Hi, Helaine: My parents and their surviving sisters and brothers are getting up in years, so my family began to rotate hosting Thanksgiving among the next generation. This year, I'm up.
We are expecting somewhere between 20 and 30 people for Thanksgiving dinner. It's a family tradition, and I enjoy it, but only when I am a guest. I am busy at work. So is my husband. My company doesn't give Friday off, and I doubt I'll leave early on Wednesday. I don't want to give up a vacation day.
What I want to know is if I can cater Thanksgiving dinner and ask my family to chip in so we don't need to put a several-hundred-dollar bill on plastic. I think that's not good etiquette, but my husband says we need to stick to a budget, and Thanksgiving dinner for my family isn't in it. Who is right? — Turkey Blues
Dear Turkey Blues: Let's take Thanksgiving out of the picture. You are hosting a big dinner party, and you decide to cater it. Would you ask the guests to chip in? The answer is obvious: of course not — though if someone offers to cover their share, you might take the money after a polite protest. On the other hand, there is something you could ask from your party goers: potluck.
Here's my advice. Write an email to everyone attending. Explain part of what you told me — say you are busy at work, and you are going to cater the dinner. I'd add a line about how much you are looking forward to hosting, but in the interest of making the meal still feel like the traditional event your family enjoys, you are asking everyone to contribute one dish. My bet? People will step forward to make or bring the salad, the side dishes and dessert.
To sweeten the deal, offer to make one thing yourself. Then a turkey and one or two other items shouldn't be a budget-buster, or at least I hope it won't. And maybe you'll get lucky and someone will step forward to handle that, too. But even if that doesn't happen, don't feel guilty. Surveys show more than half of us will encounter at least one item from a restaurant or supermarket at our annual meal.
As for your work circumstance, I'm sorry. But even if you had the entire week off, I would still say the same thing. It's OK to not want to spend hours cooking for Thanksgiving, so you can enjoy the day without working yourself to a nub. Cleanup will be hard enough!