If the internet is any indication, Thanksgiving requires a lot of prep. Not cooking (though, also that) and not cleaning (though, that too). Rather, the days before Turkey Day should clearly be spent preparing oneself—mentally, emotionally, alcoholically—for the annual tightrope walk that is Discussing Things With Your Family. Indeed, this week has brought guide upon guide to staying civil with the relatives while talking through everything from sexual harassment to bitcoin.
But there’s another way! Whether to skip the familial debates or avoid the holiday traffic, enjoying a low-key Friendsgiving is a great option for keeping the cranberry sauce and nixing the conflict. To help you plan a good one, we asked a panel of Quartz experts for their best tips on hosting (or attending) the perfect Friendsgiving.
Take control. First of all, always potluck. And to avoid ending up with eight pumpkin pies, consider throwing together a spreadsheet to organize your delicious spread. You can opt to assign specific dishes or give people firm guidelines, while still leaving room for creative liberties. For example, you can create a column that lists the categories of dishes, such as “vegetable #1,” “vegetable #2,” “dessert #5,” and have people claim spots by penciling in their signature platters. That way, you can avoid any duplicates and ensure a well-balanced meal.
It’s also a kickass move to ask your guests about dietary restrictions and let the other attendees know about them—especially if there are severe allergies among your group. Those guests who do have restrictions will love you for alleviating the awkward task of bringing it up themselves, or needing to ask about the ingredients of every dish at the party. —Karen Hao
Prep in advance, including for disaster. Meal prep and planning is key. Make whatever you can in advance, and if you’re cooking multiple dishes, plan them out so you know the time and temperature of everything. For an assist, try kitchen app Thyme, which allows you to set a timer for each burner and the oven separately. —Kristin Oakley
Have a turkey backup. A big sausage stuffing can satisfy everyone’s hunger if the bird doesn’t turn out well. Plus it makes fantastic leftovers for days. —Dave Edwards
Ask for help. Consider tapping a close friend to help you set up. You can compensate them with pre-dinner alcohol or a more formal token of gratitude later. Hosting a party is hard! Having another person around for table-setting and menu-brainstorming is invaluable when you’re feeling that inevitable host anxiety. —Katherine Foley
If your friends are taking the bus into town, you shouldn’t expect them to travel with elaborate side dishes. But once they arrive, take advantage of the extra labor! Have a running list of jobs in your head, and don’t say no when someone offers help (unless it’s to cook the turkey). Even if it takes a little effort to explain how to navigate your cramped kitchen, it will ensure that everyone feels included in the prep, and not just like you’re serving them dinner. —Paul Smalera
Schedule to maximize attendance. Timing a Friendsgiving all depends on whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving orphans or just doing something additional with your pals. The former is ideally held on actual Thanksgiving (because spending holidays alone is no fun). But if you’re aiming for the latter, set up a Doodle poll or a whenisgood and pick the day that works for the most people. Also: Consider hosting on a day when you don’t have work the next. You’ll need time to recover from the copious wine and laughter. —Karen Hao
If you’re hosting, set a firm start time so your guests know when they can expect to eat. (I always plan to put out food about an hour and a half after the official start.) It’s also good to plan an end time, in case anyone has conflicting events. But you should expect (or even ask) some people to stay longer to help clean up… and finish any leftover booze and dessert. —Katherine Foley
Handle the booze. When guests roll in with a bottle, ask them if they want to refrigerate or chill their selections, as well as whether they want to add what they brought to the general selection or open it at a specific time. No one likes it when their host gift gets mixed in with gen pop and consumed that evening, or when something really special gets tucked away and forgotten about. —Annaliese Griffin
Create a little #ambiance. If you’re hoping to stick to a schedule, make a playlist in advance and use different types of music to cue dinner. (Otherwise, play Hanson. Everyone loves those brothers from the 90s.) —Katherine Foley
Use Netflix to put a 4k fireplace on the TV. —Kristin Oakley
Clean as you go. There’s nothing more anxiety-provoking than watching the sink steadily fill with food-crusted plates, bowls, and silverware. To save yourself an end-of-night headache (you’ll already have a hangover), every 10 or 15 minutes, put on a fun song and rally yourself or someone else to take on a one-song dish dash. If you do this steadily through the night (albeit not while you’re eating), you’ll be able to clean all the dirty dishes in one-song sprints. —Leah Fessler
Bring as much alcohol as you yourself want to drink. Yes, even if you show up with nothing for the bar, you’ll probably still get your three glasses of wine, four cocktails, or six beers (no judgment!) But there’s a statistically significant chance that enough people had the same (lack of) plan, and that not enough others brought extra to cover the empty-handed. Listen: No night has ever ended early because there were three bottles of red left over, so don’t stress about having too much alcohol. Plus if you happen to be one of only two people who brought wine, then you get to be one of the lucky ones who watches music videos while the rest of the party trudges outside on a booze run. —Elijah Wolfson
Have a go-to dish you can make in a rush. My latest potluck Friendsgiving was an emotional journey—and it didn’t have to be. I’d planned to make a tiramisu, since the host mentioned it was her favorite dessert. At some point I panicked that I didn’t have time to make anything, but when I walked into a bakery to buy something ready-made, my ambition screamed “NO!” I quickly got tiramisu ingredients instead, made it in 30 minutes, and was just one (fashionable) hour late the festivities. Simple, quick dishes can be just as delicious as the labor-intensive ones! And if you’re attending multiple Friendsgiving events, just go ahead and make two. (Recipe from my mom, the master of loose, unspecific directions: Mix a good amount of mascarpone with 3-4 egg yolks and combine with cream whipped with powdered sugar. Layer it with ladyfingers dipped in coffee with a splash of liqueur of your choice, and top the last layer of the cream mixture with cocoa. Voila!) —Hanna Kozlowksa
Find a way to express your appreciation for your host. Host gifts sound like an etiquette rule from the 1950s, but no one has ever been mad to receive a bouquet of flowers, or an excellent bottle of booze. If you opt for the latter, make it clear to your host that they should tuck it away for another time. Another way to help is to check in a couple hours before you’re scheduled to arrive and ask if there’s anything you can grab on the way—toilet paper, paper towels, ice, and heavy cream are all Thanksgiving essentials that can prove crucial. Or, be old fashioned and send a thank you card when it’s all said and done. —Annaliese Griffin