Breaking bread: Potluck club tips and ideas

Nancy Vienneau

Studies reinforce what we already intuitively know: Sharing food or dining together strengthens our connections and makes us healthier human beings.

Why not start a potluck? My friend Gigi Gaskins and I started our own in June 2009 as a way to foster community. Aptly named the Third Thursday Potluck, we meet every third Thursday of each month.

Here are some tips we’ve assembled from our potlucking experience to help get you launch a community of your own:

Have a co-host

Two heads, and two sets of hands, are always better than one. Party planning and execution are much more enjoyable when you have someone to share in the work and the fun. It sparks the creative flow and broadens the pool of people to invite.

You and your co-host each have strengths, which you’ll target in your division of labor. Gigi is the designer in our duo, who creates the email invitation each month. I figure out food quantities and the shopping list.

Because we alternate the potluck location between our homes, it balances the chore of readying your place for guests. It also keeps the rhythm of the potlucks interesting.

The potluckers

Decide on how many guests you feel comfortable having in your home. Now push it a little. Not everyone will be able to come, nor will they be able to come each time.

From there, you’ll create the email list and e-vite. We cite date, time and location, and ask people to bring a dish and beverage of choice.


Since our potluck has always been seasonally driven, the harvest of the moment is our overriding theme.

On occasion, Gigi and I have been more specific. When Third Thursday fell on St. Patrick’s Day, “Everything Green” became the order of the day. Another month, we had Breakfast for Dinner, a meal change-up that everyone likes. Say it’s October, and you’d like to have Bavarian style Oktoberfest -- go for it!

Plates, forks, napkins, glassware

You may not have 25 or more everyday dinner plates (or dessert plates!) in your cupboard, but you can find them at thrift stores or discount warehouses for little expense. You can amass the flatware in similar fashion.

We like the look of mix-and-match.

Scout out places like dollar stores for low-cost wine glasses. Available everywhere, Mason jars, in half pint and pint sizes, work well, too. For cloth napkins, bandanas make a colorful choice.

An alternative: Ask each guest to bring his or her own plate and fork.

Cooking strategy

Gigi and I brainstorm and decide on a couple of dishes, one being a centerpiece to the meal. A good rule of thumb is to prepare a dish that will feed 10 to 12. For our first potluck, we made roast chicken, orange-fennel salad and pavlova. We figured if nobody came, we’d have a meat, salad and dessert. Our fears, of course, were unfounded. Each month, we are amazed by what arrives on the table.

Clean up

Yes, the ugly truth! But our guests always help with scraping and rinsing plates, stacking and loading the dishwasher.

Final words

Relax. Enjoy your guests, food and sharing. Remember, it’s no big deal. It’s potluck.