Tips for Hosting a Great Potluck

Great tips for how to host a potluck, from invites to how to plan who brings what food.


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With the holidays sneaking up on us, chances are you’re thinking of either hosting or planning to attend a potluck. I’ve done my fair share of both, both small gatherings with close friends to larger 50+ people potlucks.

Needless to say, I’ve tried all the different ways to organize a potluck. And there are definitely some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you’re planning your own!

It never occurred to me that I had some sort of insider knowledge when it came to planning potlucks until a friend asked my opinion on planning. So let me share what I’ve learned so far with you!


Plan your guest list!

The guest list dictates all! If you have 10 of your closest friends, letting it be more of a free-for-all when it comes to planning food is alright. But if you’re planning a larger gathering, you need more of a plan, both with food AND invitations. You’ll see more below!

Plan your food!

Here’s where that guest list comes in to play first. If it’s a smaller group of close friends, you may be tempted to let folks bring whatever they want, which sometimes works. And if it’s a larger group, some folks think this is best –  “Last names A-F bring salads/sides, G-M bring entrees and N-Z bring desserts, host provides drinks”. But this method isn’t the best option… and here’s why.

I want to offer a word of caution on spreading your food out too thin. Suppose you as host offer to provide drinks, but have others bring food, desserts and plates/napkins, etc. And your paper plates person is late! Or the person offering to bring the main entree is late! Potluck disaster!

When I host a potluck, large or small, I provide all utensils, napkins, cups and plates, simple drinks (hot drinks and water), and at least a large main entree. If the group is large enough, I will even cook an entree, side and dessert, just in case. That way if some folks are running late (bound to happen if your group includes kids!) you’re not in a food bind.

Send out invitations!

Again, this is all dependent on your guest list size. If it’s no more than 5 families and all close friends, just start an email! Folks can reply-all with what they plan on bringing so you can easily avoid 5 desserts.

But, any larger than 5 families and the reply-all gets old. When it’s a larger gathering I love sending an electronic invite like Evite or Paperless Post. You can even include the option to select an item to bring when you RSVP. Handy!

Just be sure you’ve figured out the best way to organize food BEFORE you send out those invites.

Prep your home!

There is the obvious step here of cleaning and making sure your toilet is clean. But there are other things you can do to prepare.

Prepare eating spaces. If it’s a small enough group to gather around your dining room table, set it ahead of time. If it’s too large and guests will be sitting in your family room or even standing, be sure you have plenty of places to place a drink. You may want to even consider pulling out your trashcan, if it’s normally tucked away, so it’s within eye sight.

If the group hasn’t been to your home before, consider hanging balloons on your mailbox so your house is easily identifiable.

Prep your home – For Kids!

Now that we have a toddler, naturally most of our friends have kiddos too. This has changed how I prep for potlucks. These days, I put a plastic tablecloth on our dining room table, and reserve that space for kids to eat. It’s always easier for kids to eat at a table then on your lap!

I also do a sweep for any breakables that are at toddler reach. My toddler is great about not touching everything, so we’ve been lucky with knick knacks everywhere. But I don’t want my friends to stress out seeing all of my doodads everywhere and being nervous that their child may break something. (Nothing in my home is actually THAT sentimental… Home Goods and Target FTW!)

My final kid prep is prepping the obvious kids spaces. I tidy the play room, and also remove any toys that can cause sharing issues OR take up too much space. Specifically our slide and our play car. They get placed in the garage. I also give my daughter’s room a once over and empty the diaper pail, so it’s a tidy place for other parents to do a diaper change, a feeding, or even use the crib for a nap.

Prep your serving areas!

I’ve got a good system now for where to serve food and drinks, no matter what size the crowd. But it took several parties to get the flow right!

You want to choose to serve food in a place where people can easily flow from one dish to the next, and then when finished can move out of the way. If you try to serve too many things in one spot (food, drinks AND toppings) it gets congested.

I keep food on my kitchen table, which is round, so people just walk around the table to grab food. I serve drinks on a desk in my kitchen, out of the way. And then desserts are placed out on the kitchen counter once everyone has gone through for the main meal.

A word on plates, napkins and utensils.

Before your potluck, you need to decide: paper, plastic or the real deal.

Whatever you decide, consider your guest list size and makeup.

When we didn’t have kids, and we had all adults come over, I LOVED having an excuse to use every single fork, plate and cup I owned. I considered doing all the dishes afterwards as a testament to how wonderful the time was.

Now, with kids here, I use paper plates, plastic cups and forks, etc. My rationale? It’s easier for little hands to hold paper plates and plastic forks and spoons. Or if you’re trying to juggle your own full plate AND your child’s AND trying to keep your kiddo walking the right direction to the table to eat, you don’t want to be carrying full heavy porcelain plates.

Again, whatever you decide, consider your guest list size and makeup.

Are you planning on hosting a potluck during the holidays?  What are your tips and tricks?
Share them below! I’d love to hear them!!

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  1. Whitney Jordan says:

    Great tips for all those holiday gatherings right around the corner!! I’ve been to far too many pot lucks where there were a ton of desserts and no sides. I’ve also done sign ups for meals where I leave a certain number of spaces for each category – 3 salads, 3 sides, 3 desserts, 3 main dishes, etc. That way you can control the quantity of things that are brought while still allowing people to pick. I agree that it’s important for the hostess to supply the necessities – plates, cups, utensils, napkins because you are really in a bind if your plate person is late!!

  2. Jess says:

    That tip about having some paper products on hand in case the designated “paper products person” is late is GENIUS. I’ve run out and bought some cups etc. at the last minute out of fear that said person would be late, which they inevitably were!

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