Tips on putting together a potluck party

By Maxine Turner

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Shepherds Pie is a great dish to serve at a holiday potluck.

Cuisine Unlimited

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Entertaining doesn’t have to be complicated or formal. Spontaneously getting together with family and friends can be easy and great fun, and the task of putting this together can be shared with everyone.

The potluck may seem like an old-fashioned way of entertaining, but it fits well with today’s lifestyle. Our busy schedules may not allow us to entertain as much as we would like. What better way to entertain than for everyone to participate?

Potlucks go back to 16th century England and came over with the first colonists. A potluck is a get-together where people bring a different dish to share. The idea is that no one is burdened with the expense or time of doing all the preparation, and there is a contribution from everyone. Potlucks are also a great way to meet new people and even experience new foods.

Here are some helpful tips on how to put it all together.

Potluck party tips

Select a date that won't conflict with vacations, a holiday or a major community event. Community calendars are available through local newspapers.

Choose a location that can accommodate the number of people you expect to attend. Potlucks can be a neighborhood street party in a park, community hall or at someone’s home. If you are including children, be sure the location is safe for children to play.

If children are coming, organizing some children’s activities will help keep them entertained. Try hiring young adults who can help with organizing children’s activities, like making decorations for the buffet table. The key is to be prepared and plan for this. It will give the adults time to visit with others and make your get-together more enjoyable for everyone.

If people are driving, think about where they will park and even include this information on the invitation.

Potlucks are about sharing experiences. At a neighborhood party I went to, each guest, in addition to their food dish, also brought a contribution for a food bank donation. The box was full by the end of the evening with all kinds of canned goods, cereals and household staples. The host then delivered this to the local food bank. It was a great opportunity to help a very worthwhile cause.

Food safety is very important for potluck events. In some states, legislation has even been passed restricting these parties. Other states have safety tips available for the general public to follow.

When organizing the potluck, assign a category of food for each guest to bring. If you have chosen a theme, let everyone know so they can be creative with their menu choice. Category examples include appetizers, main course, side dishes, salads, rolls/spreads, dessert, beverages and disposables. Use your invitations to assign food categories or special projects. Keep vegetarian selections in mind as well.

Attendees will appreciate knowing how many portions they should provide. Remind them to bring hot food hot, and all food should be in containers ready for the table. I suggest limiting this to 10 servings. This is ample for anyone to bring.

Assigning someone to provide music can help to enhance the party.

Have a clean-up committee to help make the evening end on a positive note for everyone.

Ask for RSVPs, and give yourself two weeks ahead in case you need to make menu changes.

Check what you need in the way of tables, chairs, extra bowls, platters, serving pieces, etc.

Be sure you clean out your refrigerator and that coolers are clean and sanitized so that food can be stored until ready to serve. Coolers can be converted into hot boxes to help give you that extra heating space. Just be sure the temperature is high enough to hold food safely. Encourage guests to bring hot food hot so heating does not become an issue.

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