How to host the perfect summer potluck

How to host the perfect summer potluck

©iStockphoto.com/Edward ONeil Photography Inc. Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Edward ONeil Photography Inc. Author: Canadian Living


How to host the perfect summer potluck

When it comes to effortless summer entertaining, your goal should be simple: Keep things as light and breezy as your favourite summer dress and as stress-free as your perfect backyard lounge chair.

Potluck parties not only take some of the pressure off the host when it comes to food preparation.

They're also a great way to sample new dishes, keep your entertaining costs down and get your friends involved in the menu planning.

Potlucks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: They're flexible enough to feed a block party or just a cluster of close friends - and all it takes is a little coordinating.

As the host, you'll want to determine the parameters: will it be a foodie free-for-all, or do you want to establish a theme? Will you let your guests bring what they like (running the risk of a table groaning with nothing but dessert), or will you hand out assignments? Decide what kind of party you want to throw, and go forward in easy summer confidence!

1. Planning the party menu
Though part of what makes potlucks fun is not knowing exactly what you're going to get, a little coordinating will keep you from having a table laid with nothing but fancy desserts. Though you don't necessarily need to nail down the menu, you'll have a better sense of how to plan the meal if you get your guests to commit to the kind of dish they're bringing, whether it's an appetizer, a salad, a main course, or a dessert. That way you'll know where the gaps are and you can plan your own dishes accordingly.

As the host, you'll probably want to make sure that you're providing a substantial enough dish that it can serve as an anchor for the rest of the meal. That way, if anyone shows up empty-handed, you can still feel confident that nobody will go home hungry.

If you've got friends who don't like cooking (or who simply aren't very good at it!), invite them to bring drinks, or to pick up a loaf of special bread, a block of nice cheese, or a container of great olives to add to the table.

Page 1 of 2 -- Find out how to pick the perfect theme for your potluck party on page 2 2. Picking a party theme
If you hate the idea of serving Italian and Indian at the same meal, assigning a theme will better ensure a cohesive spread. Love Mexican food? Challenge your friends to whip up something appropriate, from spicy guacamole or salsa, to bean burritos. If it's something with Asian flair that you're hankering for, encourage attendees to try their hands at noodle dishes or cold spring rolls.

Or go al fresco! Have your guests bring different kinds of salads (grains, beans and leafy greens are all great picks!) and other cold dishes to suit the season and get the backyard ready for your summer party.

3. Laying the table
Whether you eat inside or out, you'll need to decide whether you're hosting a sit-down meal or a buffet-style affair before your guests arrive. If it's a sit-down meal, do up a side-table with a brightly coloured tablecloth and invite people to plunk down their bowls and platters there. If it's a buffet, you will need to add a stack of plates to the spread (if you can manage it, avoid paper and opt for colourful ceramics!), bundles of cutlery (forks and knives look attractive arranged in glassware), and summery napkins.

Of course, if you're going to be serving in the sun, you'll want to keep things tucked in the fridge until it's time to eat!

As the host, you'll also want to make sure you've got lots of bowls, serving platters and utensils ready to go for when your guests arrive. Depending on how they're travelling, they could be arriving with their dishes in plastic containers that won't look so pretty on your table.

And when it comes to adding an effortless touch to the table, you can't beat a bouquet of summer flowers in a simple glass vase. Pick some peonies, snip a couple of roses, or arrange a lily or two for a delightful, summery centrepiece.

4. Managing appetites
Because the food won't come until your guests do, you'll want to think about having some snacks ready to go for early arrivals. Chips and dip, cheese and crackers and hummus and pita are all easy options that will give people something to nosh on while waiting for the rest of the meal to arrive.

Once everyone arrives and the drinks have been poured, you can dig in together and enjoy one another's culinary labours. And don't forget to send your guests home with leftovers ... if there are any!

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How to host the perfect summer potluck