Thanksgiving is often all about family, but for those who can’t get home for the holiday—as well as those who love Turkey Day so much that they want to do it more than once a year (and without crazy Uncle Lou every time)—there’s Friendsgiving.
The act of celebrating Thanksgiving with friends rather than relatives (either on the actual holiday or another day near the end of November), Friendsgiving is popular among transplants to big cities living far from Mom and Dad, as well as young adults who don’t yet have big immediate families of their own. These parties may not be as conventional as a family dinner, but what they lack in tradition they make up for in originality, fun, and of course, delicious food. Here’s everything you need to know to throw a Friendsgiving party that’s even better than the real thing (or at least won’t leave you longing for Mom’s sweet potato casserole.
Fun as it is, holding Friendsgiving probably isn’t as simple as throwing together a backyard barbecue or a kegger in the basement. See, it’s first and foremost a dinner party, says Caryn Roland, owner and event manager at Heirloom Cuisine Catering in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and every guest needs not just a place to sit but also a place to set their food down and eat (unless your friends happen to have a third hand and can juggle a full plate of food and a glass of wine while dining). Luckily borrowing or renting a few card tables and some folding chairs or benches shouldn’t be too hard, Roland says.
Invite only as many people as you can comfortably seat in your home (or tiny apartment), Roland says, or else your guests may end up crowded and unable to enjoy their meals. But if you’ve still got room once you’ve reached out to your closest pals, consider asking neighbors, coworkers, or friends-of-friends who may not have family nearby. “You can really make someone’s holiday if they don’t already have Thanksgiving plans,” she says.
Let’s Talk Turkey
The bird (and gravy) should be the host’s responsibility, Roland says, since it’s easier to cook at the party venue than for someone else to prepare and transport it. Decide how big yours should be (the USDA recommends one pound per person, but go bigger if you want leftovers) and where you’ll buy it from at least a week ahead of time. If it’s frozen, keep in mind that it will need to thaw in the fridge for about 24 hours for every four to five pounds.
If the thought of all that brining, stuffing, and basting is overwhelming (or a giant bird won’t squeeze into your big-city, tiny-apartment), no worries. “There are lots of gourmet food stores or supermarkets that will roast or fry a turkey and deliver it to your door,” Roland says. And for those tired of turkey altogether, consider serving ham, pork loin, or vegetarian tofurkey. Anything goes at Friendsgiving!
A Balanced Dinner
You could prepare the sides yourself as well, but it will be more fun for everyone—and less work for you—if the guests get involved. “Ask them to bring their favorite dishes from Thanksgivings growing up or something that’s unique to their culture,” Roland suggests. And for the friends who say they’re too busy (or too kitchen-averse) to cook, give them the ever-important job of bringing the booze.
As your guests arrive, give them a table tent (less fancy, sticky notes also work, but this is your chance to embrace your inner Martha Stuart!) to display next to their dish on which they can write their name and a quick description of their recipe. We know it may sound a little like “host-zilla,” but trust us, it’ll spark conversation (and compliments!) between diners, and it can also be a good way to alert people to allergens like nuts or to call out special meatless or gluten-free options.
For real foodies and beverage connoisseurs, you may even consider asking guests to bring a dish as well as a “matching” drink, Roland says; maybe it’s a spiced liquor, seasonal cocktail, hot chocolate, or local beer from their hometown. “This time of year I’m serving apple cider in lots of different ways—spiked with whiskey over ice, for example, or heated up and served with a cinnamon stick.”
Stuffing is great, but nobody wants six different types and no booze or pie on Friendsgiving, so keep track of what people volunteer to bring and be sure all guests know what’s accounted for. If you send online invitations via Facebook or a service like Evite, ask them to comment in their RSVP what they’ll be bringing and to check out other responses before they reply. (Even something as simple as a shared Google doc can work wonders.) If you’ve got a smaller guest list, give each friend a different food or drink group—appetizer, potatoes, salad, vegetable, dessert, wine, and beer, for example—and let them surprise you from there.
Look the Part
There’s no need to go overboard with floral centerpieces or intricate decorations. “On Thanksgiving, the food should really be the star, and you’ll need all the room you can get,” Roland says. If you desire a little holiday spirit, cover the tables with festive tablecloths and mark each place setting with a mini gourd or pumpkin from the farmer’s market.
Get This Party Started!
Ask friends to come over about an hour before you want to serve dinner, and have appetizers ready for them to snack on as they catch up with one another before taking their seats. Plan to take the turkey out of the oven at least 30 minutes prior to chow time as well so you can heat up guests’ side dishes if necessary. Lastly, make sure everyone brings containers to take leftovers home in—chances are you’ll have plenty to share and one person can eat only so many turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwiches.