Now what? Just follow these savvy rules:
- First and seriously the most important...Plan your menu. You can decide on what you will do and delegate what you feel is missing or ask for specific dishes. I love, love, LOVE to cook, but am a seriously horrible baker (I know it's because of the need for precision). I always ask my invited guests if they have a specific dish in mind or if they would like a suggestion. BUT in some cases, I ask (and beg if I have to) people to bring something specific. I will always need deserts so, Maggie is asked to bring her "crack cookies" (seriously the BEST chocolate chip cookies you will ever taste...I might just call and see if I can post it here LOL) and Vanessa is asked to bring either the peanut butter brownies, or coconut cream pie. This always is helpful to make sure you don't have all salads, and not enough desserts. One way is to split the menu into sections so you can ensure you have enough (If a guest can't decide what they will bring, ask them to at least provide you with a category for planning purposes.):
- Give your guests who claim to be unable to cook the opportunity to contribute drinks or equipment to the party so that they are still pitching in but don't feel that they have to cook. Tell them it's perfectly fine to bring store-bought food as well. While homemade is nice, it's better to make your guests feel welcomed despite their lack of culinary talent.
- Savvy Tip: Make labels with your guests' names on them. This way, as they place their dish on the table you can label the bottom of each dish (if not already done). This way if a dish is left behind after the party, you know who to return it to.
- Ask guests to label food with allergenic ingredients in the case of dishes with nuts, dairy, eggs, gluten, etc. If you have any guests who are highly allergic to nuts or other food such as shellfish or eggs, ask all your guests to label their dish with the ingredients. We have kids with allergies, but my DH and I don't. We want to be able to enjoy Jo's macaroni and cheese, even if the kids can't have it. You can also use small place cards in front of each dish to identify the name of the dish and who made it so people can ask that person for a recipe or can pay their compliments.
- This may sound like common sense but worth stating; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to minimize the risk of spoilage or food poisoning. Many potluck organizers will equip their party table with many large bowls of ice to place salads containing mayonnaise. A power outlet outdoors for the plugging in of buffet servers or crock pot slow cookers is a good idea as well to keep food safe and flavorful.
- Put different types of dishes on different tables (or on different sides of the table) with plenty of serving spoons. If at all possible, make sure the drinks are on a different table (or at least at the end of the table). This way if people want to merely top up their drink, they don't have to wait in line with those serving themselves. Another Savvy Tip: avoid the temptation to have the table up against a wall/side of the house. Pull the table out enough to have people on both sides. This limits the size of the line. This is where plenty of serving spoons is essential. If you only have one spoon per dish, it won't matter that you have a line on both sides of the table; people will still have to wait for the spoon. Recap: Have a line on each side of the table and make sure each dish has 2 serving spoons.
Another Allergy Tip: If you do have dishes with allergens in them, you may want to keep these separate from the other dishes. Nothing irks me more than the cross contamination of serving spoons. My kids can't have the Macaroni and Cheese, and that's fine. BUT if you use the Mac-n-Cheese spoon to then serve the potato salad, they now can't have the potato salad either.
- Clear clutter several times throughout the party to minimize the mess. Ask a friend or co-host to help you periodically with refilling needed items and clearing trash. Savvy Tip: Place one or two (or more) garbage cans in the food area, many guests will help clean up during the party as well.