Would You Mind Bringing a Little Something?

Pot Luck Party- New Zealand

image via Flickr user kangotraveler, aka http://scoutabout.com/

For those of us who like to entertain but are on a tight budget, hosting a pot-luck party is certainly an option if your fellow party-goers are the helpful type. But with the lowered cost to the hostess comes a bit more work on the organizational side.

Recently we were invited to a friend’s home for a night of casual gaming. It was to be a pot-luck with a specific meal in mind, and I was requested to bring “something awesome.”

Granted, something awesome is not all that hard to achieve, but it was a little vague and it took a lot of back and forth to determine what she really wanted (or, rather, needed) us to bring.

This got me thinking. Which, of course, got me writing, and I’ve come up with some helpful (I hope) guidelines for hosting a pot-luck party of your own. Some might seem pretty common sense, but you might be surprised at how many would say ‘oh, I hadn’t thought of that’.

Start With a List

It doesn’t have to be a long list, just things like how many people you’re invited, how much food will be needed, and is there a theme to the meal or gathering, that sort of thing.

Know Your Guests Strengths

Does someone on your guest list have a specialty that everyone loves? Play to their strengths as ask them to bring that!  On the other hand, if someone isn’t much of a cook, paper products, ice or drinks are always good options for them to bring; these options are also good for folks coming straight from work or some other event. People are busy and, really, most don’t want to show up to a pot-luck empty handed.

Assign Tasks or Items

Don’t be vague, be specific! It’s like a guy asking ‘would you like to go out sometime’ instead of ‘would you like to go out Friday night at 7’, the first generates a vague response, the second an easy yes/no. Once you know what you need, and know what your friends are capable of, time and talent-wise, make your requests. If you’re providing the main course, ask for a side dish (or a salad, casserole, or appetizer); you can even be ingredient-specific (a green vegetable, something starchy).

And it doesn’t hurt to ask your guests in a sequence, giving the earlier ask-ees the option of bringing A or B and then narrowing down the list as you go.

Plan Ahead

If you call up (or email) your guests only 4 days before, you run the risk of some having prior committments or just not being able to fully participate. Give at least a week’s heads up or, if you know your friends are the very busy type, 2 to be on the safe side.

Follow Up

If you email or send written notes (a charming habit that many have forgotten about, a little hand-written note on nice paper is fun to get in the mail amidst the bills and fliers usually in the box), set a date you want to hear back by and, if you haven’t heard back by then, follow up!

This happened with this last party, I replied to her email twice with questions but the hostess never got my responses, so when I texted her the day before the party a bit flustered (okay, more than a bit) it was a bit awkward on all sides. If you haven’t heard from someone by your drop-dead date, call them up (or check your spam folder) to see if you missed their reply.

Pot luck parties can mean more frequent entertaining and are great for a group that meets regularly in one spot. By being the organized hostess, though, the party gets the benefit of flowing as smoothly as if you’d done everything yourself.