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.

Managing what guests bring 

Part of the fun of attending a potluck is 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.

Picking 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.

Considering 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 also might 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.

Avoiding duplication

Nobody wants to pick between Carol’s and Janet’s family meatloaves. 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.

The best way to keep things organized is to use a Jotform potluck signup sheet. That way, you can let people submit 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 their ingredients, so people with less severe food sensitivities can still attend.

Planning potlucks for fundraising

Potlucks can also be a great fundraising tool for nonprofits and community organizations. You can save on catering expenses and ask for donations to attend. 

Usually, these types of potlucks mean hosting a pretty large crowd. If 100 people show up and they all bring food, there’s going to be a lot of waste. Plus, we can’t forget that not everyone can cook.

For a fundraising potluck, it’s a good idea to allow people who don’t want to contribute food to make a financial donation instead. Jotform makes it easy to give attendees the option to make a donation right from your form.

Remembering the most important thing 

Don’t forget: A potluck is supposed to be fun! It’s a time for gathering with friends and enjoying each other’s company. Some things might go wrong, but just roll with it. After all, being relaxed is an important ingredient for good digestion.

Food photo created by katemangostar –

This article is originally published on Oct 01, 2021, and updated on Mar 01, 2022.

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