How to Throw a Family Reunion
May 15, 2023
12 min. read
Written by: Carly Grazette, Marketing Coordinator
When you think of a family reunion, what comes to mind? Laughter with your favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins? Great Aunt Lucy’s deviled eggs? Absolute chaos? Or does nothing come to mind because you’ve never experienced a family reunion?
Within my family tree, there are several reunions on my father’s side and mother’s side. Not to get too complicated, but there is a small set of family members from my mom’s father’s side that are especially close, but, sadly, hardly see each other. They are the children of my grandfather and the children of my grandfather’s brother. Last year, we started the tradition of having a reunion over Memorial Day weekend.
Perhaps your family doesn’t hold reunions, but you’d like to start one. Or maybe your family does have reunions, but they are often chaotic and you dread it every year. This is the blog for you!
Family reunions require a great deal of planning, from selecting the date and location, to sending invitations and communicating the event, to choosing the menu, activities, and décor. The idea of planning a reunion may sound great, but the details to actually make it happen can be overwhelming. Don’t worry! In this blog, I’ll try to break down the planning process so you can create a reunion that your family will want to continue for years to come.
Reunion Planning Basics
To get the reunion planning started, it’s helpful to begin with thinking through the basics of who, what, when, and where.
In terms of a reunion, it’s key to determine what section of your family the reunion is for and who should be invited. Discuss this with your family and make sure no one is left out from being invited.
My reunion will include my grandfather’s (mother’s side) family and my great-uncle’s (my grandfather’s brother) family. This group is about 40 people and includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, and, of course, dogs.
What type of reunion will you have? Formal or informal? Indoors or outdoors? What type of meal – e.g., picnic, potluck, served meal?
My reunion will be an outdoor, potluck-style picnic, and family members will bring food to share (more on that later).
Summer is a popular time for reunions as children are off from school, which makes it easier for families to travel. However, it’s important to discuss dates with your family to see what time of the year will work best and decide on a date.
Memorial Day weekend worked well for my family as people are off from work and kids are off from school. We selected Saturday over the holiday weekend as our reunion day.
Ah, in what location will this magical gathering take place? If your family is very spread out, this could be difficult to choose. Geographically speaking, it’s helpful to choose a central location for family members to travel to. Keep lodging in mind. Coinciding with location, you will need to choose a venue, which will be greatly influenced by the size of your group. It’s important to consider amenities, like bathrooms, tables and chairs, parking, and accessibility.
My family is mostly in Southern Pennsylvania with a few outliers in Virginia and New York. Thus, we decided to host the reunion at my parents’ house in south-central Pennsylvania. My parents have a large backyard for seating and activities, and they live across from a church, so there is ample parking and a back-up building in case of poor weather. As for lodging, family members will be staying at my parents’ home, my grandmother’s home down the road, and my house a few miles south on the interstate.
Reunion Hosting Checklist
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. There are four key pieces to throwing a fantastic family reunion: Event Communication, Food, Event Setup, and Games and Activities. Each of these parts determines whether your family members want to make the reunion an annual event, or if you never see each other again (just kidding – kind of). While I can’t promise everything will go perfectly smooth, these four pillars will help guide the planning process and lay a solid foundation for a joyous reunion.
Check out the printable Reunion Hosting Timeline below!
You can’t have a family reunion if no one knows about it! My family has a group chat on Facebook. About 6 months before the annual date, I sent a poll in the group chat to gauge how people were feeling about having the reunion over Memorial Day weekend again and if the location (my parents’ house) would still work. This helped kick off reunion discussions and make sure people added it to their calendars.
I also made a Facebook event for all the event details and to gather RSVPs. In the event description, I included everything from event schedules, to lodging and activities, to food planning. Since several family members will be arriving Saturday morning and heading home on Memorial Day, I included where people can stay, where different meals will be over the weekend, and any other helpful lodging information.
