12 Tips for Hosting a Thoughtful Friendsgiving Dinner
"Friendsgiving" has all the great food and gratitude of regular Thanksgiving dinner—and none of the family drama. Here's how to bring your peeps together for an unforgettable celebration.
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Giving thanks with kindred spirits
The holidays are a time to reconnect with your loved ones and further cement your bond by building more memories—but that label certainly isn’t limited to your flesh and blood. For many, the traditional Thanksgiving celebration has taken a modern twist thanks to the invention of Friendsgiving. If this sounds like something you’d like to try on Thanksgiving this year, these Friendsgiving ideas will set the scene for the perfect gathering.
“Friendsgiving is about your family away from family,” says Chelsa Cohen, founder and president of Evoque, a full-service event planning and concierge company based in Phoenix. “For those who are not close with their families or are not able to travel to them, it provides an opportunity to celebrate the relationship they have with their friends. For others who do have family nearby, having Friendsgiving allows for a separate celebration to give thanks with the next-closest people in their lives.”
Ready to host your own celebration? It just takes a little creativity and proper planning to pull off a Friendsgiving dinner that will make all your guests feel special. In addition to the big meal, add some festive Thanksgiving songs to a holiday playlist or maybe put on a heartwarming Thanksgiving movie afterward. Whatever you decide to do, it’s a chance to simply be together and show your chosen family just how thankful you are for their love and support all year long. For those who can’t make it to your get-together, share these Thanksgiving quotes to let them know you’re thinking about them.
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Spread the word
The first tip for hosting a Friendsgiving party is to spread the word among your friends and let them know that this is a legit alternative to the family event they’ve been attending all their lives. The appeal of Friendsgiving (as opposed to Thanksgiving) has been picking up steam over the years. In fact, seven in 10 young Americans prefer Friendsgiving over a traditional Thanksgiving, according to a 2019 poll conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Sabra.
Instead of blasting out an open invitation on Facebook, consider culling a more refined list of guests you’d like to have in attendance. “Consider who are the most important people that need to be at the party—friends who you couldn’t be without for this feast,” says Cohen. “Then, find dates that work for them and plan around that.”
Set the date
Speaking of dates, you might assume that Friendsgiving would take place on Thanksgiving Day, but popular culture dictates that it is more of an addition to the traditional Thursday feast, rather than a replacement. As such, Friendsgiving usually falls on a different date, often the Wednesday before or the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. But feel free to deviate as needed; Friendsgiving should be relaxed, so don’t get bogged down with arbitrary rules. Think of Friendsgiving as a bonus holiday, an extra excuse to bond with friends and enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving. Send invitations shortly after Halloween—the earlier, the better, so that guests can lock in their RSVPs and you’ll have an accurate count for dinner. If you’re having a big Friendsgiving, you may want to check out these restaurants that will be open on Thanksgiving this year.
Plan your menu
Once you’ve spread the word and set the date, it’s time to start planning the logistics of your Friendsgiving feast. One of the best things about Friendsgiving is that it’s a holiday with no set rules, so you can easily throw traditional etiquette out the window. Draw up a list of the supplies you’ll need at least a week before the date of your party. If you’re in doubt about how much food or drink to buy, always err on the side of overbuying; you can freeze the leftovers for later.
When in doubt, delegate
If cooking isn’t your forte, one of the easiest Friendsgiving ideas is to have your party catered or even make it a potluck experience. “No great event is done alone,” says Cohen, “so delegate responsibilities to avoid the party becoming a stressful experience for you. I believe the host should be responsible for the main protein, whether that’s turkey, ham, or beef tenderloin. However, let your guests bring the side dishes or their favorite beverages.”
If you plan on going this route, include a message of what’s needed for appetizers, sides, desserts, and drinks on the invitations, and have each person respond with what they’ll be bringing (to ensure they choose something they are comfortable with and you don’t end up with too many of one thing). An added bonus of potluck? It’s a great conversation starter for guests who may not know each other. “We all have our favorite Thanksgiving comfort food, so encourage everyone to bring a little taste of their home to your house,” says Cohen. “Many of my lifelong friendships have developed around food. It’s a bonding experience that brings us all together.”
