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October 9, 2017 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Have you hosted a regular, open-invite potluck dinner? What made it work or not work?

My partner and I have been wanting to help strengthen ties amongst our communities by getting groups of people together more regularly.

If you've hosted regular potluck or other gatherings, and had it be something that you kept doing and enjoying over a decent period of time, why did it work? Advice re. pitfalls from people who've tried this and had it not work out for various reasons would also be welcome.
posted by ITheCosmos to Human Relations (8 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The potlucks I've attended that have been most successful are the ones that have been extremely well organized but with a very relaxed vibe. They generally have two big things in common:

1) The host prepares a hearty main dish that can be enjoyed by most people (example: mild heat vegetarian chili) and fills nutritional gaps left by having a dozen sides and no mains, or the person who says they're bringing 40 hot dogs and gets sick last minute. The party can still continue even if you have lackluster participation.

2) Some kind of shareable signup like an all-edit google sheet where people can say what they're bringing so other people can plan what they bring and you don't have 4 people accidentally bring potato salad. The hive mind can plan and prep and you don't have to micromanage it.

Bonus: have a few stock needs on immediate recall. Inevitably you're going to have someone decide to come last minute and text you "on my way! can I bring anything?" Be ready to say "we could use another bottle of wine!" or "if you can grab a loaf of bread that would be great!" --something a person can pick up on the run and still feel they've contributed to the gathering.
posted by phunniemee at 11:10 AM on October 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Have enough basics that you don't need to rely on people bringing what they say they will or being on time. Or know who you can count on, and trust them with some of the staples and most valuable dishes. For us that would be drinks, a main dish, rice or bread, and sliced fruit and vegetables, plus cheese in the fridge. I consider it my responsibility to ensure there's food to meet a variety of dietary needs.

Have snacks ready when people arrive.

Be clear about start time--hard or soft? Same for the event and the eating, or will you hang around first? I plan 30-60 minutes for my crowd.

Have enough of the right kind of implements, placed in advance--serving bowls and spoons on the counter, wine opener, etc. When people arrive, help them get their food set out.

Make room in the fridge for drinks, ice cream, etc.

Disposable plates and utensils, or will you wash everything?

What's the food flow going to be? Set up accordingly.

Send reminders.

Send suggestions or ask people to state what kind of thing they're bringing. We've used spreadsheets, Facebook, Google Drive... We sometimes add a role for clean up or dishes, which helps people who can't afford to buy food or who don't want to for another reason.
posted by ramenopres at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it would be nice to specify in the invite that it's totally okay for people to bring frozen entrees from Trader Joe's, deli salads, and other prepared stuff so people don't feel obligated to cook in order to participate.
posted by delight at 11:57 AM on October 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Our house has been hosting a semi-regular Friday night potluck for seven or eight years. I talked about it here.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ottereroticist, I hadn't seen that previous thread, thanks so much!
posted by ITheCosmos at 12:03 PM on October 9, 2017

I did this monthly for years. I always made a big vegan gluten-free main dish with protein and a big pot of rice, so if everyone else brought desserts it would still be okay. I also had backup plans that were occasionally used... a nearby pizza place if there wasn't enough food; ice cream if everyone was desperate for more dessert.

I tried to encourage people to put their dishes in the dishwasher without much success so I gave up. Starting with a mostly empty dishwasher though, and loading it and starting it partway through the evening, makes my life easier... there's usually someone hanging out in the kitchen anyway to chat with while I do it, and getting that load done before I go to bed means I can unload it and run another load overnight, so dishes are mostly taken care of by morning.

A couple years ago I got a TV and having that playing Phineas and Ferb outside of the main room goes along way to suck in children and keep them from trashing my house and/or preventing adult conversation. For ten years I let them run wild instead, but really prefer drugging them with TV.

Other friends used to have a weekly potluck and I think that's an even better community builder because it happened every Sunday night; no one had to look at a calendar to know, they could just always stop in. But obviously it's more work.

Keep a dish towel in the living room for cleaning spills quickly.

If you set food on the dining room table but have too many people to eat at it, remove the chairs because otherwise That Guy will decide to sit at it, blocking everyone else from serving themselves.

Don't bother doing things like deep cleaning floors; they'll be gross again by the end of the night so save your energy. Sweep but don't bother scrubbing.

Post a map with directions and parking explanations and public transportation info. I use a Google map showing my house, three different parking options, and the route from the nearest bus stop.

I don't insist that people take off their shoes in my house but leave out a basket of slippers to encourage them to.
posted by metasarah at 3:01 PM on October 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm part of a monthly potluck and we've had success assigning a theme every month, so that there are prompts to help people decide what to bring. Some of our themes have been soups and stews, tacos, foods of our childhood (which prompted a lovely evening of people talking about happy memories), foods of our people (we're a diverse group, so this was particularly successful), taste the rainbow, where each person was assigned a color in advance, and one memorable night, never to be repeated, a fried food party where absolutely everything was fried onsite and we all nearly died, but it was great. The theme keeps it fresh and fun and mostly people look forward to cooking for it, but anyone who is having A MONTH and can't get it together to cook just brings booze or disposable plates or bread to go with the soup, and everyone is happy.
posted by merriment at 5:24 AM on October 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Several years ago on Metafilter favorite Serious Eats, writer Sarah Grey talked about doing this exact same thing, the results it had on her family and friends, and why she settled on a regular menu item, sphaghetti with meatballs, and why she doesn't care that it is a toned-down, easier to make recipe than what normally appears on Serious Eats. It's a good article, and she has been there already with the food prep and social issues. I recommend it-- "Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life With Pasta".
posted by seasparrow at 9:06 AM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

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