Food

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

Recently, after a couple months of extra busy work and parenting, I was missing my female friends. So, I had an idea: I’d throw a dinner party! The only catch was…

…as the evening of the party approached, Anton needed extra coddling with his start of kindergarten, Toby asked for homework help (NEW MATH GUYS), a last-minute deadline came up at work, Alex announced a business trip, and suddenly I wondered: how could I squeeze in cleaning, shopping and cooking a yummy dinner for five people? Would I have to cancel? Should we just order pizza? Is this what modern life had come to?

Then, like the clouds parting above, a text came through from my friend.

“What can I bring?”

Another piped up: “Me, too? Please assign?”

Then a third. Then a fourth.

These women had somehow read my mind. Normally I might have declined their sweet offers, but then I thought, why? They were asking, and as a guest I actually really like having a task to do. It makes an evening feel even more fun and friendly.

So, I replied: “That would be amazing, if you’re up for it! Liz, want to bring your famous salad? Erin, would you ever be up for bringing something to munch on at the start?”

In the next five minutes, dessert and bread were also covered, and of course I would handle the wine and main course.

All day that Thursday, I was thrilled. Instead of running around, shopping and chopping, we were all able to go about our regular schedules and easily assemble our course at the last minute.

Here’s how it shook out:

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

Erin’s appetizer: heirloom tomatoes, burrata and edible flowers because she’s a genius.

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

Liz’s famous salad is simply arugula with her amazing dressing. “It’s the only way I can eat greens at home: lettuce + dressing,” she says. “I don’t have any exact measurements, but it’s basically a good amount of olive oil and champagne vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, 1-2 minced garlic cloves, a little dijon, a little mayo, salt and pepper. Dress generously right before eating.” How delicious is that? “My son Griffin loves it, too, so I can put it in his lunch, which is a lunchbox miracle.”

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

My contribution was pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes, plus cold white wine; and Gisela had a painting class beforehand so she just showed up with braid inspiration and funny stories. :)

Why Am I Just Discovering Potluck Dinners?

Finally, Linsey’s dessert = two pints of yummy ice cream.

It couldn’t have been easier! Now I’m totally sold on potlucks for busy evenings when you just want to HANG. I know potlucks have been around since the dawn of time for school functions and church celebrations and family reunions, but somehow this happy accident Thursday-night-with-female-friends potluck felt just right, too.

What about you? Do you already do potlucks? Any tips or go-to dishes?

P.S. Trader Joe’s hacks, and hosting an articles club.

  1. Emily W. says...

    100% in the potluck boat. Our group of friends hosts a (usually) monthly gathering and they’re all potlucks. The hosts rotate and usually provide the main course, and the guests bring a side and/or sweet. It’s been so successful and I have learned about so many yummy dishes I would have normally never tried if my friends hadn’t brought them to the table. It’s a win-win-win and I could NOT recommend it more. As our group has grown (both with new friends and littles!) it’s become a treasured tradition. We adore our group and plan to continue potlucks, well, forever!

  2. Heather says...

    In our family, Thanksgiving is a potluck. With sometimes as many as 35 people, it’s just too much for one person. The hostess is responsible for the turkey and the mashed potatoes and everyone else brings everything else, even the drinks. It makes it super chill to be the host!

  3. Lisa says...

    In South Africa it’s very common (or it was when I was growing up) for someone to bring something if you were going for a meal. For eg you have “bring and braais” (a braai being a bbq) where everyone brings their own meat, maybe a salad and a dessert. It’s just how we did all big entertaining and then we moved to the UK and no one does it. If you host, you do everything start to finish (which can be exhausting!).

    A couple of weeks ago we had friends around for dinner. We had just gotten back from holiday (like, that afternoon). We have a bigger flat, and she had cooked so we provided the location and my friend brought all the food. It was great!

    • Debi Williams says...

      Just wanted to say, Lisa that as a Saffa in the UK, I hear you. However, we started a group 18 months ago where we share food with local friends (around an equal number of Brits and Saffas) on the first Friday of every month and the British people love it. Everyone brings food for the table and we provide the venue. Have had over 50 people some months (including children). Just suggest potluck, you’ll be surprised at how many people embrace the concept xx

  4. Ivy says...

    After my the sudden death of my mother in late 2004, I was really isolated and needing more social contact. One of my best friends was home with a new baby, and for all of us, weekends were frenzied catching up with all the stuff left undone during the work week and social obligations.
    We started having what ended up being called “Monday Night Dinner” – a weekly pot-luck dinner to pause, catch up with with friends/family, and reconnect. It was low key – no house cleaning, no dressing up, and most importantly, no late night. We all had work and school the next day.
    We kept it up until October of 2011, when I moved away. For 7 years it was a constant fixture in our lives. Every Monday morning my two friends and I would check in to see who had what on hand, plan a menu, and after work, we all showed up at one of our homes to assemble dinner and be together.
    Every Monday, 10 or 12 , and often more of us gathered together cooking, catching up, connecting. My father and my niece were always there, as well as my friends’ kids. We saw one another through all the highs and lows. No matter what – you always knew Monday Night Dinner was just around the corner. It was like Thanksgiving with your ideal family – every Monday.
    I sure miss those dinners.

  5. Tatiana says...

    As a math teacher, I have to nag. It’s not NEW math. Math is math – it’s the same. We’re just teaching it in a way that makes use of children’s innate number sense so that math feels intuitive, fun, and accessible for ALL learners! Growing up, some kids were “math people” and others were adamantly not. Now, in my classroom, EVERY kid loves math (and I teach 5th and 6th grade). It’s worth it, give it a chance :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      isn’t the new approach actually called “new math” or “new mathematics,” though? i actually love it and find it to be such a fascinating and smart approach (i’ve always loved math and almost majored in math). in this post, i only meant to say that, during a busy evening, it’s more time consuming to figure out the new approaches in order to help toby with homework, versus doing it in the old way. for example, rounding numbers is so different! i was teaching him using a number line, but then realized that his teachers have them circle the middle number in a three-digit number and concentrate on that, etc.

      as a math teacher, btw, you might find this post (below) interesting! it was written by the math coach at our neighborhood school, and i sent it to my sister bc it’s so fascinating to see how she’s thinking while teaching:

      https://discoveryandconjecture.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/scenes-from-a-maybe-understanding/

      i’m sure you would have so much to say on this subject! thank you again for your note, and for the work you do xoxo

  6. Melissa M says...

    That is how my friends and I do dinner club! We rotate the host every month. If you are the host you are in charge of scheduling, and picking the main dish. The rest of us jump in with sides, dessert, and a drink! You can try a new challenging dish to cook or pick up a bottle of wine. We have been meeting for three years. The conversations are so rich and full of laughter. We talk about the troubles of online dating, career, or a new born baby. The beauty of the 30’s!

  7. Jo says...

    I really love these photos! They are real and un-staged, just like how I imagine your friendships to be.

  8. stefana says...

    We had a really nice potluck with 25 friends in 2013. It was meant to be a big dinner party and everyone decided to contribute something to make it special (food or wine). We called it Friendsgiving (bc we’re from Europe but there was a turkey). It was so great, that we decided to do it every year. And more people wanted to join. I’m now working on putting together the 6th edition and we’ve racked up 120 guests that will all be sitting down at the same time to share the food and wine they each brought. It’s like a wedding but just for celebrating friendship. I love small dinner parties but once a year I really go all out and there’s no greater pleasure in life than basking in the glory of so many great people!!

  9. I love this! We had a small group of couples from when we were all (very) newly married that met together weekly. A few couples dropped off and some of us have added babies … and we’ve now morphed into a supper club! The host does it all so the other two couples can just enjoy — though invariably we try to help clean up — and then the next month, it’s someone else’s turn. One of the wives in the group had the idea because her parents have a supper club that has been meeting for 30+ years! So fun. I hope that’s our story some day.

  10. Emma says...

    When my husband was getting his masters and we had our new born, we would invite our friends over for Sunday night pancakes. At first I was like we can’t just feed people pancakes!, but it turns out people love it eating pancakes. A lot of time it’s not even about the food. Food is just a reason to gather together which is all we really wanted. It was the perfect way to shake the Sunday evening blues or at least keep them in check. :)

  11. Kat says...

    I love these photos so much because they are totally the type of photos I’d take at my own friend get togethers. Nothing fancy or staged, just friends waiting at the kitchen island for their scoop (or two) of ice cream! <3

  12. Mariana says...

    My parents used to belong to a monthly potluck club that was more regimented than a regular potluck. Basically, the host got to decide the menu and assign out specific recipes. It doesn’t sound like that much fun, I know, but the result is that you get a dinner that actually goes together without the work of preparing it all at one house. And they would go for fairly exotic themes so everyone got to do a little shopping for special ingredients without having to spend the money on ALL of them. People made recipes that they had never tried or even heard of and wouldn’t have picked for themselves and then part of the meal would be spent discussing triumphs and failures. It was the best.

