Organizing a Potluck Dinner

Having a potluck dinner is an easy way of hosting a party without having to do all of the cooking. But there are a few points you need to follow to avoid a menu full of potluck casseroles or desserts, not to mention unhappy guests. For example, your potluck will be a problem if more than half of the guests bring potato chips and the other three bring one dish that won't feed everyone.

When inviting guests, assign food categories. Never tell guests to bring whatever they want, but you can ask if they would prefer to bring an appetizer, salad, main course or dessert. For a party of 10 guests, once 2 guests have selected the same category, cross it off the list and don't make it an option for the next guest. The third guest will have choices from all except for the category that already has two guests bringing it. Continue until there are two foods coming for each category.

The easiest way to figure this out is to take the number of guests, divide the number by five and assign that number of guests to each category of food. Doing so will give you an equal number of appetizers, salads, main courses and desserts. If you prefer to have more or less of some categories than others, adjust your assignments accordingly. If you think you have enough food and another guest asks what he can bring, you can assign drinks or paper goods. Otherwise, provide those yourself. You can make the party B.Y.O.B. to save costs on beverages.

Remember, if you don't like what a guest proposes to bring, assert yourself and nicely offer an alternative or variation. Some foods are foolproof, so assign those to guests who you know don't like to cook. Green salads are the best, and you can also assign other buy-it-and-bring-it items like beverages or ice cream.

For a more formal potluck, use real dishes instead of disposable. Set up centerpieces and decorate the rooms for a festive atmosphere. Just because people are bringing food doesn't mean the party needs to be totally casual. Have extra serving dishes and large spoons handy, as guests won't always bring food in servable containers, and they won't bring a spoon or spatula for serving, either. Set up a large table and organize the foods as they arrive to make it easy for guests to take foods. You may wish to put out desserts later, or put desserts on a different table.

Remember that planning includes having a place for the food buffet, place settings, designated areas for guests to eat (family style or smaller areas) and a place for guests to put their containers, toss their plastic wrap and pack up leftovers afterward. It's nice to have some extra take-home containers to offer or a good supply of plastic bags at the least.

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