How to Throw an Awesome Potluck

Need a reason to get everyone together without throwing an obnoxious party or spending too much money at a bar? How about a potluck? They are a great chance to get together with your friends and eat, drink and be merry. Plus, they rock and are perfect for our generation.

Some potlucks rock more than others, and after a bit of personal experience, here’s a list of what will maximize your potluck’s awesomeness.

Tip #1: Know your audience. What do they like to eat? What do they loathe? The most important thing is that you know their dietary needs. Are any vegans or vegetarians going to be gracing this potluck? What about folks with food allergies or intolerance? Gluten, nuts, eggs, and soy are fairly common problems, and as you can read in the links, you do NOT want to make your guests sicks with a mistake. Other rarer food lifestyles include raw food diets, an abstention from processed sugars, consumption of primarily organic food, and so forth.

I have found that surveying them with the invitation is the best way to go. That way you get your RSVP and information at the same time. Invitations lead us to advice point #2: Make it official.  Not like formal wedding stationary official, but like Facebook event or Evite official. Choose a method where everyone can go back to a central place and see how many people are coming. Unlike a kegger at a frat, or a movie night, potlucks take more coordination on everyone’s behalf, not just the host.

On to tip #3: Be prepared for your guests to bring food insufficient to feed everyone. Not everyone will plan according to dietary needs. Some people are not great cooks, and could use a little help. Or they think that raw food is just too… weird. That is absolutely OK. As the host, you’re going to make a kick-butt common denominator dish that everyone is going to eat and LOVE.… Really. Those of us who are not expert chefs can do this just fine. It does not have to be the entree to end all entrees, it could be a couple of them. If you are walking into unfamiliar culinary territory, may I recommend a visit to a book store or library? There is also Google Recipe Search,which lets you type in ingredients that you want or ones you are avoiding.

Tip #4: Don’t forget the drinks. Some people bring alcoholic beverages as their potluck contribution, and that’s great. Be prepared for them to forget. Have some wine and beer. It does not hurt to know preferences in this category either. Keep in mind, not all drinks are vegetarian or gluten-free! I recommend Barnivore to check vegan/vegetarian drinks. I do not know a good website for gluten-free beers, please comment if you have a recommendation! My future house-guests will appreciate it!

Also, punch is coming back. It is still rare enough to be a novelty, but its inherent social nature makes it a treat at parties. The last one we threw featured a mango/pineapple/orange/lychee juice with rum. We made enough for two bowls, and it disappeared among only 10 people. You can get bowls and glasses very inexpensively at thrift stores, and they are often very cute.

They say to think outside of the box, but Tip #5 is to think outside of the weekend night. The start of the work week is usually so much brighter, and Sunday brunch potlucks can be a lot of fun too. Routine can make the week sweeter. Think about it: you have to eat. If you are like most people, you do it every day. Why not make it a regular occasion? The potluck becomes something to look forward to, and a guaranteed time to see everyone when we are all super busy.

If you do make it a routine, might I suggest Tip #6? Give it a theme. Maybe “recipes you really wanted to try, but haven’t had a reason to yet”. Other themes can be on genre of food: Mexican? Italian? Things that involve cilantro? The Lord of the Rings? James Bond? The possibilities are endless, and can keep an ongoing routine exciting.

This is probably obvious, but Tip #7 is to make it socializing friendly. Have all the seating around the same table, or the same general space. A circle arrangement of furniture or pillows works well. Whether you sit on the loveseat, chairs or futon, everyone faces the same common space and it make communal story telling much easier. Good company makes a great potluck.

The last tip? Give yourself enough time to prepare. Clean the day before, cook what you can the day before, and enjoy the day of. Trust me. I have lots of experience to tell you the opposite is a bummer.

Hopefully these tips help you with the coordination and logistics that make potlucks a bit more work than many other genre of parties. Remember, potlucks are all about sharing, not showing off. It will be less fun if your competitive spirit is stirred up. Do not worry about making the best dish, or being the best cook. You’re there to enjoy the time you’re spending with everyone else, and the feast is an added bonus. Sit back, eat, drink and be merry!

What do you think about potlucks? Any suggestions? 

Christine Slocum I am an imperfect person (though I prefer "work in progress"). In 25 years I have managed to become a graduate student in sociology, a Unitarian Universalist, vegan, social activist and the wife of my best friend. Originally from Syracuse, NY, I now live in Seattle, WA with aforementioned best friend and two dog-like cats.

View all posts by Christine Slocum

2 Responses to “How to Throw an Awesome Potluck”

  1. Chat With Friends at a Potluck at Our Community Club Room

    [...] The other way to help defray the cost of a huge party is by holding a potluck. Potlucks are great because it saves you money on the catering bill, plus it allows everyone to bring one of their own favorite dishes to share with all the guests. Of course potlucks still require a bit of planning. Here are some tips for potluck party planning. [...]

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