How to organize a Thanksgiving potluck

Photo credit: katerinasergeevna/Getty Images

From planning all the recipes to preparing all the food, decorating and setting the table to cleaning up afterward, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work!

However, Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to relax with family and friends and reflect on what you’re thankful for. It was never intended to be a day spent rushing around trying to time 10 different appetizers, entrées, and side dishes.

Enter the “potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner,” where each guest is responsible for one or two dishes. This style of Thanksgiving dinner allows everyone to pitch in, so the hosts can enjoy the holiday just as much as everyone else. It’s also a great way for people to enjoy and share their own favorite family recipes.

The host’s duties

The host has the most duties as they’re responsible for cleaning the house before and after the event, decorating and setting the table, and planning any entertainment—like a game table for the kids (find fun, kid-friendly Thanksgiving printables here) and planning the blessing (here are some blessings and prayers if you need ideas).

Now, on to the food. The host should be in charge of the turkey—and therefore the stuffing, and any other favorite recipes they would like to claim. The turkey is normally one of the last items out of the oven and requires constant supervision. You’ll need 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of turkey for each guest. Make sure to thaw and brine the turkey prior to cooking!

If you don’t have enough dishes for all of the guests, purchase high-quality, Thanksgiving-themed paper plates. The best part is that using paper products makes clean-up a breeze. Remember to purchase small plates for slices of pie, too.

Beverages can add up, but it’s best if the host provides at least some chilled drinks, such as water bottles, sodas, beer and wine. If the host provides the basics, the guests can provide festive Thanksgiving cocktails, such as this cranberry, lime and rosemary white wine spritzer.

The guests’ duties

If you have less than 10 guests, you can designate one or two appetizers, side dishes or desserts to each person. If you have more than 10 guests, one dish per person should suffice. Also, ask two or three guests to bring their favorite beverage of choice to share with the group in addition to an appetizer, side dish or dessert.

Assigning dishes that can be made in a slow cooker will also save a lot of hassle — as well as save on oven and stove-top space.

Ideas for the menu include:


Here you can find a full list of Thanksgiving appetizer ideas!

Cheesy slow cooker bacon and broccoli dip
Photo credit: Grateful & Co.

Side dishes

Photo credit: Grateful & Co.


Biscoff pumpkin pie |
Photo credit: Stephanie Frey/Getty Images


Photo credit: Grateful & Co.

Quick tips on organizing your Thanksgiving potluck

Once you have the menu nailed down, create a Google Doc and invite all of your guests to sign up for a dish or two they would like to bring. The Doc will be shared among you and your guests so you can all see what everyone has signed up for to avoid duplicate recipes. You can also send out an email or simply assign each guest with a dish rather than letting them choose.

It’s recommended to have your menu set roughly two weeks before Thanksgiving so everyone can find a recipe and shop for the ingredients with ample time. The sooner you are organized and ready to go, the sooner you can relax and enjoy the holiday for all it has to offer.

And remember, there will be plenty of food for everyone and your guests will be happy no matter what! Try not to stress, and instead focus on appreciating the day for what it is.