hosting a potluck (are there rules?)

When hosting a potluck is there an unwritten rule about who provides the main dish? I've always done so -- it seems the gracious thing to do --- and then let my guests provide sides, dessert, appetizers, etc. Recently I've been invited to potlucks and have been asked to bring the main dish (after all the side dishes were spoken for). This feels a bit rude to me (I didn't offer) but I wonder if I'm just getting crotchety in my old age, or what? I think the host should provide the main... what do my fellow 52rs think?



SKK May 15, 2012
For clarity, here is the etymology of a pot-luck - straight from Wikipedia. Also, the distinction is made clearly between pot-luck and progressive dinners (moving from home to home for each course) and Rota dinners where participants take turns preparing a meal for the whole group.

Been loving this question and the responses.

Etymology of PotLuck

The word pot-luck appears in 16th century England, in the work of Thomas Nashe, and was there used to mean "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot". The sense "communal meal, where guests bring their own food", appears to have originated in the late 19th century or early 20th century ,USA, particularly in the Western United States, either by influence from potlatch or possibly by extension of traditional sense of "luck of the pot".
To the Irish, a potluck was a meal with no particular menu. Everyone participating brought a dish for all to share. The term comes from a time when groups of Irish women would gather together and cook dinner. They only had one pot so they cooked the meal together with whatever ingredients they happened to have that day.
Panfusine May 15, 2012
The luck in potluck is supposed to describe what the whole concept is about right?? everyone bring is whatever they feel is their signature dish & everyone has a good time (although personally as a host, I do like to make 3-4 dishes myself and provide the beverages). I'll assume the best case scenario as Drbabs put it, perhaps everyone looks fwd to your food and you're being assigned the honor of providing the main dish.
babytiger May 15, 2012
The definition of pot luck is that you bring people bring what they want. If you define what people have to bring, be it mains or sides, it's not really a pot luck in its true sense.

Having said that, it is really up to the person hosting it to decide how s/he wants to run the pot luck. If you choose to provide the main for your pot luck, that's totally fine. But it's almost rude to expect other people to have to run it the same way you do.
cranberry May 15, 2012
I'm with you that the host provides the main dish. However, I un-potluck these days because ever since we moved westward, the potluck etiquette is very different (in more ways than just the main dish question) and between that and everyone's food avoidances they are not much fun for me. I strongly prefer a planned dinner party with a smaller group.
susan G. May 14, 2012
When I hosted a potluck for the food52 book debut, I asked people to let me know what they planned to bring. I saw my role as filling in for any weak spots left by the others. That leaves the guests free to bring what they chose -- isn't that what the word "potluck" means?
Sam1148 May 14, 2012
The whole point of a pot luck is many dishes. Yeah, probably not all that great if everyone brings a tossed salad. But that's rarely a problem with a good crowd. You can have "main dishes" of baked ham, BBQ ribs, Fried Chicken, Meatballs, etc..etc; and many salads like corn salads, bean salad, pasta salads, other things like casseroles..homemade breads, pies, cookies, cakes..etc. .and none of those thing would feed the entire group on their own as a 'dish'.
A tasting menu---I'd think the coordinating would be not have multiple green salads, baked beans, etc.
IMHO a pot luck isn't a progressive dinner party where it's controlled or micro managed.

That said my favorite quick and easy potluck dish is a shrimp broil..with corn on cob cut into thirds, sausages cut up, and new potatoes. Use Zatarains 'crab boil' (the bag kind) with salted water, a beer or two in salted water, and lemon cut in half in the boiling water; cook..(add sausage first, then potatoes, and then corn and then shrimp) and dump the drained finished stuff out in a big bowl lined with news paper, with butter, fresh lemon wedges, and cocktail sauce on the side. (okay use some acid free hand crafted art paper if news paper gives you the willies).

Louisa May 14, 2012
Our family did a progressive walking potluck for Christmas dinner this year, and it was lots of fun. My parents hosted the appetizers, we had the main course and my brother's family was dessert. We have a large extended family and people just dropped off the dish/course of their choice beforehand, and it all worked out. We're doing it again this year.
Sam1148 May 14, 2012
Yeah, I'd think it would be a bit, if not rude, but some pretty big expectations there. Also, I agree with SKK there shouldn't be any 'main' dish..but a many dishes to choose from AKA a "pot luck".

Stop by KFC and pick up a couple of buckets of chicken.

ChefOno May 14, 2012

Where's the button for "Most amusing answer"?

This was an interesting question because I thought I knew "the answer" but, once again, I find everyone doesn't think alike.

SKK May 14, 2012
A potluck here in the western part of the US is defined as everyone bringing a dish to be shared. There is no main or sides - just sharing. One of the many joys of a potluck is nothing is organized, other than the who is coming, and there are extraordinary tastings to be had.
Benny May 14, 2012
I haven't been to, or hosted many pot lucks, but if I were to do it, I would coordinate over Facebook or email or in person, and give out the tasks on a first come/first serve basis.

If MY friends would rather bring a main dish to my potluck, that's fine with me. I'll make a dessert.

The bottom line.... Your Pot Luck. Your Rules.

Voted the Best Reply!

drbabs May 13, 2012
We do lots of potlucks and the host usually provides the main dish, but maybe you're being asked to do it because you're such a good cook.
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