  13. Maria says...

    I love to bake bread and my boyfriend an I always have long breakfasts on weekends so instead of having dinner parties, we regularly invite friends for late breakfast at our place. We keep it simple with bread, big mugs of coffee, scrambled eggs and good cheese and butter. Last winter when we had a thick layer of snow here in Amsterdam (rare) we told our friends to just come in their jammies if they wanted and bring warm socks or house slippers. It was so much fun, so relaxing and not expensive or a lot of effort. Now we always suggest friends to come in leisure wear :).

    • that sounds awesome, especially that i also bake bread :)
      It also would be sooo much easier with small kids as dinnertime is kind of bedtime for us…

  14. Angela says...

    I have a group of friends we’ve known for years as the kids went to school together when small. As life got busier we pledged to do what we call Sandwich Sunday, even though it rarely involves sandwiches and is not always on Sunday. Quarterly one of our four families hosts, prepares the main dish, while the other three bring salad, appetizers, and dessert. It is a great way for all of us (kids included) to keep our connection when we don’t see each other like we used to.

  15. Andrea says...

    Once a month, we open things up and invite literally everyone we know over for dinner. I make homemade sauce and the pasta, and everyone who shows up brings bread or salad and all the wine. Whether there’s one other couple or people are literally eating on the stairs because we’ve run out of chairs, we cherish these evenings. The most interesting people show up, usually in unlikely combinations, and we have the best time!

    • Debi Williams says...

      Love this!

  16. Kate says...

    My parents had a ‘dinner club’ with the same group of friends for over 20 years. Whoever hosted would make the entree, and then the other couples rotated appetizer, salad, and dessert. They came up with so many unique and delicious ideas over the years that things never got boring. When they’d run out of ideas they’d pick a theme for the dinner. It was potluck but always felt so fancy and exciting to see what people would come up with and one person wasn’t always stuck hosting or cooking. They have albums full of photos from ‘dinner club’ and all the fun they had.

    • Emma says...

      My parents had “dinner group” as well! I have the fondest memories of my mom and dad getting dressed up, so excited for their monthly dinner. Something my friends and I do now is our monthly book club – the host makes the entree and everyone brings a side/dessert and wine to share. It’s so much fun and so much easier on a week night. Looking forward to my own “dinner group” down the road!

  17. nicole says...

    This is definitely the way to do it! I’m in my late 20s and with my group of friends this is just how we always get together. No pressure to come up with something fancy, everyone brings something yummy like cheese or guac. It’s standard for us!

  18. For years my friends and I did a monthly supper club, where we rotated hosting and preparing a main course. Everyone else signed up for a different dish, like appetizer, side, dessert, based roughly on the (very loose) theme of the month. We’ve dropped off in recent months because of life stuff, but this post is inspiring me to reach out and try to get it going again. It was always a highlight of each month–so much fun, and relatively easy, to have delicious meals with good friends (and, of course, copious amounts of red wine).

  19. Rachel says...

    I hate to entertain and I never host parties–but I have friends over all the time. Years ago when our kids were little and we were all stay-at-home moms just trying to stay afloat, with husbands working long hours, my girlfriends and I agreed that we wouldn’t ever feel obligated to clean for each other or “host.” We do impromptu weeknight dinners where everybody just brings whatever they have, even if it’s just a frozen pizza. Obviously if I were throwing an actual party I’d put some real effort in–but these women have more or less literally saved my life, and I’ve saved theirs, and we’re really just there for the coffee an the company anyway. Personally, I think being honest and messy and real is the greatest gift you can give your friends, because it gives them permission to be that way with you, too.

    • Heather says...

      “Personally, I think being honest and messy and real is the greatest gift you can give your friends, because it gives them permission to be that way with you, too.”

      Love this sentiment! And totally agree…though I continue to struggle to put it into practice. I wonder if that’s, in part, because whenever I visit friends, their houses seem impeccable. But maybe if I show the cracks and cobwebs more, they’ll be comfortable doing it too. And maybe we need to start a “this is how we really live” approach to entertaining…at least for casual get-togethers with our closest friends. I mean, if someone knows all our personal dirty laundry, probably doesn’t hurt if they see actual dirty laundry once in a while! ;)

    • CaraM says...

      Thank you for posting this! The effort it takes to have everything spic n’ span and organized (let alone decorated) has made me anxious about hosting potlucks or get-togethers at my house. Growing up, my Mom was like Martha Stewart on steroids and it intimidates me that I don’t feel like I can measure up. It is really silly actually. We recently had a pumpkin carving party at my house and I plan to hold a potluck next month (thanks to this article). I’m learning that people enjoy the time together – not how perfect my house looks!

  20. Kristin says...

    Slightly off topic, but DO NOT get discouraged by common core math! As frustrating and confusing as it seems for relatively simple math problems, it’s setting Toby up for a deeper understanding of numbers and how they relate to one another. Learning these principles young is the best way to set him up for future STEM success :)

    • Diana says...

      Yep yep yep!

  21. Starlene says...

    We just bought a new house and I wanted to invited all my girlfriends over so I hosted an all ladies potluck brunch. I made a couple of quiches and a French toast casserole as well as providing juices and bloody mary mix. I asked guests to bring a dish to share and either a bottle of champagne or a bottle of vodka. Holy cow, what a fun day!!!

    • maria says...

      bring a bottle of champagne or a bottle of vodka?! sounds like the makings of a GREAT party! I’d totally be in! :)

  22. Sarah says...

    Potlucks are my favorite. They’re such an easy way to meet new people because you talk about their dish and vice versa. They’re not hard either. Order pizza to their house. Bring a bag of chips and store-made guac. Bring some KFC.

    • MaryB in Richmond says...

      “Order pizza to their house” made my whole day. I mean, seriously, if someone did that at a party at my house I would be smiling about that for WEEKS.

  23. Such a great idea… and you are so lucky to have such a sweet-seeming group of girlfriends!!!

  24. I’ve been wanting to get a group of my friends together, but feeling overwhelmed by all of the prep work and cooking. I think there might be a potluck in my future!

  25. Alex says...

    I am usually one of those annoying “just yourself!” people when someone asks what they can bring, but one thing that I’ve found incredibly helpful as a host (and now try to do more as a guest) is to offer something specific that you’re willing and able to do. One time I was hosting a brunch and my friend texted, “Can I bring something? A coffee cake or some mimosa makings?” Having those options made it easy for me to say yes. I didn’t have to think about what I might need and I knew it was something she was comfortable taking on.

    • sara says...

      This is my approach when asking to help out a friend or family member who needs it, like after bringing home a new baby, or moving, or something more serious. It removed tasking them to tell you what they need, which can feel overwhelming if you’re already in an overwhelming stage of life, for whatever reason and I’ve found people to be so appreciate to just be able to say , yes, sandwich fixings would be amazing and we love smoked turkey for deli meat best, as an example. Totally recommend if you’re looking to help out a friend or family member, provide them with a suggestion for said help. Even if they don’t say yes, they’ll know the offer is genuine and I’ve found people to then be more likely to offer another suggestions if what you come up with isn’t quite right.

  26. Bianca says...

    I love potlucks! We have a swimming pool, so needless to say our house is the spot to be in the summer. My husband does a main on the BBQ or smoker, I make a salad and a signature cocktail, and our friends bring sides, more salads, more drinks, cakes, fruits, appetizers, ice cream, etc. While it’s a lot of work to clean before and after a gathering, I have a good system, and look forward to having my house full of friends each summer.

  27. Elizabeth says...

    It sounds like your friends offered in this case, Joanna, so imo your manners did not fail you. You and your friends had a good time and that’s good! And many of the commenters have mentioned that the potlucks they participate in situations where they don’t know people well (like condo associations, work, etc.) or they know people really well (close friends, family) and habits and expectations have formed.

    But I draw the line at being asked to attend an event with food and then being asked (or told!) to bring a salad, or dessert, what have you. This has happened when my husband and I would be the only guests and I used to comply. But no more. I politely decline. If you can’t cook a decent meal for four people don’t entertain, or at least wait until your schedule lightens up. I don’t expect a fancy meal — a hamburger, a salad, frozen veg, ice cream for dessert — works for me.

