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Potluck dilemma

Friends are hosting a "taste-off" potluck, with four families bringing variants of the main dish, with a view to comparing them. The other (six or so) families were asked what they would like to bring.

Today I got the confirmation email - I am down for salad (as I offered). What I did not expect is that I am the only person making salad for a potluck at which 50 people are expected.

This seems insane and unreasonable to me - I have even googled "potluck etiquette" to see if I'm just being clueless. The standard suggestion is that one make enough to serve 10.

So, what do I do? Just take enough for 10 (or even 20)? Bring this up with the hostess (who can be a bit touchy)? ???

From the looks of the assignments, the hosts get away with providing just one of the main dishes. Not bad if you can pull it off, I suppose.


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  1. Well, with four families providing a main for fifty people it sounds like they're being asked to make at least an ample 12 servings apiece; probably a bit more. It does sound a bit unreasonable that you'd even have fridge space equal to storing the goods you'd need to provide it; so probably your best bet is to call the hostess and explain that you have a space/time/storage issue and ask if someone can split the chore with you - perhaps Herself? I don't know from potluck etiquette, but I went to a lot of them and it seemed like a large casserole or a big bowl of salad or whatever was as much as anyone ever brought or was expected to bring. This doesn't sound quite like a potluck but more like an assigned "cookoff" among friends.

    1. I would bring a normal-sized potluck salad and if you get pinned down by the host asking why you didn't make more just pretend that you didn't ever imagine that you would be the only one bringing salad or that you assumed she had it covered in some other way. (Wink, wink you only read the part of the e-mail that pertained to you). In no way should you try to figure out a way to bring a salad for 50 (IMO).

      1 Reply
      1. I'd call the hostess (no email) and let her know about a willingness to prepare a salad for "X" number (I'd hold it at 10) but that a salad or series of salads for fifty folks is somewhere beyond of a reasonable request. If she's touchy, you may have to deal with the reality and decide whether you truly want to participate or not. Frankly, if my "friend" asked me to do what you've been asked to do I'd find a new friend to share potluck dinners with.
        Well .... even though I prefer not to play games with this sort of thing, now that I've read JohnE's suggestion, I think it might be a bit more tactful. Ultimately, however, the choice is yours.

        1. The confirmation does not tell you to make for 50, right? The confirmation also shows that the other 50 people are bringing items, right? If 50 people brought 50 full servings, there would be a huge amount of waste. Nobody could eat and finish- or appreciate- 50 full servings of different items.

          Nobody eats a "full" portion of anything at a potluck; they take a taste of everything. Bring enough for you and to share.

          If you had been told verbally to bring a salad, you would not even know there were no other salads.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Cathy

            Everything was done via evite, including the list of families and contributions, so I can't plead ignorance on who's been asked to bring what. (It's families Cathy, so there won't be 50 people bringing items, just 50 people eating, with each family being assigned something). One poor soul has been asked to provide all the dessert. One family is bringing the drinks!!

            I suppose I just need to bite the bullet and call the hostess.

            Thanks for the advice - good to know I'm not barmy (crazy).

            1. re: Chatsworth

              I agree with the prevailing wisdom here. Noone can expect you to bring salad for 50.

              Just bring a normal sized salad and don't give it another thought. A potluck isn't necessarily a normal meal anyway. With all the main dishes people are bringing, people will just have more main dish and not very much salad. No big deal.

              1. re: Chatsworth

                How big is your family? Because, for example, if it's you, spouse and two kids, then it is in effect four of you supplying salad for fifty. Just like the dessert family is splitting that task among themselves.

                If I were in your shoes, I'd make two or three different salads, each 'normal' potluck size. And count your blessings that you weren't assigned dessert!

                1. re: Chatsworth

                  I actually agree with the person above saying make for 10 and plead ignorance, but if you call:
                  You can put it nicely. "I know you are busy so I thought I would call and ask if someone else is also bringing salad because I saw i was the only one listed" "Can I do anything else to help and do you need any serve ware or anything at all? Thank you for hosting".

                  Not even the grumpiest person can resist sweet and honest.

              2. Just to be a tiny bit contrarian here - and putting aside the propriety of the request, it's not that hard or expensive to do. I've done salad for 60 and just kept it simple - bought mixed greens bags from Costco, chopped a reasonable amount of fixins (chopped vegetables, perhaps some toasted nuts, blue cheese crumbles) and put them in separate containers, made a big container of dressing, and brought a big bowl and tongs. At the party, I set up the bowl full of appropriate amount of salad for the first serving, and either assigned refill duty to someone else (who was shy and wanted a job) or checked back periodically, myself, to see if the salad needed refreshing. It didn't create leftovers, but if you don't mix it ALL up ahead of time any leftovers will keep nicely.

