Nothing brings people together like food—especially when they arrive at a party with their favourite salad, lasagna or brownies in hand. It’s no wonder, then, that we always love a good potluck. It’s easy on your budget but—more important—it’s fun and delicious. After all, if sharing a table makes a stranger a friend, sharing a kitchen makes them family. Here are our top tips to help you throw a stress-free potluck.
• Pick a theme. One way to ensure your event is well-organized is to choose a theme. It could be a Hawaiian luau or a Mexican fiesta—anything goes. This will focus everyone’s food choices, the decor and the playlist.
• Or don’t. One of the best things about a potluck is the delicious surprises you’ll find stashed in the Tupperware. Skip the theme and embrace the bounty of unexpected flavours. Goat Cheese–Stuffed Mushroom Caps, Quinoa Tabbouleh and Fry Bread Tacos with Creamy Slaw on the same menu? Why not?
• Make merry. Sometimes the theme is built into the event. Events such as Canada Day, Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day are wonderful opportunities for friends and family to bond over food, especially when everyone brings something they love to the table.
• Nail down the basics. Determine the date, time and place. If the location requires a permit or needs to be booked ahead of time—like a local picnic area or a hall—add that to your to-do list early on.
• Write down your guest list. Ask yourself a few questions first. Is this a party for friends or just family? Are kids included, or is it a grown-ups-only occasion? How many people can your venue accommodate? Is there a guest of honour or a special speaker?
• Make a list of stuff you need. This can include a barbecue, coolers and ice for a cookout. For a block party or big bash, you may need a PA system, a karaoke machine or a bunch of folding chairs. Jot it all down so you don’t miss anything important.
Get the Word Out
• Invite your guests. It’s not much of a party without them! Whether you send the invites by email or snail mail, include the date, time, place and theme of the event and instructions for responding. Make sure guests know the party is a potluck and that they should RSVP with what they’re bringing.
• Stay connected. Create a Facebook event or use a website or app so you and your guests can see what everyone is bringing. This lets you troubleshoot any duplications or gaps in the menu well in advance.
Delegate and Communicate
• Pick a course. Figure out what courses you want to include—such as appetizers, sides, mains, desserts and drinks—and how many dishes should be in each. Then ask guests to sign up to bring something for a specific category. (That way you won’t end up with six cakes and no salad—though that can be fun, too, if you embrace the surprise!) Tell each person how much to make and be sure everyone brings something. There are websites that can help you calculate the number and variety of dishes for parties of any size, from 10 to 500.
• Assign a dish. If you prefer, ask each guest to make a specific type of dish or recipe instead. Maybe some coleslaw with Cider Bacon Dressing for a barbecue, a Corn & Zucchini Pudding for a brunch main or a Nanaimo Coffee CrispÒ Cake for dessert.
• Assign yourself a favourite. You’re the host, so make what you like. It’s easiest if that dish is the main course, but if dessert’s your thing, go for it.
• Include the non-cooks. They can tote along a store-bought sushi tray or cheese platter. Or contribute a killer playlist. Or bring disposable (and, ideally, compostable or recyclable) napkins, plates, glassware or cutlery. Just be specific about amounts and whether you’ve chosen a party theme.
• Be realistic and considerate. Keep the requests within the budget, time and skills your guests have.
• Accommodate dietary needs. Make sure there are at least a couple of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, if required. If one of your guests has a serious allergy, tell everyone who’s cooking or bringing food to avoid that ingredient altogether.
• Be clear on delivery. Let folks know that food should be fully prepared when it arrives, with only minor last-minute assembly required. Guests should bring their own serving dishes (ideally, the ones they bring the food in). Ask them to tell you in return if there is anything they will need from you, such as oven space for warming or a spot in the freezer for a dessert.
Wrap It Up
• Leftovers begone. Pop any leftovers in the fridge or freezer right away to keep them safe from bacteria. Better yet, divvy everything up into packages for your guests to take home. Toss them in the fridge until people are ready to leave.
• Say thanks.
Whether you’re the guest or the host, say thank you to the people who made an effort to cook all those delicious foods. The best part of any potluck is always the love that went into making it happen.