A Tip for Hosting Better Potlucks

There’s a lot to like about potlucks: everyone can participate in creating the shared meal, it feels intimate to all share food we’ve prepared, nobody is overwhelmed with too much responsibility, you can get inspiration and ideas from others’ delicious cooking, it’s an easy way to get large groups together, and RSVPs don’t really matter, because the food quantities take care of themselves.

But there’s a problem. You run the risk of ending up with a spread doesn’t go well together, and nothing really shines through the jumble of dishes. No offence, potlucks, but harmony of flavours matters. Chickpea curry, sweet and sour eggplant stir fry, and pesto rotini are delicious on their own, but I don’t want them anywhere near each other.

So, what to do?

Host potlucks with a theme.

It works so well! You assign a theme and give a few suggestions to send everyone off in the same direction. The meal is much more coherent, and it’s fun to see what people come up with.

Here are some themed potlucks I’ve hosted or been to in recent years:

  • Mediterranean (think: lemons, garlic, olive oil)

  • Christmas (with flavours of sage and thyme; all potatoes welcome. As the host, I made the essentials for this one—gravy, seitan roast, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. My Jewish friends found it especially interesting!)

  • Summer BBQ classics (potato salad, sesame noodle salad, macaroni salad, burgers…)

  • Tacos (the hosts provided the tortillas and a few basics, and everyone brought fillings)

I think it would be fun to host a breakfast food potluck, and regional cuisines are always good—I’d love to host Indian, Chinese, and Southern US cuisine potlucks. I’ve also heard of people all cooking from one cookbook, which I think is brilliant. What other ideas do you have? Have you ever hosted a themed potluck?