Tips: Potluck Safety

by on April 16, 2016 » Add the first comment.
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Keeping Hot Food Hot

  • If you have a casserole, you can keep it hot by wrapping it in a couple of bath towels.  If it is something that might spill, use a towel that will not be ruined by a stain.
  • If you have a crock pot or hot plate that will need to be plugged in, it is YOUR responsibility to bring an extension cord, not your hosts.  A heads-up ahead of time would be considerate as well.

Keeping Cold Food Cold

  • You can create a double boiler cooler by putting ice in the bottom of a large baking pot, and then putting a steel dish on top of it.  It is even better if you can put a lid over top.
  • You can also simply place your item in a tray of ice.
  • Wrapping up your item in a towel with an ice pack works, almost as well as bringing your item in a cooler.
  • The benefit of the first two items is that they will stay cold even on the serving table.

Spoilage

  • This is the greatest fear of potluck attendees.  If you have something that used mayo, eggs or some other easily spoil-able ingredient, for God’s sake be sure to take adequate precautions.

Sharing

  • If you are a beer drinker, don’t bring a six-pack just for yourself – bring a case to share.
  • Bring enough food to share.  Don’t bring a half pint of potato salad and fill up your plate three times.

Food Choices

  • This is not the place to experiment.  Forget about your spicy chicken lips.  Stick with something that is a tried and true favorite.
  • People tend to bring meaty dishes to share.  Consider bringing a vegetable plate.
  • If you bring soup, don’t expect the host to have bowls and spoons.  Part of your contribution includes utensils that are probably not otherwise available.

Left Overs

  • It is a nice gesture to leave food behind, but it is actually not the norm.  Usually people will “help clear up” and take the food home with them.  Each situation can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Here are three examples that happened to us:
    • Amy is on a diet, but LOVES to cook and bake.  She made cookies and a trifle and brought them to our potluck.  She left them behind so she would not eat them and ruin her diet.
    • Tim is a single guy who brought baked chicken and fried chicken.  Only half of it was eaten.  I asked him “Would it be OK to combine them into one box.”  This gave him the opportunity to say “Oh, you just keep them all.”  His reply was “That would make it much easier for me.  Thanks.”
    • Tina brought a 48 pack of misc chips.  She put it under the table saying that she would bring it out if it was needed.  She then ate and left early, taking the chips with her.  This was just tacky.

Social Etiquette

  • A potluck, by definition, is a party to which each guest brings something to share.  An entree, a salad, a desert, or some other part of the meal.  Condiments do not count as a contribution.
  • You can, however, ask the host if you should bring a dish to share, or it if would be more helpful to bring a couple stacks of paper plates and some cups.  You should, however, coordinate this substitution with the host.
  • If you are told that you don’t have to bring anything, this is technically a dinner party, not a potluck.  It is still common courtesy to bring something.  A potted plant, a bottle of wine, or a loaf of bread.
  • Hosts: Don’t ask that guests bring a pot to share, plus a couple of bottles of wine to share.  It is OK to ask people to bring whatever they want to drink, but don’t be stingy about it.
  • Rather than being the first in line, as the food starts to come out, ask your host if there is anything you can do to help.  You won’t starve to death if you don’t get up to the buffet table in the first fifteen minutes.
  • If the host asks you to bring something for which you are known, try your best to accommodate their request.  If you can’t, let them know ahead of time.
  • Do not criticize food that you feel is below par.  The person that prepared the dish could be sitting right next to you.
  • Don’t pig out just because you can.  This is a social dining experience, not preparation before a fast.
  • Don’t bring something that will require additional cooking time without informing the host of your requirements far ahead of time.  They may have alternate plans for their stove.
  • Wait for everyone to have firsts, before you go back for seconds.  Frequently the host will not even get a chance to eat.
  • After everyone has finished eating, ask if you can help clean up – or just start carrying some of the dishes into the kitchen, following the example of your host.
  • Host: Be sure to return all of the CLEANED dishes brought to your potluck.  Make a note somewhere of what belongs to whom so you can be sure to return them.
  • If you can’t follow these simple rules and behave, just offer a reasonable reason you cannot attend and stay home.

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