I'm involved in 1-2 potlucks a week, and next week I'll be the host. We typically do national/regional cuisine themes, like New Mexico or Japanese or whatnot. I'd like to do something a little more abstract, but not so abstract that people don't "get" it. So far I've thought of maybe a color theme, but blue is impossible, green would produce too many similar dishes, etc. I was also thinking of memories, like favorite foods from childhood, but there's a reason we don't eat the things we ate as kids anymore. I was also considering eras, like the Great Depression (too depressing) or the 1950's (funny, but not actually tasty).
I just happened to post a description of a "Jimmy Buffett Buffet" in a thread called "Musical Menus". Here is what I posted (The song "Salty Piece Of Land" is hard to get a hold of. It was included as a single when you bought his book by the same name. If you go with this theme I can email all of the music to you):
How about a Jimmy Buffett Buffet?
Cocktails-Margaritas, Tequila Sunrises, Mai-Tais, Bahama Mamas, Zombies, etc-Song"Boat Drinks"
Appetizers- Oysters on The Half Shell-Song "Oysters And Pearls" Conch Friters-Song "Conky Tonkin'"
Soup Course-Louisiana Gumbo-Song "I Will Play For Gumbo" Calaloo-Song "Calaloo"
Main Courses-Cheeseburgers-Song "Cheeseburger In Paradise" Sirloin Steak-Song "Brahma Fear" Salt-Baked Cod-Song "A Salty Piece Of Land"
Dessert-Tropical Rum Fruitcake-Song "Fruitcakes" Bananas Foster-Song "Banana Republics" Mango Fools-Song "Last Mango In Paris" Vanilla Ice Cream/Orange Sorbet Bomb-Song "Dreamsicle"
Ingredients can be a fun theme -- it can be vague (ie, all dishes have to include fresh herbs) or specific (like they all have to use, say, basil).
Shapes can work, too. I've been to a potluck where everything had to be round in some way. There was falafel, olives, a cheese ball, cream puffs, etc.
You could do fake-out foods that look like another dish. You know, whoopie pies that look like hamburgers, meatloaf that looks like cupcakes, etc.
I'm also a big fan of the food-on-a-stick or finger foods theme. Lots of room for creativity there.
I'm going to throw a different club at you: a book club. When I was in a book club, whoever chose the book hosted the meeting to discuss it and provided the eats. Lots of times the host would prepare foods that relate to the book. For example, when I had everyone read 'Falling Angels' by Tracy Chevalier, I did a British high tea (or something like it).
So why don't you choose a book and have everyone bring foods related to it?
Some that we have done include - Superbowl food, Greek (everyone wore togas- so fun), St. Joseph's Day (Italian), St. Patrick's Day, Tropical island, Luau, Southern Barbeque, Bastille Day, Crab feast, Mardi Gras, and Soups/Salads/Breads, Pajama Party (yes, everyone wears pajamas and we eat brunch food).
How about a breakfast theme, or fondue? If it's a very diverse group you could ask everyone to bring a dish from their cultural background. Or you could do an Iron Chef type thing and ask everyone to include a specific ingredient in their dish.
I love potlucks! Have fun with whatever you decide to do.
Years ago, I worked at a local bank, and we had a pot luck every couple of months. One time some of us thought it would be fun to do one that was all appetizers, or finger foods. That was a pretty popular idea, until a couple of the women proclaimed that 'the men' (officers and execs, of course) wouldn't get 'filled up enough' on just appetizers! And they put the kibosh on that plan.
I never did figure out how come they couldn't eat as much as they wanted to get filled up, just like they did at any other pot luck. I don't know if that excuse would fly these days. 'The women' nowadays (officers and execs,of course!) know how to enjoy a good buffet!
I, too, spent many years working in the banking industry and enjoyed many pot luck dinners. With regard to an apps only pot luck, the ladies had a valid point. First of all, apps are not as substantial as, say, a cassserole so it would take considerably more to fill up. 2nd point is that each person is not expected to bring enough food to fill everybody. With everyone bringing something, that would be way too much food.
There was never any theme specified; it was a given that people would bring their ethnic specialties; there was always adobo, lumpia, tamales, nachos, noodles, etc.
wow, 1- 2 potlucks a week. thats a LOT of food.
don't shortchange green. Everything from a stuffed olive appetizer to a green salad to chicken luau (taro leaf and coconut milk) or a chile verde, many kinds of vegetable sides, key lime pie, green beer (St. Patrick's day is coming) and of course the ubiquitous green eggs and ham.
My main hesitation with colors is incompatible flavors. I like flavor systems; I like everything on the table to compliment each other. This works well with cultural themes (Greek food compliments other Greek food), but with colors it can be tricky (green olives do not necessarily compliment green papaya salad).
Potluck themes have a rich history here in CH land. A search will get you some interesting Place.
I say color is a great theme for Potluck. As I have posetd before. Assign color and dish, such as pink/appetizer. Do a blind pick. Sure it is not easy, but fun.
You can also do things like :can only use a straw. Must ask another for recipe, and just plain, Your are 5 years old, make food.
1-2 pot lucks a week is an amazingly alot!!!!!! What on earth do you do?
BTW Purple main dish = stuffed red Cabbage\
My blue food was fingerling blue potatoes, boiled whole in skin (secret to keeping them blue) the slivered, quick sauted in bacon fat and a light sea salt once drained.
We've done several theme dinners and/or potlucks. I think the last one with some L.A. 'Hounds was our Mom-Food Extravaganza, in which everyone was asked to bring some family or childhood favorite. Plenty of pasta and potato dishes, hamburger casseroles and stuff. We've had Your Mom and Dad's Cocktail Party with party foods from the '50s and '60s, A Weekend in Spanish Harlem (multiethnic Latin), and our annual "White Trash (or whatever kind of trash you are)" party, which is usually a daytime-into-evening thing with appropriate costumes and stage props. There were a couple of others that everyone remembers, but which are a bit too risqué or in questionable taste to discuss here, much less suggest …
I was planning a potluck for this month as well and leaned towards a casserole theme since it'd be comforting for the winter and generally easy for most participants. Carnival and Mardi Gras would also be suitable for this season.
I'd agree that going with a green theme might produce too much of the same, but yellow and red could get you a good variety of dishes. Depending on your sense of humor, you could do a play on words and tell your friends to "Get Stuffed" and invite them to bring their favorite stuffed dishes (mushrooms, chiles, chicken, grape leaves, cabbage, etc.).
Decades are always fun -- take a look at gourment magazines from the era to get ideas or other ads....
I had a yellow theme before for kids b-day party. Lots of good yellow food.
Maybe use a movie as an idea - Casablanca, Gone with Wind, Godfather etc..... Moroccan, Southern....
Caribbean food. Luau food etc..
Maybe your favorite food from childhood - but modernized and made tasty?
City Theme - San Francisco, Santa Fe, Chicago......