    Anyone invited to my house gets a good meal or nice appetizers that I make myself. I do not want others “helping” by bringing mass-produced Costco food that will clash with something I’ve made with care.

    I’m old school and proud of it. Somebody has to carry the torch of civilization. And don’t get me started on people who ask if they can watch the game….maybe you’ll need another post on that topic, Joanna!

    • C. says...

      Yikes. Clearly potlucks aren’t for you, but putting them down as uncivilized seems a bit of a stretch. Also not sure what exactly you mean by “old school”? is there an old school of thought that regards a pot luck dinner as inferior or unpleasant?

    • elizabeth says...

      In response to C from Elizabeth:
      You’re right, C, potlucks, as with so much of the 21st century, are not my forte. Like I said, I think potlucks definitely have their place but the idea of their becoming de rigeur unsettles me. I mean, what the heck, why stop at asking me to make a salad? Why not ask me to come a little early and vacuum?

      I realize everyone has their own customs, traditions, etc. I wouldn’t use the word “unpleasant,” to describe potlucks (because I’ve been to some really great potlucks, to which of course I contributed) but I would say that asking someone to bring a dish after extending an invitation for dinner shows inferior manners. It’s disruptive of a social contract — like giving a gift and then demanding half of it.

    • Kriww says...

      ahhh, me too, maybe I’m old school too. I love (intended) potlucks but I don’t really enjoy being assigned to bring or make something for dinner (that I was invited). I agree that if you can’t prepare a decent meal for your guests (that you invited yourself) then don’t entertain. however I’m fine with people bringing me hostess gifts or appetizer or desserts (but never in a million years I would ever ask them to do so, even to my own sister or bestfriend).

      I dunno… in my culture (asian) there’s a saying that guests are kings (means you must respect and entertain your guests). it doesnt feel right to invite people and then ask them to bring something. takeout meals are fine, too, and more appreciated than ask your guests to bring meals.

      I think there’s a line between potluck and ask people to bring something to your dinner.
      me and my friends did potlucks too (usually potluck picnic in a park or a beach) where everyone bring dishes, be it their famous roasted chicken or store bought chips.

  28. JN says...

    This is so sweet and reminds me of Christmas dinners growing up. As immigrants in a new country, we didn’t have much extended family around, so over the years, we’d befriend other immigrant families who’d come from other parts of the world and have our own ‘patchwork family’ Christmases together. Our ‘family’ became a mixture of different cultures, and every Christmas, we’d have a potluck of different traditional foods. I still have fond memories of eating Colombian natilla, Indian samosas, Dutch oliebollen and Malaysian laksa around the living room, while ‘Joy to the World’ blared in the background.

  29. We’ve begun doing a weekly or bi-weekly dinner with some neighbors that have a child close in age to our two-year-old. One of my favorite go-to’s has been when of the Trader Joe dinner hacks you shared a while back (easy fish tacos). We don’t have TJ nearby (tragic, I know!) but I grab a box of beer-battered cod from Aldi, bake that up, heat up some tortillas, throw together a fresh salsa or slaw, and viola- fish tacos that everyone loves! I’ll ask one set of neighbors to bring their famous guac and another to bring beers or a dessert and we are set. The kids eat “deconstructed” tacos and the parents get to enjoy a drink together and assemble their own whenever they’re ready. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  30. Tina says...

    Jo, can I just say that while I love your blog posts, THE COMMENTS have become something that I enjoy reading so much!!! So many great ideas, so many thoughtful responses, and I can’t wait to read them on each post.

    • lina says...

      I couldn’t agree more!

    • Whitney says...

      Same, here! I’m so thankful that so many wise, generous of spirit, creative, and wildly fascinating women show up here each day. Thank you for hosting, Team Cup of Jo. It’s kinda like our own “life potluck”.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, it is, whitney!!!! a life potluck, i love that. thank you so much for being here, ladies. :) :) :) :) :)

  31. Diana says...

    We used to have an international dinner party with friends a few times a year. We had a can with all the countries in the world written on slips of paper. The hosts would pick a slip and that was the theme. The hosts did the main, another family the appetizers, and the final family the dessert. We would all dress up in theme as well if we wanted. It was so great to cook foods from places we knew nothing about and try new ingredients.

  32. Jenn S says...

    For the families with kids or too busy for a dinner, you can do a potluck brunch. We did this with 3 families with 8kids and 3 sleepy husbands. We went to a centrally located house and made breakfast pizza and fruit and crepes.Super easy! Everyone wandered down to eat in pajamas and had a really great time. We were done by 1 so still able to do whatever you needed to and had a great time reconnecting

  33. lisa murdock says...

    In my world, that’s not a potluck – that’s just a regular Saturday night with friends and their kids. I can’t imagine how anyone could host a “dinner party” like my mom used to where she made every course. But I never thought of our dinners with friends as potlucks — to me, a potluck is a big dinner on folding chairs at a church with tons of macaroni salads and potato casseroles :)

    • Jill says...

      Agreed! My girlfriends and I always host dinners where each of us brings something. If I am just having one of them over with her partner, then I will take care of everything. But, if it is just the ladies, we all bring a dish. Less stress and more time for what really matters.

  34. Nikki says...

    Let me know how to help with third grade math. I’m a ten-year third grade departmentalized (so I only teach math) math teacher. I LOVE it and I know it well. Seriously I would love to help!

  35. Lisa says...

    Weird question but what does your husband do during dinner? Hide out, take care of kids, leave the house? Just curious.

    • cgw says...

      I believe she said he had a last minute work travel.

    • Jessica says...

      I do potlucks all the time with my friends! My husband is sometimes upstairs getting work done, but will usually go out with his friends–then my friends will come to me so I don’t have to get a babysitter. Recently, his group of friends are my friend’s husbands, so that doesn’t work. We’ve started saying I get Fridays and he gets Saturdays, and wives/husbands take turns staying home.

  36. Courtney says...

    We do this every Sunday for our big Sunday dinners with my family. There are 14 (almost 15 now!) of us and my mom will just assign! However, we have fallen into a groove and usually my mom does the main dish, my brother brings a side and an appetizer, my sister brings wine (she is a wine rep) and dessert (because she bakes) and because I am pregnant and have the littlest of the kids, I always take the salad which is the easiest!

    My mom hosts thirty plus people for Thanksgiving and the list of what she assigns to people (even out of town guest, mind you) begins in October. I already know what I have been assigned (pie!!! because I will buy it at Costco since I’ll be 7 months pregnant at that point with a one year old!).

    • Sue says...

      Yes, our family dinners are large! We are up to 30 now, but 20 is an average family dinner at my house. I have a handful of EASY go to recipes for a crowd. Everyone brings wine and helps with clean-up.

      My sister also hosts a huge THANKSGIVING dinner every year. And like Courtney’s mom above, everyone brings the sides. It’s our whole family plus lots of lifelong friends. It’s great because we have a wide variety of cultures and some of the sides are not what I grew up with. For instance, TAMALES! I go straight for a tamale. I however am the “pie lady”. I bring 6-8 pies that I have perfected making over the years. Somehow, they won’t let me bring mashed potatoes :(

    • Courtney says...

      Sue! My sister was banned from mashed potatoes because one year she made runny potatoes! Ha! Also, I would kill for tamales at Thanksgiving!!!

  37. Megan says...

    Love this! We live in a small condo building and are friends with lots of our neighbors, so every season we have a progressive dinner party. Cocktails at once house, apps or soups & salads at another, main at another, and finish with dessert. We all love to host, but this helps share the load. Bonus: we live in the same condo units, so it’s so fun to see how other people use the (same) space! The December holiday progressive dinner party is now going four years strong, and it’s one of the highlights of the season.

    • Nikki says...

      I use to do this with my friends in Boston too! We all lived in different neighborhoods (Boston is so walkable) so to celebrate when the weather was warm we would have our walk-about party. Drinks and starters at one house, drinks on the way, drinks and grilling at another house, drinks and dessert at another and then drinks and late night pizza at one more. We spent the whole day eating, drinking, walking and hanging. It was my favorite day of the year!

  38. Lindsay C Jarrett says...

    I was so tired of having to plan around people’s schedules for our dinners and potlucks that I created a big group text called “Dinner Dates” and I text them a date and time. In order to not clog up their phone, they just like or dislike to show whether they plan on coming or not.

    I plan on making the main, then a couple days before I text all the people who plan on coming in a separate group text in order to make sure everything (salad, wine, apps) are all covered! It’s a super easy way to get people from different friend groups together!

    • Kat says...

      This is brilliant!

