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The Thanksgiving Calculator: How to Organize and Cook Holiday Dinner for a Crowd (42) using Spreadsheets

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Use freezers, spreadsheets, and Gantt charts to optimize your time and resources.
 
 
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Step 1: Identify constraints

So you've just agreed to host a major holiday dinner! Now let's sit down and think about some of the Big Questions.

1) How many people will attend?

This is the big one. If you've got more attendees than tables, chairs, plates, silverware, etc then you'll have to devise work-arounds. Tables/chairs can be rented, borrowed from friends and neighbors, or improvised from milk crates and pieces of plywood or spare doors. If you're short plates and silverware you can decide to use disposable or ask guests to bring their own, picnic style. Make your own cloth napkins to be extra-cool.

2) Who's making/bringing food?

Identify what you'd like to make, and what (if anything) you'd like your guests to bring. Make sure your guests are on the same page with this.

3) Buffet or table service?

If you've got more than one table a buffet is pretty much required. It also reduces the need for small, passable bowls which would otherwise require refills. You can put the whole dish on the buffet and be done with it.

4) Storage space

How much space do you have in your refrigerator and freezer? This determines what you can make ahead. If you live in a cold area an enclosed porch or deck can supplement your fridge/freezer space; if it's too warm out you can use an ice-filled cooler to bulk up your refrigerated space.

How many ovens/racks do you have? You'll need to block out time accordingly, and choose oven vs. stovetop preparations as necessary.

5) Time

What time do you plan to serve dinner? This one is under your control; pick a time that will allow you to wake up at a normal time and still be able to run everything through the oven with time to spare. Schedule this one for your convenience.
canida (author) 5 years ago
This Instructable was featured on NPR's Here & Now on September 24, 2008!
CONGRATULATIONS! That's awesome!
Goodhart4 years ago
 Very cool, especially the podcast at NPR's site (Here & Now)
WOW! Thank you so, SO much!! You are an absolute lifesaver!!
I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 24 people this year and I've never cooked it before (come to that, I'm not American, so I've never even eaten it before!).
Thanks again!! :-)

wordgirrl5 years ago
omg. i feel so validated. you rawk.
racastro625 years ago
That's real project management !
fwjs285 years ago
oooo pretty colors...
Thanks for a great Instructable! Some may laugh, but the preparation required for a dinner party can be just as demanding as the prep work for a Keynote or other social activity. You should consider developing this idea more... maybe self-publish a workbook with more details and examples.
canida (author)  jktechwriter5 years ago
Thank you! This year we had 50 people - a good spreadsheet is the only thing that keeps you sane during that prep. This year's version included links to recipes on Instructables - I'll post it and modify/update the Instructable when I get a bit of time.
galenorama5 years ago
Looks Yummy!
Hahahaha, "Eric tries to get some work done, but mostly fails."
Rolipoly6 years ago
Wow, that one could spoil "Hells Kitchen", and I love that abusing ******* of a chef! Very nice, making project management fun.
Zujus7 years ago
Nice party! ;)
jbenfield7 years ago
...and people think that I'm crazy for building out full fledged project plans for making a Turducken dinner from scratch. It's actually even easier in a PM tool like MS Project because you can set up your oven, freezer, fridge, table, etc. as project resources and just assign them to each task. Then with the dependencies all setup, the tool can level the resources and optimize your activities. So...yes, I'm crazy. But at least I'm not the only one.
You say "the tool can level the resources and optimize your activities." I use MS Project. Could you email a sample project that uses the resources like this. I'm really curious. My email address is kwdiamond@adelphia.net. Many thanks.
fongga7 years ago
wow, that's really impressive! Thanks for the tips.
Crash21087 years ago
And you wonder why I think you spend all day cooking.
canida (author)  Crash21087 years ago
Only on very special occasions. ;-)