite will encourage timeliness. This time frame also keeps guests from over-doing it on appetizers or cocktails before the main event.
  • Use Real Plates, Cutlery, and Glassware. While Friendsgiving can be a more casual affair, there is nothing festive about disposable plates and solo cups. I do, however, realize that we all don’t stock a kitchen full of dish- and glassware to feed a crowd. If this is the case you’ve got several options. The first is to use what you have and pick up extras from your local thrift store. Thrift stores are also amazing places to find fancy items such as cocktail glasses, platters, gravy boats, and butter dishes for a song. I have a designated drawer in my kitchen for extra plates and cutlery for such occasions.You can also hit up your local party rental supplier, where you can typically find everything from China sets, to glassware, to trays and servers, often delivered to your doorstep. Or, you can do as my friends did when were first starting out in tiny apartments, and have everyone bring their own dishes, utensils, and glassware. Its sounds a little crazy, but actually ended up being a hoot.
  • Stock up on Entertaining Essentials. A week or so before, stock your home with all the party essentials that could potentially put you in a pinch while hosting a big party. My list of basics on the food-end include butter, salt, chicken stock, club soda, ice, and although I have guests bring beverages to share, a little extra beer, wine, and soda just in case. Household essentials such as paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, clean hand towels, and hand and dish soap are also a must. And, oh my gosh, always have a plunger handy. It could save your guests (not to mention your floors) some embarrassment!
  • Throw in a Line About Preferred Attire in the Invite. I bet I just lost some of you here, right? Here’s the deal, what you wear to a party is part of what sets the mood of an event, and if you get the mood right, you often get the event right. Cocktail attire or a sweatpants party, you do you. But it does feels better if you don’t end up with both ends of the spectrum (which I have definitely seen happen). An easy way to encourage a cohesive vibe is with a line such as “throw on you best cocktail dress (or suit) and get ready for a night of turkey-trotting fun.” Or on the flipside, “Get ready for a night of turkey slinging and football watching indulgence; sweatpants preferred, but not required.”
  • Add Some Punchy Décor. As I mentioned in this former post, I always prefer natural décor when it comes to holiday decorating. Vases of fall branches, pumpkins and gourds; it’s all you really need for a Fall Holiday. See the below pic for an easy example of rustic but, as Friendsgiving can lean more towards a cocktail party vibe than a stuffy dinner party, I like to add punches of gold to the traditional warm fall color pallet. A quick search through the usual suspects, such as Amazon and Target, brings up tons of gilded glam at budget prices, such as this Friendsgiving balloon banner.
  • Don’t Forget the Fringes. Friendsgiving should be a livelier version of the traditional holiday, brimming with fun and merriment. The music should be a tad too loud, and the drinks a touch too strong. It also doesn’t hurt to add in some fringe benefits such as a fire pit and some fancy cigars to take the chill off, a little touch football or game of bags if the weather permits, and maybe even a polaroid and some fun turkey-day props such as these for photo ops your friends can take home with them.
  • Start the Meal with a Toast. Lastly, don’t forget that a clinking of a glass and a celebratory toast should always start a festive meal (a funny aside, but at one of the Friendsgiving parties I attend, the person giving the toast is actually required to hold one of the turkey legs). New babies, jobs, or engagements; congrats are in order. New people in the mix; formally welcome them. Losses or hardships; acknowledge them, people appreciate it. And of course, toast to your friendships and all that they mean to the beautiful tapestry of life.
Photo by Evgeny Vershinin

All Photos by Laura Taylor Photography Except Where Noted.

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