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If you want your favorite dishes at the meal, you are just going to have to request them.

Southern hostesses plan their holiday feasts with military-sharp precision. Much thought goes into creating a welcoming environment for family and guests, from arranging beautiful flowers, preparing inviting cocktails, and using vintage china to set a pretty table. Instead of cooking the entire meal, the hostess may hold a potluck, a meal in which each (or most) of the guests contribute a dish to share. Unlike covered dish suppers of old potluck events, today's are planned with more attention to detail and less of the “bring whatever you want” attitude. If you are hosting a potluck this Thanksgiving, here are a few hints to help you focus on the details that will bring this feast together.  

Ask Guests To Sign Up

To avoid ending up with too much of a good thing, make a list – two sweet potato casseroles, three green vegetables, one chocolate dessert, etc., and ask guests to choose one. Communicate this however you feel comfortable, via phone calls or email. There are even online services to help you organize your event.

Is It Tacky To Assign Dishes?

Don’t look at it as tacky, think of it as paying someone a compliment! If you know your guests will be looking forward to Aunt Jane’s apple pie, go ahead and ask her to bake it. Be prepared, however, for her to say no, for she may be planning on experimenting with a new fall baking recipe. However, if guests are slow to sign up voluntarily, you may be put in the position of having to assign dishes.

Label Dishes On The Buffet

Knowing ahead of time what dishes guests are bringing will give you a chance to make labels, such as Ralph’s Spinach Dip or Susie’s Mashed Potatoes. This will alleviate those awkward questions of “what is it?” and “who made it?” Keep masking tape and a marker close by and make sure your guests have labeled the bottom of their own serving dishes. Once a clear casserole dish has been washed, it's difficult to identify the owner. Southern mamas know to use red fingernail polish to write their name on the bottom of a baking dish but, in a pinch, masking tape and a sharpie will do nicely.

Have Serving Pieces Handy

There is a good chance someone will forget to bring the appropriate serving utensil for their dish. Nothing ruins the presentation of a gorgeous layer cake like trying to cut it with a plastic knive, be prepared with extra salad tongs, cake servers, and slotted spoons.

WATCH: Easy Skillet Apple Pie

Even Non-Cooks Can Contribute    

Not everyone loves to cook, but everyone loves to eat. There are several ways your non-cooking guests can contribute to the event: by bringing wine, fresh bread, or a decadent dessert from your favorite bakery, coming early to help set up, or staying late to help wash dishes and clean up.