Try these tips for your next bring-a-dish gathering to avoid a dreaded #PotluckFail.

Everyone loves a good potluck. It is (hopefully!) full of your favorite people, keeps party costs low, and makes for an eclectic and memorable meal. But a potluck can also be riddled with some unlucky side effects. That's why we've compiled a list of 13 potluck tips and best practices so you can avoid potluck fails at all costs! Check them out right now and start planning your next potluck today.

Seven-layer dip on table with chips
Credit: Jennifer Causey

1. Assign Guests Categories of Food

This is arguably the most important potluck tip. A potluck is inherently fun due to its spontaneous nature. But when you're planning a full party, you want a full meal, too! That means you don't want repeated foods or missing food groups. At your next potluck, assign guests categories of food to work with so you don't end up with only bags of chips or bakery cookies. Try a simple sign-up sheet that you can email around to everyone.

Four pitchers filled with drinks
Credit: Andy Lyons

2. Make Sure You Have Enough Drinks

Don't get caught running low on the drink flow at your next potluck! Make sure you have enough booze stocked up by using our party drink calculator to figure out just how much is enough. Be sure to include a few nonalcoholic drinks on the menu, too.

Dip with bacon and green onions
Credit: Andy Lyons

3. Bring Food That Travels Easily

The last thing you want is a soup sloshing about in the back of your car on the way to your potluck. We recommend opting for transportable meals like casseroles and slow cooker recipes over a messy platter of food. Check out these fall slow cooker recipes and bring one to your next potluck (intact!).

Test Kitchen Tip: You can always plate individually on-site when you arrive!

Get the Bacon-Horseradish Dip Recipe

4. Plan on Smaller Portions

You might think you'd need to bring more food than usual to feed everyone at a potluck, but that's not necessarily the case. When there are plenty of options on the table, people tend to take smaller portions so they can sample a wide variety of dishes. At a potluck, one standard entrée portion will usually feed two or three people instead of one, so plan your portions accordingly.

Chicken in tinfoil with rosemary
Credit: Andy Lyons

5. Pack Food in Ready-to-Serve Containers

Pack food in containers that can go straight to the buffet table. It can be as simple as using disposable foil trays. That way, you're not an imposition to your host, and you don't have to dirty their dishes. Just remember to bring any nondisposables home with you!

6. Bring the Utensils

Don't make the hosts supply for everyone, especially if this is a large potluck. Let the hosts relax, too! They'll appreciate your extra thoughtfulness and not having to dig around for another set of tongs or large spoons for scooping.

Platter filled with veggies and dip
Credit: Jason Donnelly

7. Bring a Ready-to-Serve Dish if You Can

Don't assume the host has enough oven space for everyone who wants to warm their food. Avoid this awkwardness by bringing a ready-to-serve dish. Try something like a salad that can be served at room temperature—you'll get gold star guest points. If you do want to bring a dish that needs a little extra prep—like time in the fridge or oven—let your hosts know ahead of time so they can plan on having space for you.

Get the Mexican Chopped Chicken Salad Recipe

8. Be Aware of Dietary Restrictions

If you're hosting, ask guests if there are any dietary restrictions you should know about in advance. Let everyone on the invitation list know ahead of time so they don't prepare food that could have negative health effects. Offering a build-your-own bar is a great way to let guests pick and choose what they want to eat. If you have a specific dietary restriction, bring something you know you can eat so you won't go hungry!

Table spread of cookies and ice cream
Credit: Quentin Bacon

9. Label Your Food

Don't make guests guess at what they're eating. Provide a recipe name and any warnings necessary (i.e., contains nuts, shellfish, dairy, gluten, etc.). Your extra effort will be appreciated, especially by those with food allergies or intolerances.

Person carrying a basket gift
Credit: Andy Lyons

10. Gift the Hostess

A small hostess gift is a great way to say thank-you. Keep it as simple as a fun bottle of wine, or put together a handmade basket filled with breakfast favorites.

Pitcher filled with watermelon and a drink
Credit: Karla Conrad

11. Bring a Batch of Beverages

We love batched cocktails for group parties. It saves time and effort and allows the host to actually enjoy the party, too! We recommend a batch cocktail or beverage for make-ahead ease and less stress at the potluck.

12. Prep a Playlist

The last thing you want to be doing when your guests arrive is fiddling around with the playlist and trying to get it right. Plan ahead of time by making a rocking playlist in advance. Set the mood for your party because there are no awkward silences allowed at your potluck!

Cooler filled with food items
Credit: Andy Lyons

13. Be Prepared for Leftovers

Chances are you'll probably be toting a few leftovers home (even if they're not from your own dish). Be prepared by having a container with a tight-fitting lid to pack away leftovers, and a cooler with ice for toting them home. Once the potluck is over, keep food safety in mind by throwing away any leftovers that have been sitting out for more than two hours.

Whether you're hosting the next potluck among your friends and family or you're just a guest, these tips will prepare you for every stage of the party, from prepping your potluck recipe to the cleanup afterward. Trust us: You'll never have a potluck fail again!


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