HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Potlucks [moved from General Topics]

I'm wondering how others feel about potlucks at work. We have them once a month and each department takes turns bringing food. It think it's great seeing the different foods brought, whether they are home cooked or store bought. Some items are more of a hit than others. I also like seeing other people's reactions to the foods. It's really funny to me how our tastebuds can be so different. There may one or two items that someone raves about, but isn't so satisfying to me, and vice versa. It's also a good way to get new recipes and find out who the food lovers are. So tell me, what do you like and dislike about potlucks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I work alone in my office and have for 13+ years and miss the office pot luck. My brother's office has them from time to time and they have a rule that whatever you bring has to be homemade or you can't eat :-)

    When I lived in rural NC our office would have them and they would be feasts..and nothing was store bought.

    1. I think there was quite a long thread on this somewhere else on the board. Did you search for it? There was a TON of good posts.

      1. My office doesn't really have potlucks, but when food is ordered for an occasion, homemade dishes are always welcome. This year for our holiday party, we had middle eastern food, and a few people brought homemade cookies and pies. We're 60+ people so to bring a dish that would feed the entire office isn't really doable.

        Honestly, I dislike potlucks in general. I like to know exactly what I'm eating since I can be picky at times. It's kind of hard to ask people who made what and what's in the dish. One just doesn't know how the food was prepared or when it was prepared.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheesecake17

          I too dislike potlucks for the "fear factor" of the unknown, and my office finds an excuse to have them for 200 people perhaps monthly. So I instituted a policy that every dish is accompanied by a 3x5" card with the key ingredients and the chef's name to help accomodate those with religious, dietary or allergy issues (or who are picky like me). And having the name steers compliments to the right person and allows for follow-up questions.

        2. After working in the restaurant for years I then worked at a large Non Profit org and was the manager. We often had departmental potlucks. It was a lot of fun. However there were 5 or 6 that could cook and many that could not. And it was store bought cookies or potato salad. But the ones who could cook it was fun to see what they brought. We also did once a month or once every two months. I enjoyed it.

          1. I think they are great for block parties and home-based parties where you have a good handle on what people's cooking abilities and inclinations are. I have been to a few holiday gatherings when I lived abroad and found that the potluck worked wonderfully. Generally I think potlucks make sense when you live in a smaller house/apartment with a tiny kitchen that doesn't accommodate preparation/storage for large meals.

            I am not such a big fan of workplace potlucks. I think even if people aren't obliged to participate, they may feel social pressure to do so. What often ends up happening is that the people who aren't really inclined to participate end up making something terrible or purchasing a cheap substitute while others get offended that they put a lot of time and money into making a delicious and filling dish. Adding in the "homemade only" requirement makes it even more difficult to participate.

            I worked at one place that had a fairly strict dress code and people could pay a weekly fee to wear jeans on Fridays. The organization used that money to host a monthly luncheon, often with a theme. Some people were in positions that typically required professional dress, so no one was excluded from the luncheon for not participating.

            1 Reply
            1. re: queencru

              We were blessed I guess and dress code was very casual but still professional every day. Jeans were fine as long as dressed up a bit. With our lunch groups we offered it and it seemed only those who enjoyed it came. But as you mentioned too, we got some who just felt obligated to come, but overall pretty good turn out most times. Sometimes we did themes which was fun. Cajun, Southern, Texan, Chinese, BBQ, Salads, etc ... It was fun, be we were much more relaxed so it worked out great.

              But understand in some places, it is hard

            2. I don't like potlucks, at work or anywhere else. The different dishes don't go together, the cooking is uneven and sometimes downright bad. I'm forced to go to some, but I don't like it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PAO

                I go because it is friends sharing and having fun. Not for the food. These who are my colleagues and people who work for me and it is respect and a time for me to show them them we can have some fun and enjoy work. It made a big improvement for people to be more open. Have more fun at lunch, I started volleyball at lunch, walks and rollerblading at lunch and people enjoyed the more relaxed attitude. We all looked forward to that lunch. It wasn't about food. It was about friends and co - workers sharing some time together and relaxing during a stressful day.

                Grant it. I kept a list a people had to pick something in a category so at least we didn't end up with 7 salads, but ... honestly, some was good ... some was bad ... the time with my friends and co workers was well worth it.

              2. Luckily, we don't have them at my current job. I'm vegan and gluten-free so I would typically need to bring enough for myself (as whatever I bring may be the only thing I can eat) and enough to share. I also often have to go straight to appts in the community rather than the office in the morning so would have to have a good way for things to stay cold/warm and not spill in my car.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lgss

                  That is hard. I think they work for some places and not others. Good if they work for the group of people and the type of work or like queencru said. Block, large neighborhood parties, etc.

                  We used to hold one in our neighborhood but we had a list. 2 people desert and they checked off wanted they were bringing, that worked well for the most part. But still lots of fun with friends regardless. And some pretty descent food. Unique to some family recipes which was always interesting to have.

                2. Not a huge fan of work potlucks. Women generally have to do the bulk of the work and I think it can make sort of the "women handle the birthdays" sort of thing.

                  On the other hand, I have a group of friends that gets together a couple times a month and we do a potluck. It is usually themed (like mexi, or greek), the person hosting always does the meat and we rotate sides, breads, desserts... everyone brings their own drinks outside soda and mixers. We have a few vegetarians (of varying degrees). When they have it at their house, they allow meat dishes if someone wants to bring them, but they put out some really lovely and creative non meat dishes.

                  I cannot tell you how much I love those dinners.

                  Everyone helps clean and do the dishes.

