wikiHow to Bring Food to a Potluck Dinner

A potluck dinner is very popular, especially for luncheons, or parties, or celebrations. It is a time for people to get together, enjoy meeting new people, or seeing old friends again. Everyone has been told to bring a 'dish' and the amount of people who will be there. It is best to bring something that you enjoy eating. In case nothing else looks good, you can always eat what you brought.


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    Know that if the potluck supper is small (only a few individuals or families), ask "What can I bring?" And then bring it. (Don't say you're coming with the Caesar salad and get lazy at the last minute and pick up a box of Milanos.)
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    Find out if the event is a community-wide feast, "bring a dish to share" means enough for twelve servings. That translates to a 9" x 12" (200 mm by 300 mm) Pyrex baking dish, or a salad with 2 heads of lettuce, or 4 baguettes of French bread.
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    Bring an appropriate serving utensil: It is unpleasant to watch the town ladle travel from chili to the fruit salad. Buy utensils at the Dollar Store and expect to lose them. On the bottom of your dish, put a strip of adhesive tape with your name and your telephone number written on it. Don't bring something in a family heirloom and spend the afternoon worrying about its safety.
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    Bring whatever hot pads and trivets may be necessary. Don't assume there will be enough -- or any.
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    Put the food in a real serving dish; that is to say: pottery. Don't bring it in plastic or in the caterer's aluminum (for those of you who won't be preparing your own lasagna). This may be a potluck, it may be a picnic, but it's not a refugee camp.
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    Remember that presentation is important. A bit of parsley, some sprinkles of paprika or chili powder on top of the deviled eggs or the macaroni salad... gracious, civil, and kind. Why else are we gathering? Don't show off by bringing an offering that creates work for everyone: rushing in with crock pots of soup that require soup spoons and bowls, bringing a dish so delicate it requires immediate and large-area refrigeration. Never bring something that depends on last-minute whipped cream. (If you call whipped cream "topping" or "Cool Whip," go back to square one. That isn't real food.)
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    Establish a trademark dish that you can make easily, quickly, and well, with preparation time and ingredients that fit your schedule and your budget. A recipe, for example, that depends on Thai fish sauce, available at a market 30 miles (50 km) away, is a stress-builder and an ego trip, to say nothing of its questionable public acceptance.
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    Bring something recognizable. Don't keep people guessing if it's chicken or tuna. (What is that stuff in the rice?)
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    Know that unless they are offered, don't leave with anyone else's leftovers. When cooking for a crowd of "unknowns," be very considerate: if you include peanuts or anything that may have may have had a passing acquaintance with peanuts, put a little sign by the dish that says so. (Same for any other common allergy: shellfish, e.g.). The same rule holds true for events where different ethnic traditions may be mixing -- i.e., identify the meat in a dish as pork or beef. If a dish is vegetarian, say so; if you know the difference between vegetarian and vegan, you might make a sign that clarifies your ingredients by the standards of those terms. Potlucks are neighborly, giving events: showing concern for the comfort of others is the whole point.


  • If you are a competitive person, remember: Italian food always, always, always goes first. It doesn't matter if the primary attendees are Koreans or Mexicans or people from Nebraska or Nigerian children or Norwegian nuns: Italian food always goes first. Pizza is the universal manna; lasagna (made with spinach and no meat) is the second; spaghetti is always a winner, unless the sauce was made by Venusians. Little individual pizzas made on English muffins, some vegetarian, some standard Italian, etc. are not only easy and delicious (you can even be forgiven for buying the sauce in a jar) ... you can get rid of a zillion leftovers in your fridge and come out looking like Wolfgang Puck.
  • Vegetable dishes with "good" vegetables (meaning green, leafy, cooked lightly or not at all, un-marshmallowed, fresh, etc.) make rare appearances at potlucks. You could become a hero by bringing something attractive and tasty in this category (raw vegetables with a dip is predictable and boring, but better than nothing; a great broccoli salad that is light on the bacon and the sugar can be a life-saver among the jello "salads" and the kudzu-imperialistic pasta).
  • Even if you always cook Asian fusion or Tex-Mex or vegan, find a more universal "trademark" dish to take to potlucks. A good place to look for these is in community cookbooks (the kind published to raise money for the PTA or the Museum). Among the dreadful processed-food fried onions on green beans recipes, you will find amazing standbys, such as Mildred's lemon cream pie, which is not only hardy enough for a cookout at the beach -- it will kick butt on any lemon meringue pie in the hemisphere.


  • Never make a negative comment -- including a "face," as your mother used to call it -- about anyone else's offering.
  • Advise people with allergies of the ingredients. You never know what someone may be allergic to in food!
  • Be scrupulous in preparing any casserole that may contain fish or chicken or pork with bones. And even more careful in eating them.
  • You can be sure, it's karma, that the person who brought the baked beans smothered in tiny bits of pastel marshmallows is standing directly behind you, and she's going to cry, and later you'll find out she has a terminal illness.
  • Be careful of chicken and eggs, and it doesn't matter which comes first, sitting out in the sun.
  • Never put alcohol in any dessert you might bring. It doesn't matter whether it's not a real Tiramisu without amaretto and your grandmother will turn in her grave if you alter her recipe, there are probably children, parents who need to drive and/or people with alcohol issues in the crowd sampling your food. It is NOT their responsibility to tell you their preferences. If your dessert can't go without the Grand Marnier or raisins soaked in Jamaica rum, make something else.
  • Unless you are sure (because you brought them) that separate little paper plates will be available, don't bring a berry pie.

Things You'll Need

  • Hot mats
  • Dollar-store purchased serving utensils
  • A huge salad bowl or 9" x 12" (200 mm by 300 mm) Pyrex dish or covered cake dish (all of which can also be purchased at thrift shops or dollar stores)... remember: expect to lose them.
  • Covers (plastic wrap or "real" covers) for the food.
  • A sturdy basket or box -- to carry it in the car, so that you won't end up with fruit salad all over the backseat.

Article Info

Categories: Dinner Parties