Still Thinking of Hosting A “Friendsgiving”?

Jay Qualls Shares 7 Tips for a Safer, Fun Celebration

Jay Qualls
photo courtesy of Jay Qualls

Everyone’s Thanksgiving will look a little different this year, but one thing will stay the same: many members of the LGBTQ community don’t go home. Some of us don’t have affirming families nor the means or privilege of traveling safely during COVID. Nevertheless, queer chosen families are sacred, and who better to give us great tips on pulling off the best Friendsgiving during this period than celebrity cake artist to the stars Jay Qualls?

Not only has Qualls been featured in hit shows on The Cooking Channel, The Food Network, TLC, ABC, USA Network and Bravo, but he’s also a favorite of Martha Stewart Weddings and has designed for celebrities like Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Sara Evans, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Lady A, The Black Keys, Reba McEntire and Faith Hill just to name a few. Now, he’s going to guide us to hosting the best Friendsgiving yet – and in 2020! 


Education of Expectations 

During the age of COVID-19, we can’t be too careful. Jay recommends we first lay the ground rules for the gathering via Facebook group, group text or individual calls.. 

“Set boundaries and rules,” says Qualls. “Everyone needs to be tested and not have been exposed. This gives new meaning in our community to the phrase ‘know your status’. It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s a fair question to ask if they have had a negative COVID test.” 

Qualls says the last people you want to expose to COVID-19 are your friends and family. 


photo courtesy of Jay Qualls
photo courtesy of Jay Qualls

Set a Table Conducive to Social Distancing 

Once you’ve set the expectations, Qualls says it’s important to make everyone feel safe. In case someone coughs or sneezes, you want an adequate distance between them and other guests.  

“Do anything you can to mitigate any kind of risk,” says Qualls. “This is just a basic common sense rule. Most of the members of our community are not afraid to put a little more work into their gatherings. Farm tables are affordable and you could even rent them to make a space within your space that’s safe for everyone.” 

Qualls says you could even host the gathering outside, weather permitting. If it’s in your budget, you could even go with a tent to protect your guests from the elements as they enjoy their meal. 

“Couples could even sit closer together,” says Qualls. “You could even do individual tables, cafe style even, but put them in orders where people can still congregate safely 6-8 feet apart. You can have fun without compromising anyone.”  


Screen Them at the Door 

Jay says taking someone’s temperature with a head thermometer at the door is no different than asking someone to take off their shoes when they enter your home.  

“At this point, we’re kind of used to it if you’re going to your doctor’s office or gym or anywhere,” says Qualls. “It’s a standard of care that we should embrace and set the example for unlike SOME people we know…” 


Useful Swag 

Jay says one tip that could really get everyone involved in practicing safety is to personalize masks as place cards at the table. You could embroider their names or even tape a name to the mask so people not only know where to sit, but also have a practical gift to take home and enjoy after the event. 

“It could be a great ice breaker, but also it’s something useful for them,” says Qualls. “You could also do small bottles of hand sanitizer with name tags attached to them. You could even get gloves to personalize and give to people.” 

Jay says you could even use black latex gloves as a ribbon to tie some of the other gifts up with. He says personalized baskets are another fun idea to put all of these items in. 


Have Separate Dedicated Places for Coats and Other Personal Items 

Jay says we should have a separate designated area for coats, shoes and other personal items that might carry contamination. 


Replace All Hand Towels with Paper Towels 

To prevent contamination between guests, Jay says to make sure that they are not using reusable cloth towels. Also, make sure your bathroom area is COVID-proofed by having individual paper towels, soap and hand sanitizer. 

Jay suggests keeping some flushable wipes in your bathroom, as well, and providing little bottles of hand sanitizer throughout your home on the day of your gathering. 

“Think about the difference it is going to make if everyone knows everyone has been tested and they are being careful,” says Qualls. “It reduces a lot of the risks.” It could also reduce the anxiety some may initially feel about the gathering. 


ALWAYS Follow the Rules of Preparing Food 

“Coming from a food background, I know that you should always follow the proper kitchen rules when preparing your meal to ensure safety,” says Qualls. “Even if you’re in your own kitchen, cross contamination is a thing.” 


Jay says to be mindful that other bacterial issues with food, like salmonella, still apply on top of the COVID-19 concerns. Use gloves and masks when preparing and serving the food.

Jay says the most important thing to remember is that it’s not unreasonable to ask people to be mindful of those safety precautions in your home. If everyone is safe and following the rules, they could leave having a great experience with dear friends. 


NOTE: While there is no way to eliminate risks inherent in COVID-era gatherings, risk can be mitigated. Open-air gatherings with social distancing and mask requirements should always be observed, when possible.


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Brian Sullivan is a reporter for Out & About Nashville. He has served nearly 2 decades in the television industry, with over 20 years experience as a print and broadcast journalist. Sullivan is an Emmy Award Winning producer, writer, lobbyist, activist and marketing strategist. He is active in several campaigns raising awareness in addiction treatment, equality and mental healthcare. He received recognition as a Nashville Emerging Leader of the Year at the NELA Awards. He is an Executive Board Member of the Prevention Alliance of Tennessee, a member of DrugFree Wilco, the Williamson County Anti-Drug Coalition, the Memphis Area Prevention Alliance, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Facing Addiction, Fed Up!, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Center for Nonprofit Management, Music City Theatre Company, LGBTQI Nashvillians of Faith, Covenant of the Cross Ministries, Human Rights Campaign, HRC Nashville, Team Friendly Tennessee, Tennessee Equality Project, Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, Wilson County Anti-Drug Coalition, National Fraternal Order of Police, the Nashville Filmmakers Guild and is an ordained Minister. Sullivan is a proud donor of the Memphis Hope House, Nashville Cares, Covenant Cupboard Food Pantry, and Second Harvest Food Bank. He has worked extensively on projects with several major networks including Fox News Network, CNN, Time Magazine, Washington Post, New York Times, Inside Edition and Mic.