  39. Nancy says...

    My friends once hosted a “Best of NY” potluck. Everyone had to bring a quintessential/most popular dish from their NYC neighborhood. It was the oddest mish mash of food but so much fun. One brought bagels and lox from Barney Greengrass on the Upper West Side, another lives in Chinatown and brought Bahn Mi sandwiches, and so on. We lived in DUMBO so we brought pastries from Almondine Bakery. Years later and I still think about it.

    • Holly says...

      I love this idea!!

  40. addie says...

    My friends and I do this and for a winter spin, we make it a soup party! There’s nothing easier than soup! And the other nice thing is having a theme, so it removes the added stress of deciding what to make. Everyone brings a soup, we have some crusty artisan bread, and to make it extra cozy- a (spiked!) hot cocoa bar for dessert!

  41. i adore this idea and love potluck dinners, however – my question is, what do you do with the kids and husband when you host? that is always my conundrum! i have a 2 year old and she doesn’t go to bed until 830, so i feel like i can’t host people unless i relegate my husband and her to her bedroom.

    • Callie says...

      This was my question as well! I can’t be the only one with two toddlers with late bedtimes.
      I can manage to invite one friend over (mostly because she’ll hang with me during the chaos before my kids go to bed and then quietly chill in the other room and sip on her glass of wine and read or something for the 10-15 minutes it takes for me to slip into the kids’ room to get them down) but a full on dinner party–I’m impressed.

  42. Food issues says...

    I thought I couldn’t POSSIBLY be the only person who is weird about potlucks and in general about eating food that other people have made, but judging from these comments, I am!! Any other control freaks not trust your friends’ (or even worse, colleagues’) kitchen hygiene enough for this? I’m definitely at the very weird end of the ‘not eating food I haven’t prepared’ scale but surely other people exist who are a little iffy about pot luck?! As a host I could also never relinquish control to that extent, bread and wine is as far as I go!

    • Sasha L says...

      Hi food issues!! I have this a little bit as well. When my children were still in school, for every sport there was a big school pot luck. I just couldn’t do it. They were huge, and one, not knowing who made any particular dish, and two, all of those hands touching everything all down the line. Big nope. And it made me feel like such a weirdo, because everyone else was eating enthusiastically. I happily eat food from friends, restaurants too, and I’m not a germaphobe otherwise but this was too much for me.

    • Claire says...

      I’m happy to share a few of my favourite people’s germs.
      Would you be concerned about eating at a friend’s house? Or at a restaurant? (I’m not meaning to sound flippant about your concerns here. Just seeking to understand.)

      I can be a little over the top when it comes to catering in that I love menu planning. I’m guilty of over-catering and spending too much sometimes, but I have come to know that the best nights are often spontaneous and/or relaxed and the best hosts are people who focus on joining in rather than fussing.

      It always feels such a treat to spend time with my friends on week night.

    • Tamara says...

      I’m don’t feel this way but my neighbor does. She’s a very clean person who bleaches her bathroom every day before showering and scrubs the garbage cans down at least once a month. She once remarked that she doesn’t do potlucks because who knows what people are putting in their food. She’s also very into nutrition and working out and maintaining a very slim waist so she could have meant it from a germ stand point or a health standpoint (or both?). Anyway, our street often has neighborhood potlucks in the summer and she never comes even though she lives right next door. I feel badly because I wish she would just come out and socialize even if she eats before hand. I will say, having grown up going to potlucks and still participating on the regular, I’ve never gotten food poisoning and I almost always find some healthy options. But I get that everyone has levels of what they’re comfortable with and if you don’t feel comfortable with them, that’s totally cool. You’re not alone. I’d be just as happy eating the food you have prepared instead of bringing my own. :)

    • Sam says...

      I’ve been to too many potlucks where people made no effort to bring anything nice so I no longer go to potlucks nor do I hold them. And I totally get the “not eating food I haven’t prepared” thing! Sometimes it’s just not something you’re into.

    • jen says...

      you’re definitely not the only person. we don’t eat at big group/neighborhood/school potlucks but we usually still attend and just socialize. i’ve also gotten so tired of being invited to friends’ homes for a potluck and being the only person that shows up with something tasty and homemade — finding instead a huge variety of veggie trays or chips and salsa or crackers and cheese. My feeling is that if you want to have people over for dinner – prepare a dinner. Don’t invite people for dinner and then ask everyone to bring something to turn this into a dinner.
      When I host friends in my home and get the inevitable question of “what can I bring?” – I usually request that they bring a bottle of their favorite wine or a six-pack of their favorite beer. Everything else is covered.

    • C. says...

      No, I never worry about this. Did you have a bad experience?

    • Food issues says...

      No I haven’t had a bad experience and I wouldnt say Im a germaphobe, I think its just a weird thing I have about people touching my food! I’ll go to potlucks and I love contributing, but I’ll only eat what I’ve made ( and not even that if, as happened recently, someone else takes it upon themselves to handle my food when setting it out on platters). I’m completely fine in restaurants, I know it’s not rational! My mum blames herself as she and my sister are the same. My parents would politely not eat stuff we brought home from school or friend’s houses. My husband is a school teacher and sometimes parents bake things for him, definitely a big no no for me despite a sweet tooth! Glad I’m not completely alone!

  43. Lucia says...

    I love potlucks. I like to bring cheeses, ham, cereal bread and some kind of salad. Sometimes I also take something like cream cheese and tuna spread. Love your tips.

  44. A says...

    The one thing that I am seeing in many of these comments is that couples with children are getting together for their meals and it sounds like something I want to do! But how do you meet other couples with young kids, how do you make time for it with toddler bedtime schedules and what not? We have one friends couple who have a few young kids but they are way too busy, we only have one toddler so while we are busy, our busy doesn’t meet the level of busy they are. So we can never get together. Lately I have been thinking we need to find other couple friends with toddlers. I just don’t know how!

    • Sara says...

      I was wondering about kids’ bedtimes too! Would like to.know how people handle this!

    • Tracy says...

      Hi mamas! I have a 3 year old and a baby and we do lots of easy brunches. Quiche, muffins, fruit, done. That way we can socialize, kiddos are happiest in the morning, and we can all be home for nap. Plus, mimosas. Ain’t no mama got time for witching hour hosting. ;)

    • Katy says...

      We bring the pack and play with us. The littlest ones go to bed at their normal time – ish.

      The older ones get to stay up later than usual which they love. Movies / ice cream will keep em quiet for ages.

  45. shopgirl says...

    Yes!! you really do not need a lot, to have some time with friends and usually it’s not even that important what’s on the table, but just to get together. And it’s even more pleasant to come over if you can contribute something too.

  46. Anne says...

    I was a grad student until very recently and basically everything in my life ran on potlucks for 7 years. All parties were potluck, or if people didn’t bring cooked things, we would all buy ingredients and cook together. I honestly prefer potlucks to dinner parties where I’m just invited to be served, it feels friendlier and more intimate if we are all sharing together. And that way, there is always enough food, even for super hungry students :)

    Honestly, sometimes we would “potluck” without it even being formal. We would sometimes have “working dinners” where people would kind of bring their own dinners in Tupperware’s (we ate a lot of leftovers), and we’d act like kids at lunch, trading half a leftover egg roll for a bit of someone’s Spanish rice and beans, and we’d all sit and work together. It sounds weird and kind of gross, and you end up with a super weird dinner that maybe isn’t nutritionally sound, but it’s fun and friendly and kept us having social time when we were all buried under research work.

  47. Nina Dhollander says...

    potluck-style dinners are the best for casual and fancier occasions! Every year we have a big 6-course new year’s dinner on my dad’s side of the family: my dad and uncles each make a course so no one has to stress about it and we all get to feast on delicious food!

  48. Alyssa says...

    After reading an article years ago (probably something you linked to or Jenny Rosentrach posted about) about Friday Meatballs, I suggested a Sunday Pasta Supper with friends. We don’t do it every Sunday, especially now that there’s a new baby in the mix. But if we’re going to get together, it’s for a Sunday supper. The host (which rotates) cooks that pasta, the invited guests – who the host chooses, depending on the size of their house and who’s in town – bring bread and salad and dessert and drinks. It’s low key and LOVELY! And with friends who are vegan in this mix, it’s always a win for them too!

  49. Eleanor says...

    In high school, my friends and I used to do potluck and clothing swap nights. Everyone brought 1 dish to share and any clothes/shoes they didn’t need anymore and we spent the evening noshing and having a fashion show. It was so much fun, so laid back, and you could go home with a new wardrobe for free.

