Cooking School

5 secrets to planning the ultimate potluck

Photography by Ryan Szulc Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Ryan Szulc

Cooking School

5 secrets to planning the ultimate potluck

No. 1: Pick a very loose theme (or no theme at all)
As tempting as it might be to plan a South Pacific-themed Polynesian Tiki theme for your potluck, that can be daunting for guests who aren’t confident cooks. You want this to be fun, not forced, and certainly not something that guests dread because they can’t find a whole pig.

Try a loose and forgiving theme, such as “Spice”. Your guests could bring something spicy (hot) like boneless wings; something mild but complex like a chicken tagine; a sweetly spiced dessert, like these apple spice cupcakes; or even a spicy cocktail, like this Dark and Snowy, made with a spicy ginger syrup.

Remember to relax and be sure to leave room for some out-of-the-box ideas—some people will have favourites that are not part of your theme, and that’s okay!

No. 2: Plan well ahead
Don’t expect great food if you only notify your guests two days before the party. Plan your gathering and invite guests at least two weeks ahead. They may want to test a recipe at home before trying it out on others. Leaving lots of time will also allow you to sort out who’s bringing what, assign dishes, or step in with your own additions if there are holes in the menu.

No. 3: Communicate
It’s very difficult to plan a party with many moving parts if people are only communicating through you. Start some kind of shared forum, like an online event page (even a Facebook event) where everyone can put dibs on dishes and remain aware of what’s happening. This not only allows for easy communication, but it also builds excitement around your party. It might even allow guests who haven’t met to get talking in advance!

Avoid creating long email chains with many recipients. Your guests’ inboxes will fill up quickly, which will get annoying, especially when everyone is hitting “reply all”. Create a space where people can talk without disrupting each other.

No. 4: Aim for variety—in the right amounts
The idea for any party should be that all the courses you’d find at a typical dinner party are represented. Be sure that hors d’oeuvres, salads, entrées, side dishes and desserts are covered off.

Take into consideration the number of guests and ensure that people bring food in appropriate amounts. If you have 16 people coming, ask your guests to accommodate for that many servings. They can be small servings, especially if you have more than one person bringing an entrée course, for example. But you’ll want to ensure everyone gets to sample everything. Remember to accommodate for people who don’t like to cook. Have a list of potential ideas for non-cooks and last-minute guests to contribute, such as cheese, cured meats, fruit, crackers, fresh bread and beverages.

No. 5: Know the limits of your kitchen
Pay attention to what people are bringing and make sure that your kitchen can accommodate any last-minute preparation. If seven of your guests need to reheat something in your oven simultaneously, you’ll be in trouble. Have a list of recipe suggestions and make sure they all work together. Be ready to troubleshoot; suggest people bring hot dishes in a slow-cooker, throw out some microwave-friendly recipes, or ask for contributions that don’t need reheating at all.

Now you’re ready to plan your potluck. Above all else, remember to relax and have fun!

For a fun collection of our favourite potluck recipes, click here!
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Cooking School

5 secrets to planning the ultimate potluck