15 Holiday Potluck Tips

holiday turkey dinnerThe holidays are here, and it’s time to get planning.  Check out these tips so your potluck party is fun for everyone, including yourself!

Create excitement about your party! Send an online sign up, which invites guests in a festive way while also soliciting their help with party needs.

  • Check out SignUpGenius for over 500 invitation designs.  You can pick seasonal colors, or upload a logo or photograph of your own. SAMPLE
  • Send out your sign up at least three to four weeks ahead of time.  If it’s a Christmas party, think about sending it before Thanksgiving. Get started now!
  • Set an RSVP deadline. Send a reminder to those who haven’t signed up a few days before the deadline.
Menu Planning 
Think about your menu beforehand so you can advise guests on what to bring.

  • Pick a theme for the menu, like Grill ‘n Chill, Comfort Food, or Christmas Favorites.
  • For one dozen people, you need approximately two or three appetizers, two side dishes, bread and butter, two desserts, one salad and one main dish.
  • To eliminate duplicate items, design a sign up with categories such as dessert, appetizer, and main dish.  You don’t want five casseroles! SAMPLE
  • Include a sign up spot for vegetarian items under each category.  No one likes to eat a pile of green beans while everyone else is feasting.
  • Put a tactful reminder on the sign up if a guest has an allergy or dietary consideration.
Thanksgiving fall potluck dinner party celebration sign up

Holiday Potlucks just got easier… SAMPLE SIGN UP

Food Safety
Rule of thumb: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, so no one gets food poisoning.

  • Clean out your fridge so guests arriving with cold dishes have a place to put them.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 and then turn it off.  As guests arrive with hot dishes, place them in the warm oven.
  • If you are using your oven and your fridge is packed, set out two big coolers.  One is for warm foods and the other for cold foods.  The cold foods cooler does not necessarily need ice because the insulation will help for a short while.
  • Put food away promptly after dinner so you can send leftovers home.  If Uncle Dave is going to swing by later, just make him a plate and put it in the fridge.
Enhance the festivities with seasonal color and holiday flair.

  • Use décor-inspired websites for inspiration, but choose only one “big idea.”
  • Cut greenery from your shrubs or flower beds.  
  • Use your child’s seasonal craft project as a table centerpiece.
  • Don’t forget a wreath or decoration in the entryway to set the tone immediately.
Want your guests to do more than just watch a football game or stand around the kitchen? Plan some interactive activities.

  • List cornhole boards or sports equipment on the sign up for folks to bring.
  • Set out a deck of cards and encourage guests to play a family favorite.
  • Try volleyball.  It’s a non-contact sport and many different fitness levels can play on the same team

Need more party  ideas? Check out our list of holiday game ideas.

Crafts for the Kids
The adults are stuffed from overeating and the kids are bored.  What to do?

  • Ahead of time, research seasonal crafts online, keeping ages of the children in mind.
  • List craft supplies on the sign up for folks to bring in addition to food.
  • Ask a bored teenager or adult to supervise the craft.  It can be a great distraction for family members who aren’t always comfortable at holiday dinners. 
  • Pick a craft that isn’t messy.
Special Touches
Good hosts and hostesses are always considerate of their guests.  Here are a few secrets.

  • Ask ahead of time for someone to say the blessing. 
  • Graciously encourage Grandma and Grandpa to go first in the food line.
  • If someone wants to watch the game but the party is really loud, turn the volume down and put on closed captioning.  Genius!
  • Borrow a booster seat to have on hand for a small child.
  • If a guest lives alone, offer a plate of leftovers to take home.
  • Wait a while after dinner before setting out the desserts.  That way no one leaves too soon, and guests will feel like eating.
Set Up
Budget your time the week of the party so you can do a little each day.

  • Prepare your food the day before.
  • Didn’t get enough done ahead of time? Recruit a friend to come early and have tasks in mind.
  • Get yourself ready an hour before guests arrive. Use an apron and comfy shoes until the doorbell rings.
  • Clear a place near an outlet for the crockpots.
  • Turn on music, light candles, flip on a fan or open a door, and stage the drinks.
Embrace Excellence, not Perfection
Holidays and hosting are stressful, so it helps to keep the spirit of the holiday in mind.

  • Try not to do too much, then rush around and lose your patience.  We’ve all done it!
  • If everyone is crammed around a big table, and the tablecloth isn’t big enough, that’s okay.  Those imperfections become fun memories later.
Christmas holiday class party volunteers sign up

Start a new tradition this year! Try one of our 51 unique holiday tradition ideas.

Too often at the end of a potluck you are left to cram leftovers in your fridge. Not this time!

  • Clean out your fridge before the party.
  • Set aside yogurt containers or Ziploc bags for guests to take home leftovers.  You don’t need that much food in your house, and throwaway containers keep it simple.
  • When guests leave, ask if they picked up their serving spoons and dishes.
  • If you don’t know the rightful owner of an item that is left, take a picture and send out an email.
  • SignUpGenius makes it easy to mention any items left behind in a quick email to your guests.
Labeling and Recipes
“How do you make that?” is the best compliment at a potluck party!

  • On the sign up, encourage guests to bring copies of the recipe if they are feeling ambitious.
  • For any dishes without a recipe, label the dish and note any dietary or allergy considerations.
  • Supply index cards for guests who want to share recipes.
The Party’s Over!
It’s tempting to overlook this detail, but after the holidays, be sure to thank everyone for coming to the party.

  • Use SignUpGenius to send a quick thank you email to your guests or follow up with the recipe everyone wanted.
  • You did a great job, so you get to host again next year!  No worries - SignUpGenius lets you duplicate your sign up for next year’s festivities!

Emily Mathias is a freelance writer living in Charlotte, NC.