  50. Yes! I organize a dinner club where most of the time we go out, but once a year we potluck appetizers and hold game night. Everyone brings an app and a game. The first year we did this we were all sold it should be an annual thing. I found out about these wonderful appetizers my friends had all mastered and we all ended up swapping recipes.

  51. That dinner sounds delicious. I want to try the salad dressing!
    I have a close group of friends from the earliest days of our children’s school years. We’ve been doing pot luck dinners for over 20 years. The food is amazing and, as you point out, it’s a little easier to pull off a dinner when everyone is helping.
    In a couple of weeks we are invited to a Diwali celebration at one couple’s house. I’m bringing dessert, others are bringing appetizers and salad. The host and hostess will provide a medley of Indian dishes that we will swoon over (and I will feature in a blog post).
    Hurray for pot luck!

  52. Yay!! I love this concept and it really makes sharing a meal feel like a village experience :) Recently I threw a first birthday party for my little guy. I also have a two year old and I am pregnant, preparing for an international move. The day before the party my dear friend asked what she could bring and if she could ask the others to bring things also. I spent the whole day fretting about answering and in the meantime she went ahead and did it anyway! The next day I didn’t have to prepare a single dish OR the birthday cake! My village came together to make food and make our day so special. Not only that, they filled my fridge with yummy dinners that got me through some tough days. Nourishing food really is an act of love and how beautiful it is when we can share our love in this way!

  53. Rosita says...

    Lovely! Please consider using gender neutral pronouns instead of guys :)

    • Grammar lover says...

      I love a gender neutral pronoun too! I believe “guys”, “you guys”, etc. (imagine someone getting the attention of their friends/family/coworkers of mixed and all genders for something exciting by saying “OMG, YOU GUYS!…”) has evolved into a gender neutral pronoun in common usage.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh! i was talking to our female readers when i was saying “guys.” i use it all the time for my female friends. are you thinking it’s just for men? i truly never think of it like that!

    • Robin says...

      I’m from Michigan and “you guys” is the equivalent to “y’all” in other parts of the country. No gender, completely neutral 😄

    • Amber says...

      While “guys” is often used gender-neutrally and obviously no ill-intent was meant here, the problem is that when “male” words are the norm … the hierarchy/patriarchy is linguistically reinforced. When we use words like this, male is the generic, female (and nonbinary, etc) is the other. For example, you’d never hear a group of mixed genders being called “ladies” or “gals” without irony.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s so interesting, amber! Thinking about this xo

    • Kelly says...

      YES Amber!

      Not only would you not hear a group of men casually referred to as “the gals” – it would be used pejoratively the majority of the time, in the same way that “you throw like a girl,” or “he cried like a little girl” is used to denigrate men and boys. Because the worst thing a man or boy could be…is like a “like a girl.”

      Girls can be “tomboys” – but boys can’t be “like a girl” – it’s the universal insult. :(

      Echoing Amber’s thoughts here as well – when something is unknown, as a culture we refer to it as “male” – e.g. “look at that dog – he’s running so fast!”

      When we do that, it subconsciously reinforces the idea that men are the default and women are the variant.

      We can make subtle shifts in out language every day that dismantle some of the patriarchal biases we all have from growing up with those patterns. :)

  54. Jade says...

    My best friend and I do pot lucks with a twist, as all the cooking happens in her kitchen! I live in Norway and she lives in London – Pre kids we would meet in a new cafe or restaurant that they had found, but in recent years it was getting harder to plan. Now we land at Heathrow, jump on the underground and – a long time later – emerge in front of the supermarket near their house. We pick up what ever ingredients we need for our course and then spend the evening cooking together in their kitchen. I love that we share the expense and the work as we are nearly always guests in their home and don’t get to return the favour too often in Norway, and I feel like we reconnect so much more hanging out in the kitchen rather than in a busy restaurant.

  55. Laura C. says...

    We do this every Summer, but I vonfess I did not know the word “potluck”, it has no translation. As I was saying, every Summer we go to the countryside and all my family (my mom’s cousins and their descendents) spend one or two months there. Every family has its own house, but with time we have reached the number of almost seventy people, family and friends! Once or twice a month we go outside for dinner and everyone bring something. When I was a kid, there used to be a “Paella Contest” as the grandmas would cook a big paella each one. Of course every one voted for their own grandma! It was great. You’ve got a great idea, Jo.

  56. Sarah says...

    Potlucks (or as the French say: buffet canadien – no idea why haha) have been a comfort mainstay throughout my life and I’m so happy that you’ve discovered them with just joy!

    Whether it was community dinners as a child, or as a way to stretch frugal budgets in student years (and post-student years, let’s be honest haha) or as a way to cope with tiny tiny kitchens in European flats – potlucks are just the perfect way to get together! And a great way to try new things / get new recipes!!

  57. Francesca Maoli says...

    I LOVE that you were all barefoot! :)

  58. Vanessa says...

    My friends and I used to do this often before I moved to a different state, and I miss it SO much! Sometimes we had a fun theme for the potluck. Stew night! Comfort food! It was a great excuse to try a new, exciting recipe.
    P.s. I’m definitely copying your friends’ salads haha

  59. Katy says...

    For people who say they feel like they aren’t hosting enough – make something extra fancy for your portion and people will love it. We have a great group who does mostly potlucks and it works out so great because everyone takes turns and you end up with a way “nicer” meal than if I had to do all the pieces. Host is responsible for something for the kiddos (often we feed them first) and the main / starch for the grownups and maybe a few nibbles. Think surf and turf vs lasagna . And setting a nice table, having drinks in ice makes your guests feel special. Doesn’t matter that they spent 15 mins putting a salad together. Usually we are about 5 couples so you have a salad / cooked veg side / appie or cheese plate and dessert. With most everyone working full time and having kids there is no way we would get from scratch dessert / homemade appies if you had to make everything – but if I only have to do dessert I will step it up!

  60. Robin says...

    My 3 oldest friends and I have a monthly supper club with our families. Each month we rotate duties, the host prepares the main and the drinks and the other three families are in charge of one thing, either appetizers, salad or dessert. It’s a night we all look forward to, the 8 adults and all the kids too. Rituals like these are so nourishing!

  61. Lia says...

    A few years ago my husband and I formed a ‘P.O.T Club’ (Parent of Toddlers…) with two other couples and we get together for – of course – potlucks ;). Our kids are all roughly the same age and they enjoy playing together while we have a few drinks, eat delish foods, and relax. It is the best!

  62. We have discovered something genius: Rice Bowl Neighbor Dinner.

    We won neighbor lottery and moved onto a super social street; in the winter, there are four families who take turns, weekly, hosting Neighbor Dinner. A few months into it, we realized that the key to success is having rice bowls. The host determines the theme (usually Asian or Mexican) and prepares a big pot of rice and maybe beans or tofu; everyone else brings a couple toppings that go well with the bowls. Sometimes people go all out and do homemade pickles and sauteed veggies and sesame-encrusted fried tofu; sometimes they pick up shredded cheese and canned salsa from Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t matter!

    The great thing is that everyone gets to eat exactly what they want, because they’re in charge of assembling their own bowl. With eight kids and eight adults, we’ve realized it’s the only way to go. Everyone thinks the meal was delicious, and no one feels like they did all the work. It’s *genius*.

    • This is pure genius. Love it!

    • Meg says...

      This is genius!! I love this idea.

    • Anna Palmiere says...

      Yes! We do this with pizza- the host provides the crusts and sauce and everyone else brings enough of a topping or two for everyone. Adults and kids both love it, its super easy and inexpensive. Wins all around!

  63. We actually do potlucks with neighbors and friends every wednesday night! We call it fridge dinner, as in, grab what’s in your fridge and share! You can cook something if you feel like it but not a requirement. It started about 8 years ago and sometimes we cancel because no ones around, but most weeks it happens. It’s pretty great.

  64. Tabitha says...

    I love this. I just started a “no book book club“ (Where we get together and just talk about media we’re interested in, but nobody has a specific assignment to do ahead of time – no homework!), and while I would normally run around trying to find food and apps and make everything look pretty, I decided to just go ahead and order pizza. My local pizza place does salad as well as pizza so I got a bunch of different ones and threw them out with a bottle of wine (or four). It was so easy to pull it together on a workday and everybody had a great time, including me. No stress entertaining is the best.

