Nobody really knows the origins of the word "friendsgiving." Some speculate that it began in the days when Friends was still on the air; fans of the sitcom would look forward to the annual episode where the six main characters would celebrate Thanksgiving together, rather than with their families. But wherever the term came from, 29-year-old Kate Ciurej has always been a massive fan of the concept.
In 2007, when she was still a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Ciurej would throw a little Thanksgiving shindig in her dorm, inviting friends—particularly those who wouldn't go home for the holiday—to partake in her elaborate turkey dinner. When she graduated, moving to New York, then Seattle to work for tech startups, she brought her Thanksgiving tradition with her. Outside the confines of her college dorm room, the party got bigger and more ambitious. In fact, over the last few years, she's taken the merrymaking to local event spaces to accommodate her ever-expanding guest list.
"Before we eat, everybody has a chance to say one thing they are thankful for," Ciurej says. "We've had to tell people to keep it brief though, since so many people now show up."
In some ways, the party is a lot like Thanksgiving with family, except there are no weird tensions and people don't have to justify their life choices to distant relatives. Guests contribute to the menu, so there is plenty of booze and dinner rolls to go around. She had over 60 people at this year's event—the ninth one she has thrown—which took place on November 14 and lasted from 5 p.m. till late into the night, as people danced off their extra stuffing calories to a specially curated Spotify playlist.
As a program manager at a software company, Ciurej doesn't have a lot of time to devote to party planning. She can't spend days menu planning, wrangling guests to bring side dishes, or shopping for vegetables. But thankfully, she's well versed in the host of technologies that cut down on time and effort when it comes to Thanksgiving.
She's not alone. According to a national survey by Dunnhumby, a customer analytics company, millennials are increasingly the ones organizing Thanksgiving and are using digital technology to modernize the holiday. Dunnhumby found that 59% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 plan on hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Sixteen percent will use an online grocery delivery service like Peapod, FreshDirect, or even Blue Apron; 21% will use apps like Instacart and Shipt. This is in sharp contrast to those in the over-55 demographic, none of whom said they would use services like this.
Millennials also tend to see Thanksgiving as a boozy day. Over half of millennials will increase their alcohol consumption as they dig into their turkey, while only 23% of their relatives 55 years and older will drink more than usual. Given the vast array of alcohol startups that have sprung up over the last few years, millennials will be able to get their beer, wine, and cocktails much quicker and more conveniently than ever before.
What does the modern, millennial Thanksgiving look like? For one thing, it seems a lot less stressful. Here's how Ciurej is using technology to make planning and executing her massive "friendsgiving" event as easy as (pumpkin) pie.
Every year, she sets up a simple webpage using free or inexpensive blogging software; this year, she used Typepad. This allows her to provide quick updates about the event—from the menu to the location—that all of her guests can access. Ciurej expects that her guests are just as busy as she is, so this makes it easy for them to get involved with the event at their own leisure. "They can visit the site on their phone while they are waiting in line at the grocery store," Ciurej says. "They can then quickly decide what they might want to bring to the party, and sign up for that dish right then and there."
Now that the party has gotten so big, Ciurej uses Eventbrite to keep track of who is coming. In recent years, she's added a donation component to the event, which is easy to do using Eventbrite's payment platform. This year's suggested donation is $25. After paying for the event space, booze, and other overhead costs, all additional funds go to a local charity. This year, Ciurej was able to donate over $1,300 to the West Seattle Food Bank.
As the event draws closer, Ciurej reaches out to guests via Mailchimp to let them know what food items still haven't been signed up for, and offers suggestions for crowd pleasers. For instance, everybody loves Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, and guests can just put them in the oven at the venue. Or canned cranberries, because, as Ciurej writes in an update, "Some of us, myself included, simply can’t enjoy cranberries unless they come in a gelatinous cylinder."
- Drizly and FreshDirect
Finally, since Ciurej has a lot to do on the day of the event itself, she makes the process easier for herself with help from startups that deliver food and libations. "When I was living in New York, I didn't have a car, and FreshDirect was a lifesaver," she says. She'd order everything from the turkeys to large quantities of ice to be delivered directly to the venue.
