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cookout potluck etiquette

so, we decided to invite 4 couples over for a pot luck cookout, but now I am having diffficulty figuring out how to arrange all of this. One of my thoughts is to provide all the alcohol and basic stuff for the grill, burgers and kielbasa maybe, and also bake a couple of desserts. I'm thinking of asking everyone else to bring apps and sides. I'm feeling a little guilty not doing all of the food...suggestions?

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  1. It's a potluck. If others don't bring parts of the meal then it isn't a potluck. I'd pass off the dessert to someone else in addition to what you've named. One can bring an app, two can bring sides and one can bring dessert. Easy peasy.

    1. GG, I think it's much more fun when everyone contributes! And so many people WANT to bring a dish to share. My gosh, WHO can afford to provide everything anymore? Perhaps have 2 couples bring sides and 2 bring desserts? For our annual summer party at work, boss provides lobster...everyone else brings WHATEVER...it's always fun because everyone brings something very different. Just my two cents! Hope you have a good time no matter what you decide.

      1. +2 For all potlucks that were cookouts, I knew it was BYOB besides the wine or beer the host STATE they will provide, if they don;t state it, it's BYOB (hosts usually always doe provide soft drinks) So you providing Alcohol is right off generous.
        Almost all cookout potlucks I've attended over way too many (but FUN!) years say, we provide the basics: Grill, charcoal, beer, plates etc, hot dogs, burgers, Bring a side a dessert and anything else you might want to grill.
        HeHeHe folks just can't seem to resist showboating at a cookout potluck.

        I think you are being a generous host.

        1. The host should provide everything, and the guests nothing. You are already grilling burgers and kielbassa and making desserts, what would the extra expense be of an iceberg salad with tomato and cucumber. You could also serve chips instead of potato salad. You are 90% there, go the extra 10%.

          6 Replies
          1. re: normalheightsfoodie

            It's a potluck.

            1. re: c oliver

              +1 You musta missed the PotLuck part of the post.

              1. re: Quine

                I did see that the poster was wanting to have a potluck, but they were making the main course, several desserts and refreshments, all that was left was a salad. Besides I hate potlucks. Either you host a party, or don't invite people over to bring their own food to your house.

                1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                  -1

                  1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                    See dfrost's reply below (4/15 at 7:06). In my circle of friends, a dinner party where the host has the financial responsibility for a main, sides, desserts, and alcohol is just *not possible*. We are all in our mid twenties to early thirties, some still in grad school, some working their first careers, some still struggling in crap hourly-wage jobs. Not everyone has the liquid assets to provide all that stuff. If you do, great -- host away! :)

                    1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                      Whether you can afford to host or not isn't the only point, either. You dislike potlucks -- fine. But some people like them!

                      Potlucks encourage sharing of recipes, and you also have the fun of chatting with your friends to coordinate who brings what and what will go together well. It's a group effort rather than a solo one, everyone gets to show off their favorite dish, and no one has so much work to do that they can't relax. It's simply a different experience from hosting a whole dinner.

                      My thought is that the OP is trying to make too much and should delegate out more.

              2. Why call if a potluck if you're going to do all that? If it were me, I'd provide the grill and charcoal since it'll be at my place. I'd offer to provide one meat and a side dish; maybe one alcoholic beverage, soft drinks & ice. Then I'd tell everyone else what I'm providing & let them bring what they want. Otherwise, you may as well tell them it's an invitation to dinner & provide everything.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Cherylptw

                  Exactly, Cheryl. Either have a potluck or have a cookout/dinner party. One or the other.

                2. You are providing the main course so if nobody brings anything (worst case scenario) then nobody starves. relax and enjoy yourselves.

                  1. Heavens, don't feel guilty! Cookouts are great fun, and all the more when people pitch in -- more food and drink for everyone! :) If your friends know that it's a potluck, they are expecting you to assign sides or appetizers or desserts.

