Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means it is officially feasting season! Thanksgiving has always been up there on my list of favorite holidays; however, since moving to the UK, it has cemented its place at the top of my list. There’s something so incredible about introducing Brits to the magic of a turkey coma and the intense sweetness of sweet potato casserole. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, and therefore not a day off work, we celebrate Thanksgiving either the weekend before or the weekend after. Therefore, it is technically Friendsgiving.
I absolutely love hosting this dinner each year, so decided to compile my advice into a ‘how to host Friendsgiving’ post. Whether you’re an American abroad looking to introduce Thanksgiving to your friends, or you’re in the States and just don’t know where to start, these tips should come in handy and help you host an unforgettable Friendsgiving (or Christmas or a massive birthday dinner or anything really…). Read on for my all of my favorite tips, tricks, and recipes! Note: These can be applied to any sort of dinner party!
How to Host Friendsgiving – and Keep your Guests Talking about it for Months to Come!
I’ve been attending Friendsgiving dinners since my high school friends and I started doing them in high school, but I must admit that it’s changed significantly since then. Instead of having my mom whip up a side dish I could take to a friend’s house, I am now hosting my own Friendsgiving dinners, turkey and all! I’ll admit that it can be a bit stressful to plan a Friendsgiving dinner, but it always ends up being so much fun that I start looking forward to and planning the next one as soon as we hit August and autumn seems within reach!
Our Friendsgiving dinners are relatively elementary because we have limited space. Since we don’t have a dining room table, we work with temporary tables and chairs, disposable table clothes, and paper plates. If we manage to make Friendsgiving work in our home environment, we promise anyone can learn how to host Friendsgiving!
These are the steps we take to make Friendsgiving happen each year:
Set the Date
Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday of November each year, but Friendsgiving can be on any date you’d like. While I’ve never heard of a Friendsgiving celebration outside of November, I’m sure you can justify a well-deserved turkey meal in March if you really wanted to! We tend to host Friendsgiving on the Saturday before or the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This puts it close enough to the real celebration, while leaving us with a full non-work day to prepare, and a full non-work day to recover after!
Make a Guest List
Once you set the date, create your guest list and get some sort of ‘Save the Date’ out to everyone. We use Facebook events and send out the invites as soon as we solidify the date. That way, people can plan around it and nobody misses out.
When it comes to choosing a guest list, it’s a lot like making your wedding guest list – except harder. After all, you’ll likely have one big table instead of 10 tables spread throughout a marquee, so you can’t really separate people who don’t get along. Additionally, you’ll want to choose a group that will appreciate the concept of Thanksgiving & all the celebration (food) that goes along with it. If you’re doing a pot luck, you’ll also want to invite people who you know will participate. So, although Friendsgiving seems like a relatively straightforward thing, you do need to put a good amount of thought into who you invite!
Things to consider when making your Friendsgiving guest list:
- Where will you be holding Friendsgiving? If at home, how many people can you realistically fit?
- Do you want to invite all of one friend group, or parts of multiple friend groups? Try not to invite one or two people who will not know anybody else there and may feel left out.
- Will your guests like the type of food that will be served, or are they going to take up a seat and not eat anything?
- Are your guests going to participate (i.e., bring food or contribute financially)?
- If you have hosted a Friendsgiving before, are you going to invite the same people, or mix up the group each year?
Choose a Theme – and Stick to it!
This isn’t a child’s birthday party, so themes like “A Day at the Zoo” and “Princess Tea Party” are not required. However, whenever you host any party, it is important to have a theme, even if it is a subtle one. Themes help direct your menu choices and decorations, and will provide a guidance so everything goes together. For Friendsgiving, the theme can be as simple as ‘Thanksgiving” or “Autumn”. I usually go for an autumnal theme because Thanksgiving items are hard to come by in the UK (I did, however, manage to snatch up some Thanksgiving photobooth props this year). Even without Thanksgiving decor, we serve all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods and stick with fall tones and scents for everything else, including our signature autumn welcome cocktail!
Keep your theme in mind when planning…
- The Menu
- Cocktails & Drinks
- Ambiance (i.e., outdoor picnic style or a fancier, intimate candlelit dinner?)
- Decorations – Wreaths, Candles, Pumpkins, Table Clothes & Runners, etc.
- What to Wear
Decide on the Format
There are a variety of formats that your Friendsgiving dinner can take on, but I am only going to focus on the most popular two: potluck and dinner party. When it comes to something like Friendsgiving, I think that potluck is the way to go. Everybody gets involved by preparing their own dish, and you don’t have to worry about the fact that you need to cook side dishes while the turkey is hogging your oven all day. However, if you have a big kitchen or more than one oven, you may prefer to make all of the dishes yourself.
How to Organize a Friendsgiving Potluck
For a potluck, I recommend the host cooks the turkey (so no transport is required) and any of their favorite dishes. Then, allocate the rest of the dishes to the guests. In my case, since all of our guests are British and not familiar with Thanksgiving dishes, I usually make the dishes that are the most obscure and not British (sweet potato casserole, cornbread, etc.). That way I can guarantee they’re done the way I’m used to. For other dishes, I send out recipes, or at least produce a menu and let everyone claim what they want to make. However, you can also leave it up to your guests. Just make sure you know what everybody is making so you aren’t left with 8 cheesecakes!
