This year, you can’t go home to your family for Thanksgiving, and neither can some of your friends. Which is why you agreed to host a Friendsgiving dinner for your chosen family.

But you need more than a fully stocked bar to ensure your guests absolutely forget they’re not at home eating mom’s pumpkin pie. (Though, let’s be honest—that’s a relief for some.)

Think you got this? Helping out your mom in the kitchen around various holidays is one thing. Hosting the Big American Dinner To End All Dinners is another endeavor altogether. That’s why we spoke to pastry chef Stephanie Nass, otherwise known as the “millennial Martha Stewart” and founder of  Chefanie Sheets, a designer line of shelf-stable cake sheets that can be applied to homemade or store-bought cakes.

When Nass plans her dinner events, she likes her people to feel pampered from the get-go. “We want guests to be satisfied and spoiled as soon as they walk in the door,” she says. For more of Nass go-to rules, read on.

  1. Have drinks and hors d’oeuvres ready

No matter how behind you are in the cooking, put the turkey baster down. You don’t want your friends sitting around empty handed while you freak out in the kitchen. “When guests arrive, have an autumnal punch with apples sliced like matchsticks and put out some antipasto to absorb the alcohol,” Nass says. You can’t go wrong with chunks of Parmesan, olives, and a tart made of sliced butternut squash and ricotta. Don’t forget small plates and napkins. It’s so uncomfortable when guests have to brush crumbs into your couch cracks or pretend the cat dribbled all over your favorite pillow.

  1. Swallow your pride and accept help

People like to help. It makes them feel more invested in your event, and they’ll be less likely to flake at the last minute if they know you’re counting on them. Get friends to bring desserts or sides. You can be in charge of the turkey and other mainstays like stuffing and mashed potatoes. Another cost-saving measure: Require everyone to bring a bottle of something to share. Then you don’t have to cover all the liquor costs. This is also a great way to handle dietary restrictions. Your gluten-free, Paleo, Whole30, vegan friends can bring a dish that suits them too.

  1. Sounds like adulting

The good news is your mom doesn’t have to like this playlist. “Choose music that will fill the air enough to make guests feel cozy but won’t interrupt conversations,” says Nass. “I’ll be playing ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ on my record player.”

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  1.  Make it glow

Bathe your friends in soft, golden light. Everyone looks better that way and feels more at ease (if you don’t have dimmers use a 25-watt bulb). Avoid super-white, bright, antiseptic lighting. You could string up some twinkly lights or “light candles — but not scented candles,” Nass says. “It would be a sin to have the fragrance of the candles overpower the delicious food smells.”

  1. Establish social backup

You hope your food, buzzy beverages, and friendship will be enough to keep the conversation going all night. But just in case, come up with some strategies to fill the gaps. Invite at least one life-of-the-party friend with enough social discretion not to take over completely. Also? iPhone party games (like Heads Up!) can loosen everyone up.

  1. Use nature for your tablescape

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You don’t have to spend your paycheck  to create a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner table. Spray paint some of those fall leaves from outside. At the grocery store or farmers market, grab a few gourds of all shapes, colors, and sizes and line them along the center of the table. Leftover sprigs of fresh herbs can be strewn along the center too. Inject a vibrant pop of color by filling some clear glasses with fresh cranberries. This is also where the candles come in. (Just make sure they’re not so tall friends can’t see each other from across the table.) If you want another element, use name cards for place settings.

  1. Don’t be chicken

The way Nass sees it, this is your opportunity to do something totally different with the turkey. Nass likes cooking the turkey in truffle butter and then sprinkling it with truffle salt. There’s also the deep fry method.

  1. Now is not the time to start your low-carb diet

“Be abundant in your dessert offerings,” Nass says. “The more diverse the options, the better — from pumpkin ice cream to apple cider donuts to sweet potato cake.” People will probably be disappointed if there isn’t a pumpkin or pecan pie, so include one traditional option.  And remember, bringing a pie or a dessert is an easy way for your guests to contribute too.

  1. Keep the party going

Give your guests little parting gifts. It can be mini Mason jars of apple butter, pumpkin hummus, morning-after muffins, quirky beer cozies, or tea towels with inappropriate messages. This gesture is going above and beyond, so if you want to make it really easy on yourself think about sending home leftovers in cute, cheap to-go boxes. And if you’re attending a Friendsgiving? Don’t forget to bring a gift to say thanks.  

For more great tips, tricks, and hacks, see our Ultimate Guide to Friendsgiving.

Related Video: Friendsgiving Brunch

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Amy Sowder is a writer and editor based in NYC, covering food and wellness in publications such as Bon Appétit, Women's Health, Eat This, Not That!, Upworthy/GOOD, Brooklyn Magazine, and Westchester Magazine. She loves to run races, but her favorite finish lines are gelato shops. Learn more at AmySowder.com.
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