How to Host a Potluck Dinner Party
Step 1: Make a guest list, based on the number of people (and seats) you can comfortably squeeze around your dining table (or your living room and kitchen, if it’s a casual affair).
Step 2: Choose a general theme for the evening (e.g., Italian, Indian, Saint Patrick’s Day, tropical). While you shouldn’t dictate exactly what you’d like your guests to bring, a little guidance is often appreciated. Not only will it make it easier for your friends to choose a recipe, but it’ll also help prevent any bad combos (e.g., sushi and fondue)—and bellyaches.
Step 3: Figure out how many dishes you’d like the meal to include. At minimum, you’ll need an entree (that’s your job), a side, a salad, and a dessert. Appetizers and wine would be lovely, too.
Step 4: Extend a personal invitation to each of your guests, either in person or via telephone. Once you know whether they can attend, tell them the culinary theme of the meal and ask them to bring an appetizer, salad, side dish, or dessert. Any guests who are less handy in the kitchen (or pressed for time) can bring wine, bread, or a cheese plate. Be sure to check up front if anyone is vegetarian or has any food allergies.
Step 5: Before guests arrive, prepare the entree, set the table, and clear any counter space (or oven space) necessary for their dishes. Set up a bar area, with ice, cups, corkscrews, and any beverages you’re providing. Be prepared with any extra serving containers, ladles, tongs, or spatulas you might need to serve the feast. Turn on some tunes, plunk some flowers in a few vases, and light a few candles.
Step 6: When your pals arrive, give hugs and smooches, ask them what deliciousness they’ve brought and what, if any, further preparation is required. Then introduce them to your other friends and point them to the bar.
Step 7: Sit down, eat, drink, and be merry!
Step 8: Slip into the kitchen and wash your guests’ dishes so you can return them at the evening’s end. If you have any leftovers, offer them to the chef of the dish. Oftentimes, they’ll let you keep them, but you shouldn’t assume they’re yours.
More Nifty Tips
• Keep a roll of masking tape and pen handy, and write the name of the owner on her respective dish, so you know whom to give what to.
• Though you may rely on your guests to bring wine, definitely keep a couple of bottles handy to get the party started. You never want your guests to go thirsty, especially if your wine-bringer is late. Also, some guests may not drink alcohol, so have some tasty bevies for them, too.
• If you plan on hosting three or fewer guests, prepare the evening’s entree and allow the others to bring only wine or dessert. Potlucks generally work best for larger groups, but feel rather stingy for smaller gatherings.