How to Plan a Friendsgiving Dinner
If you have the space and patience to make all of the dishes for your dinner party on your own, it’s a great way to maintain control over what is served and how it is served. In the case that you are making it all, you might want to ask everyone for a financial contribution. After all, if you are providing all of the food and wine and fun, your friends will probably be more than happy to chip in £10-15 (especially if you’re in your mid-twenties like us!). For an older crowd, maybe it’s not as appropriate to ask for financial contributions – it’s totally up to you and how comfortable you are with that!
How to Organize a Friendsgiving Dinner Out
In the US, it is very customary to have Thanksgiving dinner at home. In fact, it’s quite rare to find a restaurant offering a Thanksgiving dinner on or around the holiday. However, in the UK, Thanksgiving dinner offerings are extremely common, especially among the American restaurants in the city. These dinners usually have limited seating and almost always sell out, so if you want to organize for you and your friends to go out for Thanksgiving, make sure you plan in advance. Thanksgiving dinners range from about £30-110 per person and include turkey, side dishes, dessert, and sometimes a cocktail.
Different restaurants offer Thanksgiving dinner each year, but some worth checking out include: Boondocks, Blue’s Kitchen, Riding House Cafe, and Balthazar. These places all offer dinner on Thanksgiving day, so if you want to celebrate on the actual day, it’s the perfect opportunity to do so without taking the day off work to cook!
Write your Menu
It’s important to write a menu for Friendsgiving so you can provide guidance for both yourself and your guests. If you are doing a potluck, for example, even keeping track of the dishes that guests agree to bring is technically writing a menu. In my case, I often write the full menu and then let guests claim which dish they want to bring from that menu. This helps me ensure that all of the important dishes are covered, and that everything will ultimately go together.
The most important thing about Friendsgiving is that you don’t actually need to serve the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Throughout this post, I make a lot of references to turkey, sweet potato casserole, etc. But that’s because that’s what I do for Friendsgiving – and that’s because it’s usually the only chance I have to pig out on my favorite Thanksgiving foods. However, you can have absolutely anything for Friendsgiving (that’s the beauty of it!).
Sample Friendsgiving Menu
If you are planning on hosting a Friendsgiving with typical Thanksgiving dishes, there are so many different things you can make. Everyone grows up with different Thanksgiving traditions, which include which items they expect to see on the table each year. For some inspiration, our Friendsgiving menu often looks like this:
Green Bean Casserole
Macaroni & Cheese
Sweet Potato Casserole
In my opinion, those are all of the essentials, so I always start there. Then, I build on top of that with recent recipes I’ve liked, a starter or two, a special cocktail, etc. This year, for example, we are going to add garlic & parmesan brussel sprouts as an additional side dish and a baked brie with cranberry topping as a starter. I also try to do a different salad each year, picking the most autumnal (but light) one I can find. This year I’ve got my eye on this kale salad with cranberry vinaigrette.
If I can’t find new dishes that I want to include, I’ll take a simple dish like macaroni & cheese and try to find a recipe with a different twist so it’s different than the previous year’s dish (though southern baked mac and cheese will always be my favorite). That way, there’s always something new to look forward to. The possibilities are endless!
This year, we have some extra A6 paper left over from our wedding, so I’ve decided to print our menu for the first time. I designed an extremely simple menu using Canva and am looking forward to sprucing it up and deciding how to display it at everyone’s place setting.
Stock up on Ingredients & Decorations
Keep an eye out for the items you are going to need starting about a month before your party, if not earlier. If you are hosting a celebration abroad, this is even more important. Many countries will not have ‘Thanksgiving’ branded items, so consider using autumnal items or just generic items for your celebration. Pumpkins in the UK, for example, come out for Halloween and then go away; so, if you want a pumpkin or a gourd for your Thanksgiving decoration, you probably want to invest in a fake one (unless you know how to make a pumpkin last until Thanksgiving!).
When it comes to food, items like pureed pumpkin and stovetop stuffing might be hard to find, so plan around that. We always stock up on pureed pumpkin and other Thanksgiving necessities from Partridge’s in London, so we’ll never be struggling when Friendsgiving comes around!
Create a Timeline for the Day Of
This may seem like a crazy thing to say, but planning a party isn’t too different from wedding planning. Sure, wedding planning takes about 12x as long and costs about 100x more, but the organizational aspects are pretty much the same. One item that falls under organization (and totally saved me on my wedding day!) is a day of timeline. When you are expecting guests at a certain time, and your guests are expecting to eat at a certain time, it’s important to plan the day accordingly. For example, you don’t want your first guest to show up while you’re still in your dressing gown because you showered too late! You also don’t want your guests sitting around for hours while you’re in the kitchen finishing up the cooking.
It’s important to find a balance and create a timeline that will help you achieve that. We usually start cooking at 9:00 and our guests to come for 3:00pm. The turkey gets cooked first, followed by side dishes. When our guests arrive, we’ll pop anything into the oven that needs warming while our guests are enjoying appetizers and cocktails. Then, we’ll sit down for dinner around 4pm while the desserts cook in the oven. By 6pm, we lose track of time and the evening turns into a really fun night of wine, games, and conversation.
The most important thing about any Friendsgiving even you host is that you need to have fun! If you don’t enjoy hosting, don’t offer to host. There is nothing worse than being so stressed that you can’t enjoy something. Thanksgiving in general is about spending time with family and friends and reflecting on all you have to be grateful for. So choose the friends you want to spend those moments with, invite them over, and take it from there! If anything goes wrong, they probably won’t care. So stop stressing and enjoy hosting an unforgettable Friendsgiving!
Do you have any unforgettable Thanksgiving recipes that you’d like to share?
I’m always looking for new recipes to try (and share!) at Friendsgiving, so leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to check them out!