The “Un-Host”: Potluck Guidelines | Golden Rules Gal

Aug, 29, 2019

Potluck means sharing.  Sharing with my swim class friends.  I put together a soup and salad bar, and the others guests provided appies, drinks and dessert.

Seven-Up was once advertised as the “un-cola.” Today, a potluck host is more like an “un-host,” usually providing the site for a party or dinner but not all the food and drink. Potlucks have always been in style for small groups such as book clubs and larger ones such as community organizations, but today, they’re more and more welcome for holiday dinners such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and even dinner parties for close friends, where everyone can be part of the gathering without placing so much responsibility on the host. With Labor Day around the corner, this is a holiday made for sharing.

Every guest at a potluck is expected to bring something to eat or drink. Whether you’re the host or a guest, follow these guidelines for a successful get-together.

Rules for the Host

  • The person who provides the site for the potluck is the one who sets the rules.
  • For a dinner party, the host usually provides the main course. There are two schools of thought as to how to arrange for the other dishes: Either the host decides on the menu and asks everyone what they would like to contribute, or she asks them bring a specific course, such as salad, appetizers, side dishes, or dessert.
  • I like to email the guests and tell them what the main course will be and then let them choose what they would like to bring. Let’s face it, we all have our specialties. The first person to respond with a suggested dish or course gets to bring it (in case two different people want to bring the same thing).
  • For larger gatherings served buffet style, you can be less organized and let everyone simply bring what they like, as it’s too much to expect a host to provide a main course for, say, twenty people. It’s fun to see how these unfold; somehow they usually touch all the bases and there’s plenty of food and variety for everyone, even though people aren’t expected to bring a dish to feed the entire crowd. It’s assumed that not everyone will choose to serve themselves full portions of each dish. People who don’t cook can bring wine, bread, or prepared foods.

Rules for the Guests

  • Don’t plan on preparing your dish after you get to the party unless you have permission from the host beforehand, or it’s a party where everyone is cooking together and preparing their dishes onsite. Last minute assembling, as in tossing a salad and adding garnishes just before serving, is okay, but stay out of the way and don’t take up too much room.
  • Unless the host specifies differently, bring your contribution in your own dish with your own serving implement(s). The host shouldn’t have to scramble for serving dishes, spoons, and so on, after you arrive. If there is room, you can rinse out the dish before you leave.
  • Bring a hostess gift. Even though you’ll be bringing a dish, the host will be using her own china and glasses and setting the table.
  • For large gatherings, guests should volunteer ahead of time to set up, serve, or clean up after the meal. For sit-down dinners or smaller gatherings, thoughtful guests should simply pitch in on the spot and do so without being asked.


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