Being the Best Potluck Host or Guest

Just as soon as Halloween hits, so too does the holiday season. The stores are draped in red and green and glitter long before the first pumpkin is carved, and the shopping alerts start before August even ends. Retail madness aside, the true sign of the season is when the potluck invitations begin rolling in. For the teams, the troops, the office and the church groups, potlucks are the easiest way to gather, because they utilize the talents of everyone involved. Making light work of assembling a tasty spread, they’re a clever tool for hosts too. No matter how easy potlucks make entertaining, though, the reality is that each potluck translates into one. more. thing. on your to-do list. So, in an effort to never miss a party, I offer up to you my go-to tips for being the best potluck host and guest:

Team Up

Think about the foods you’d like to serve and the things you could use help with. As a host, then, divvy up the responsibilities among your guests. Whether you casually invite folks on the sidelines of the soccer field or go about it a little more formally with an email invitation, offer up the list of duties right off the bat and ask for takers. Create a theme for fun (and structure) and ask your guests to work it into their potluck dishes. Send a link to Pinterest boards that speak to your theme and make specific asks – green veggies, a starch, something chocolaty – because people appreciate suggestions, and no one appreciates a spread full of the same green bean casserole. Don’t be afraid to assign people to help with setup, cleanup and even entertainment. As a guest, be sure to take on a job. Sometimes it’s most helpful if you reach out to your host early on and propose to fill any roles that are needed after the bulk of guests have replied and signed up. Or go big and be the hero: offer to handle the menu for your host, using an online tool like, and on the day-of, account for every dish as it comes through the door.

Stick to Your Strengths

As a host, this means being honest about your favorite parts of entertaining prep … and delegating the rest. Once you establish a potluck-type format, you need not be shy about asking for help. That’s the expectation, and everyone will be happy to help. As a guest, have several recipes handy that you know are well-received at potlucks. I usually sign up to bring my signature M&M cookies and/or creamy garlic mashed potatoes. My sister is known to bake a massive amount of homemade mac and cheese. And my brother-in-law – the one with the extensive cooler collection – usually takes charge of the drinks. All of the above take pressure off the host.

Get Organized

As with all entertaining, the key to a successful potluck is being organized. Even though it’s a relatively laid-back way to throw a party, as the host or a guest, you’ll want to make the following considerations in advance of the actual potluck:
  • What equipment will you need? Slow cooker for a meaty chili, hot plate for roasted broccoli, a tray of ice for shrimp cocktail?
  • Know what temperatures different dishes need to be served at. Create a schedule for oven and stovetop warming needs so every bite is at an optimum temperature when you sit down to eat.
  • Lay out the space where the food will be served. Craft a game plan for where each dish will be placed, including whether or not desserts will be in a separate room, or if they will be put out in the same space later. Also think about where you want your guests to eat.
  • What tools will you need? If nothing else, an extra wine key or bottle opener is always a good idea.
If you’re the host, ask lots of questions so you’re prepared when your guests arrive. If you’re a guest, make clear to your host where you will need to put your dish (in the oven or fridge, on the counter, near an electrical outlet), and be sure to bring everything you need to serve and plate your dish (trivet, tongs, long-handled spoon).

Be Prepared

If the potluck is at your house, beef up your pantry with back-ups, just in case. Keep an extra pack or two of water bottles at the ready, an extra casserole in your freezer, and some healthy, crunchy veggies in the fridge to cover last-minute cancellations and unexpected vegetarians. If you’re the guest, keep your own kitchen stocked with the ingredients for your signature dishes so you can make more than enough to bring to the event. Many hands make light work – and a brilliant potluck too! So, whether you’re hosting or helping to plan one, take an active role in bringing it to life, even and especially if that means you’re delegating the responsibilities. It’s the best way to ensure you can make it all happen while still tending to the craziness of your family’s schedule. Like anything else, it takes a village to put on a potluck!


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