How to (Really) Organize a Wedding Potluck

Monday, December 15, 2014

One of my younger brothers got married Thanksgiving weekend. His lovely bride requested guests bring a dish to share, andI volunteered to organize the food end of things.

Wedding potlucks aren't for everyone, but it's incredibly humbling when people come to a reception bearing crockpots and casseroles and massive trays of potato salad. The wedding industry is so out of hand that a potluck seems like a revolutionary act, and everyone who participates seems to feel like a revolutionary. Here, they say as they hand over a pot or a plate or a dish. We are with you.

Potlucks (potblesses, as I grew up calling them), are pretty straightforward in their chaotic order, but here is a long list of tips, some more common sense than others. Also known as the List of Things I Did to Minimize the Chaos of a Wedding Potluck Without a Crew at a Venue Without a Kitchen. Or, How to Organize a Wedding Potluck Out of the Trunk of Your Car. And a few things I'd do differently next time:

  1. Consider providing one or two (or three) main dish selections. My sister-in-law brought two crockpots of pulled pork, and I made a simple beef roast with vegetables.
  2. Consider asking everyone to bring a dish, rather than just family, or church family, or a select group. So many people came up to me and said, "We would have brought something if we'd known."
  3. Hire a team ("hire") to do the following: take dishes when people come into the reception hall, keep an eye on the food tables and remove/rearrange dishes as needed, pour punch/coffee/etc.
  4. Use disposable service, especially if the venue doesn't have a kitchen.
  5. Count on people going back for seconds and thirds. I overestimated the number of place settings needed, but better to have too much than too little.
  6. Gather serving items (thanks to my mom for this tip--it was needed): serving spoons, a couple serrated knives, a cutting board, a selection of serving bowls. I borrowed handfuls from a church kitchen, but secondhand stores might be a good place to look, if you're gathering your own. 
  7. Put together a box with tin foil for wrapping leftovers, paper towels for spills, duct tape, extension cords, garbage bags, and maybe even some all purpose cleaner.
  8. Test equipment and cords. Do this yourself, if possible, because:
    1. I made a 10-pound beef roast (three cuts of chuck roast) in a roasting pan that was fairly uneven in its heating. Later that night at our kitchen table, as I scraped out the last bits for my own dinner, I found a completely charred carrot alongside a delicious scrap of beef.
    2. The first coffeepot I borrowed did not have the percolator apparatus; the second coffeepot I borrowed gave up after ten minutes of what must have been valiant effort. Especially annoying after a major search for the right cord and what I thought was a successful test. Be thou warned.
  9. Bring along some sturdy boxes for carrying things out to your car at the end of the night.
  10. Eat dinner beforehand.
  11. Stash everything under the tables, unless there's a better place, like a kitchen. Extra punch fixings under the punch bowl, extra cups under the coffee (because you'll have a working coffeepot), extra plates under the plates, etc.  
  12. Start the coffee early, because it takes forever to perc, and because people will want coffee as they wait for the wedding party to arrive. Consider having two pots going--one ready, one percolating. (We didn't have coffee at all, see above. Dear, wonderful, absent coffee.)  
  13. Be prepared for the few people who need to set out their own dishes in the spot where they think is best. If you see someone rushing toward the food tables, dish in hand and an intent look in their eyes, let them do their thing. I regret not doing this.
  14. Unpack your car immediately when you get home. I brought in the perishable items, but still have a trunk full of I don't even know what anymore. I am very on top of things, apparently.

Keep in mind that the strange order of potlucks requires chaotic edges. It's just the way of potlucks.

And finally, if you are organizing a wedding potluck and are also a bridesmaid/groomsman, you are a little crazy, and let me just put the coffee on so we can sit down and exchange stories. Would you like a weeks-old cupcake? It's the last one, thank God.

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