                  1. I don't like potlucks at all. I always put much thought, time, expense and overall creative dishes to potlucks and I'm always left wondering what the others were thinking. There are always the drab fruit plates, the bland pasta salads, the sandwiches brought from some second rate sandwich shop, the stale cookies and cakes and an array of other curious concoctions that I wonder how and when they were made. I usually am starving after one of those things because I lose my appetite and can't eat anything.
                    The last time I attended a potluck someone was asked to bring a cake. She baked it and used unsalted butter, in the recipe, that was rancid.

                    1. My office does not do potlucks ( I would be scared to think of what they might bring). Even if we were to, we dont have much kitchen area, just a fridge and a micro.
                      I do not seem to get invited to potlucks or know anyone who does. I live in the city and most of my friends dont have cars, so i think it is cumbersome to trek to someone's house lugging a dutch oven full of chili or whatever. Though, I think if done well, it sounds like a fun thing and certainly a nice distraction from work.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cassoulady

                        Cassoulady, I live in north-central Montréal and very few of my friends have cars (those who do are VERY busy, and need to drive as part of their jobs) but we certainly do potlucks, and manage to get tasty dishes or supplies (cheeses, good bread, etc) over by foot, public transport or bicycle. But these are all people who share a love of food.

                        I find the thought of a workplace potluck rather ghastly though; don't like to eat a lot while at work and not really interested in that kind of socialising.

                      2. I love potlucks, but they don't really work in my office. People get all bent out of shape when people don't participate or bring store bought stuff (or the dreaded - "I'll bring sodas and chips!"). Here we usually do a potluck fundraiser for charity - whomever wants to participate brings food and everyone pays $5-10 to eat lunch, which is donated to charity. I think that's a good system.
                        My SO's office is much smaller (7 ppl) and they do themed potlucks once a month. It is basically required participation, but everyone likes it and they have interesting stuff. It's neat to get to see what other people eat and be (hopefully) introduced to something new. Without potlucks I would have never had cold pea salad or taco soup...

                        1. I worked at my last job for 4 1/2 years, had a pot luck once a month. At the first one I checked out there was a macaroni & beef casserole, 18 containers of albertsons potato salad and a box of hostess donuts. The second one I checked out about 4 years later, there was a macaroni & beef casserole, 18 containers of Wal-Mart potato salad (a WM opened in town since the last time) and a box of hostess donuts.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            I agree with akq & mr big for the same reasons.
                            I take the trouble and expense to produce something of quality, while most others bring some "home-cooked" item that looks awful, store-bought crap, or defrost cookies that have been in the freezer for two years.
                            I avoid office potlucks like the plague.

                          2. My work potlucks are generally pretty good. We have lots of people from different cultures, so we tend to have an interesting mix of food.
                            The best potlucks though are the ones that are themed, like the ones we have for book club, particularly if people sign up and you don't have 13 desserts and no main course.

                            1. I use to organize mine and made sure that everyone picked something and then I checked with them the day before to make sure they were bringing that dish. This way there were not 20 tubs of potato salad or 5 green bean casserole. Obviously someone may not be a cook and I always mention to those they can bring the plates or silverware or sodas or a punch. 10 yrs of once a month and we had a great time. And we still had store bought cookies or store bought dip and chips. But hey we all had fun, isn't that what is important.

                              1. A couple of years back our office potluck (sub-) group (largely of research scientists) was pretty good:

                                An Ethiopian (female) who made all manner of Ethiopian food.
                                A Colombian (female) who raised organic rabbits and chickens
                                A Colombian (female) who baked cakes
                                An Austrian (female) who made all manner of Austrian and German cakes
                                A German (male) who made hams, sausages, and smoked meats
                                A Canadian (female) with eastern European roots who could cook anything
                                A Nigerian married to a German who brought traditional West African foods
                                Various others
                                Various husbands who brought good beers and wines

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  You were blessed Sam! I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at one of those potlucks...

                                  The only potluck I'm involved with is our church's monthly sunday dinner. There aren't any particularly inspired cooks in the group but it's not really about the food - it's about spending some time together outside of worship. I enjoy the chance to eat some different food, and if half of it comes straight from Publix so what? That lets me sample various 'bought' dishes without having to spend any money on them. One month somebody bought some store-bought pulled pork. I'd been tempted to buy it myself before then but when I tasted it I really didn't enjoy it - so they saved me five or ten dollars! It's a pleasant surprise when there's something really good on the table, and I make sure to effusively compliment whoever made it.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    We had many people where I worked from all over the world, so I know what you are saying. One girl from Sri Lanka had wonderful dishes, another from Costa Rica, Spain, France, lots of variety so we had some unique dishes, but we also had the generic store cupcakes. Can win them all, but still fun.

                                  2. I only attend potlucks of like minded food-obsessed people. Otherwise, you end up bringing perfectly smoked and delectable babyback ribs, and set them on a table of 9kinds of bad potato salad and 43lbs of OscarMayer cold cuts. That does not make me happy!

                                    funny timing, we are getting a potluck together soon to celebrate the Nama season of Sakes! always a good time with each of the 20 or so people bringing a dish and a bottle of sake to share!.............thank god for cabs and designated drivers!:-)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: nkeane

                                      Yes, that is what our potlucks are. They are a way for people to come together and enjoy food and wine without having to prepare or pay for an entire meal. Some people aren't into cooking as much, but they know they have to bring good cheese, charcuterie, wine etc.

                                      I live very close to a métro station and most of the friends live close to public transport; yes a lot of us wind up over the legal limit but nobody gets so shitfaced as to need to take a taxi rather than métro or bus. We are middle-aged people; that kind of madness is a fond memory.

                                    2. Didn't have a big response until we decided to call them "throw downs" ! Works better around this bunch of competitive people. A theme or ingredient is chosen, and there aren't too many rules. It's always fun. The same people usually participate and we don't mind if a few just eat and judge (they have other good qualities).