  65. Margot says...

    Simple brilliance! The best wedding I have ever attended held a massive potluck reception dinner under an open-walled tent as the sun set for 130 people. It was a magnificent feast to say the least! Folks with last names A-L were asked to provide a side or main and those of the M-Z camp were asked to provide dessert! Genius. Cloth napkins, beautiful stemware and mix ‘n match bone china really ramped up the celebratory affair!
    My nearest and dearest tend to gather on Friday evenings for a lively Shitmix Dinner. The idea is to bring over whatever is tired in one’s crisper and create a hearty meal in the host’s kitchen based on the collaborative ingredients. I love those mellow Friday evenings cooking together, drinking wine and catching up. Then we play crib while eating good quality chocolate. My kind of end to the work week.

  66. Kathleen says...

    My department at work started a salad club this summer which is not the same as a dinner party at all but still speaks to the power of the pot luck! Each week, each participant is assigned an ingredient (Susan – a protein, Jim – a box of greens, Amanda- a dressing, etc etc) and then we put it all out salad-bar style every tues-wed-thurs. One ingredient per person per week. We rotate who sets up and cleans up. The benefits? We actually take our lunch breaks! We eat together instead of at our desks (or only in our office cliques)! The lunch room is cleaner because someone is actually assigned to put things away and wipe the counter! We eat salad for lunch! No figuring out what to pack for lunch (because it’s on the chart) or even having to pack lunch (just the one thing)! And it’s wayyyy cheaper than eating out. We’ve accumulated a good variety of salad dressings and nuts/seeds/etc and there are enough of us (about 10) that it’s never a problem if someone is away or forgets or doesn’t eat dairy. It’s been a real morale booster for a team that was suffering badly.

    • A says...

      I wish there was a like button, I like this so much!

  67. Laurel says...

    Last Thanksgiving, the hosts sent out a theme and sample recipes – a potluck dinner took the form of a perfectly coordinated meal, and I made something I never would have attempted otherwise (a vegetarian version of turducken – with squash/eggplant/zucchini nested, stuffed, tied and roasted together). Since then, we’ve been inspired by themes and will share a Bon Appetit article and split the recipe responsibilities to make a potluck meal.

  68. We host a huge Halloween party every year for the past 15+ years. The past five years or so we have converted it into an RIP potluck feast. We ask guests to bring the food they cherish most and would want for their last meal (since it’s Halloween). I always say if I was on death row-I would want a cheesesteak from Jim’s on 4th and South. So, we encourage everyone to bring their faves and it creates a beautiful, eclectic buffet full of chocolate and pizza and everything in between. We provide all the wine and beer and karaoke and don’t worry about the food. It’s fab!

    • Grace says...

      I love this!!

    • Maggie says...

      Jim’s is the best!

  69. Vee says...

    My friends and I do potluck dinners all the time. It’s the nicest to try all kinds of different dishes and places way less stress on the host. Plus, we are late twenties/early thirties professionals who just finished our schooling so it’s easier for us to just spend a little here and there rather than have the pressure of throwing a big dinner. We sometimes get together to celebrate the new moon, just a group of women, in the context of an evening potluck. It’s a really magical evening for all.

    My birthday potluck was the best: we had salads, soup, homemade pesto and the best bread from our local bakery, concord grapes and watermelon, a crumble, a cake, fancy chocolate bars, and three people brought wine and champagne! I thought that was sweet enough but then many people showed up with gifts too, including homemade rose body creme, gift certificates for a facial and reflexology and a plant pot my best friend painted little figs on with a fig tree inside! So grateful for these special connections.

  70. Skye says...

    My lady friends and I did a “bring your own dinner” gathering just last night — it’s like an even lower bar plan than a potluck and I LOVE that. “Bring your leftovers for yourself” type vibe. We are all always on different weird food restrictions, anyways. Then if people WANT to bring something to share, they sure can, but … no pressure. Keeps the focus on the gathering, honors the time it already takes to get together.

  71. Robin says...

    A few years ago we lived in Bosnia. I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic group of friends from all over the world. My Danish friend formed a group called “Mad-club” (mad means food in danish). We would meet monthly for dinners each based upon a theme (Italian, Greek, Thai, French etc) the hostess would prepare the main course and members would choose to bring either an appetizer, salad, or dessert. If you weren’t up for cooking that month (or cooking wasn’t your strong suit) you could always opt to bring wine or bread. Still some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten!

  72. em says...

    When weeks get really busy, and time with friends is scarce, my gals and I have been known to all grab whatever leftovers we have and head to the house with either the youngest kids or the most beer/wine in the fridge. A veritable buffet of weirdness at times; but that could also describe our friendships in a nutshell.

  73. Darby says...

    In my family we have been pot lucking for big dinners for a few years (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.). Usually the host cooks the turkey or other main dish and everyone else brings the side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. It takes the pressure off the family that is hosting and we all still get to eat an amazing dinner together.

  74. Kate says...

    I lived in California for two years while my partner was in business school. I became friends with a few other women and we had -almost- weekly potluck dinners and watched… The Bachelor! We’d rotate houses and nights based on our schedules (all hail DVR!) and everyone took turns contributing dishes. I still make some of my friends’ recipes. We have since spread out across the US, but we have managed to get together one weekend every year since – four women and nine children born among us in the past four years! It’s tradition to spend at least one cozy night in preparing a meal together❤️

  75. Morgan says...

    University-era potlucks left a bad taste in my mouth of disorganized free-for-alls with a bunch of stale pre-made food that doesn’t go together. But I’m inspired to try again using the key tip of assigning the dishes and providing some structure!

  76. Laura says...

    I love a potluck! But I’m currently married, 33 with no kids so I prefer to host and go all out! I realize it’s because I have the time but I live for it! I recently had friends over and made a meal from Julia Turshen’s new cookbook Now & Again. One of her suggested menus included tequila shrimp as an appetizer, roasted tomato and chicken enchiladas, kale salad with a pepita dressing and toasted coconut cake. It was delicious and fun to do!

  77. c says...

    i’ve never held a potluck either but this looks so fun and natural! i am reading a great cookbook called full moon feast by jessica prentice. on the subject of cooking practices changing in the twentieth century she writes: “cooking became a solitary—rather than a collective—activity. this stripped food preparation of one of its primary pleasures: being in community.” potlucks are a wonderful way to bridge the gap.

    • rebeqqah says...

      Yes! Love this book!

  78. Ser says...

    I only EVER do pot lucks! So do my girl friends . If everyone brings nibbles we eat that! I like to bring; homemade garlic focaccia and home made hummus, ( I make bread dough in a machine), roast veg tumbled into salad, dark choc cake and cream, or a platter of cheese !

  79. Alice says...

    I grew up with such a strong potluck culture that I didn’t fully understand that there were other ways to have get-togethers until I was an adult (you mean, just one family cooks everything?!). Potlucks are the best – and now when I throw my own I have a homemade cookbook full of amazing recipes from family friends who are really more like family.

    • Marci says...

      Did you grow up in Minnesota? :) I did and I can’t remember a gathering that wasn’t a potluck meal. Those dinners relied a lot on jello and hotdishes (aka casseroles) with cream of mushroom soup, but often the older ladies produced the most amazing dishes. My homemade cookbook also has many recipes from those talented cooks. My friends have elevated the potluck in some of the ways described in the comments, but all potlucks are based on the magic of sharing and companionship.

  80. Colleen says...

    Yes, for holidays and when we get together with my husband’s large family. When the kids were small, we’d do it with two other families and one family was always responsible for just cut up fruit. That was the best.

  81. Jessica says...

    I lived/worked in a tiny community for a few years where we were all on the same block and had no other social outlets. It changed how I hosted completely. We had so many ‘Mayhem Dinners’ which were spur of the moment, full of kids, unprepared and went a little like this: “Hey, want to have dinner here?” “sure” “great, I don’t think I have anything to make and my house is a mess” “Perfect.”

  82. joy says...

    At my previous job we did team potlucks every couple of months and it was really great. Since starting a new job where I lead a team, I’ve taken to turning our team meetings into a potluck every couple months and we all love it. One has her mom cook Lebanese food for us, another always makes her special street corn salad, another lives next to the best Colombian empanada place in Queens…we eat well and bond!

  83. Allison says...

    People go nuts for a potluck theme. The most successful potluck I ever attended had simple instructions: Cook a recipe by a Food Network star. It brought out this competitive edge that really upped the game – and I’ve been to a lot of potlucks. I made Ina Garten’s pumpkin roulade with ginger buttercream. At the party, the best part was guessing which food celeb was responsible for each recipe. I think it was the only potluck I’ve ever been to that didn’t have some store-bought mystery mayo salad on the table. Impressive.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds like so much fun, allison!

  84. MJ says...

    Potluck is a miracle. I do it with a group of friends and we don’t even assign dishes or categories (e.g, salad, dessert, appetizers, etc). We each just bring something. It has worked every. single. time.

