The potluck supper is a great idea in theory: everybody brings one dish to share, and you end up with a feast. But in practice, it can be a difficult affair, both to orchestrate and to attend. What if the dishes clash? What if everyone brings lasagna? What if you bring soup and your host has no serving bowls? Uff.
BE THE HOST WITH THE MOST
Make it a theme party. Whether it’s the type of cuisine or recipes from a specific a cookbook, this will help you avoid a Greek salad/carne asada tacos/kimchi fried rice mashup. Be specific with your instructions, and make sure they’re within your guests’ cooking abilities and budgets.
Sign me up! If you don’t email a sign-up sheet, you’ll get six pastas, three trays of brownies, and no greens. The best way to do it? Get four people on drinks, four people on sides, and four people on main dishes. Or, if you’re a Type A personality, straight-up tell people what to bring. No problem with that.
Beware: Your guests will be needy. Things can get tight in the kitchen at potluck dinners. Ask your guests to tell you if they need any equipment, oven space, or serving utensils. If your range gets full or you foresee yourself running out of anything, you can ask your guests to change their dish or bring along what they need from home.
BE THE GUEST WITH THE BEST
Come prepared. Bring everything you need to serve your dish. Your host has already loaned out a kitchen and a dining room, and there will be plenty to clean when all the guests have departed, so help out by bringing some things from home. And people don’t have 20 trivets—bring your own, or bring dish towels to place under your hot dish.
If it needs a bowl, FUHGETTABOUTIT. Lasagna, baked chicken wings, mashed potatoes—people almost always bring dishes you can eat off of a plate. Don’t double your host’s post-potluck workload by bringing a soup or stew.
Avoid the triple-S: stinky, spicy, and strange. Things that are super garlicky, overly spicy, or have “weird” ingredients make people hesitant to go for your dish. Plus, since people are bringing an array of different dishes, it’s important that yours doesn’t overpower the rest.
Don’t assume you’ll get oven real estate. Yes, your macaroni and cheese only needs to be warmed in the oven for 15 minutes—but so do seven more guests’ dishes. Try to make something you can either keep warm on the ride over or that can be served at room temperature. If you absolutely have to make a dish requires the oven, call the host ahead to ask if there’s space. Common courtesy.
Go Veg. Potluck people tend to bring heavy, meaty dishes like chili, casseroles, and baked pastas. And that’s fine: they’re easy, crowd-pleasing, and transportable. But the potluck plate often lacks crunch and brightness. Bring something fresh like a grain salad or a raw vegetable side dish for some variety.
NEVER bring a crudité tray. It’s the worst thing you can bring. Cracked, air-dried carrots + flavorless pepper strips + a gross ranch dip = yuck. If you’re going store-bought, bring cured meats and cheese or pick up a great nut mix.
Think outside the stove. We get it: Even if you’re not comfortable in the kitchen, you still want to be invited to the potluck festivities. That’s completely fine. Bring paper goods like napkins, plates, cups, and utensils. If you want to bring something to consume, go the beer or wine route. And if you want to (or have to) bring a dish, bring something awesome like pizzas from the “fancy” Neapolitan pizza place in town. That will make a lot of people happy