Potluck Etiquette: What Are Your Rules?

published Aug 10, 2011
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Potluck parties are one of the least stressful and most budget-friendly ways to throw a dinner party. But as with most communal efforts, they work best when everyone works together, so you don’t end up with 10 bottles of wine and not enough food. What are the rules you wish everyone followed when it comes to potlucks?

The inspiration for the this post was a recent LA Weekly article on 10 Potluck Etiquette Rules. Great idea — but most of the rules seem geared toward a specific, very large and very disappointing gathering the author attended. I’m more interested in the smaller, less anonymous gatherings I usually attend, which involve friends and friends of friends, people who do not necessarily cook or potluck very often.

Here are the rules I wish both guests and hosts would follow:

Guests must bring a dish (and beer is not a dish.) Nothing is worse than a sad potluck table of mostly booze. Offering to bring drinks in lieu of food is fine, as long as you know the host needs them and not, say, a big bag of tortilla chips and a nice supermarket salsa, which are just as easy to buy as a six-pack.

Hosts must be clear about what guests should bring. It can feel strange and cheap to ask people to bring food to a party you are inviting them to, but it is still the host’s responsibility to be upfront about what will be provided and what guests need to bring. Veteran potluckers know the right questions to ask in response to a vague invite, but newbies may not.

Guests should not assume there will be oven, stove or refrigerator space. Check with the host beforehand if your dish needs to be chilled or heated before the party starts, to make sure there is space available. Or better yet, make a dish that is hardy enough to survive the trip to the party and can be served at room temperature.

Whether guest or host, say something nice about the other food on the table. No matter what, I try to compliment the homemade dishes on the potluck table, especially those made by someone I know is less than comfortable in the kitchen. Potlucks aren’t competitions — spread goodwill!

So those are the rules I wished guests and hosts would follow at potlucks. What are yours?

Related: Summer Entertaining: 3 Tips for the Best Buffet Layout