How to Host a Potluck Dinner Party

Follow these tips to ensure your collaborative dinner party goes smoothly

Even the most-seasoned hosts would agree that the biggest challenge in throwing a dinner party is juggling all of the preparation. While it might seem that having guests over is as simple as sending out invitations and making the meal, it’s not long before the realities of cooking, cleaning, decorating and getting dolled up spur party-planning panic.

For novices, hosting a potluck dinner party is the perfect solution. Your duties are lessened when guests help out with preparing the large meal, and people are usually happy to show off their cooking prowess by bringing a dish. Keep reading for some fail-proof tips on how to host this collaborative party.

Pick a Theme
While a potluck is a great opportunity for guests to flaunt their skills in the kitchen, it's your job as party host to ensure that all dishes complement one another. For example, Tim might bring his signature dish — Thai curry — which doesn't meld so well with Beth's award-winning apple pie.

Pick a theme for your dinner party ahead of time to establish general culinary guidelines. Encourage guests to make dishes with seasonal ingredients or dishes that are part of a particular cuisine. The resulting menu will be harmonious and interesting while still allowing your guests to show off their creativity.

Assign Dishes to Guests
To ensure a balanced spread, you'll want to make sure you have all of these courses covered:
1. Appetizers
2. Side dishes
3. Main courses
4. Desserts
5. Drinks (alcoholic and non)

Consider guests’ skill levels and interests when assigning courses. You may want to entrust the main course to an experienced cook (or a professional chef, if you're lucky enough to have one among your guests) and leave the wine and beer to the eligible bachelor who’s never set foot in a kitchen.

Set the Scene
Since the food will be taken care of by your trusty friends, focus your energy into making the party space feel extra special. Decide whether guests’ dishes will be displayed in a designated buffet area or served family style down the length of the table, and get the area ready accordingly. Consider decorative elements like your table linens, centerpiece and dinnerware, as well as thoughtful details like place cards at each place setting and menu cards to accompany each dish.

And don’t forget about the rest of your home! Prep the powder room with a small bud vase, elegant hand soap and scents (like candles or reeds) to make the environment feel particularly special for your guests.

Send 'em Packing
This is one affair that people tend to overcook for, and while that isn't a bad thing, it often leaves the host with tons of leftovers. Prepare for the inevitable by purchasing plastic wrap and inexpensive disposable plastic containers (lest you become the victim of Tupperware thievery) for guests to package and take home extra food. Better yet, buy kraft-paper takeout boxes that can be tied shut with natural twine; they make a prettier to-go box than plastic. Guests will be glad to see their hard work hasn't gone to waste and can enjoy the fruits of their friends' labor the next day.
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