  85. Yen says...

    I had a risky pregnancy and had to take my maternity leave early. And so it happened that I always had to pick up our son from school. Those afternoons had been a blessing for me. I met the mothers and aunts of my son’s classmates and became great friends. On a weekend when everyone is free we have a potluck and bring all our children. We don’t assign but rather volunteer what food we’ll bring. Last Friday it was at our house but sometimes it would be in another house. While the adults eat, drink and talk the kids get to play. Next year my friend, the kids and me are traveling to Hong Kong. Already, we’re thinking of our next travels.

  86. Anya says...

    Our friends do this a lot as “community dinner” – someone hosts and everyone contributes.. I also do it with book club where someone hosts and makes the main dish and everyone contributes something. It’s so fun and relaxing to not have to worry about EVERYTHING at once.
    When i’m not the host, i’m usually (always) the one who signs up for salad – mixed greens, fresh fruit (sliced apples, oranges or pears?), dried fruit (figs, cranberries, etc), nuts (walnuts, almonds), and goat cheese, dressed with balsamic dressing. Always works and is always yummy, no matter the combination.

  87. Vicki says...

    Always remember, when friends say what can I bring? They mean it! Also I love how this shows that you don’t have to be fancy to contribute, good ice cream can be bought and brought or if you are a foodie go ahead and bring the burrata and edible flowers. It’s really about getting together.

  88. Erin G. says...

    So fun! My girlfriends and I do this, too. We all have kids five and under and while we used to love hosting more elaborate dinner parties…well, ain’t nobody got time for that anymore. These days we do “bowl” potlucks where the host generally supplies the protein and the base of the bowl (e.g. black beans and rice) and the theme (e.g. Mexican) and everyone else brings things that can go in. It’s easy to make kid-friendly versions and accommodate different diets or allergies. Lastly, we also do take out nights in the park where we throw ourselves down on blankets and eat our favorite take out dish and congratulate each other on surviving one more week (and no one has to clean their toilet and our kids can run themselves ragged while we speak adult).

  89. leahk says...

    I recently threw a “lazy” potluck – we each picked up our favorite takeout dish (Tom Kha soup from my fav thai spot was my contribution) and we had a delicious feast of different take-out dishes. For those times when you wanna have a potluck but don’t even have the energy to make a dish.

    • Hayley says...

      This sounds like so much fun!

  90. Emily says...

    I always do dinner parties this way! Also takes some of the pressure off, because if everyone is responsible for something, they will like at least one part of the meal :)

  91. Meg says...

    I used to kill myself doing everything for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. But, the thing is, people want to contribute as much as they want someplace to go and warm company. So now I invite all my “Orphan” friends = those with no family close by. They all bring something. There is no drama and everyone is super relaxed and happy, especially me. Last year, I completely lost control of the situation. As in, everyone said yes to the invitation and 25 people came for Thanksgiving. It was awesome.

  92. Kaitlin says...

    Before I had a baby, I used to be part of a dinner club, where we would choose a theme (comfort food!) or cookbook and all cook from it.

    It was a LOT of work, but so worth it. It was almost like Thanksgiving with all the leftovers, and the food was forever and always fantastic.

    In lieu of hosting dinners, we now have a tradition where people come over for dessert and drinks on Sunday night. It’s a nice way to extend the weekend, and it gives me an excuse to bake regularly.

  93. Gail, in northern California says...

    Potlucks are the best. People bring their specialties to show off and it’s wonderful! It’s so nice to be able to say, “So-and-so is bringing a salad, So-and-so is bringing a dessert…I know you’re as pressed for time as I am, why don’t you bring a loaf of yummy French bread?” Sliced, buttered and wrapped in foil, I’ll slide it in the oven when you get here.” So, even the cooking-challenged can participate. We get together once a month and it works. Usually there’s enough food for an army so have some plastic deli containers washed and ready for leftover take-homes.

  94. molly says...

    Good for you!! We’re HUGE fans of potlucks! My husband is the youngest of five, so all of our gatherings are potluck-style (Thanksgiving & Christmas, BBQs, random celebrations…) – and our favorites are Sunday Fundays with my SIL & my in-laws: we drink & eat casually together at least once a month & it’s the best!! Potlucks forevs;) xo

  95. Katherine says...

    I live in a tiny town in the middle of the Kansas Flint Hills. Because the nearest grocery is at least 45 minutes away, it seems like most of our dinners with friends turn into potlucks. Everyone has a bit of something, and that ends up working out perfectly; together there is always plenty! I love the way we’ve come to depend on each other and the community it has fostered.

  96. Laura B. says...

    My mom has always hosted holidays as potlucks, I actually thought it was SO weird when I went to Thanksgiving at my boyfriend’s for the first time and his mom cooked EVERY dish. Having a potluck for any occasion allows you to not feel pressured to do it all, you’re not stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is mingling and enjoying, and everyone is able to bring their best/favorite/famous dish!

  97. Mads says...

    I recently moved to a new city with my boyfriend. We hosted our first potluck last thanksgiving and invited everyone we knew that didn’t have a family in town. It was a huge hit (everyone made SUCH an effort with their dishes) and it was a great way to meet new people. Potlucks feel a lot less formal than dinner parties, so everyone is free to let their authentic selves shine. It’s also a great way to have lots of people over (10+) without having to stress about feeding that many people. We’ve hosted one every month or two since. Everyone is always asking when we’re having our next!
    My one tip would be to go over required dish ‘genres’ when you send the invite— ie. pasta dishes, salads, snacky foods, soup, cheese, etc.—and keep the group posted on what has been dibbed/what is still needed. Don’t assume people will bring a diverse selection! We had one potluck that was 80% cheesy pasta dishes (tbh there are worse things that could happen) but alas, variety is the spice of life!

  98. Erika says...

    Can I pick up on the “new math” thing? When my (now 12-year old) daughter was in second grade, I tried so hard — explaining my way, googling the new way, consulting other parents. It led to fights, tantrums and gray hairs. Then a teacher friend gave me advice: give it up. Find a tutor, email the teacher, enlist an older neighborhood kid, use whatever resources the school has available. Old dog/new tricks. My daughter does just fine in math without my personal involvement. Instead, we enjoy reading and science and government. I have outsourced math and I am fine with it.

    • Lulu says...

      Thank you, Erika! This is so helpful!!

    • Nikki says...

      Let me know how I can help! I teach this math and would love to give a one or two pager to parents to help. (all teachers should be doing this really haha)

  99. Potlucks are so much more fun than traditional dinner parties! They’re much less fussy and lower pressure, and it’s half as stressful for the host and attendees when food allergies are involved. I’m trying to get better about having people over just as I am. I text messaged a friend the other week that I would love for her to come over, but I’m already in my PJs and the house was a mess. She came over, we had a blast, and the world didn’t end because the floor needed to be vacuumed.

  100. Carolyn says...

    I used to have THE BEST backyard potluck brunches with old friends. There was no waiting for a table, no spending too much on bacon, no worrying about having too many mimosas because you could just nap on the couch until you felt ready to go home. Then I moved and my new friends brutally shot me down when I proposed we start the same tradition! Such a bummer because I have a really, really great egg recipe: https://imgur.com/a/896OY1t

  101. Mary says...

    We do brunch every week with friends! (A friend and I spearheaded the first, then took suggestions for potential future meals.) We have a google doc assigning different parts of the meal, and the core group is ridiculously loyal:) (although outside friends are always welcome). It’s the best part of my week!

  102. Carly says...

    This is all so wonderful, but what is really speaking to me is your kitchen table!!! Please share the source. It is a dream table. Fingers crossed it isn’t custom.

  103. Amanda says...

    My husband’s family has started doing a potluck Thanksgiving! The host house will make a turkey and a side or two, and everyone else divvies up desserts, additional sides, and appetizers. It works great for people who HAVE to have a particular Thanksgiving dish (if they want it, they bring it! No complaining over the lack of their green bean casserole or candied yams!), and it’s also great for people who like to get creative and want to try something new (last year I made some fun pumpkin-themed finger-foods I wouldn’t have otherwise made). We absolutely love it and we’ve made it a yearly tradition!

    • Patricia says...

      My friends hosted a potluck party the day after Thanksgiving and called it “Thanks again!”. It was so much fun because we got to repurpose leftovers and hang out with friends. The actual holiday was still reserved for family and traditional dishes, but the next day was a par-tay!

    • Megan says...

      We do this too for family dinners now! Thanksgiving, Christmas… and any others. So much less stress for the host.

    • Hilary says...

