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Host the Perfect Potluck Thanksgiving

You have a vision: an enjoyable evening filled with your closest friends and family, delicious food and lively conversation. You even know what you want to serve—a delicious juicy turkey, traditional side dishes and, for a sweet finish, a classic pumpkin pie. The only problem is that you don't want to spend days laboring in the kitchen.

Think potluck, instead.

Divide up the work
You can still prepare the main course, but ask your guests to bring the appetizers, salad, side dishes and dessert. Don't hesitate to give them specific recipes, either. They'll be glad to receive your guidance. Remember, though, to match the talent of the cook to the difficulty of the dish.

Keep prep simple
Select dishes that don't need last-minute preparation, other than a quick reheating or arranging on a serving platter. Clear space in your refrigerator and plan for guests' use of the oven and microwave.

Be a travel pro
Ask guests who have to travel the farthest to contribute foods that are easy to transport and don't need to stay hot, like desserts or salads. If you're inviting friends who can't or don't like to cook, ask them to provide a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine that will complement the roast turkey.

Label it
If guests are bringing their favorite recipes, encourage them to bring copies of the recipe as well as a small sign for the buffet table, marked with the name of their dish—and the cook. Also, be sure to suggest they label their serveware so there's no confusion when everyone’s ready to head home.

The buffet
Choose a table or sideboard, and arrange empty trays and platters on it in advance to be sure there will be room for everything.  You may want to move the table away from the wall, so it is accessible from both sides. Place dinner plates at the end of the table where guests will start and napkins and flatware at the other end, so everyone won't have to juggle them while filling their plates. 

Arrange the flow of dishes so cold ones come first, followed by hot items. Use trivets, warming trays or chafing dishes as needed to protect the table and keep foods hot. Make sure each dish has a serving utensil.

Once everyone arrives, it's entertaining in a snap. Put the finishing touches on the dishes, place them on the buffet and relax in the company of your friends and family.