Top 10 Tips for a Great Pot-Luck Party

'Potluck 19990926142428' photo (c) 1999, Paul - license: today have less and less time to entertain. The thought of shopping, cooking  and getting your house ready for a crowd is daunting! And that’s without the clearing up afterward.

Pot luck might be the answer. You, the host, still have to organize the food and do the groundwork, but your guests do most of the cooking. And you get to taste some dishes that you wouldn’t try yourself.

Here are my favorite tips for organizing a pot-luck dinner or party:

  1. Make it clear when you invite that this is a pot-luck event. People might resent getting asked for a contribution after they’ve already accepted the invitation.
  2. Find out whether any of your guests have special dietary restrictions. It’s okay if they can’t eat every item, though. At least they’ll eat what they bring themselves!
  3. Have a flexible menu plan in mind. For example, bread or rolls, appetizer, main course, starch, (or casseroles/quiches), salads, drinks and desserts. Reader Robin‘s potluck group chooses a theme, like Mexican cuisine.
  4. Always give choices. People vary in how much time, talent and money they can put into a particular item. Some people might prefer to buy paper goods or drinks instead of cooking. And another friend might make that fancy Chinese dish you’ve been craving.
  5. Each dish should provide 6-8 servings. If you have more guests than that, double or triple the number of people you ask to bring each item. Don’t make the mistake of the organizers of an after-dinner synagogue event I recently attended. They asked each couple to bring a fruit platter or a cake so most of the food was barely touched. They should have asked only half of the couples, saving the other half for next time. But as always when entertaining, it’s good to plan for more food than you think you’ll need (within reason!)
  6. Prepare space for food on a buffet table. You should have some extra serving plates and utensils on hand. Put out the appetizers first, then the main course and salads, and finally the dessert. Set up drinks on a separate table. Prepare a station for coffee and tea as well.
  7. Be in touch with everyone a day or two in advance. It gets really awkward when the person bringing the main course forgets to show up.
  8. Taste everything and compliment your guests on their delicious cooking. If it’s not good, do like your mother told you and don’t say anything.
  9. Ask people to take their leftovers home. If they offer to leave them with you (assuming you want them), make sure they take home their containers and utensils.
  10. Have a garbage bag ready for cleanup. People will usually pitch in and help if you start before they go home.
  11. If you have a good time, mention that you should all do this again soon. Hopefully someone else will offer to host!

Have you ever hosted  a pot-luck meal? Share your experiences in the comments!

You may also enjoy:

9 Tips for Simple Entertaining

Ten Things You Should Know about Freezing for a Crowd

Universal Crustless Quiche (great recipe for bringing to a pot-luck event)


  1. I like a flexible pot luck menu. Even if you end up with too many carbs or something, people are more likely to bring what they are good at. I find most people have a specialty, so with pot luck, you can get a whole buffet of everyone’s specialties! I definitely agree with giving people the option of bringing drinks or paper good. In the end, the company, not the food, makes the party, and a pot luck requirement should not keep your busiest buddies from attending.

  2. The first tip is the most important. A friend was recently asked to some event and then told “ok, so you’ll make the X” and was somewhat taken aback.

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