                    Typically for pot luck dinners I host, I'll provide the main course and non-alcoholic beverages (tea, water, lemonade, maybe mineral water or sodas depending on the occasion) and then everyone else brings a side or dessert and beer/wine.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      I agree. My husband's family always had several potlucks during the year. It was a good way to host a big party without too much expense. Now, our son and his friends like to have pot lucks. They are very informal plus most are young families on a budget. Perhaps with only 4 other couples involved, it's too small a group to be a real potluck but it gives people a chance to show off their best recipes. I think in the future you might use the potluck format if you are having a large group. With a small group of friends, I prefer doing the whole thing myself. But, for now, you stated it's a potluck and you are doing plenty to provide the meat and drinks.

                    2. I'm a big believer in entertaining. If, for whatever reason, you can't afford to do it or you can't physically do all the cooking yourself, you ask people to share the load. It's a way to get together - which most people want to do - and I've never had anyone complain that they had to bring something. We do about as many full-on dinner parties where we don't want anyone to contribute as we do potlucks. They both have their place.

                      If I were doing it, I'd provide the meat/fish/whatever for the grill, possibly one simple starter (in case the person with the starter shows up late) and maybe something else. For a cookout, you'll also have to provide all the accompaniments and condiments to the grilled items and maybe buns or bread. I always have enough wine/beer/beverages so that if no one brings anything we'll still be able to drink. Usually people bring, though. Whatever you don't use, doesn't go bad.

                      What I would do then is list anything else you need: two salads, two sides, another starter, a dessert - whatever you want - and let people claim courses. Once everything is sorted out, you can fill in any blanks yourself.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Nyleve

                        I second providing at least one if not all of the apps/starters yourself (chips & salsa, bread & cheese -- they can be very easy), so that you're not dependent on the apps person showing up in time. I've seen it happen where the apps didn't show up until everyone was done with their mains (some people just don't manage their time well!).

                        Farm out the desserts instead -- doesn't matter if they're late.

                        1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                          Yes! I learned that lesson over several years of hosting a large (100-120 people) pot luck holiday party. Host should provide some simple apps, and at least a modest selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, in case the person[s] assigned to bring those items are late or flake completely. The early moments of a party can be awkward enough without having to say to the first arrivals "what can I get you to drink? A beer? Oh sorry - the beer hasn't actually arrived yet."

                          1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                            It's precisely because the apps person never shows up on time that you've identified them as the apps person ;)

                        2. We're hosting our first potluck picnic so I'd like opinions too. We are planning on providing a ham, all the cups/plasticware, plates, and soda/pop. Is this enough?

                          25 Replies
                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            No, it isn't.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              How many people and what else are you serving?

                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                To be clear, almost all of the attendees are family, and all the holiday meals are potluck where the host provides a home, beverages and usually the main meat but everything else is brought potluck and the tables are always overflowing with way, way too much food and leftovers, so I don't think this is an unusual offering, it's just our first time doing it. Yes, it's a spiral sliced, ready to eat ham and we'll probably provide 2 of them. I expect 25 people or less. We are also providing a cake.

                                Nobody really eats appetizers or starters at these family meals, they aren't even usually put out. I've seen a store-bought relish tray at a couple meals over the years but the lid never even comes off - these aren't vegetable eaters.

                                It's just really depressing to think we will never be doing this again because we can't afford it - the whole idea of a potluck is to share the burden/costs of a party and everyone contributing something, I thought. We've already spent over $200 just on party supplies, invitations, cups, plates, napkins etc and then another $30 on pop, then it will be another 50 on cake and ham and this isn't considered enough? If it costs over $300 to throw a little boy a birthday party, he'll just have to do without from now on, we just can't afford it.

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  When we were younger, I used to put cash away in an Entertaining fund. It is certainly expensive to host a party but those memories are important - more important than a lot of things that we spend money on during the week. If you've got a take out coffee habit, putting just that money into an envelope would take care of your child's birthday party.

                                  Also, think about buying inexpensive plates for parties of 30 or fewer. You can keep them in the basement and you will never have to buy paper plates again. I've got a few sets of party dishes put a away - Pier 1 is a great source when they run a sale. You can do the same for wine glasses and collins glasses.