Be strategic with finger foods
Most dinner parties serve hors d’oeuvres as guests arrive, but there’s no need to go crazy with stuffed mushrooms and shrimp cocktail, since the star of this show should be the dinner itself. “If your guests have waited all day for this feast, it’s a good idea to offer some appetizers, but you also want to make sure their bellies have plenty of room for the big dinner,” says Cohen. Focus on small nibbles—some of our favorite Friendsgiving ideas include pre-cut baby carrots and dip, a wedge of goat cheese and water crackers, and some mixed nuts—to keep your guests happy and comfortable before dinner begins.
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Have fun with decor
There’s no need to go Pinterest-crazy with the Thanksgiving decorations if you don’t want to—but the sky’s the limit if you do! “The table is the first thing your guests see, so you want it to be inviting and special,” says Cohen. “The tablescape sets the tone and mood for your event. However, there’s no need to break the bank when it comes to buying decorations. Be resourceful.”
Something as simple as a bowl of mini pumpkins and gourds makes the perfect autumn centerpiece. If you have little kids or have invited couples with young children, delegate the task ahead of time by having them create these low-budget, DIY Thanksgiving crafts. “I’m a big fan of borrowing items from friends or neighbors for any event I host,” Cohen continues. “Invite your girlfriends over a few days before the event and make a night of setting up the table with items they already have. These collaborations make it much more special, because you are including pieces of their home.”
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Determine the party’s flow
You know the flow of your house best, so plan the party layout accordingly to avoid unnecessary crowding and congestion while you’re busy in the kitchen. “Your adult beverages should be away from the food prep area,” advises Cohen. “Guests tend to congregate around the kitchen because naturally that’s where the food is. If you can find another location within the common area to set up a beverage table or bar cart, this will keep your guests away from the cooks in the kitchen until it’s time to eat.”
Set the mood with music
What kind of energy do you want your dinner party to have? “Choosing the right tunes and setting the mood are key factors in creating a sensory experience,” says Cohen. “It triggers emotions and stimulates conversations among your guests, creating new memories.” Cohen’s tips for choosing the right tunes include knowing your audience so the playlist will match their preferences, keeping the vibe upbeat and engaging, and starting off with a lower volume so that guests can engage in meaningful conversations. “As dinner begins, feel free to turn it up a notch, as this is the main event your guests have been waiting for,” she says. “If you’re hosting Friendsgiving for the first time, then take notes on how your guests react to your music—if they are grooving, then keep the playlist going for the next year and add to it.” Of course, another holiday is hot on the heels of Thanksgiving, so you’ll want to bookmark this list of Christmas songs to create that playlist.
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Keep the drinks flowing
Alcoholic beverages are a mainstay of any adult party, but you can enhance the festive cheer by skipping the predictable wine and beer and making a bowl of seasonal punch instead. Try mixing together pomegranate juice, ginger ale, pineapple juice, and a generous slosh of dark rum, or consider whipping up these delicious fall cocktails. Just be sure to keep an eye on consumption and either make up the guest bedroom or order an Uber for any guest who has had a little too much fun with this Friendsgiving idea.
Give a toast
You don’t have to be a public speaker to say a simple yet heartfelt toast. “Your friends are with you for this special occasion, so take a minute and tell them how much everyone in the room means to you,” Cohen suggests. “Your appreciation and gratitude for their presence, and of course their contribution to the evening, will go a long way.” These Thanksgiving poems can provide the perfect inspiration.
No party would be complete without a little programming, so in keeping with the theme of the holiday, try the “gratitude” game, which can be played all night. Simply tell your friends that, throughout your Friendsgiving celebration, they can only focus on things that they’re grateful for. If they complain instead, they will either have to either chug a drink or do 10 sit-ups. The gratitude game is a fun way of instilling a positive vibe into your Friendsgiving feast. If you think your party may end up needing a pick-me-up, have one of these Thanksgiving games for kids or adults on hand, or craft your very own Thanksgiving trivia game.
Create your own traditions
Friendsgiving is a new holiday unbound by rules and tradition, so feel free to invent your own! It’s your party, so serve up the feast in any way you choose. You want to serve sandwiches instead of a roast turkey dinner? Go right ahead! Feeling a vegetarian Mediterranean spread? Do it. Maybe everyone should show up in pajamas or a costume. Why not? There’s no shortage of ways to go with your Friendsgiving ideas, which means you have a chance to create your own fun, happy traditions, starting this year. Remember to take lots of pictures to commemorate the festivities, and use these Thanksgiving captions to illustrate them perfectly.
- Chelsa Cohen, founder and president of Evoque, a full-service event planning and concierge company based in Phoenix
- New York Post: “Most young people enjoy ‘Friendsgiving’ more than Thanksgiving”