13 Tips for Throwing a Potluck Party That Everyone Will Remember

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

Everyone loves a good potluck. It's (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 party tips and best practices so you can avoid failure at all costs! So check them out now and start planning your next potluck today.

Seven-layer dip on table with chips
Jennifer Causey

1. Assign Guests Categories of Food

This is arguably the most critical potluck party tip. A potluck is inherently fun due to its spontaneous nature. But when planning a complete party, you want a full meal! That means you want to avoid 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
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 how much is enough. Be sure to include a few nonalcoholic drinks on the menu, too.

Dip with bacon and green onions
Andy Lyons

3. Bring Food That Travels Easily

The last thing you want is soup spilling 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.

4. Plan on Smaller Portions

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

Chicken in tinfoil with rosemary
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 don't have to dirty their dishes. Just remember to bring any nondisposable items home with you!

6. Bring the Utensils

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

Platter filled with veggies and dip
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 awkward situation 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.

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 adverse 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're a guest and 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
Quentin Bacon

9. Label Your Food

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

Person carrying a basket gift
Andy Lyons

10. Gift the Hostess

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

Pitcher filled with watermelon and a drink
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 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 is to be fiddling around with the playlist and trying to get it right when guests arrive. So be prepared by making a rockin' playlist in advance. Set the mood for your party because no awkward silences are allowed at your potluck party!

Cooler filled with food items
Andy Lyons

13. Be Prepared for Leftovers

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

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

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