Sharing food is a tried-and-true way to be a good neighbor. But what if you can’t afford to feed 20 people? Here’s how to host a great potluck instead.

Throwing a dinner party on your own is kind of a big deal. It’s a lot of cooking and pan scrubbing, and it can be a budget-buster. If you love to cook and want to feed 20 people instead of getting those beloved concert tickets, more power to you. But if that’s not you?

Potluck.

The word “potluck”might sound old-fashioned to some of us, but the idea of sharing a meal is certainly not. And in our busy, budget-conscious times, crowdsourcing food is a great way to catch up with neighbors or meet and get to know them for the first time.

While organizing a potluck can be a bit of work (herding cats, anyone?)it’s not as much work as cooking. And we’ve got 10 tips that will make it easier and smoother.

1. Assign courses.

There are lots of online tools these days for making sure you don’t end up with six chocolate desserts (although that sounds like a pretty good party to us). Try Perfect Potluck and ThingtoBring.com to get your people organized. And remember to assign beverages too.

2. Ban soups or stews.

You want your guests to be able to eat everything off one plate. Not only is it easier for them, but it reduces the dishwashing load. And since you’ll be the one doing the dishes, you’re allowed to make this rule.

3. Go ahead and ban crudit too.

We all know that a veggie platter is the easiest thing to pick up from the store, but dried-out carrots have a way of making any party feel less like one. Plus, it’s boring. If you want more vegetables and greens, encourage people to bring a salad or vegetarian dish.

4. Ask guests to prepare food in advance.

Popping something in the oven to reheat is one thing. Five people showing off their knife skills in close proximity is another. Your kitchen is probably only big enough for a few people working at a time anyway. And let’s face it, few things are worse thana group of hangry strangers waiting for food to cook in the next room.

5. Ask guests to be self-sufficient.

Meaning they should bring everything they need to serve their dish. Like we said, you’re the one doing the dishes.

6. Help guests label their ingredients.

Everyone wants to know what’s in their food these days, often for good reason. It helps to have some index cards and pens on hand for anyone who forgets.

7. Make sure you have enough plates.

And utensils, napkins, and cups. Maybe this goes without saying, but have you inventoried your cupboards lately? If you’re short, ask a guest to close the gap, or use compostable products to make clean-up even easier.

8. Be ready to label containers.

People often forget to label their Pyrex or Le Creuset and then forget about it completely until they go to make risotto again. Meanwhile, there it is taking up space in your cabinet. Don’t get us wrong, if you’re looking for a reason to see that one special neighbor again, by all means, forget the labelling. But have tape and pens ready for the other items you don’t want left behind.

9. Prepare for leftovers.

There’s often a ton, and you’ll want to send some of them home with your guests. Now is the time to bring out the reusable takeout containers you’ve been stockpiling and spread the love.

10. Follow the rules of food safety.

Food poisoning is memorable, for sure, but not in the way you want. Time flies when you’re having fun, and that big spread of food could start breeding nasty stuff if you’re not paying close enough attention.

  • Perishable foods shouldn’t be out at room temp for more than two hours, or for more than one hour if you’re outside on a hot day. Set a timer.
  • If possible, keep cold perishable foods on ice the whole time.
  • Keep hot foods at 135F or hotter, in a slow cooker or other warmer.
  • Refrigerate leftovers right away.
  • If the party’s outside, try to serve the food from inside, so flies and other germ-spreading bugs can’t get to it.

Need recipe ideas? Check out Modern Potluck: Beautiful Food to Share, by a former editor of Food & Wine. The bold, Instagram-worthy dishes gracefully navigate today’s array of food needs and preferences there’s truly something for everyone.

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