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I've hosted Friendsgiving for two decades — here's how I throw the perfect party

Aim to keep your shindig fresh, exciting, comfortable and, most of all, memorable.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Some would argue that our friends on the Mayflower hosted the first Friendsgiving. Others would say the cast of "Friends" started the trend. This debate will go on for centuries, but regardless of who started Friendsgiving, I will boldly claim that my friends and I OWN Friendsgiving.

Sure, Monica always set out an awesome celebratory menu and Rachel made her epic meat trifle, but did they buy custom Friendsgiving shirts? Did they convert a detached garage into an amazing dining space? Did they hire a sommelier?

Nope, but we did!

Since our first Friendsgiving celebration in 2001, my cronies and I have brought our A-game to each and every feast, and each and every year we attempt to raise the holiday hosting bar and learn from our mistakes.

How to curate the perfect Friendsgiving atmosphere

According to Hollyn Culley, an assistant director of special events based in West Lafayette, Indiana, Friendsgiving is a calendar staple that you should aim to keep fresh, exciting, comfortable and, most of all, memorable.

“There are several things to consider when putting together the perfect Friendsgiving event,” said Culley. “Start with space as your top priority. You want people to be cozy but have room to move around and enjoy the food and company."

You also want your square footage to be functional and fun. When you think of the ideal spot for your feast, think about logistics:

  • ​​Traffic flow: How are people going to walk about the space? Is there enough room for your friends to get food, walk and have a place to sit without feeling squished?
  • Seating: Make sure you account for most of your guests wanting to sit. Depending on your food selection, determine if table/trays are needed for people to be able to eat.
  • Serving space: Where will your friends set up their food for others to devour? Make sure you have a designated space ahead of time.
  • Breathing room: In a (hopefully) post-pandemic world, people are more conscious than ever of feeling crowded in a room. Make sure your space choice, whether it be your house, apartment or a rented events venue, makes sense for the number of friends you are inviting.

Once you have your flight plan configured, it’s time to start thinking about ambiance. You could go the dim lit steakhouse route, but since this is Friendsgiving, you want it to be fun and lively and perhaps not overly pricey.

“I am a firm believer in the magic of fresh floral,” says Culley. “Stop at your favorite grocery store (or better yet, a local florist) and pick up some seasonal flowers to dress up your tables and space."

Music also goes a long way in setting the tenor of a Friendsgiving feast. “Create a playlist for the event, and maybe include your favorite songs from college, today’s best hits [or] a combo of emo hits of the early 2000s and jazz,” offered Culley.

Finally, it's never a bad idea to add a hands-on, sentimental touch to the party.

“Add an “I am thankful for...” wall to your space for friends to share what they are thankful for this year,” said Culley. Bonus tip: hang onto the sayings for the next year to see how friends have grown since last Friendsgiving!

How to curate the perfect Friendsgiving menu

When it comes to the main course of your event, the world doesn’t have to revolve around the bird, according to Culley. The meal can be whatever you make it!

“Don’t feel the need to be traditional with your food choices,” said Culley. “Pick foods that work for your group. Last year, my friends and I did our favorite side dishes, but no main course. Find a food theme that works for your friend group and their dietary needs and run with it. Traditional Thanksgiving fare? Love it. Pasta lovers affairs? Do it. Charcuterie and apps galore? Can’t imagine a better time. Do what works for your group!"

Personally, what works for my friend group in 2022 is a tour of Italy. After 21 years of the same delicious and savory turkey that has singed fingertips and delighted taste buds, we are going rogue this season with a multicourse, full-force Italian feast for the ages. There will be antipasti, primi, secondi and most importantly dolci. There are a lot of carbs and dairy in our future and we are here for it.

While we set and digest what we’ve learned today, here are some product ideas to bring your Friendsgiving to the next level.

Friendsgiving essentials to shop

PrepNaturals Meal Prep Containers

If you love leftovers and don't want your friends schlepping in their own Tupperware, these top-rated options are the take home containers that will ferry your meal safely home with them at the end of the night.

MintCustomsBoutique Thanksgiving Wine Glasses

There is a lid for every pot and a wine glass fit for every friend at your table. Select the glass perfect for Stef or the stemware ideal for Paul. There is bound to be a glass that suits the personality of everyone in your group.

CheefulGiftCo Thanksgiving Tees

Each year, my friend group enjoys a commemorative keepsake from our Friendsgiving event. And in 2021, my friend Hillary knocked it out of the park with this one. These are good for subsequent Friendsgivings and for the entire Thanksgiving season!

Mudpie Friendsgiving Boxed Platter

This is a ceramic centerpiece that says what your heart is feeling and holds a loaf of bread all at the same time. Decorative and beautifully sassy, this platter will have a special place on your Friendsgiving table for years to come.

Elite Gourmet Stainless Steel Electric Triple Buffet Server

If you want to raise your Friendsgiving game (and the temperature of side dishes that have been in the car for a few minutes), this buffet server will accomplish all. Stainless steel, fast-warming and featuring three large capacity food pans, say goodbye to lukewarm mashed potatoes and hello to steamy starches!

Personalization Mall Eat, Drink & Be Merry Personalized Galvanized Beverage Tub

Add that special touch to your Friendsgiving with a personalized beverage tub. Nothing says bottoms up like a beverage tub with your names all over it.

The Best Friend Game

To quote the movie "St. Elmo’s Fire," “I can't remember who met who first or who fell in love with who first. All I can remember is the seven of us always together.” This game takes that memorable line and lights a match. The point of this game is to remember and to prove you are the one who knows your friends the best. Winner takes all and harbors gloating rights for one full calendar year.

Gobble Till You Wobble Banner

This decor is a little something to make your event official and to take up that wall space you just don’t know what to do with.

FRIENDS™ | Cast Thanksgiving Group Hug Jigsaw Puzzle

In honor of all the fantastic "Friends" Friendsgiving episodes, it only seems fair to tip the cap to one of their time honored traditions: puzzling. As you wait patiently for the turkey to brine, enjoy 676 pieces of Central Perk fun. The odds that you will finish this puzzle in one evening is low, but hey, there is always next year!

IconicaDesign Friendsgiving Backdrop

Speaking of "Friends," capture some of your best Friendsgiving memories in front of this epic photo banner. Could you be any more awesome?!

Mr. Coffee One-Touch CoffeeHouse+ Espresso, Cappuccino and Latte Maker

As mentioned, my friends and I are going for an Italiano Friendsgiving this year, and what would an Italian feast be without the cafe course? Since we will not be celebrating next to a quaint Italian cafe, I am bringing the cafe to us thanks to this amazing coffee maker from Mr. Coffee. With the touch of a button, go from hostess to barista in moments. It also allows you to brew, froth and dabble with your cappuccino, latte and espresso making skills. Easy to clean and easy to use, this coffee maker will also be a hit for gifting during the holidays.

Bartesian® Premium Bar Tool Set

My dad bought this. My sister was jealous of his, so she bought this. Now I must make it mine. This cocktail device is, in a word, “amazeballs”. It’s basically the equivalent of what would happen if a Keurig and Grey Goose made a baby. Just add your favorite adult beverage, mix with the cocktail pods and enjoy!