I try to encourage communication within the Facebook event to ensure everyone is in the loop, especially for those who are opening their homes for guests. I added posts to ask people to share arrival and departure dates and times, list who in their immediate families will be attending, and discuss where people will lodge. When the event gets closer, I’ll post reminders to RSVP and sign up in the food planner (keep reading for reunion food planning tips and a printable resource!).
Note: Save yourself the family drama – don’t leave out family members who are not on Facebook. You may need to call, text, or mail an invitation to inform them about the reunion. If there is someone you don’t have contact information for, ask other family members if they do.
There’s one characteristic all of my family members have in common – we love food! On top of just loving food, many of my family members are excellent cooks and love sharing food. So, it only made sense for my parents and grandma to provide the main dishes and ask the rest of my family members to bring side dishes and other items to share.
Like I said, my family loves food and we can tend to overdo it. To keep some kind of order (a.k.a. make sure my grandma doesn’t make enough baked beans to feed all of Pennsylvania), I created a signup sheet for food dishes, snacks, drinks, serving materials, and other miscellaneous items. A food signup ensures we have all items covered, limits duplicate items, and provides ideas of what people can bring. I also included non-food items (e.g., drinks, cups, plastic cutlery, paper plates, and napkins) for those who don’t love to cook or maybe won’t have time to prepare a dish.
Check out the printable Reunion Food Signup Sheet below!
I know cooking isn’t every family’s forte, and food planning can be a struggle. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:
- Do several of your family members like to cook? Would they be willing to bring sides?
- Would it be better to opt for catering and ask family members to pitch in to cover costs?
- Is your venue indoors or outdoors?
- What amenities will you have access to at your venue – refrigerators, electricity, a grill?
Your answers to these questions should help you choose the best route for food planning. If you want people to bring a side or item for the meal, I highly recommend making a signup sheet (check out the download below!) and make sure you communicate the venue’s amenities.
Let’s get into some delicious recipes! As I said earlier, my parents and grandma will take care of the main dishes, specifically burgers and hot dogs provided by my parents, and a roast turkey provided by my grandma. These main dishes are perfectly fine served on their own, but why not have some fun?
Check out these sliders ideas to take a main dish to the next level with the help of a few key side dishes.
Featured Recipe: Roast Turkey Rachel Sliders
These Roast Turkey Rachel Sliders are a delicious way to use my grandma’s roast turkey, plus four other ingredients that will be on my reunion food table. This recipe calls for roast turkey, coleslaw, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and Martin’s Slider Potato Rolls. My cousin makes the best coleslaw, we’ll have lots of cheese for burgers, dressing will be around for salad, and, of course, we’ll have Martin’s Slider Potato Rolls.
Get the recipe here: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/turkey-rachel-sliders/
Tip: Place the printable recipe sheet below on your food table to encourage people to build this slider!
Featured Recipe: Hot Dog Sliders
My dad will be grilling up lots of hot dogs for our reunion. I’m going to ask him to butterfly a few of those bad boys so my family can try making these Hot Dog Sliders – yes, sliders! Don’t roll your eyes until you give them a try. Just swap Martin’s Long Potato Rolls for Slider Potato Rolls, and let the condiment creativity soar! My family will have relish, diced onion, bacon strips, sliced cheese, mustard, and ketchup.
For a different version, grill the hot dogs and cut them in half. Add top slits to Martin’s Sweet Dinner Potato Rolls, set the halved hot dogs in the rolls, and top with any condiment that your heart desires.
Get the recipe here: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/hot-dog-sliders/
Tip: Depending on what side dishes are available, you could add toppings like coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese. The possibilities are endless!
As a Martin’s Potato Rolls and Bread employee, it is my unofficial duty to provide the best rolls and bread for my reunion. Did you know Martin’s employees get two free products every week? It’s one of the many benefits of working at Martin’s!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been stocking up products in my freezer. Thanks to the high protein content, Martin’s bread and rolls freeze and thaw great! I’ll take them out to thaw in the original packaging the day before my reunion. Once thawed, I’ll carefully transport them to my parents’ house.