      My family started doing this and it’s such a lifesaver! We used SignUp Genius to coordinate who brought what and it worked perfectly. I love to bake so I brought pies, my husband made his favorite dish from his side of the family, and the host made the turkey. I can’t believe we waited so long to do it like this!

  104. Nora says...

    My husband’s (and now my) friends are all about the potluck – it surprised me at first that no one ever threw a party or dinner expecting to provide everything, but now it makes perfect sense – it’s so much less work that it happens more often, and yes, everyone wants to bring something.

    I’ve always been into the minimal effort parties, though. For ages, I had twice a month clean house dinners – whenever the cleaners were scheduled, I invited friends over after work for take-out Thai and wine. Easy peasy.

  105. Nichole says...

    Potlucks are the best! And that dressing your friend made sounds delish. Taking notes. . .

  106. Kim says...

    To me potluck still means taffy apple salad in a cool whip container….it’s the midwestern in me. I also classify jello as a salad, just saying.

    My girl friends and I almost always split the burden these days and do the same thing. I especially like it when we do a “pickey” evening and just do lots of appetizers & wines & sometimes cocktails. It’s especially good at accommodating food differences. I have dairy free gluten free, kosher, paleo, & all variations of vegetarianism. Thank goodness we all like Pinot Noir !

  107. Charlotte K says...

    I love throwing a “real” dinner party but potlucks are the BEST. When I was a kid the church we attended had one once a month. Now I have a group of friends that does it a couple of times a year, and our block party also has a great one every September. I have never been to a bad potluck.

  108. Alexandra says...

    We have been doing most of our gatherings (book club, Easter brunch, Thanksgiving, etc.) as potlucks, and it’s always so tasty. Our friends bring yummy things, and I set the table nicely (European here with the appropriate amount of inherited porcellain, tableclothes, etc. that sees the light of day only for company).

  109. Lana says...

    We always just do snacks! Mostly i put together a pretty hefty cheese tray and friends just bring whatever. Deviled eggs with tarragon, Mexican dip and chips, canned wine (!!!). I’m dying to bring back having couples over to play cards and eating bridge mix and nuts. Simple get togethers are always the best!

  110. Beth Altman says...

    My friends and I have what we call the Friday night dinner crew. I think it has been happening for over 15 years. Everyone is tired from the work week, but we get together almost every week for a potluck dinner. Hosts offer up their house and send out a mass text or email. Everyone brings a dish and/or drinks to share. i treasure this tradition that we started together.

  111. Steph Gilman says...

    Potlucks are my favorite! That’s how we did our wedding. We had a very small budget but wanted to feed the so so many people we invited. We asked people if they’d be willing to bring food as a wedding gift and they were so happy to. I asked my aunt and grandma to make their amazing pb cookies. A lady from my hometown made her homemade sourdough rolls. I made an appetizer and froze it months before the wedding. My incredible baker friend made a Mississippi mud groom’s cake. Friends brought veggies. And my best friend’s dad brought a massive ham for the rolls! We just provided the Trader Joe’s wine and had a blast. Such a fun memory. It really does take a village…potlucks are fun reminders of that.

    • Betsy says...

      I hope you’re able to recreate your wedding potluck for milestone anniversaries.

  112. Molly Van Dop says...

    We had a potluck “Canadian Friendsgiving” last weekend, even though it wasn’t exactly the right date (and we aren’t Canadian). It was the perfect excuse to eat squash, pie, and turkey. Everyone was able to get as complicated as they wanted with the food–or not! It was much less pressure to just pull together a single dish, especially when wine or good company was equally cherished as a contribution.

  113. Caron says...

    I adore going to friend’s potlucks but have trouble hosting one myself. My Southern grandma raised me to be the consummate hostess, and I feel like I’m falling short when I “assign” others tasks or dishes to bring. However, this wonderful article has me wanting to get over myself and just potluck it up!

    • Tina, NYC says...

      Caron I totally feel the same. My Eastern European grandmothers would be rolling in the graves. For then entertaining meant TWO proteins! That’s a feast.

      But I love how this evening turned out for Joanna and it does make me reconsider.

    • Ali says...

      You can do it Caron! I used to be similar but just think about it in reverse – do you enjoy being asked to bring something? I do – helping with the meal is really satisfying!

      This was hammered home for me when I ambitiously invited everyone over for fresh ravioli (i.e. pasta from scratch) – but it all started going wrong. The pasta wasn’t working and I was running out of time! Instead of calling dinner off, I put my friends to work. Two were on fresh pasta, two were on filling, and two were on compiling the ravioli’s and then cooking them. It was the best dinner party ever because everyone contributed and ended up super invested in the end result. Instead of being a ‘hosting disaster’ it turned into dinner party legend and I still get asked when I’m hosting the next ravioli party!

  114. Lauren B says...

    Yes to this! As parents of young children with early bedtimes, our group of friends has “early bird supper club” every few months. Guests arrive at 4:30, dinner is served around 5:45ish, and people start leaving around 7 for toddler/preschooler bedtimes! Now that the kids are getting a little bit older, we’re staying and playing later. But no one bats an eye if someone heads home early.

    Just as you described, the host picks a theme (or doesn’t!) and provides the entree, but everyone else volunteers for the rest….appetizers, sides, dessert.

    It has been such a lovely way to see friends outside of a typical play date, and my 4 year old now looks forward to “dinner party night” .

    • teegan says...

      Before moving to another state this year, I did this! Three families started with three less-than-one-year-olds and it went on until there were two more kids and a lot of chaos. Usually someone brought appetizers and someone brought dessert and it was super low-key. It’s amazing how much easier three kids with six parents is than one kid with two! And not bad to fit in a dinner party before getting home in plenty of time to netflix with the husband on a Friday :)

  115. Kerri says...

    I am a diehard fan of the potluck. Pretty much everything is guaranteed to taste amazing because when you only have to prepare one dish you don’t have to skimp on the quality of ingredients or the energy it takes to make something extra special ☺️

    • c says...

      so true!

  116. KAT says...

    Spam musubi, fried saimin (aka ramen noodles, cooked, drain liquid, add spam, kamaboko [fish cake], soy sauce, shredded carrots/cabbage), or pot stickers. Sometimes crock pot meatballs in grape jelly/chili sauce.

  117. Sara says...

    Hi! It’s true that it’s the best way to throw a casual dinner party but I’m often too focused on what I “should” do as a host to attempt this! A question, just because I would like to know how you do in case I try this: where were the boys?? Thanks!

  118. Carrie says...

    All my in-law family gatherings are pot luck style, including holidays. I love it! I actually LOVE laboring over what to make and how to make it extra special and yummy. I also enjoy having a task so it’s right up my alley.

  119. Meredith says...

    Potlucks have so many benefits! My husband and I just observed last night how our recent contribution to a taco night potluck has changed our standard week night dinners for the better! We never used to keep pre-diced tomatoes on hand, but we loved having the left overs afterwards and now we keep a container each of cut tomatoes, celery, carrots, and cucumber in the fridge to quickly upgrade salads, pasta sauces, soups, etc. throughout the week.

  120. Kristin says...

    I loved this series on the The Kitchn about the “crappy dinner party” and it changed how I thought about entertaining. Its hard to keep up in the Instagram world and feel pressure to host the perfect dinner party. The whole point of having a party is to see your friends and they are coming to see you!

    https://www.thekitchn.com/5-rules-for-hosting-a-crappy-dinner-party-235815

    • Kari says...

      I loved that article, too! My group of friends all shared it and have tried to embrace it.

  121. maria says...

    pizza + wine = HEAVEN to me. so i’d be all for that, haha.

    all our parties are never sit down dinners, but all noshing foods – meats and cheeses, hummus, tapenades, my French cousins amazing pasta salad, really good bread, olives, etc. and lots of great wine and beer. EVERYone always raves about our parties and they really are minimal fuss. i DO truly enjoy setting up the buffet with beautiful dishes and lots of candles – perfect atmosphere!

    • Amanda says...

      Need this pasta salad recipe please!

    • maria says...

      To Amanda

      I’d truly love to share, but Georgette would disown me as family if i did. Haha, i half-joke, half-serious – it was quite the coup to even get her to share with me! I’m STILL waiting on her killer flourless chocolate cake recipe! she IS amazing!

  122. Babs says...

    My undergrad was a small program at a very large university. We had potlucks each semester for all students and faculty, and it was a fantastic way to meet professors and get to know other students in different years. Flash forward 9 years and I now live and work on a different continent…then last week a woman comes to my office for a presentation and we recognize each other from my first (and her final) university potluck! The food was hit and miss, but the connections were always brilliant!