We've all been to at least one unhappy potluck. Here are our best tips, for both hosts and guests, toward a stress-free crowdsourced feast.
Ask--then suggest. Start by asking your guests what they’d like to bring, since they’ll usually pick something they can make well. Should you have too much of any one category of food and not enough of something else, that’s the time to go back and make polite requests for a change—and it’s best to keep it loose: “a green vegetable” rather than “Why don’t you bring creamed spinach?” That gives your guests some leeway to choose what they like, can easily shop for, and have time to make.
Bring out the coolers. To free up the fridge for incoming potluck items, fill a cooler with ice and use it to temporarily store foods you won’t need (like ketchup and juice).
Whenever possible, bring a finished dish. It’s just easier and smoother if all you have to do is set your fully done creation on the table with a serving spoon—no banging around in someone else’s kitchen trying to find a knife or the cayenne you forgot to bring.
If you’re finishing it there, do all the prep at home. If your dish has to be assembled at the last minute, bring ingredients already chopped or otherwise prepped, along with your own serving dish and any special equipment (like a handheld mixer). It keeps confusion to a minimum and makes things easy on the host.
Wash up at home, too. Especially if the potluck is a big one, the sink area can turn into a zoo. Mark your dish with your name on a piece of tape on the bottom to keep it from getting mixed up with someone else’s. Also, bring a bag to carry home your dirty dish, in case there’s no time or space to wash it there.
Give advance notice. Tell your host at least a few days ahead of time whether you’ll need to warm anything in the oven or on the stove. That way she or he can figure out how to schedule the incoming oven dishes.
When in doubt, bring wine. If you’re not able to cook for one reason or another, remember that a bottle of wine is usually welcome. For our wine editor’s favorite all-purpose Thanksgiving wines, click here.