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Potluck etiquette: some tips from the Etiquette Guy
Potluck etiquette: some tips from the Etiquette Guy

By Jay Remer, the Etiquette Guy

Last time, we discussed elegant handling and social graces of fiddly nosh. With the cold weather settling in nicely, many of us look forward to hearty winter dinners with close friends.

Unlike the traditional dinner party, potluck meals are especially popular across the pond in the Americas, and let the menu and food preparation become a shared effort.

In fact the entire point of a potluck gathering is for each guest to contribute a dish resulting in an enjoyably diverse buffet for the group to feast on. This also means – especially in these delicate and tough times – the financial burden associated with large dinner parties is eliminated.

Potluck meals have a convenient way of fitting the circumstances of any situation. There can be the simple sandwich, chips (or crisps), fruit and a drink meal. Or there can be the more elaborate casserole (i.e. main course, salad, dessert and a drink concept). It is the flexibility of these nicely coordinated meals that enables us to feed and help out in during a variety of life events.

It is helpful always to have someone who coordinates the various offerings in order not to end up with a table of all desserts or salads and no main courses.  There may even be some people who would rather not cook anything at all but would be willing to participate in the washing up brigade.

When deciding what to contribute to a potluck meal, there are several choices to consider:

- The number of people - both eating and participating  - helps determine how much food you need to prepare. Obviously if there are a dozen people contributing food for a group of two dozen people, then probably a dish which would feed six to eight people would be more than ample.

- Think of what you cook well that is a favorite of your friends and consider making that.

- As the host or hostess, one needs to consider plates, cutlery, glasses, and serviettes – all of the basics one finds at a dinner party.

- Also, think about beverages. A host or hostess should have some on offer, but it’s not uncommon to ask guests to bring a bottle of wine.

Potluck meals are designed to be delightfully informal, very much like family gatherings. So, it’s time to relax and park one’s finest table manners at the door. At this meal, you are with family and more likely to be noshing around the fire rather than the formal dining table.

You might also consider including new people: neighbours who have just moved to the community, new people who might accompany an old friend. Be willing to expand your circle. After all, the more the merrier.

Potluck gatherings are probably the least unnerving social gathering. It is a way to introduce ourselves, our skills, our culture, and a very unlikely place to be judged except on how delicious a dish is.

Moreover, your food creation is a great way to start a conversation, to swap recipes and to just feel at ease. There really isn’t any competition involved, just people being themselves.

We don’t always need a special occasion to celebrate in order to break bread together. Nothing exhibits respect for other people more clearly than in sharing one’s food.


Jay Remer is the Etiquette Guy, and is certified by the Protocol School of Washington as a consultant for corporate etiquette and international protocol.

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Thanks for the fantastic tips! I am preparing to go to an American(International) Thanksgiving Pot Luck at the end of the month in the French countryside and it is always a delight to try new dishes and meet new people - I hope they feel that way about my Yams…

  • Jean Bernard Tallon
  • 29 Aug, 2013
  • 3:01 pm

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