precooked party foods Potluck planning is like arranging any other event with multiple attendees. It can be painless, or it can feel like herding cats. The key is organization and staying on top of details. Planning a potluck party requires a bit more coordinating than a simple dinner party, but if you approach it with a plan in mind, can result in a fabulous get-together!

Painless Potluck Planning

  • Who, What, Where, When, Why?: Those are the basic questions that start the planning for any potluck (or event in general, for that matter). Once you've answered those, it's just a matter of organizing, planning, delegating, staying organized, and getting on with the show.
  • Getting Organized:
    • WHO's attending? Make a list. Write it by hand, put it on the computer, make a spreadsheet, put it on your smartphone, a whiteboard, whatever. But write it down and keep it in a place where it won't get lost and you'll be able to refer back to it regularly. And keep in mind that it's going to be constantly changing, especially in the early stages.
    • WHAT is it? Potluck dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? Tailgate party? Cocktail party? Picnic? Wedding reception? Whatever it is, put that at the top of the list.
    • WHEN is it? Do you have a specific date or will it change based on the availability of the attendees? Once you set a date, write it at the top of the list, along with the start (and end, if applicable) time.
    • WHERE will it be? Your house? Someone else's? Another place? Get the location firmed up, then add it at the top of the list.
    • WHY is a potluck the best choice for the event? Don't write this down, but keep it in mind when you're thinking of the next step.
  • Details, Details, Details: Now it's tme to think about the details. Which is to say, the food and who's bringing what. Start another list (or sheet in a spreadsheet) - this will become your "working list". Do not use the original sheet, which is going to become your "things taken care of so far" list. You'll need to refer to both at once sometimes as you plan!
    • The Menu: Based on WHAT your event is, think about the food. Set up general categories in blocks and put those on the new list. For example, if it's a potluck dinner, your categories may be: Appetizer, Salad, Entree, Side Dish, Dessert, Drinks, Napkins, Utensils. Make sure to leave plenty of space in between the items, you'll need it in a later step!
    • Special Menu Items: Will there be children at the event? This is the time to think about a separate kid's menu. If you need one, add categories accordingly. Same goes for any attendees who may have special dietary concerns.
    • Drinks: Will there be alcohol at the party? Both non-alcoholic and "adult beverages" should have a category.
    • Furniture, Decor & Decorations: Don't forget the basics! Will extra chairs or tables be needed? Add a category! Same goes for special decorations and decor items.
    • Setup & Cleanup: Prepping everything and cleaning up afterwards can be major chores. Add a category for each to share some of the work.
    • Planning Help: This is a good stage to stop and think about if you want to ask someone to help with the planning/arranging as their contribution.
  • Theme (optional): Think about what your event is, and decide if you want either a general food theme or an overall party theme.
    • General Food Theme: Hosting a potluck party with a pre-definined food theme can add a fun twist to casual get-togethers without adding extra work. This kind of event can either mean simply giving guests the theme idea and letting them choose what do bring, or — for a little more specificity — putting together a list of dishes or ingredients in advance and having them select from the list. Theme food potlucks are ideal for casual dinners, movie nights, welcome-home or game day parties!
    • Overall Event Theme: Baby or bridal showers, going away or retirement parties, birthday celebrations, and other special occasions are a perfect opportunity for using potluck planning to create a memorable event! The most important thing is to establish an overall "vision" for the gathering from the start that includes decor, decorations, invitations, and of course, the food.
  • The Match Game: This is where planned, organized potluck events differ from the standard "oh, just bring something" variety. Use your lists or spreadsheets to plan and track who's bringing what.
    • Step One: The Plan Go through the attendees list and see if anyone jumps out at you for a particular category. Add their name under it, and put a check next to their name on the attendees list.

      HINT: writing in pencil, making a copy as a "working list," or using colors to differentiate non-confirmed choices is a good idea at this stage.
    • Step Two: Execution Start contacting people and seeing how they feel about your category suggestions. Once they've okay'd the time, date and place for attending and agreed to what they're bringing, put what they're responsile for on the "final" list and cross that information off the "working" list. Adjust/update the list as needed until everything on the "working" list is covered and the "final" list is complete.
    • Step Three: Staying Organized Keep on top of the lists and any changes. The trick is to never panic at changes, just adapt the plan so that things still fit into the overall plan.
    • Step Four: Enjoying the Event If you stay on top of the details, things should fall into place fairly easily as the event approaches. If you get into the habit of not letting changing details fluster you, you should be able to enjoy both your event and the food when the time comes.


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Chef Francis Quinn at Seasoned Catering uses his love of cooking, innovative perspective, attention to detail, and years of experience to provide clients with a one of a kind experience.
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