In the past, Ciurej has ordered kegs from local alcohol stores. But this year, she decided to use Drizly, a three-year-old startup that allows you to order alcohol and have it delivered to you in less than an hour. This has allowed Ciurej to create a more comprehensive range of beverage options for her guests, from wine to cocktails.
Trisha Antonsen, Drizly's chief cocktail officer, explains that the company's website is designed to make it easy for customers to find recipes and determine how much alcohol to supply, depending on the size of the gathering. "We even take into account that guests always show up with a bottle of wine or beer," she says.
Not everybody is into the big "friendsgiving" party. Some people actually enjoy traveling around the country to spend extended periods of time with close family members. But even for fans of traditional Thanksgiving, cooking and preparing for the meal can be a drag.
Krystal Covington, for instance, the 30-year-old founder of the Colorado-based networking organization Women of Denver, is looking forward to throwing an intimate Thanksgiving event this year for close family and friends, but she doesn't want to spend days preparing for it. "When I was growing up, my mother never really got to enjoy Thanksgiving because she spent all her time cooking and cleaning," Covington recalls. "In the past, a small number of people had to sacrifice their time and energy so that the rest of us could have a great holiday."
But Covington believes that technology has changed the game when it comes to Thanksgiving prep, and much like Ciurej, she's relied on startups to make the process easier.
One of the biggest stressors when it comes to Thanksgiving is getting the house in shape for guests. After slaving away in the kitchen, there's always the last-minute scramble to make sure the floors are clean and the dust has been cleared from the windowsill. For Covington, all of this anxiety is totally unnecessary with the range of house-cleaning services out there. For instance, she sets up an appointment with Handy before and after the event, so she doesn't have to think about cleaning it comes to setting up and clearing up. If the kitchen is in a mess after the guests leave, Handy's cleaners take care of it and charge based on how much time it took.
- Recipe Apps
Covington looks up all the dishes she wants to prepare on recipe apps, like Jamie Oliver's app or AllRecipes. She finds them useful, because once she's decided on her menu, the app automatically generates a shopping list, so she doesn't need to spend hours compiling a list herself.
She then pulls up her Instacart app and directly inputs all the ingredients she needs, which are delivered to her exactly when she is ready to cook. "I don't know how I survived without Instacart," Covington says. "There is nothing more stressful than fighting your way around a grocery store with hoards of other people before Thanksgiving."
- Blue Apron
For people who want to simplify Thanksgiving even further, there are even more convenient options available. For fans of the boxed meal services, Blue Apron encourages customers to tweak their regular delivery so that they have the ingredients they need to create a Thanksgiving spread. Rather than simply ordering their meals for the week, customers can use that week's dishes as the side dishes to go along with their turkey (which they would buy and prepare on their own). They can also order exactly enough food for the number of people showing up to the event. If a family is expecting eight people at Thanksgiving dinner, they can order two four-person family meals, for instance. "We've created a lot of content that helps people plan and prepare for their event," Matt Salzburg, CEO of Blue Apron, explains. "We even have a chart that allows you to figure out the logistics, such as how much time it will take you to prepare all the dishes, and in what order."
And for those who believe that Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without the proper tipple, companies like Instapour, a cocktail-on-demand service, are making it easy for people to create craft cocktails without having to buy a whole range of obscure ingredients. During the holidays, Instapour has special themed cocktails that combine seasonal liquors like Caliche Rum Apple Cider and Caliche Pomagansett Punch, with premade mixes that include things like simple syrup or apple juice. The package comes with fresh garnishes like pomegranate seeds or sprigs of mint, so the designated bartender can just put everything in a shaker and pour them into cocktail glasses.
Slideshow Credits: 01 / David Rzegocki; 02 / David Rzegocki; 03 / David Rzegocki; 04 / David Rzegocki; 05 / David Rzegocki; 06 / David Rzegocki;