How to Plan a Summer Potluck

Katie Workman - Discover, a blog by World Market

You’re ready for those summer gatherings — MORE than ready. Maybe you’re hosting, maybe you’re heading to a friend’s house. Either way, in this day and age, potluck is the name of the game.

But why should one person take on all of the work? Even the most willing and experienced host is happy to share the load when the goal is to hang with friends and keep the vibe nice and easy.

Potluck to the People

If you are hosting, make a list of the types of dishes you want to offer, and assign them out.  They key is not to be too specific or too general. Telling a friend to bring a papaya, mango and mint salsa seems a bit bossy. Telling them to bring an appetizer might be too loose. Having a basic menu and some guidepost suggestions for what foods will go together well is helpful. But, above all, the KISS rule always applies: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Here’s how to plan a summer potluck:

  • Start by picking a theme of sorts: Mediterranean, All-American, Caribbean, Tapas, or the 80’s.
  • Find out if you have guests with allergies, or food restrictions (such as vegetarian), and ask everyone to include these factors in their dish choices.
  • If you want people to bring food in their own serving platters and provide serving utensils, let them know.
  • Ask if anyone needs counter space, fridge space, or time with the oven. (And if you are bringing a dish, and you know you need some space for some last-minute assembly or heating, make sure to tell your host.)
  • If your fridge space is limited, have a cooler on hand with extra ice.
  • Let people who are coming from afar, or who are not comfortable cooking, bring beverages, chips and salsa, or a store-bought dessert.

Here is a sample ultra-classic, very accessible, and flexible menu to get you started. You can take this basic concept, layer on a theme, and divvy up the dishes:

  • Chips, salsa, dips, guacamole
  • Crudités
  • Vegetable Side Dish
  • Green Salad (dressing on the side, toss just before serving)
  • Grilled Marinated or BBQ Chicken
  • Corn
  • Pasta, Potato or Grain Salad
  • Pie or tart
  • Brownies

To ferry things to and fro, this summer I am highly indebted to this stripey insulated collapsible carrying container, this classic handwoven picnic basket, and this shiny and glamorous aqua drink cooler, which I wish I could use as a handbag, I love it so. Colorful melamine glasses are an outdoor hostess’s best friend.

Recently, I was put in charge of an appetizer and a dessert for a potluck party, and I decided on a chilled grilled corn chowder and a lemon curd and blueberry tart. The chowder was brought in these clear weck jars, already chilled, and served up in plastic cups with plastic spoons. I brought the cooled lemon curd filled tart, with blueberries and the whipped cream on the side, and assembled it right before serving. I think we will be invited back.


Get the recipe: Corn Chowder


Get the recipe: Blueberry Tart 


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