                3 Replies
                1. re: rcallner

                  I totally agree with this post. My costco and even my local grocery store sell large plastic tubs of mixed greens for about $5. For that many people I'd buy 3. Really, people don't eat that much salad when there is a ton of other food. Then I'd choose a couple of things to add in - croutons, grape tomatoes cut in half, red peppers, cucumbers, avocado, nuts, etc (not all of them, just one or two). Put it in your biggest bowl, with a refill ready. Don't get overly stressed about it, just make the biggest salad you can afford/handle.

                  1. re: milklady

                    Thanks - you're probably right. I'm stressing about the amount 50 people could eat, but it probably isn't as much as I think, since the food will all be served together. (I usually serve salad first and people often eat a lot of it.) I'll get three tubs and extras, and if there's enough, good, if not, too bad! This will also be one of those occasions when I don't shell out for the best quality, organic ingredients.

                    1. re: Chatsworth

                      Definitely okay to take the easier and less expensive routes in this situation! You'll do great.

                2. For potlucks, I even often mix the tubs of greens with the big bag of iceberg lettuce with carrots and cabbage. It extends the greens a bit and I find many people still like iceberg salads and expect it in a garden salad served with dinner. I look at the blend as a compromise for all tastes. That mixture with a bag of the julienned carrots (they're $2 here) and some cucumber and grape tomato would work fine. I love delicious fancy salads but with 50 people? My idea of fancy would probably be serving croutons on the side. And with that much food? I wouldn't expect many people to be eating too much salad and some people will always belong to the "ew vegetables" style of eating. Having just attended a massive Christmas gathering with my family I was reminded of just how different my taste is food probably is from the norm.

                  1. After reading a few of the recent posts, I have to agree that a tossed salad for 50 isn't that difficult.  A couple of Thanksgivings ago I had a family member assigned to bring salad for about 50 as well. She had to stay home with a sick kid and sent her husband with their other children. He forgot the salad in the garage. It wasn't missed. Thanksgiving isn't really about salad anyway. (She was assigned salad because she wanted to bring something with the hosts expecting her to buy a couple bags of lettuce and a bottle of dressing but the previous year she set up a veritable salad bar. It really slowed up the food line). 

                    1. I'd make the salad denser: that is, use shredded cabbage and other vegetables instead of torn lettuce.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Karl S

                        A not so elegant tip - I usually mix large scale salads in a large trash bag. It's an easy way to get everything mixed and the dressing evenly distributed. Find a quiet spot where you can transfer the salad to a bowl - the trash bag is best unobserved!

                      2. I recently did an Xmas party for 32 people; they had a salad included in the meal (buffet) and after one large bowl, the rest as well as many 2nd trays of the apps were nearly untouched. They had so much food that at the end of the night they had to take home to go plates. I would do one salad for half of the number of people (In your case, that would be 25) and that would be it. Add in iceberg or romaine, some thinly sliced cukes, halved cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion and if you want to get fancy, add some thinly sliced apple soaked in a solution of water & lemon juice to keep from turning brown or some roasted seedless red grapes. Provide a dressing to enhance the veggies like a sweet vidalia vinaigrette, creamy Italian, etc. Mix up the vegetables together and don't waste time keeping everything separate. No 2-3 salads, you're giving them too many choices. Less choices will keep them focused on a few dishes and less waste.

                        1. it sounds like you've got perspective now, but just in case you were looking for a somewhat (and i hate to use this word, but...) subversive way to discuss with the hostess, i'd say, "hey, i was just looking at the evite and who's bringing what. i wanted to make sure there wasn't an oversight. it looks like i'm the only one bringing salad? is that right? if so, i'm a little concerned about how much to make. i don't know if i have kitchen space to store it, and/or how much to expect that others will really eat in light of the mains in the contest. do you really expect salad for 50? also, were you expecting frou frou salads, or just the basics? would a salad bar/buffet style work better and be agreeable to you as the hostess? i'm not trying to be a contrarian, just don't want to disappoint you, or mess up your party, as you're expecting it to go..." put yourself in the place of pre-emptive apology, and let her reassure you :)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Emme

                            It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.