General Etiquette > general

Bringing dishes/enough good food

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Every year my extended family (aunts & uncles, cousins and their families, etc.) have a huge Thanksgiving dinner in Aunt's church basement. Aunt prepares the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the rest of us are asked to bring a dish to share; sides, salads, desserts, etc. There are two generations cooking; My mom's generation (40s and 50) and my generation (20s and 30s). My generation's children, of course, don't cook.

Some of us really flake out on the dishes we bring. I'm not saying that everyone should cook, or even mix something up. I think it's completely fine to bring a deli salad or store-made dessert. I do, however, believe that if you make a dish, you should actually make it properly and appetizing. I also believe that you should at least bring enough to feed the people that came with you. I.e., if you bring 6 people, you should probably bring 2 or even 3 dishes rather than one small dish.

Ever since my generation became old enough to be responsible for bringing a dish, the quality and quantity of food has been obviously declining. Examples: Cousin 1 made a big deal about bring Green Bean Casserole because it's her "favorite" and her "specialty". What she actually brought was two cans of green beans and one can of mushroom soup, which she poured into a crockpot just as we started serving the food. She included absolutely no seasoning and didn't allow time for it to get warm. Those who saw her "prepare" the dish did not take any, and those who took some didn't eat it, presumably because it was cold. Cousin 2 brought "homemade" macaroni and cheese which consisted of a casserole full of cooked macaroni and a few slices of processed American cheese melted (microwaved) on the top. That's it--macaroni and American cheese on top. When we packed up the dishes there was only about 1/5 of it gone, and she was very upset. (She said this to several people.)  Cousin 3 brought 4 kids, husband, husband's sister, neighbor kid, friend from out-of-town, and mother-in-law with her, and contributed one 2-liter bottle of Coke. Cousin 4 came alone and brought one box of Wheat Thins. There are more examples, but I think we all get the idea.

So, what ends up happening is that the older generation and the younger ones who can actually cook end up bringing more and bigger dishes, which we all eat, which means that we're contributing the majority of the meal. Also, as in the instance of the Green Bean Casserole, someone who wants to actually make a dish will be pressured to defer to Cousin 1, and then we're not able to eat the dish.

So you don't think I'm just complaining, I'll explain that others have mentioned how this has become a problem. We typically have 40 to 50 people in attendance, and when there are only a few edible dishes, we end up not having enough food. It wasn't as bad this year, as there were fewer people, but one year we ran out of side dishes before everyone had even been served, and most of us filled up on rolls and desserts.


Would it be rude to make suggestions about preparing and serving others' dishes, if it's done as politely as possible? As with Cousin 1, would it be inappropriate to suggest that she add a little seasoning or pop it in the oven to serve later?

Even more delicate, how would one go about suggesting that people bring an appropriate amount of food? Perhaps this is just my hill, but I get really annoyed with people like Cousin 3 who bring a very minimal contribution while some of us put in a lot more effort.

Thanks all.

Since someone is organizing this, and ones have been asked to bring something under a certain category, I see nothing wrong with making suggestions about preparing and serving dishes. After all, the knowledge from the older generations is supposed to be passed on to the younger ones. Since some from your generation are in their 30's, then can I assume you have some from your generation's children that are 10+? If so they should be contributing by helping out your generation and learning techniques for cooking and serving from the oldest generations onward. If each generation is doing less then, eventually, the numbers for your family's get-together may dwindle to very little as each generation moves up. Have an older family member tell ones from your generation how to properly make and serve the food, as politely as possible of course.

As far as appropriate amounts of food, this is very easy within our social circle: "We'll be having (10, 20, 50, etc.) people, so if you're making Green Bean casserole and Cousin 5 is also making it and we have X amount of sides, please take that into consideration in deciding how much to make." Even if it's for a small dinner, I always offer to bring something and if my help is accepted, I'm usually told, "There will be six of us then, to help you decide how much to make." Some people, like Cousin 3, might be stingy or someone from your parent's generation dropped the ball on training when it comes to entertaining. Only you'll know which is likely.

I sympathize with you OP. I couldn't handle that.

I know that potluck is just that - "luck". But i think that potluck can be tweaked a bit to be more organized when it's a big meal like thanksgiving (at least that's how we do things at my work or when i make a big passover seder with a lot of guests)

I think yes, *someone* in your family (or two-three someones) should make out a list of foods and quantities. try to be fair, work out some kind of system where guests feel they are contributing and it's not always the same people getting the annoying tasks. don't be too controlling about dishes, but yes put foods into categories (green salad with dressing on the side for 10; carb side dish for 8; 3 2L bottles of diet soda; 100 disposable cups + plates; 1 pie etc).

write down general rules (we do this for a foodie forum i am one, where we meet a few times a year for potluck dinner): e.g,,
*All dishes should be brought ready-to serve in disposable serving dish and bring serving spoons!
*carb side dishes should be dairy free/vegetarian friendly or whatever works for your family.

That's the opposite problem of potlucks I've been too. Usually there is way more food than necessary and people are trying to get others to take some of theirs home!

What about putting together some guidelines for attendees including what you have in your post:

Bring a dish warmed and ready to serve (come early if you need to warm it up).
Bring enough to serve N people.
Have a sign up sheet for traditional dishes for anyone that wants suggestions or wants to make sure that there will be plenty of their favorite dish. Provide maybe 3 slots for each dish? That should give you at least one decent green bean casserole and no more than 3. Plus anyone that wants to bring something off the list is okay doing so.

And do this well in advance of next year's dinner. I suspect the low turnout was because of the food shortage last year.

I think when the crowd gets this big, someone has to be sort of a Potluck Director.  (not Dictator as in the other Thanksgiving threads) 

As I've been to a few of these big Thanksgivings myself, I have to say though, it's extraordinarily hard to bring a dish that needs to be warmed up/kept warm.  It's a lot of work, usually I had no idea what outlets would be available (sometimes all were taken) so bringing a crockpot was useless.  Ovens were full, so bringing a casserole dish was useless and the casserole would be lukewarm for serving. I think when the crowd gets to this size and you're bringing enough for everyone, it's almost harder than just hosting in my home and preparing all the dishes myself.

So someone has to be in charge somewhat to organize all this. 


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