Organize your friends, your menu, and yourself for a picture-perfect feast!

By Jennifer Anderson
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Justin Walker

Gathering friends in your home to share a meal is truly one of life's great pleasures. But the prospect of spending the time and money required to put on a fine feast for a hungry, thirsty crowd can be enough to make you think twice about sending out invitations. That's why a potluck is the perfect compromise! You still get the satisfaction of hosting a convivial dinner party while everyone shares the load. If the word "potluck" evokes a vision of ten guests showing up with bags of chips, don't worry-here's what you need to know to get organized so your next potluck is a picture-perfect feast.

THEME PARTY (SORT OF)

When planning your dinner, choose a theme-at least a loose one- for the best results, so the whole meal fits together. Go with our Fall Harvest menu, or try a "Tex-Mex Extravaganza," "A Taste of Provence," "Childhood Favorites," or whatever catches your fancy.

Justin Walker

DISH OUT THE DISHES

Next, ask each guest to sign up for a dish. Depending on your friends' personalities and cooking abilities, you may ask them to pick a general category, like "appetizers" or get more specific, like, "crudites," or even give them a specific recipe you'd like them to make. Not everybody needs to spend hours in the kitchen to come up with a great dish. A selection of cheeses or a simple dip along with some good-quality crackers like Blue Diamond's Artisan Nut-Thins makes a very fine offering.

Though you can't control every aspect of a potluck, you can anticipate some of the timing: The friends who are always on time should be in charge of appetizers and the ones who are always late can be on dessert duty.

ALLERGY ALERT

Ask guests to inform you of any dietary restrictions, and when doling out assignments, make sure there at least a few dishes everyone can eat. Provide labels and a marker so everyone can label their dishes and list the main ingredients and any potential allergens.

Justin Walker

DISH UP

In a perfect world, every guest will bring the serving dish and utensils that they need to present their food, but it's inevitable that you're going to need extras. Sort the platters and bowls you will use for the dishes you're making as well as serving utensils. Then clear off some counter or table space for last-minute plating and set aside other platters and bowls, serving spoons, tongs, and cheese knives for guests to use for the appetizers, sides, and desserts they are bringing.

If you don't have enough regular plates for everyone, consider splurging on bamboo or palm leaf plates. They are sturdier and more environmentally friendly than paper or plastic plates-and they usually look nicer, too! If you entertain on a semi-regular basis, a set or two of small, stackable glasses is a worthy investment. They're perfect for both wine and water, and will serve you well for many parties to come.

STOCK THE BAR

Designate a bar table and set it up with glasses, corkscrew, bottle opener and a cooler filled with ice so everyone can chill the beers and white or rose wines they bring, and can also help themselves anytime. Considering cocktails? A big batch of punch you make ahead of time is the way to go for a potluck. Make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks too. Set out pitchers of ice water or bottles of sparkling mineral water so guests can serve themselves.

PACK IT UP

Have empty storage containers at the ready so that when the party's over, guests can leave you with leftovers if they choose and still take home their dishes. If you're feeling extra generous, provide take-out containers or zip-top bags so guests can take leftovers for themselves, too.

Inspired to play host this season? Check out our fall potluck menu and start drawing up your guest list!

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