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Tips For A Successful Potluck

Whether it is a company party -- or a get-together with friends -- potlucks are always fun. These tips can guarantee a good time. Follow them and ensure you're tops on the list for the next potluck.

* ALLERGY ALERT: Think you know your guests? Guess again. Most people with food allergies like to keep them discreet, so they don't seem like picky eaters. You don't want your famous chocolate-chip cookies to send someone to the hospital! Always write ALL the ingredients you've included on an index card, and attach it to your dish. This way your guests can determine whether or not a food is safe for them to indulge in. (For all of you with SECRET family recipes: do not fear. You are not giving out the recipe, just the ingredients; your friends still have no idea of the measurements or preparation instructions to create your masterpiece.)

* RECIPE SHARING: From personal experience, potlucks tend to be a great way to share cultural customs, especially ethnic dishes. You would be surprised at how many people would love to exchange recipes while conversing after a dinner. Come prepared with a few copies of your recipe on index cards, and a notebook and pen to copy some of your favorites as well! (Unless it s a secret recipe of course.)

* DON'T FORGET THE BASICS: Not everyone is into trying "exotic" foods. By all means, bring a gourmet dish, if that is your fancy, but keep in mind the most successful dishes at potlucks are often the basic comfort foods.

* FIND OUT HOW MANY WILL BE AT THE SOIREE: Most people are accustomed to cooking strictly for their family, generally between 2 and 6 people. If there are going to be 20 people in attendance, remember to bring enough for 20 people.

Notes For Party Planners: 

  • Keep tabs on who is bringing what. You don't want to end up with five tuna casseroles.
  • Make sure you have utensils. People are bringing food.
  • You still need to take care of place settings, beverages, serving utensils, hotplates (to keep food warm), hot pads (to protect your table from hot dishes), dishwashing supplies, a fridge, and oven (if necessary).
  • If your party is outdoors, you need to accommodate for that too!

Putting Together A Successful Pot Luck Dinner

A potluck may be a great way to share the load, and with just a little planning you can avoid 15 green bean casseroles at your dinner table. Ensure menu variety and head off an all-deviled-egg buffet by assigning food categories to your guests. Don't be shy -- this eliminates the guesswork for them, too. Give non-cooks a chance to participate by including categories such as beverages, paper products, or decorating. You should make the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.

  • Ask non-cooks to bring the flowers, wine, and candles or other items to decorate the table.
  • Pick someone prompt to bring the hors d'oeuvres. You don't want your appetizers arriving just in time for dessert.
  • You'll want at least two of the guests to make different salads, two people to bring different potato dishes (one sweet potato, one regular potato), two people to bring different green vegetables (maybe Brussels sprouts and green beans), and two people to bring pies.
  • Make sure someone brings kid food. There's nothing worse than having kids reject all the food at the table. Make sure there's a dessert that appeals to the kids (ice cream, for example), some sparkling apple juice for a special drink, and something they'll like, like mac and cheese or yams with marshmallows.
  • If someone's unsure about how a recipe will travel, have them bring the components to your house and finish making it there with your help. Dinner can be incredibly improved by an interesting side dish.
  • Guests who work full time can prepare a dish that they can make ahead of time and freeze.
  • Relatives who want to help but need something easy can do some of the shopping for you.
  • Plan a menu with some dishes that can be served at room temperature so you don't have too many dishes that need to be kept hot.
  • Let your guests help with the cleanup. Cleaning up can be fun -- some of the best conversations happen in the kitchen.
  • Finally, if someone really wants to bring a certain dish that you don't particularly want, let them bring it anyway. You never know which dish might turn into a family tradition.

Behind the Scenes:

  • Ask guests to let you know ahead of time if they'll need refrigerator, oven, or range-top space. Unless your group is small or you have lots of counter and oven space, discourage all but the simplest last-minute preparations.
  • Remind guests to label their serving dishes and utensils. Every regular potluck participant can tell about losing the lid to a favorite plastic bowl or discovering that the only casserole dish left on the table is not the one she brought.
  • Be prepared with extra serving plates, bowls, and spoons in case someone forgets.

Setting the Table:

  • If you're hosting potluck Thanksgiving at home, don't attempt to serve all the food from one table.
  • Place desserts on a table separate from the tables holding main dishes and side dishes. Locate beverages in another area.
  • For the most convenient self-service, arrange the buffet so diners can serve themselves from both sides of the table. Lay out the table in logical order: plates at one end of the table for guests to pick up and load with food, and the eating utensils tucked inside napkins at the other end to grab once their plates are full.

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