We all know why we do potlucks. They save money and time and nobody has to do all the cooking, but every once in a while you might go to one and think "nothing lucky about this selection!" Or there is so much food that it seems like a waste of time to bring anything but you want to contribute. Maybe you don't want to (or can't) do all of the cooking, but you really want a sit-down occasion. If you have not heard of it before, a growing trend that I recommend is the Cooperative Dinner.
In my extended family we leave nothing to luck. None of us have the time or money to make food for everyone for every occasion, but we love any excuse to get together. We plan ahead of time who brings what so we know we will have a complete meal.
Sometimes it is centered around a main dish. One family will volunteer the main dish and everyone else brings sides to compliment it. Other times we choose 3-4 dishes and all bring some of the ingredients, then cook together. That works better for less formal meals like brunches or themed salads (taco salad, chef salad, etc.) My in-laws have a beautiful kitchen with double oven and two sinks.
Everyone enjoys the cooperative dinners because there is more time to spend together and nobody breaks the bank.
For years now I have been the one designated to organize these meals. Often my lovely mother-in-law and I will talk about the time and date and she will ask me to email everyone on both sides of the family.
She and I usually roughly plan what kind of food we will have. They usually provide the main dish since they raise their own beef. I then send out an email with the dishes we are already bringing and others will add to the list with their name next to the dish, then "reply to all" so the list stays updated. Thankfully we have some fairly computer-literate people in the family.
I never spend more than $10-15, a bit more if I make a main dish or a very fancy dessert, but I am not obligated to.
Another great thing about our planning is that we have a lot of specialty diets. We have people with food sensitivities (gluten, egg, dairy, tomatoes, pork, etc.) as well as low-carb and diabetic people. By knowing what others are bringing everyone can be sure that they will have something they can eat.
I have also done this where I used to work and we always had enough food without wasting anything.
How do you usually plan your holiday meals?