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5 Ideas for Reviving the Potluck Dinner Party

Filed Under: food, entertaining

potluck dinner

When you think potluck dinner does it conjure images of church basements filled with blue-haired grannies and an assortment of Jello salads? Well, strike that image from your mind. Potluck dinners are making a comeback in neighborhoods all over the country.

With the economy taking a downturn many of us are trying to entertain on a budget. Gone are the expensive dinners out with friends. Gone are the catered dinner parties. More and more of us are turning to casual entertaining, the sort where we can wear our flip flops and bring the children along. What better time than to revive the potluck dinner.

In my neighborhood we have impromptu potluck dinners almost every weekend. The food is completely random, often leftovers we have had from the previous week remade into a new dish. We put all of the food out and let the kids run around and graze whenever they feel like it. The adults kick back with adult drinks and just relax. You, however, might want to be more formal and organized than us and do a bit of advance planning.

The best potluck dinners have some sort of organization by the host. That is unless you want five pans of brownies. Because isn't that usually the default dish that everyone bring to parties -- brownies. Run out of time? Brownies. Run out of ideas? Brownies. Just plain lazy? Brownies.

Some ideas for organizing a potluck dinner at your home:

1) You supply the meat for the grill. Have everyone else bring a side dish, salad, or dessert. Don't forget about drinks. I always like to ask people to bring a six-pack of their favorite beer or a bottle of wine to share.

2) Have everyone bring a different main dish to share. You supply the salad, bread, and drinks.

3) Pick a theme for potluck. A theme could be the ethnicity of the food, foods from a different color of the rainbow, comfort foods, finger foods, 1970's favorites. The list of themes is bound only by your imagination and the culinary prowess of your friends.

4) It is perfectly acceptable to assign your friends different types of dishes -- salad, main dish, dessert, appetizer, etc. No need for them to tell you exactly what they are making.

5) Request that your friends bring a copy of their recipe to share. This also helps people with allergies navigate the buffet table without having to track down the cook of each dish.

What about you? Has the economy caused you to get more creative about how you eat out or entertain? Are you a potluck pro and have some great tips? We'd love to hear from you in comments!

  • Adelaide

    Chris, Great post. Potlucks rock!

    Potlucks are a great tradition in our family; we host 4-6 per year for 25 or 150 people (I only recommend this one if you have a REALLY big yard/lot/property).

    Drink containers are one of the things I focus on for potlucks. If you have cans of soda then people put them down and forget which is theirs. Or bugs get into them. The soda is wasted. We used to go through hundreds of paper cups. Not very green.

    Now I encourage families to bring for each kid a beverage bottle with a lid; I supply masking tape and pens so everyone can mark their bottle. The lemonade and iced water that we provide goes much farther in containers with lids. And it is better for the envoronment than using a million paper cups.

    Buying a few Coleman 3 gallon beverage containers with spigots was a good investment. We use them often, as do friends who borrow them.

    Another tip; a campfire tops off the night splendidly. We live in the country and have a fire circle, but people in town can enjoy a fire in a chimnera. After we have a potluck, many people contact me and mention the magic of the evening campfire. A forgotten charm . . .

    Happy Potlucking

  • doctorevie

    I love potlucking because it take the stress out of entertaining. Plus people feel proud to have other people taste they're cooking at my table, and it helps people get to know each other when they compliment the chef. For July 4th, I provided one of the main dishes, 1 side, and a dessert. 2 others made appetizers, another made the main chicken dish, and others brought tiramisu and ice cream. Lots of people brought champagne and wine. The table was full, and then some people took home left overs. Everyone left happy and very full!

  • Elsie

    We potluck once a month at various friends' houses. Our hostess has been supplying the maindish, but I like the salad idea shared. We have a large group 20-30 people each month, so categories are assigned alphabetically, ie a-d bring salad, e-h main dishes.... etc. The risk with this is that we have few people in the t-z area! But we mix it up each month.

    We have been successful with "Bring your own meat" to grill. other things were provided.

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