Potluck etiquette for guests and hosts

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Navigating the world of potlucks can be as much about how to do it right as it is about cooking. Whether you’re a guest wondering what dish to bring or a host trying to coordinate a feast without the fuss, understanding a few key principles of potluck etiquette can make all the difference.

A potluck table set with assorted foods and lit by string lights in an outdoor vineyard setting at dusk.
Photo credit: Yayimages.

From RSVPing with your chosen dish to mastering the art of serving sizes, potluck etiquette ensures everyone enjoys a variety of flavors and leaves with a full stomach. And for hosts, providing clear instructions and a welcoming environment can turn a simple meal into a memorable gathering.

Party season is all year round

It will happen sooner or later: the friendly multi-family cookout invite, the office party potluck or the holiday get-together with food. These parties happen all year round, and eventually, you’ll be invited to one — or you’ll host one. Want to execute your plan flawlessly, whether hosting or going? Keep reading.

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Potluck etiquette for hosts

Invites should be extended one to two weeks before the party, whether in person or via digital media. They should include the time, place and general theme of the party. Letting guests know it’s a potluck is imperative, as is any theming of the get-together. Also, include a phone number or another way to RSVP.

“I’ve figured out that asking guests to bring specific dishes makes for a more interesting potluck. It ensures we have a good mix of flavors, and everyone gets to try something different.”

— Jere’ Cassidy, One Hot Oven

Generally speaking, the potluck host sets the theme, and they should plan food to center the party around. Whether they’re hosting a pig roast, making burgers on the grill or having a pasta party, that information should be shared on the invite so guests can plan accordingly.

Hosts should also be responsible for drinks unless someone responds and wants to volunteer to provide drinks for the party. This can be a great way for people who don’t cook to bring something to the party. Hosts should still provide some basic drinks even if you get a volunteer for beverages.

Assorted dishes and appetizers spread out on a table for a potluck feast.
Photo credit: Yayimages.

You’re invited

The first rule of a potluck is always to RSVP. Letting the host know you’re planning to attend is just good fellowship. It allows the host to plan seating, plates and utensils, games for everyone and so much more.

Before you ask, yes, bring a dish. Better yet, bring two. A good general rule of thumb is to provide enough food to feed your family. Now, whether your family actually consumes the food you bring doesn’t really matter. What matters is this: bring enough food for five to exchange for enough food for five. Equal in, equal out.

What to bring is an age-old question. The invitation is a good place to start. Did it have a theme? Did it mention a specific food to bring? Did it state food was not to be brought?

After answering those questions, consider picking a dish that will be popular with many people. Things like casseroles, salads, finger foods and trendy desserts are always a hit. Does your family have a quirky food they enjoy for a particular occasion? Make that!

Don’t cook? Purchase supporting foods. No rule says you must make food; you only have to bring food. And chips and dip are better than a party running out of food.

Don’t bring any dishes that require cooking or last-minute prep. Stressing the host by instructing them to bake something for 20 minutes, then baste, turn and bake again, is not a great idea. If your dish needs crunch-time baking or cooking, do it at home and bring it along, or choose another dish. Likewise, if your dish requires chilling, such as potato salad, plan for that.

“I’m a huge fan of hosting potluck dinners and do so multiple times a year. One of the easiest ways to make sure your guests feel comfortable with choosing the right dish to bring is by setting a clear theme. Whether you choose a theme based on a holiday, a certain kind of food or even a color, this simple step makes sure your guests have a better idea about the type of meal you’re envisioning.”

—Siobhan Alvarez-Borland, Mimosas & Motherhood
A potluck buffet table with a fruit basket, appetizers, and wine glasses arranged for a gathering.
Photo credit: Yayimages.


As we wrap up our refresher on potluck etiquette for both guests and hosts, remember that the heart of a successful potluck lies in communication, preparation and a dash of creativity. Whether you’re arranging the gathering or contributing a dish, these guidelines aim to ensure a stress-free, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

By adopting these principles, you can contribute to a potluck that’s not only filled with a variety of delicious dishes but also rich in camaraderie and shared memories. So, the next time you find yourself on a guest list or in the role of host, lean into the joy of potlucks. With a little work and a lot of heart, you’re set to make any potluck a delightful affair, no matter the season.

Laura Sampson of Little House Big Alaska is on a mission to teach modern family-oriented home cooks how to make old-fashioned foods new again. She shares her passion for home cooking, backyard gardening and homesteading on her website and blog.

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