Managing a Holiday Potluck: How to Keep Things Under Control
Thanksgiving, for my circle of friends, is at my house every year. A few friends and I start cooking early in the day, handling the big stuff, like the turkey and the mountain of mashed potatoes. Everyone else brings different things, making for a huge potluck. After a few years of this sort of holiday meal, there are a few tricks I've picked up on that keep a potluck meal from winding up with ten desserts and no salad.
Who's in Charge?
There has to be someone in charge of any potluck with more than four people bringing dishes. Someone has to answer that ever-present question of 'What can I bring?' and keep track of who is already bringing what. There are plenty of convenient online tools these days, although I stick to sharing a Google Doc with assignments. (I've found that some folks don't always remember what to bring, so having a reminder is useful.)
You don't have to be overbearing about being in charge — you just have to keep things manageable.
Keep Track of the Details
On that same spreadsheet where I keep track of who is bringing what, I make notes about allergies and dietary restrictions. Not only do we have several specific dietary restrictions in our group (vegetarian, kosher, and other diets) but we have several folks who are allergic to different things, including, unfortunately, garlic. There aren't that many people who will eat everything on the menu, but if you're willing to make suggestions about ingredients like using a vegetable-stock base for gravy, it's not too tough to make sure that everyone will still get a full meal.
I've also built up an idea of what my friends expect in terms of food over the years. The first year we all got together for Thanksgiving, I didn't make stuffing because it was never a big deal in my family growing up. Since then, a friend with her grandmother's secret stuffing recipe has been responsible for that part of the meal. There are a few other specialties that are simply permanently assigned.
Stock Your Pantry
Provided you've got a well-stocked pantry, someone forgetting something small isn't a big deal. We've had friends bring chicken soup and forget the noodles — I just dived into a cupboard and let them sort out putting the rest of the soup together. On the big day, I don't want to worry about whether everyone remembers everything and having a well-stocked pantry means that filling in holes isn't a problem. There's always someone hanging around the kitchen who can put together some fast biscuits or a quick pie if you can point them in the direction of the ingredients and find a little more room in the oven.