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Entertainment Without Breaking the Bank - 5 Potluck Ideas for Low-Stress Entertaining on the Cheap

Potlucks have been a fun, intimate way for people to share a meal for centuries. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term was in 1592 and meant guests were invited to eat, but the host wasn’t responsible for the contents of the pot (pot + luck). Nowadays, you don’t have to worry about what’s in the stew. Today’s potlucks allow you to entertain friends without the expense or time commitment of a full-blown party.

1. What’s Old is New Again: Host a Traditional Potluck. Potluck means one thing: Come as you are and bring a dish. To hold a traditional potluck, simply pick a date and invite your friends to make a dish to share. To keep the party fresh and new each time, ask your guests to experiment making something unusual or show off a favorite family recipe. The dishes could also be seasonally-based with light vegetarian fare for summer, hearty stews for winter or a holiday theme.

2. Dinner Clubs: A More Intimate Potluck. Dinner clubs offer a sophisticated touch to a ‘bring-your-own-food’ gathering. Smaller and more intimate than a traditional potluck, a dinner club works best when three or four couples participate and take turns hosting dinner. How often you meet is up to you. The host picks the theme (Mardi Gras, Caribbean, Indian) and assigns each guest a course to bring. The host provides drinks and a game or two to keep the evening lively and fun.

3. Progressive Dinners: A Potluck on the Move. Progressive dinners are similar to dinner clubs but with multiple hosts and some travel required. This party works best in a single neighborhood or among friends who live close to one another. Each participant is assigned a course - either themed or freestyle works for this party. Guests arrive at the first house to enjoy an aperitif or appetizer and then move to a different location for each course. To add some fun, ask trivia questions at each stop with prizes at the end. Hire one or two baby-sitters to watch all of the kids at the last house and split the cost to save money.

4. Around the World: An Over-21 Potluck. Around the world is a potluck for your more wild side. This potluck includes multiple houses within one walk-able neighborhood. Each house is a ‘country’ that serves one dish and drink from that country (think Ireland with meat pies and stout beer or Sweden with meatballs and Glogg). The festivities begin in one ‘country’ and at a designated time, guests walk to the next international location. For a fun twist, create passports for each guest with funny aliases and back stories, and stamp the passport at each stop.

5. Feast of Friends: A Potluck to Share Holiday Bounty. A feast of friends potluck works well after a major holiday like Easter or Thanksgiving. After big gatherings, most people have a stack of half-eaten dishes crowding out the essentials in the refrigerator. Pick up some drinks and invite your friends to bring those sweet or savory leftovers to share with the crowd. Guests will enjoy some non-relative time, food will be saved from the trash bin and you will only spend a few dollars on beverages.

Getting together with friends doesn’t have to be a costly or a time-consuming affair. Open your home and invite your friends to share a meal, and you’ll be sure to find plenty of luck in your pot.

Janine is a freelance writer who always enjoys feasting with friends. 

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