10 Ways to be a Great Potluck Guest

I give a lot of potluck parties. I have made a commitment to the mitzvah of hospitality, but due to some chronic health issues cooking a big meal for a lot of people isn’t in the cards. Also, I find that it actually adds to the warmth of the table for guests to share food with each other.

In the process, I’ve learned a lot about giving these parties, and I have also learned what makes a great potluck guest. Here goes:

  1. Bring everything you need. Maybe I have balsamic vinegar, and maybe I just ran out. I probably have enough serving spoons, but if you bring one, you won’t have to stress over getting the slotted one your dish requires. Be safe and bring what you need.
  2. Do your cooking at home. My kitchen is small. Too many people trying to use the same appliance is a problem. If you must, let me know well ahead that you will be cooking and what you will need (oven, cooktop, microwave.) Then I can plan for it.
  3. Assemble your dish at home, or if there is last minute prep, make it something you could do on the coffee table if six people are already in the kitchen.
  4. Bring what you say you will bring. If you need to make changes or substitutions, let me know.
  5. There’s no need to show off. Bring something you know how to make, or bring take out. Science experiments don’t add to the pleasure of the meal.
  6. Takeout is great. I invited you because I enjoy your company. If stopping by the deli for potato salad is easier than making it, that’s really OK. I am not a great cook myself and often go that route.
  7. Be honest about your dish. If there’s dairy, or gluten, or whatever, that’s OK, just say so if asked. If you aren’t sure, say so.
  8. If you have allergies, etc, please let me know well ahead of time, so that I can make sure there is food that you can eat. I don’t want to poison my guests or starve them. I respect those who make ethical or religious food choices and I promise I won’t see you as a problem unless you spring it on me after the food is on the table.
  9. Please take leftovers home with you! When I say that I can’t keep all the leftovers, I’m not kidding. At least take home leftovers of your own dish.
  10. Come anyway, if something happens and you can’t bring your dish. As with #5, I invited you because I enjoy your company. Just let me know, if you can, so that I can arrange for enough food.

Is there anything you’d add to this list? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “10 Ways to be a Great Potluck Guest”

  1. 100% agree with all your tips! Potlucks are my favorite type of party and nothing beats a shared table experience with shared food. I especially agree with your comment that guests are invited because they are delightful company and should not stress over what to bring or if they don’t have the time to bake or cook something homemade. The companionship and community far outweighs the gourmet quality of the food!

    1. lol! I had the same thing, a woman brought unprepared greens in a plastic bag and wanted my biggest serving bowl and tongs. At a different gathering, someone else asked me, if they brought a baguette, could they use my butter to help prepare it!

    2. Oh gosh! In that case there is not only the issue of the utensils but also the mess. It’s exactly the sort of thing where I’d appreciate the courtesy of a call ahead of time, so that I could frame it in my mind as part of the fun, or veto it and say, “You know what, just you come. I can’t cope with all that but I really want to see you.”

  2. I love these points. I totally agree with Deb’s comment. Don’t bring me YOUR cooking project. If you really can’t or don’t want to cook, store bought is fine. There are some delicious options out there. A take-out salad was how I discovered Brussels sprouts slaw. I loved it and so did everyone else.

  3. Could not agree more! Very well said. I love hosting pot luck dinners too. The only thing I would add is that I really appreciate the guests who put a little thought or effort into what to bring OR who might ask for ideas. Wonderful! Yes! Store bought salads or take out are great. Pepperidge Farm makes an awesome coconut layer cake. Sliced cheese and crackers sounds clichéd but people *love* that for an appetizer. But if you call to say you’ll bring a loaf of bread? (Not like a challah, she meant like a baguette.) Maybe not. Or I had another guest bring a tray of olives, used up all of my toothpicks to spear them, and then hardly anyone ate them.

    My big challenge now is that I’m transitioning to a Conservative synagogue, and I love the community, but most people are kosher and I’m not. Hopefully will find a way to keep hosting one way or another!

    Thanks for another excellent post!

    1. “Kosher” can mean a lot of things. I’d have a conversation with someone kind and in-the-know about what people actually do at home and what might work for potlucks. This is one time when I would not ask the Rabbi, but ask another congregant or two.

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