When it comes to the classic cooking scene in the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, it's tough to take sides between Snoopy and Peppermint Patty. On the one hand, Snoopy's plan to whip up a "dinner" of toast, popcorn, and candy has somewhat of the right idea—it's a Friendsgiving, after all, so the mood is decidedly more casual than a family dinner. On the flip side, we don't blame Peppermint Patty too much for her less-than-enthusiastic response when that meal is served. Friends deserve a feast, too.
So what's the best way to plan a Friendsgiving that's as effortless as Snoopy's prep but still satisfies discerning guests like Peppermint Patty? For a tough question like that, we couldn't just visit a five-cent psychiatric booth. We had to go to Greg Lofts, the deputy editor of food and entertaining at Martha Stewart Living.
"Don't over-plan," he says. "It's a party, not your wedding. If you have the celebration planned down to the minute, your guests won't be having much fun, and you probably won't either. And besides, once you've popped that second bottle of champagne, most of your plans will go out the window, anyway."
We asked Lofts to offer advice on how to coordinate and pull off a Friendsgiving that all of your guests will enjoy, including tips on scheduling your time and themes to incorporate for a warm but laid-back setting. As you put everything together, remember that the best thing you can do as the host is to let go and have fun. No one really wants a Charlie Brown personality at the party, anyway.
"Don't stress and don't sweat the small stuff," he says. "These are your friends, they already love you and shouldn't expect to be impressed, unless you keep high-maintenance friends. Most important of all, keep it simple. Leonardo da Vinci said it best, 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.' Even if you aren't going the potluck route, ask friends to bring wine, chocolates, or something else that will take some of the pressure off."
Five Possible Themes for a Friendsgiving Party
A Pies and Sides Potluck: "A potluck is probably the most obvious and unexciting option but it does make things easier for you," he says. "It gives you the two-fold benefit of having less food to prepare while giving your guests some parameters on what to bring without being too specific."
"Ask half of your guests to bring pies and the other half to bring sides, and then confirm what they plan to make before the party so you don't end up with five apple pies and five green bean casseroles. Although truthfully, apple pie is one of my favorite things in the world, so I wouldn't be too upset if no pumpkin or pecan pies appeared."
A Friends ThanksChristmas: "Hear me out: A friend of mine used to do this in college and it was so brilliant," Lofts continues. "Friendsgiving celebrations generally fall during the week before or after the Thanksgiving holiday since most of us are with family on the big day. If you host your party after Thanksgiving, make it a ThanksChristmas!"
"It features all of the best parts of both holidays: a turkey, dressing, a pie perhaps, plus a decorative gourd or two and a skittering of fallen leaves on the table for autumnal realness. But then you also get the festive tinsel and twinkling lights and holiday cookies and eggnog that you 'accidentally' poured way too much bourbon into. And here's the best tip of all if you're decorating-obsessed like me: All of the Thanksgiving décor goes on sale on Black Friday. Stock up right after the holiday for your Friendsgiving celebration, then store the decorations for next year."
Netflix and Chili: "Why ask your friends to put on dresses and high heels when they can just roll out of bed and head over in their slippers?" he asks. "Better yet, you can turn this into a surprise. Buy sets of inexpensive, one-size-fits-all pajamas and hand them out to unsuspecting friends as they arrive. My partner's family did this one year for Christmas with Star Wars–themed prints and it was a riotously good time."
"Make a big pot of chili—which is the perfect make-ahead main course—and put out all the fixings, including Fritos for Frito pie. Guests can help themselves whenever they see fit, and you can literally prep everything ahead of time, down to shredding the cheese and slicing the jalapeños."
Pies and Thighs: "The thigh is what's up with all manner of fowl! All right, I'll make an exception for duck breasts, but only because of that crispy, fatty skin," he says. "Name any other bird, and the thigh is the juiciest, most flavorful and delicious cut. Plus, thighs cook quickly and evenly and are more economical than breasts or whole birds."
"This menu will give you more time to enjoy your friends since you won't be crouched in the oven all afternoon basting a 20-pound winged beast. And with pies to finish on a sweet note, do you really need anything else?"
Game Night: "Games are fun, especially with friends," Lofts says. "Have a range of games, including physical activity games like Twister and card games like Cards Against Humanity to really get the room rolling with laughter."
"Set out lots of snacks and substantial hors-d'oeuvres that you can graze on throughout the evening. Nobody wants get up and migrate to the dining table in the middle of a neck-and-neck round of Chutes and Ladders."
How to Plan for the Event
Devise a menu and a schedule. "Make a menu with lots of things you can make ahead, then plan ahead," he says. "Write out a shopping and prep list and note when each item on the prep list should be completed."
Ask your friends if they have any food allergies. "There are bound to be a few, but some people are shy about speaking up," Lofts says. "No matter what, I always like to make at least one dish vegetarian and one gluten-free."
Go shopping in advance. "Decide on the menu at least a week before the party, then go out and shop right away for the pantry items, booze, and other non-perishables," he notes. "Pick up the more perishable things like meats and herbs two or three days beforehand. We are the party planning experts here at Martha Stewart, and our website is an indispensable resource for tons of inspiration, including recipes with notes on how to make-ahead, store, and reheat party favorites like pigs in a blanket."
Mix store-bought items with homemade ones. "Everything from scratch is admirable, maybe even aspirational, but let's be real with ourselves," he says. "I will proudly pour olives from a jar into a bowl, or a favorite store-bought pepper jelly over a block of cream cheese with some Ritz crackers on the side. Nobody will complain, and the cream cheese will probably be gone long before your painstakingly assembled canapés."
Plan to have lots of ice. "Store it in freezer bags," he says. "The ice machine will never keep up with your thirsty friends."
Do not forget music (under any circumstances). "Play music or it's just a meeting, and make a playlist ahead of time," he says. "If you have a record player like me, pull out an evening's worth of tunes from the stack before guests arrive so that when the music stops, you aren't awkwardly flipping through the dusty pile of disorganized records trying to find that one upbeat, party-perfect Men at Work album amongst all the Joni Mitchell LPs. Can you tell that I'm speaking from personal experience?"
A Friendly Reminder at the End of the Night
"Let the dishes pile up in the sink until after all of the guests have left, or use earth-friendly disposables if you can't bear the thought of a messy kitchen," Lofts says. "Be in the party, be in the moment, and enjoy your amazing friends! They will give you infinitely more joy than gloves and dish soap. Worst of all, they might take seeing you clean as a sign that it's time to leave. If you really do want your guests to leave, just crank up Donna Summer's Last Dance. Everyone knows that song is the universal signal to leave the building."