                                  1. re: Kater

                                    I can't imagine hauling stuff like that to a picnic site that's over an hour away, then packing up all the dirty dishes and bringing them home. We can't entertain at home as we live in a very small apartment with no place for guests to sit. We'd also have nowhere to store them, as obviously we don't have a basement.

                                    Entertainment fund is a nice dream. :) I'm working hard enough to even build up an emergency living fund! No takeout coffee habit to give up, no mani/pedis, no movie rentals to cut out, no iPhones, we just don't have that kind of fat in our budget.

                                  2. re: rockandroller1

                                    Your plan seems fine to me.. Most of my friends who had/are having park parties this year have done it mid-afternoon to avoid being expected to serve anything lavish. It's basically cake and very light refreshments along with all the other stuff you've mentioned buying. Since this is a family affair, it makes sense to make it a potluck and have others chip in. If other family members do the same thing, it will all even out in the end.

                                    I just don't feel like people have the right to expect lavish parties in this economy. Most people I know are like you struggling to get an emergency fund in case something unforeseen like a layoff or accident happens.

                                    1. re: queencru

                                      thank you! I believe the whole point is getting together to celebrate, not what an elaborate food spread the hosts provide. I love my son but it's no present to him if we go into debt $1000 on a first birthday party.

                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        It sounds like your family has an established way of handling potlucks, and you are following the tradition. As long as you know you can rely on others to make contributions (and it sounds like you can), you will be fine. $200 is a lot to spend on party supplies, but you will adjust and more than likely pare it down as the years go on. Enjoy your son's birthday party!

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          The First birthday party are more for the parents and their friends than for the kids. They will sleep through most of it anyway. They are one, they will not retain a memory of the party. I am a parent of two kids. My recomendation is to have cake with the grand parents at your home and allow them to spoil the kid. It is far more relaxing, less stressful and lower cost.

                                          1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                            As I mentioned upthread, we cannot entertain at home but I agree with you that it's for the parents and other attendees, not the kid.

                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                              Surely you have room at home for your parents and yourselves!

                                              1. re: Kater

                                                Don't bust 'em, have you ever BEEN in a NYC apartment??

                                                PS - KIDDING and OP, assumed it was NYC since they are notorious for being shoeboxes. Literally.

                                                1. re: Kater

                                                  No, we don't. We literally do not have anywhere for guests to sit, and there is no room to add chairs, even folding chairs (if we had any, which we don't - there'd be no place to store them). Welcome to apartment living. We have 1 couch that seats 2 people, that's it. The rest of the space in the living room (our only non-bedroom room) is taken up by a small coffee table, the computer, bookcases, TV, pack and play, stereo, etc. I guess we could ask everyone to sit on the very small bit of available floor space, but nobody would really be able to do that, they have a host of physical problems as they are elderly (as do I - I have a slipped vertebra and can't sit on the floor). It's academic anyway, as mr. RNR's parents will not travel up to see us as they refuse to drive on the highway.

                                                  And no, we do not live in NYC, just for clarification, but it's a very small apartment and we cannot entertain there.

                                        2. re: rockandroller1

                                          I think you're plan is perfect. I've never been to a potluck with an appetizer course that was distinct from the rest of the meal. We all just bring our best dish and dig in. If it's a smallish group we'll generally sign up for specific dishes, but if 10+ people are participating, then it usually all evens out. In fact, we always end up with way too much food because most people bring more than one dish :)

                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                            $200 for party supplies seems pretty pricey. I'm guessing you could find ways to pare that cost down in future years to make the event more do-able. If you bought colored paper plates, cups, & napkins at the supermarket or party store, consider getting plain ones instead, especially if you have access to a warehouse-type store. The difference in prices is shocking. Brightly colored, reusable tablecloths with white plates & cups would look great.

                                            You might even consider some of the reusable heavy-duty plastic plates that are available now, like these: http://www.amazon.com/Masterpiece-Pre.... They would not be that heavy to transport. True, you'd have to wash them, but what a savings to reuse them year after year!

