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Potluck Parties — What Should I Bring?

Delicious tips on selecting, displaying and serving your dishes.

The Italian Table

— Photo Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Entertaining potluck-style has become more and more common, and for very good reasons. Not too many of us have the time to cook a multicourse meal, all while getting the house ready for company, setting the table, creating a bar area and so on. Sharing the work makes it much easier to entertain more frequently. And isn’t getting together with friends and family more often the point of potlucks?

Anne Byrn, well known as The Cake Mix Doctor, is also an expert on potluck parties. In What Can I Bring? Cookbook, she shares all sorts of tips on creating stress-free gatherings.

Potluck gatherings have a lot going for them, beyond just taking some of the load off the host. Folks get to show off their signature dishes, the menus tend to end up on the more interesting side and there is a built-in camaraderie to pulling together a meal as a group. Here are some of Anne’s tips for choosing the right recipe to bring to your next party.

Pick dishes that reflect the season, the time of day that the event is being held and the crowd who will be enjoying the dishes. Salads in particular are wonderfully seasonal.

Choose a dish that stands up to travel: one that won’t slip and slide in transit, that will stay hot if it is supposed to be, or cold if it is best eaten chilled. And pick a dish that is quick to assemble when you are on-site — or requires no work at all.

Select a recipe that fits the guests. Is it a group of adventurous eaters or a group who may prefer less spicy, less exotic fare? Are children included? Will there be vegetarians coming or any people with food allergies? It’s smart to ask the host about who will be attending the gathering and then select your recipe accordingly.

Make a dish look appetizing on a platter or in a bowl. Even the simplest foods — sliced tomatoes, sliced melon, sliced ham, a few good cheeses — look extraordinary on a pretty platter. How you present food is what garners those first “oohs” and “ahhs.”

Anne also provides handy lists for both the guests and the hosts, to make everything flow smoothly as the party gets under way. Here are some “What Can I Do?” points she identifies for enjoyable and seamless get-togethers.

For the guest:

  • Do select a recipe that needs no on-site assembly or that is easy to put together. Let your host know if you need to keep anything cold, or heat anything up.
  • Do ask your host to set aside counter space for food preparation. And do confine yourself to a small area of the host’s kitchen or you might be labeled a kitchen hog!
  • Do check to see how many people are coming to the party so you can make enough food to go around.
  • Do bring a serving spoon or fork or a platter, if needed.
  • Do arrive on time if you are bringing the appetizer.
  • Do see your dish through by replenishing it if needed.
  • Do offer leftovers to the host. Rinse your dish or wrap it in a plastic bag before heading home.


For the host:

  • Do decide how formal you want the gathering to be — china and glass or paper and plastic?
  • Do tidy up kitchen counters and free up refrigerator space for food that will come in the door. If needed, move unnecessary refrigerator items to another refrigerator or cooler.
  • Do set the serving table and decorate it, allowing space for each dish. Place a labeled index card where each dish should go.
  • Do have serving utensils ready in case your guests don’t bring their own.
  • Do preset the warming drawer or oven to keep food warm.
  • Do make the trash can accessible, along with paper towels and kitchen towels.
  • Do have the supplies on hand to wrap food to take home.


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