Oh My Potluck!

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Happy Hosting How-To

I was probably having potlucks before I knew it. Mostly I’m thinking of trading lunches in elementary school. That kind of counts doesn’t it? What I’m trying to say is that potlucks are really easy to host. The practical benefits are that you don’t have to spend a day preparing hors d’oeuvres, roasting, mixing, sweating and baking. It saves you time and money and introduces you to dishes you may have never thought of – a great way to add to the recipe collection. It gives a  party a relaxed, casual and open atmosphere. It’s so fun, even kids do it.

A successful potluck does not happen without at least a bit of planning and preparation. I have a few suggestions for being a good potluck host. By no means are these The Rules to a potluck. Different groups of people roll different ways, operate in different systems and that’s cool. I’ve been to the most ad hoc potlucks that did none of this stuff and they worked great. But maybe if you’re a first time host of an awesome potluck and need some tricks, these will help. Feel free to use a few, all or none at all.

Guests
Prepare your guest-list, invite those people and determine approximately how many people are able to attend. You may only know a vague number if you’re doing an open house potluck or it may be for a meeting where you’ll know very precisely who’s going to be there.

Theme
Not every potluck has a theme… but some do. Is it a BBQ? Is it vegan? Is it just desserts? Is it space themed? Is it a picnic in the park where people won’t have access to heat? Make sure your guests know the theme so they can prepare accordingly.

Menu
About 1-2 weeks before the potluck create a list of courses. Appetizers, mains, side dishes, salads, drinks, deserts and eating supplies are good basics to start with. Obviously these change based on the theme so cater it to your needs. Have guests choose what they’d like to bring. This is a good time to collect any dietary restrictions as well and ensure that those people will be properly taken care of. In general (especially for open house style potlucks), it’s a good idea to ensure there is something for vegetarians/vegans, celiacs, lactose intolerance and nut allergies. If it’s a smaller potluck where you know everyone you might not have to worry about this, but make sure to ask if uncertain.

If there’s imbalance now’s a good time to sort that out. If eight people are bringing main dishes and no one has opted to bring a salad encourage a couple of those people to switch. Likewise, if you have one or two people with gluten allergies but everyone else is bringing something with flour in it, you might want to ask around to see if anyone could switch their recipe. Otherwise you might want to consider making something yourself that will fill out the meal for the celiacs. Usually when the list is shared among all guests (on a bulletin board or in an email, for instance) the menu sorts itself out quite nicely. See what I mean? Easy peasy.

Your Dish
After getting a rough idea of what people are bringing it’s your chance to pick a recipe. As the host you have the chance to bring something that others might not be able to like fondue, soups, burgers, cakes or ice cream. You might need to choose a couple dishes if there are certain courses that are lacking.

Final Confirmation
Don’t forget to send out a quick note reminding people of what they agreed to bring, telling everyone how many people will be there and what time you plan to start eating (no one likes to miss an awesome dish because it arrived 2 hours after everything else). Guests usually only need to bring as many small portions as there are guests, even enough to serve three-quarters of the guests can work but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If there are any little things like plates, napkins, cutlery, cups or drinks that can be picked up this is a good time to ask if anyone wants to chip in (so long as they can arrive early).  I’ve also been to potlucks where everyone has been asked to bring their own eating supplies.

Potluck
The potluck should now go off flawlessly. You’ve got a great menu that hits every course. You’ve got stuff to eat on and eat with. And you’ve got a great group of people to spend the party with. Put up the streamers, put on some tunes and enjoy!

 I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
– Nancie J. Carmody 

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This entry was posted on August 27, 2012 by in Tips and tagged , , , , .

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