                                            1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                              We did go to a party store and very little that we bought was "themed," it was plain, solid colors. We did buy themed invitations and thank-yous, as they came in a big boxed set that was cheaper than buying little packs of 8 - we have to invite like 50 people even though most of them will not come as they live out of state, for family "political" reasons. We had to buy everything though, as we have nothing - knives, forks, spoons, cups, napkins, paper plates small and large (small for cake, large for food), tablecloths, invitations and thank yous and then we bought 2 decorative items to put in the picnic shelter. We also bought 2 big plastic bowls for salty snacks as we don't have anything like that, I will put chips and pretzels in those. The tablecloths are vinyl and re-usable. And we did go to 2 party stores and found the prices were around the same. We do not even have anything to put pop in - I am emptying out two of my big plastic under-the-bed sweater storage containers to take for pop. With the supplies, the food, the picnic shelter rental, this is going to be quite expensive.

                                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                                I have used large plastic storage bins filled with ice for soda, beer, etc. They will work just fine. One tip, the ice does tend to melt more quickly in those bins than in insulated containers, so you may want to have someone ready for a second ice run midway through. Also, try to keep them in the shade.
                                                In the future, you may find that you don't need to go to the party store for the dinnerware - I would think their prices are much higher, even for the plain stuff. And those little plates can be particularly costly - it's okay to buy a big economy size sleeve of large plates and use them for everything. As this is the first time for you for an event like this, you likely want everything to be just so, but over time you will discover ways to make it less costly as you see what you found to be necessary and what you didn't really need. Take notes so that you remember from year to year. Most important, enjoy the day.

                                                1. re: lisavf

                                                  If you have any stores like Costco, Smart & Final, Sam's Club, etc. around, check them out for next time. You can buy large stacks of heavy paper plates for under $20, much more economical than the party stores. Even some grocery stores carry plain paper plates for decent prices. Ditto for plastic flatware, cups, and napkins

                                                  Brilliant idea about using the sweater storage containers for beverages!

                                                  1. re: lisavf

                                                    thx for the note about the ice. We only have the shelter for 3 hours so I'm hoping we can make it through without a 2nd run. Maybe I'll just keep the ice in its bag in a plastic bucket instead of spreading it out in the tubs so it will stay cooler longer, and people can just put it right into their drinks.

                                                  2. re: rockandroller1

                                                    To save some $$$ on your big plastic bowls, return them and use large brown paper bags from the grocery store. Roll down the tops, tie with a big bow and they look quite festive and are virtually free.

                                                    1. re: Sherri

                                                      Great idea, Sherri! But at least she can use those big plastic bowls, again and again, and again.

                                                      1. re: Sherri

                                                        I really can't picture chips in a big paper grocery bag, we were only going to buy one bag of chips, that would barely cover the bottom of a bag. I'd have to buy something to make a bow out of too. I'd rather just have the bowls to re-use.

                                              2. re: rockandroller1

                                                Depends. How many other people will be there? What are they bringing?

                                                Ham is... a strange choice for a picnic, IMO. Are you slicing and grilling it?

                                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                                  I don't think ham is a strange choice, it's nice that you can serve it at room temp, and it's probably just a spiral that's presliced, or maybe they are bringing one already sliced up for sandwiches. They are called Picnic Hams, after all.

                                                2. re: rockandroller1

                                                  If you read my post (above) you'll note that I've recommended (or at least I've described how I do it) that a potluck host provide one item from every course, more or less. Something to start - in case the starter-bringer shows up late or not at all; a main (ok, your ham); a side; a dessert. I also put out a certain amount of beverages - assuming others will bring, but not relying on it. It goes without saying that you'll provide all serving stuff - dishes, drinking glasses, cutlery, napkins. After close to 30 years of hosting potluck parties, this is the one way I've come up with that covers all the possibilities - and believe me, eventually every one of them will happen. The person who promised a main dish that didn't show up - or just forgot; the person who promised a salad but decided, at the last minute, to bring dessert; the person who brought a small dish of olives and five members of his extended family. I've seen it all.

