Having a buffet of hot Thanksgiving food ready whenever a guest drops in may seem like the best option for an all-day party, but unless you live in a restaurant with warming tables or rent expensive catering equipment, this can be almost impossible to do.
Instead of leaving food out all day, designate a three-hour window for lunch and a three-hour window for supper. That way, those who want to drop in for a full meal will know when the turkey and yams will be warm and ready. Those that can't make the mealtimes are still free to drop in anytime for drinks, dessert and, of course, catching up.
To avoid heating up food you're not going to need, ask friends and relatives to RSVP for the Thanksgiving dinner buffet portions only. Just make sure they're aware that they are not obligating themselves to a formal sit-down dinner at a specific time. Assure them you're just approximating a headcount so you know how much food to prepare for the day.
If your circle of friends and family has the 19 and Counting Duggar family beat by double or triple the amount of bodies, the problem isn't just conflicting schedules, it's having enough space and food to feed everyone. When Thanksgiving has both your house and wallet busting at the seams, take control of the unruly holiday by hosting a shifted potluck.
Just like a regular potluck, a shifted potluck still has the host providing the staples, like the turkey and potatoes, while all the sides and desserts are provided by guests, which helps reduce expenses for the host. However, unlike regular potlucks where everyone brings their dish to pass at the same time, a shifted potluck has relatives visiting in shifts so that neither the house nor kitchen gets too overcrowded.
Scheduling the Thanksgiving event is as simple as creating a sign-up sheet with numbered spots for side dishes and desserts. Create one sign-up sheet for the lunch shift and a second for the supper crowd so that you don't wind up with no sides and a dozen pies at one seating. While space may force you to split the family for mealtimes, there's no reason you can't all spend the day together. During the time between the lunch and dinner shifts, get both shifts together at a local park for an annual family activity like dodgeball or softball.
If you're part of a close-knit group of friends that does everything together, at some point you have to accept that you cannot eat turkey with the gang this Thanksgiving because of everyone's family obligations. But that doesn't mean you can't spend part of your holiday together.
Once you've honored your commitments, pilfer (or politely ask for) some desserts and wine from the family affair on your way out the door. Once you're back at home, just brew some coffee, open some wine and wait for your friends to trickle in from their family obligations. Ask your friends to bring some wine and leftover pies from their holiday events, too. Then just sit back and swap Thanksgiving dinner horror and humor stories while sampling the fare from each guest's affair.
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