How to organize a potluck

Have you ever been to a terrible potluck? If you’ve attended enough potluck dinners, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of bad ones.

Maybe three people brought crackers. And everybody brought wine, but nobody brought cheese. And maybe someone else brought borscht, but there weren’t enough bowls. So you had 12 bottles of wine for eight people and almost nothing to eat. Now that’s the way to get a party started!

Or worse, maybe you showed up with chicken cordon bleu and discovered everyone else brought chips and cookies. OK, so at least people had something to eat, but you basically did all the work while everyone else went shopping for snacks.

So here’s the lesson: If you want to host a great potluck, you’ve got to get organized.

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How to organize a potluck

Now that you’re ready to get started on planning, here are eight steps to organizing a great potluck, whether you’re inviting close friends for dinner or setting up a community fundraising event.

1. Decide the date and location 

Choosing the right date and time for your potluck is an important step in the potluck planning process. Ideally, you want to pick a date that works for the majority of guests, so your potluck can be as fun and effective as possible. Send out a poll to your guests to see when they can get together using Jotform’s online poll creator.

2. Pick a theme

Organizing a potluck with a theme is a really fun option if you can pull it off. It’s also a way to introduce people to a particular diet or cuisine, but it requires some solid planning and inviting people who are interested in cooking something new. 

You can pick a type of cuisine — like Cajun or Tex-Mex — and have everyone bring something that fits the theme. And you can go a step further and theme the whole party — like hosting a luau where everyone brings Hawaiian dishes and gets a lei at the door.

3. Make it a fundraising event

Aside from being a way to bring friends together, potlucks can also be a great fundraising tool for nonprofits and community organizations. By asking for donations to attend, you can host a community fundraising event while saving on catering expenses.

Jotform makes it easy to give attendees the option to make a donation right from their phone, tablet, or desktop.

You can use Jotform Donation Apps to create a custom app to collect and manage donations for your potluck event. Just create your donation app (no coding required) and drag and drop the Donation Box element into it. Personalize the header and description of the Donation Box, adjust the suggested donation amounts, and add a donation progress bar that shows the progress toward your fundraising goal.

By creating a donation app for your potluck, you’ll get a user-friendly, easily accessible way to fundraise. You’ll also get access to over 30 payment gateway options, the ability to view previous donations, a no-code app builder, no extra fees, and integrations with more than 100 other third-party apps. 

4. Create a sign-up sheet and confirm attendance 

An important part of planning your potluck is creating a sign-up sheet to confirm attendance, ensure that there’s no overlap in items that guests bring, and confirm there’s enough food to go around.

Nobody wants to pick between Carol’s and Janet’s family meatloaves, for example. Who wants two slices of meatloaf when there’s so much other good food to sample? 

Plus, one of those meatloaves might be much better than the other one, so everybody will devour one and leave the other. And then things will get awkward.

You can keep things organized with a Jotform potluck signup sheet. That way, you can let people list what they’re planning to bring. Plus, you can share a link to the form’s table with the whole crowd so everyone knows what everyone else is bringing. 

You can even go a step further and ask people to share the ingredients to their dishes, so people with food sensitivities can still attend.

5. Manage what guests bring 

Part of the fun of attending a potluck is that you never know exactly what you’re going to get. But if you’re hosting the potluck, you may want to make sure your guests bring a wide selection of things — and any special utensils to serve them.

It’s best to give your guests a little direction to avoid awkward potluck situations. After all, people really do tend to bring snacks and wine if left to their own devices.

If you’re interested in creating a full meal, it’s a good idea to specify the categories of food you’d like your guests to cover — like appetizers, a salad, and side dishes. 

If any of your guests simply can’t cook, you could suggest they bring a snack, dessert, or something from the deli counter at the supermarket — like fried chicken or pasta salad. Or they could team up with someone who can cook and help them prepare the meal or buy ingredients. 

Finally, to ensure that your potluck runs smoothly, encourage guests who don’t have the time or inclination to prepare something to bring serving tools, utensils, or cups instead. 

6. Consider dietary restrictions 

As mentioned above, you could organize a potluck to introduce people to a certain diet. For example, if you wanted to show people that vegan food is actually delicious, you could use your potluck to accomplish that.

Of course, some people don’t like being restricted in what they can bring, so you should make it clear what they’re getting into ahead of time.

Even if you don’t want to have an entirely vegan potluck, you may have someone at your party with dietary restrictions. It’s a good idea to ask a couple of people to bring something that meets those restrictions. It’s a nice way to make everyone feel welcome and ensure everyone still gets to enjoy a variety of dishes.

If someone has severe food allergies, they may not be comfortable at a potluck. It might also be too difficult to accommodate them, unfortunately. It would mean that every person has to bring dishes without certain ingredients or adjust their recipes and preparation methods, which could be a major hassle.

7. Label and return dishes 

Before your potluck begins, make sure that you remind everyone who brings food to label their dishes with their names. You could even provide labels and markers when your guests check in to keep things neat and organized.

Labeling the food and storage containers will eliminate any potential confusion later on, making it easy for their rightful owners to find them. This is especially important for large groups that are bringing many types of dishes to the potluck. Labeling containers also ensures that the host or event planner won’t have to spend time at the end trying to wrangle guests into taking home their unlabeled Tupperware.

8. Package leftover food 

Once your event is over, make sure that your guests package up their leftovers to either take home or donate to a good cause. You can reduce food waste at your potluck by choosing a food bank or food rescue to donate leftovers to afterwards. Ask your participants to bring extra containers to your event if you plan to donate leftovers.

9. Thank your participants 

Don’t forget to thank your participants for coming and contributing to your potluck! This encourages them to come back again and participate in another potluck or fundraiser. Send out an email to all your guests after the event to thank them for helping, hosting, or bringing a yummy dish. You can even create and send out a survey to gather feedback from guests by using Jotform.

Remember the most important thing 

Don’t forget: A potluck is supposed to be fun! It’s a time for gathering with your community and enjoying each other’s company. If something goes wrong, just roll with it. After all, being relaxed is important for good digestion.

Food photo created by katemangostar –

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