                                                  Don't get me wrong - potluck is a great way to entertain. But you can't do it without assuming that the worst will happen. If it doesn't, you end up with extra food. If it does, everyone gets to eat. It's a win-win.

                                                3. We love having people over at our place, too, and more often than not, it's potluck. We ALWAYS ask for people to BYOB, b/c we all like to drink, and the worst thing is to run out of booze...

                                                  As for the food, we mostly provide the main, a couple sides, and of course also booze.

                                                  As an example: last time we had a potluck for a total of 6 people, we provided 4 whole trout, about a 1.5 lbs. of shrimp, grilled zukes, and assorted roasted vegetables.

                                                  Everybody brought a bottle of wine, one person brought a nice fruitcake for dessert, one a side of salmon (which we proceeded to turn into ashes, ahem), and another couple brought some stuffed grape leaves and store-bought pasta salad.

                                                  Maybe at a potluck, we shouldn't be making as much as we did, but we also don't like running out of food. And leftovers never hurt anyone, far as I know.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    I never ask people to bring alcohol, although they frequently do anyway, which is fine with us. We always have plenty of beer, wine & hard stuff, but most people always show up with a bottle for the hostess, which is the right thing to do anyway.

                                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                                      Well, we always have lots of wine and beer, too. But people end up bringing a bottle or two anyways.

                                                      We had a party recently with approx. 80 people, and had two cases of wine, red and white each, plus two cases of beer. No way would that have been enough, so we appreciated the people who brought a 'bottle to share'. Though now we still have red wine leftover '-D

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        Exactly, linguafood, I don't ask, but the norm is to bring a bottle of something, whenever you're invited to someone's home, whether it's potluck, or not.

                                                  2. I know a person who has "potluck" cookouts at her house who manages to provide nothing but her property and the grill.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                      LOL! We used to do that in college... BYOB and BYO meat! We were broke (and uncouth) kids, though, so that was SOME excuse. ;)

                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                        I don't think that qualifies as an official "potluck". But cheap, maybe!

                                                      2. thanks everyone for the feeback and suggestions, I really liked hearing what you think. I think my main objective was to get everyone together and have fun, it's been such a nice spring here in NE I really just wanted to have a relaxing afternoon with friends. I love to cook and bake and most likely could do it all, but I think I was feeling overwhelmed by 10 people (I don't entertain a ton) so this is an easy way to ease into things, and can start with a more fomal dinner party later...and maybe do the full cookout later in the summer! thanks again for the feedback!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: geminigirl

                                                          When my kids were on a HS swim team, we had a very active parents' group & frequently had pot luck dinners for the team + parents. Because the group was so large & the team members so ravenous, we required a lot of food. We had a formula worked out about how many apps, salads, mains, desserts & etc. we needed, and then people signed up for/committed to bring specific items. The host provided mixers, and parents brought their own adult beverages to put on a communal (and secure) bar table. It worked, and it was fun. I got a lot of very good recipies over those years as well.

                                                          If I host a pot luck style dinner now, even for big family holiday dinners, I always plan ahead & let everyone know exactly what I'm providing and then ask generally what people are bringing. As the planning progresses, I let people know roughly what we have, so we avoid duplicates or ginormous amounts of left over food. The biggest mistake is not keeping people in the loop.

                                                        2. My friends step mother once bought all of the familiy members the same cookbook and she would then tell them what they needed to bring to family functions.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                                            Hahahaha!!! The perfect passive-aggressive strategy, I love it!!

                                                          2. I always find it easier to do the food, just so everything is there as planned, and ask people to bring dessert or some wine or beer. That gives them an easy stop at the bakery or the store, and at the worst case, you know you will have burgers and buns to go with them. You would be surprised at the people who bring salsa and forget the chips. It happens.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: RGC1982

                                                              I have seen people show up to a put luck and bring a small dish that serves two,and think they have contributed.

                                                              1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                                                                There's always one in the crowd....