Cardillo poured festive apple cider bourbon mimosas for a fall-inspired brunch instead of an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner. MUST CREDIT: Britney Ann Cardillo.
Photo by: BRITNEY ANN CARDILLO — HANDOUT
Everyone loves Friendsgiving. Really, what's not to love? It's the ideal Thanksgiving dinner alternative - no expensive ticket home, no familial drama and no one who will judge you for that extra glass (or three) of wine.
The problem is, no one wants to host it. The millennials and post-grads who most enjoy Friendsgiving don't have the space or the budget to throw a formal feast. But not to worry - we've tapped tastemakers, designers and food buffs for their advice on how to pull off a successful and stress-free dinner.
- Plan ahead
Friendsgiving isn't meant to be fussy or formal but rather comfy, casual and communal. Still, the veteran hosts we spoke with stressed the importance of advance planning. Brittney Ann Cardillo, an event manager by day and author of the lifestyle blog Hosting & Toasting by night, likes to take the week before to plan, buy groceries and set her table.
Bobby Berk, a contemporary designer and Friendsgiving veteran (he hosted 10 in a small New York City pad) concurs. Plan ahead and as early as possible, he advises. Prepare a shopping list, cooking schedule and timetable. Then use them.
Send out invitations at least 10 days in advance. Cardillo, who lives in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, recommends using e-mail invitations from Evite or Paperless Post, rather than Facebook, to get the word out, and then following up with guests a week before with an e-mail or text.
- Keep it small
As fun as it may seem to invite everyone you like to the festivities, keep in mind the amount of space you have available and the number of people who will fit comfortably. "I think what makes a good party is making it as personal and homey as you possibly can," says Susan Gage, owner of Susan Gage Caterers. Your guest list should be small and cohesive - 20 people at the most. More than that and you forfeit the low-stress, intimate nature of the holiday.
"I think when you get any larger than that - and trust me, I actually have had larger than that - you kind of lose the whole aspect of Friendsgiving and sharing a meal together," Cardillo says. "People aren't able to catch up or meet everyone."
- Don't wing it
Many people think that the most stressful part of a Thanksgiving dinner is fixing the turkey. Gage is not one of them. "It's probably the easiest item on a Thanksgiving menu," she says. "All you have to do is stick some herbs, an onion, some carrots and a whole head of garlic inside the cavity . . . which gives the meat flavor from the inside out."
Cardillo, Berk and Gage all agree that the bird (and gravy) should be the host's responsibility. It's easier to cook the turkey at the party than to have someone else prepare and transport it. Plus, Gage adds, it makes the hosts' house "smell like Thanksgiving."
To avoid mishaps, stick to a simple recipe and map out the turkey plan at least a day in advance. Decide how big your turkey should be, depending on the guest count (the Agriculture Department recommends one pound per person, but go bigger if you want leftovers), and where you'll buy it. Consider inviting people who have previous turkey-making experience over beforehand to help monitor. Cardillo decided to invite two friends over the night before to prepare the turkey and made an evening out of it. "We shared wine [and] cooked the bird," Cardillo says. "If all else fails and it comes out horribly, you then have time to come up with a backup plan."
- Delegate kitchen responsibilities
Hosting a potluck-style evening will alleviate a lot of hosting stress and assure "you're not soaking up all the costs," Cardillo says. Ask guests to play to their strengths or bring their favorite family dish. "Don't just say, 'Bring anything!' Take control of the situation," Berk advises. "Give them some kind of impression of what they should bring and make sure everyone chooses one, and not the same one."
Use a Google Doc to coordinate who's cooking what to ensure a cohesive menu and a variety of sweet and savory dishes. (Nobody wants 10 pumpkin pies and no greens.) If friends are unsure of their culinary skills, suggest they bring wine, flowers, cheese, ice or napkins. Also, ask a friend who has good taste in music to make a party playlist on Spotify or iTunes to make the meal all the merrier.
- Prepare the setting
Throwing a dinner party in a small studio or cramped one-bedroom apartment can be daunting, but a little rearrangement of furniture can transform your living room into a comfy and inviting party space. Berk suggests turning your coffee table into a low-level dining table by moving it toward the center of the room and adding cubes and poufs to accommodate more guests. Throw on a white tablecloth to give it a nice, formal touch.
Need extra tables or seating? Borrow, rent or buy furniture as needed. Cheap folding card and banquet tables can be found at Ikea, Target and Wal-Mart for as little as $23 and easily slide under the bed for future occasions.
- Know your guests' needs
Are your friends vegan, lactose intolerant or paleo? Ask about diets and allergies ahead of time and be considerate by offering dishes that will accommodate them, such as substantial vegetarian sides and non-alcoholic beverages. Berk suggests also labeling your kitchen cabinets and drawers; that way your guests won't need to ask for items they may need throughout the night. Also, be sure to stock trash bags, dish soap, paper towels, toilet paper and ice before the big day.
- Think about the details
A few seasonal touches are all you need to give the gathering a Thanksgiving tone. Cardillo suggests converting miniature pumpkins into gourd-geous place cards by adding personalized name tags in nice lettering. It's an easy way to dress up the table, and they make great party favors.
For an easy and special treat, brew a festive, fall-inspired cocktail, such as an apple-cider hot toddy or a Moscow mule, for guests to sip. It's the simple, creative, personalized gestures that guests will appreciate and remember, Cardillo says. "Love really is in the details."
- Minimize the mess
Gage recommends that hosts ask guests to bring their dishes warm and in the tray they would like to serve it in, along with the appropriate utensil. At the end of the meal, she suggests asking guests to pack up their gear and take it home with them still dirty.
Or, if you don't want to send guests home with dirty dishes, initiate cleanup between dinner and dessert. "That way nobody leaves in between," he says, adding jokingly, "They need to pay to play."
Want to avoid cleanup altogether? Buy seasonal paper plates and cups that can be tossed or rent dishware from a special-events supplier. "You don't have to wash them. You just put them back in the crate and take them back dirty," Gage says.
- Get creative
Don't have room for a full, sit-down supper? Instead, make it a reception by enlisting smaller dishes (as Berk says, "turkey tapas") and using paper plates ("It encourages people to put less on their plate and be able to walk around with it," Cardillo says). Or, if your friends live close by, coordinate a progressive dinner involving multiple hosts to allow a change of scenery and prevent a burden upon one person. Another option Cardillo suggests is hosting a Friendsgiving brunch. Guests can make fall-inspired dishes such as pumpkin pancakes, maple-glazed bacon and hard sparkling cider.
- Don't lose sight of the holiday
Your friends are your friends for a reason. Dinner may be late, there may be little elbowroom, the turkey may even be charred - and they'll still like you.
So grab yourself a glass of wine, mingle with friends and remember not to sweat the small stuff. At the end of the night, as long as your guests are full, happy and enjoying one another's company, consider the night a success.