How to Host a Potluck

I don’t like potlucks. Every potluck dinner I’ve attended has been a culinary disaster.  That’s because the potluck dinners I’ve been to are poorly managed so you end up with a mess of notes, textures, and colors and an excessive amount of proteins and sweets.  Most people don’t give any thought to pairings or how to best complement the main dishes, of which there are too many.  They just bring their greatest hits, which leads to gluttony.

Why People Overeat at Potlucks

Imagine someone eating a donut and washing it down with Mountain Dew.  What’s going to happen to this person’s palate?   It’ll need more and more sugar to satisfy cravings.  This person will die as a diabetic.    

Same thing happens at potlucks.  To begin with, most guests are thinking about either how to not embarrass themselves or how to be popular.  So they play it safe and bring one of their greatest hits.   Like bacon and sausage cheddar casserole.  Or ham and breadcrumbs mac and cheese.  Even the salads are heavy, like broccoli, grains, and almonds soaked in ranch dressing.  You end up with a bunch of dishes that don’t complement each other and the meal becomes a hedonistic mess.  

When people eat familiar food, they expect a certain feeling, a taste, and perhaps a memory.  When they don’t get what they crave, they eat more of it until they get what they’re seeking.  For instance, imagine taking  a bite of sausage and following that with a bite of bacon.  Does the bacon taste as you expected or is it underwhelming?  Do you eat more of it to get the taste you want?  Now eat a lightly sauteed and unsalted piece of zucchini, which should taste refreshing and mildly bitter.  Then take a bite of the bacon.  Are you getting what you want now?  Have you had enough, ready for a cigarette?  So yeah, proper contrasts are vital to high quality meals that train palates to become more sophisticated.  

How to Host a Potluck

I don’t host potlucks because it’s too much of a hassle to manage people’s feelings and egos.  I let guests bring booze, that’s it, not even dessert.  Anyway, this is what I’d do if I had to host a potluck for, say, 10 households for a total of 30 guests.  

  • I’d be responsible for the veggie dishes.  And skip the bread to encourage people to eat more of what guests bring so there’ll be fewer leftovers and postprandial cleanup less arduous and confusing.  
  • Since there are 10 households, give 10 tasks for each household to choose from. Only one household per task.  Example:
Kercheval: Fish dish
Chen: Red meat dish
Zanotti: Fowl dish
Weintraub: Shellfish dish
Van Lith: Dark dessert
Masuda: Light dessert
Morrissey: Beer
Chou: Wine
Kaplan: hors d’oeuvres
Sanchez: hors d’oeuvres

Let’s imagine what we make and what they bring:


Kercheval: Baked salmon
Chen: Baby back ribs
Zanotti: Buffalo wings
Weintraub: Shrimp cocktail
Van Lith: Chocolate mousse
Masuda: Cheesecake
Kaplan: Guacamole and salsa, tortilla chips
Sanchez: Bacon wrapped dates
Hostess: Oven blasted broccoli and cauliflower
Hostess: Pickled beets with feta cheese and walnuts
Hostess: Sauteed zucchini and mushrooms

That’s a diverse and balanced spread — four colors worth of veggies; land, air and sea animals; a sweet and savory appetizer and a spicy and savory one.  This approach to hosting a potluck reduces chances of redundancies while giving guests the opportunity to show off their culinary skills.    

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