A tried-and-true strategy for easy entertaining? Make it a potluck. Of course, you don’t want to get carried away with planning and setup — the whole point of a potluck is to lighten your load — but even a simple potluck runs more smoothly with a little forethought. Here’s our roundup of tips to make your event a stress-free success, brought to you by Evite in partnership with Hormel® Chili.
Planning the Event
- Potluck in its purest form means letting guests bring whatever they want. Taking your hands off the wheel makes this the easiest potluck style for the host, and it’s always fun to see what dishes show up.
- Alternatively, to give the meal some coherence, pick a theme or a specific cuisine. For a Southwest or Tex-Mex fiesta, prepare a large pot of chili. (Want to keep it simple? Just heat and serve a few cans of Hormel® Chili, as shown above!) Your guests can bring Southwest-style sides to complete the feast. Or make lasagna as the main and have guests contribute Italian sides and salads. Supply related beverages to round out the theme: pitchers of margaritas or red wine.
- Get place cards (available at craft or stationery stores) for labeling dishes. Have pens handy so when guests arrive, they can write the name of their dish (and any relevant dietary info, such as “vegetarian,” “gluten-free,” etc.) on a card and place it in front of their dish.
- You’ll need plenty of trivets and serving utensils — tongs, large spoons and ladles. If you don’t have extras, ask your guests to bring them. Arrange to rent or borrow chafing dishes to keep hot dishes at temperature. Chili and other stews work well in a crock-pot.
Let guests know if the potluck has a theme and ask them to contribute dishes on your invitation. To avoid duplication, you may want to itemize types of dishes needed for the meal. You can be general (side dish, salad, dessert) or specific (cornbread to go with chili). In the “event conversation” bar on your Evite invitation, click on the red bag and list the items you’d like guests to bring. When guests view the invitation, they can sign up to bring a requested dish.
- Potlucks are no-fuss meals, so keep the decor simple. Tip: Grab an arrangement at the grocery store, then separate the flowers by type or color. Trim the stems and place mini bouquets on the table in small vases, glass jars or cans with the labels removed.
- Young kids love having their own table. Cover it completely with butcher paper and set out crayons and stickers to keep them occupied.
Setting the Scene
- For a large group (and a large spread), serve buffet-style, with a separate table for sitting down and eating. (Smaller potlucks can work with the dishes laid out family-style at the center of the table.)
- Make the buffet easy for guests to navigate. Use a kitchen island or dining table that’s accessible from all sides.
- Streamline food layout on the table to keep the line moving. Put plates at the start of the line, utensils and napkins at the end.
- Make sure it’s easy for guests to serve themselves: Put appropriate utensils on a saucer alongside each dish and pre-cut larger items into single servings.
- If you have the space, set up a separate serving area for desserts.
- If you’re using disposable plates, set trash receptacles in a key location. Clearly marked recycling bins will encourage guests to sort glass and plastic bottles.
- To avoid bottlenecks, set up a beverage station away from the food. Fill a tub of ice with beer, wine, water and soft drinks. Provide disposable cups.
After dinner, or between dinner and dessert, get everyone to participate in a group game. Try a fun twist on a classic with reverse charades or telephone Pictionary — the basic idea will be familiar to everyone, but a new spin will mix things up.