Hosting a chic & stress-free Friendsgiving dinner with Olivia Muniak

Guest editor: Olivia Muniak 

We all have a different definition (and experience) of family. I fall into the modern family category: Wonderful (divorced) parents; siblings scattered across different cities. Which means that even the best of holidays can leave me feeling a bit blue because my ideal table would bring all the people I love together under one roof. 

Friends are our chosen family—and I love any excuse, big or small, to celebrate with them. This is just one reason I’ve come to embrace Friendsgiving. It always feels like the one moment before the flurry of the holiday season when we can get together before we are traveling and off with the families we were born into. 

Here's my advice on how you can host a beautiful (and stress-free!) Friendsgiving!

What to prepare ahead of time vs. the day of

Pro tip: Decide on your menu in the week before Thanksgiving (or earlier!). Have a look in the cupboard and decide what platters you’ll use for which dish to ensure you have your bases covered. Then compile the recipes and create shopping lists. I like to hit the farmers market the Sunday before, then the grocery store on Monday. This leaves Tuesday for any last-minute runs, and I can begin cooking and getting my home ready. Wednesday is the big prep day: I’ll chop, par-cook, make sauces, bake and roast anything like vegetables, starchy sides, and pies (even the whipped cream) to take the pressure off game day. 

Thursday should be about setting the table, building a bar that’s easy for guests to access (and yes, serve themselves!), and taking care of all of those finishing touches.

Which dishes should hosts opt to make vs. outsource to others?

That depends on your family and friends! Do you have a friend who is a star baker? Let them bring the pie. A friend who is vegan? Let them bring their favorite vegan side. In my experience, people feel good when they can contribute (even if it’s a bottle of nice wine). 

My must-haves for the meal

Sides: Persimmon pudding + unsweetened whipped cream, stuffing with homemade croutons, and roasted carrots

Drinks: One of my go-to winter cocktails is a Black Manhattan, which has coffee-infused amaro instead of sweet vermouth.

Main dish: I break tradition often on Thanksgiving; I love a spinach & feta stuffed turkey breast or a roasted leg of lamb with middle eastern spices. 

Vegan dish: Mashed sweet potatoes with ginger. And if you're interested in serving some vegetarian options, my Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata & Fried Scallions and Brown Butter & Sage Squash with Pistachio Dukkah are both delicious choices! 

Desserts: A slice of every pie! Pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate tart (like I said, I love non-traditional).

How I create a Friendsgiving tablescape

Fall is my favorite time to bring the outdoors in, but it’s also very easy to go overboard with decor from October-December. I stay away from pumpkins and gourds and opt to use green branches like Black Olive Eucalyptus or dried branches in fall colors and style them in a big urn or lay them sparsely across the table. I go for lots of candles and beautiful tableware and focus on the colors of linens, interesting glassware and flatware. You can find a few of my faves right on Amazon. Creating a printed menu and handwritten place cards is also always a nice touch. 

Buffet style or family style—which is best?

Buffet all the way! I like having a clean and pretty table—family-style crowds the already full table. 

And my final bit of advice...

Remember: it doesn't have to be perfect—your friends are there and that's what matters. (Oh, and always be sure to empty the dishwasher before they get there.)

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A self-taught chef who grew up in a New York City restaurant family, Olivia Muniak creates enchanting food-focused events for clients like Nike, Stella McCartney, Moët Hennessy and Laura Mercier and has developed custom content and recipes for fashion and lifestyle and brands including Jenni Kayne and Anthropologie.

Her popular blog and IG feed is an ever evolving compendium of what she’s cooking and a shoppable edit of her favorite kitchen and entertaining essentials.

Her entertaining philosophy is deceptively simple: Settings should be candle-lit, evenings always begin with a cocktail, and the conversation around the table should be as delectable and inspired as the food.

In a word? Magic.

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