Check out our Bread Storage Do’s and Don’ts blog for more bread and storage tips!
Since I started collecting product early and freezing it, I won’t have to buy any bread for the reunion!
The side dish options are endless for a family reunion. At my reunion, I know there will be baked beans coleslaw, deviled eggs, and mac and cheese. Need an idea of what to bring to your reunion? Check out this list of side dish recipes:
- Baked beans
- Cowboy Caviar with Martin’s “Pita” Chips
- Deviled Eggs
- Mac and Cheese with Breadcrumb Topping
- Pasta salad
- Tropical Fruit Panzanella Skewer
- Zucchini Panzanella
I have a sweet tooth and several of my family members do too. Dessert is a must for our reunion, and any get-together in my opinion. Here are some scrumptious recipes to make for a large group:
- Cherry Hand Pies
- Chocolate & Salted Caramel Pretzel Bars
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Pie
- Easy Mini Cheesecakes
- Ice Cream Bowls
- Pecan Pie Bites
Event Set Up
Now that RSVPs are trickling in and we have an idea of what food people are bringing, it’s time to plan our event setup. This includes seating, food setup, drink station, and any other logistics.
As long as the weather cooperates, seating for the reunion will be in my parents’ backyard. There will be about 40 people, so we’ll have plenty of tables and chairs set up on the patio and in the grass. The patio is covered with a pergola and we’ll have canopy tents over the seating in the grass for sun coverage.
Inside will be all things food: food items, condiments, plates, napkins, and utensils. When setting out food, try to keep similar foods and any toppings together. For example, burgers and hot dogs should be next to rolls and condiments. Side dishes like pasta salad, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac and cheese can stay close together. Keep fresh fruit and veggies close by. Lastly, have a dedicated area for desserts.
Along with seating, we’ll have a drink station outside. There will be a table for cups, markers to label cups, and drink dispensers. There will be space around the table for coolers with more beverages and ice.
With outdoor events, there is always the risk of poor weather. Always have an indoors backup option. Thankfully, there is a church across from my parents’ house, so if there is a chance of rain, we will move over to the church’s fellowship hall.
Games and Activities
If your family is like mine, you don’t shy away from a little friendly competition. We’ll have different activities for family members of all ages to participate in.
For kids, there will be coloring and activity books, a kiddy pool, bubbles, a swing set and playhouse, kiddy croquet, and whatever else my parents have stocked in their garage.
For adults, we’ll have an exuberant amount of card and board games (thanks to my brother-in-law), corn hole, badminton, ladder toss, and more. My family also enjoys just sitting around and catching up, so there will be plenty of that too.
Later in the evening, my dad will do the honors of firing up the fire pit, and we’ll make all kinds of campfire goodies, like s’mores and mountain pies.
Read our Campfire Cooking blog for recipe ideas and tips!
Helpful Tips and Resources
Be Prepared for Anything
- Food Safety: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold!
- Grill Prep: Make sure your grill is ready to go by cleaning grill grates and checking your fuel levels.
- Weather: The weather is unpredictable. If your event is outside, make sure you have a plan B that is indoors in case of rain or storms. Also, make sure there is plenty of shade and ways to stay cool if it will be a very warm day.
- Trash: Set up a trash station and have several replacement bags.
Food Sharing Spreadsheet
Half-page single menu print-outs (8.5″ x 5.5″)
Full-page double menu print-outs (8.5″ x 11″)
Conclusion: The Purpose of a Reunion
If you’ve made it the end of this blog, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Throughout the planning process, we get so focused on the who, what, when, and where that we can lose sight of the why.
Remember that you are creating an opportunity for your family to become stronger. Reunions are a beautiful time of gathering together. It’s a time of sharing family memories and stories, remembering family members who are missed, and catching up with each other after months or years of not being in the same place.
By keeping the why front of mind, you will have a more positive mindset in the planning and enjoy the reunion when the day finally comes.
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