Potlucks are a way to bring large groups of people together for inexpensive entertaining and can be organized to suit a variety of circumstances. There is only one rule to potlucks: everyone brings a dish or two to share, enough for the entire group or perhaps enough to feed a dozen or so. Food should arrive prepared and in a serving dish. Everything else depends on your purpose, theme, venue and guests. Use your imagination!
Potluck lunches are ideally suited for large groups of people to share a meal at a reduced cost. They are a way to taste different or unusual dishes without having to prepare them, and you can trade recipes as part of the fun. Potlucks can be centered around an international theme, complete with decorations and mood music. With a little planning, you can have one in your office, at home, at the park, your place of worship or community center.
Lunches are generally lighter than the evening meal, and especially at the office, it is better to keep it simple. Finger foods, sandwiches, wraps and small easily managed portions are preferred over casseroles and dishes with sauce. If you wish to serve a hot main dish, ask one or two people to bring those and balance the lunch with lighter offerings. Cheese trays, chilled seafood, vegetables and dip, toasted pita bread chunks, grilled sandwiches and paninis are all good choices.
Your facilities will influence your menu choices and event planning. Ask yourself these questions. Do I have cooking/reheating facilities and is there a refrigerator available? Can the food be kept and served at optimum temperature? Are there large tables available? Chafing dishes? Do I want to use disposable plates and cutlery? What about efficient clean-up?
Potlucks allow room for creativity. Pick an international cuisine or several complimentary ones. You can have everyone bring their favorite sandwiches or brunch dishes. Have a strawberry potluck lunch, with strawberry-cream-cheese sandwiches when the local berries are at their best. For a bagel potluck lunch, assign a variety of bagels and fillings to be brought with juices and drinks. Choose a seasonal or unusual ingredient and ask everyone to include it somehow in a recipe.
Potlucks are more successful with some planning. If you want a particular feel to the event, let people know in advance. Those who don't or can't cook can bring crackers, condiments, drinks, napkins, flowers or centerpieces, or they can be recruited to the set-up or clean-up crew. Pass around a sign-up list or send an email message and let guests choose categories: main dish, salads, drinks, desserts, breads and so on, will ensure that you don't end up with three potato salads and nothing to drink. Have extra serving dishes and spoons on hand and ready, and ask everyone to label their own dishes and serving utensils.