How to Host a Potluck — A Great Big Meal

by in How-to, September 8th, 2011

how to host a potluck
When my parents got married in 1970, they did so on a grassy hilltop, overlooking San Francisco. The reception afterward was held in a rented church hall and the meal was potluck. My wedding, which was held in my cousin’s backyard 39 years and one month later, was similarly catered.

I’ve been to hundreds of potlucks, large and small, in my 32 years here on Earth. From the weekly Monday night potlucks at my childhood church to the decidedly basic college potlucks of cheese, chips and bean dip, I find that there is always something joyful in the act of gathering to share food.

This time of year, as we head into the busyness of the school year and the rush of the holiday season, it can be easy to lose touch with friends and family. Put a few get-together dates on the calendar and plan to potluck the meal. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re the one who’s hosting.

Feel no obligation to scrub your house from top to bottom. Potlucks are about sharing the work cooking and being with people you like. Your friends have equally towering laundry piles and dog hair that needs to be swept, too.

  • Unless you specifically assign it to a guest, a potluck host should provide plates, utensils and glasses. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can use your regular plates and cutlery. However, if you can’t bear the idea of all those dishes, no one will judge if you go disposable.
  • As the host, it’s a good idea to cook up something that includes protein and a green vegetable. Even if everyone else shows up with bread, wine and dessert, at least you know bellies will be full and satisfied. My in-a-pinch casserole that fits this bill is made with cooked whole grain pasta, jarred tomato sauce, ricotta and frozen spinach. Top it with a handful of shredded cheese and bake until bubbly.
  • Try to relax and not worry too much about who is bringing what. The very best potlucks all have a faint air of culinary adventure to them.
  • Save your empty quart-sized yogurt containers and put them out when it comes time to clean up. If there are leftovers, this will make it easy for people to share them and pack up.
  • Don’t be afraid to accept cleanup help. This is a potluck, not a dinner party. Sharing in the work is just part of the fun.

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. She grew up attending weekly potlucks and even had a potluck wedding. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook will be published by Running Press in Spring 2012.

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Comments (13)

  1. Teresa L. Woods says:

    Isn't rude to have a potluck for a Wedding? Should you have it catered instead? Guest are bring a wedding gift.

    • In my mom's day, weddings only consisted of mints, punch & cake. It's rude to assume guests are bringing a gift, so I think it'd be rude to assume a full dinner is provided unless stated. It sounds like she comes from a tight-knit family where pot lucks are their thing, so I think it's wonderful!

    • NLK says:

      We had ours catered. It is much easier on everybody, including the bride and groom to have it catered. Only a few choices and that is it. We choose 6 hot items.

  2. @ellerysfood says:

    There's nothing wrong with a potluck wedding if that's what the couple wants. Maybe her's was less formal and she wanted the celebration to be more of a comfortable, communal gathering instead of some stuffy reception. I applaud the idea.

  3. el pea says:

    As a hist, I always try to make sure that the protein/vegetable that I provide is something that everyone will be able to eat. Although your casserole sounds delightful, I keep in mind that many people have gluten and lactose intolerance/allergies. I might use gluten-free pasta and serve the cheeses on the side or make a corn tortilla/red or green sauce/spinach & beans torta (again, with cheese served on the side) or a spanish tortilla made with pan-fried potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggs. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. @GracePiper says:

    Hi there,
    After I went to a potluck with 5 potato salads I built a website that let's you invite folks to a potluck and coordinate with the friends on the menu. Hope you like it. It's free and simple. We're at – Grace

  5. @GracePiper says:

    Oh, and a good tip is that a simple theme helps people decide what to bring. I've done a Taco Night that was really popular. I provided meat and taco shells and guests could bring the various sides and toppings.

  6. Softears says:

    As Marie Antoinette always said " let them eat cake", we attended a potluck where everyone brought dessert. It is one that was enjoyed by all and not forgotten by any one. Potlucks are just a great way to enjoy someones best recipe and have a great time with friends.

  7. guest says:

    Anymore weddings have become to expensive with all the food. I
    think simple is better. My daughter is getting married soon and is having cake, mints and punch/coffee. She is going to have light hordorves but not dinner. If you want dinner go out after and have it. I think pot luck would be fun but it's her wedding.

  8. Gladys says:

    I'm glad I read this. I'm going to have a pot luck Thanksgiving.

    Thanks a lot.


  9. Wendy says:

    Do you know of or use a good potluck planning website? I've tried a few different ways online and most leave a lot to be desired (poor design, too much messy advertising, difficult for some people to figure out how to use).

  10. Deborah K. says:

    No it's NOT rude to have a potluck wedding. People can come or not as they choose, but I'll bet friends will join in with gusto and enjoy themselves just fine. Weddings have become extravaganzas of excess and a down to earth fun wedding is the way to go IMO.

    I think it's more rude to quibble about another person's choice of how they want to run their wedding. >.<

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