What Would You Do?

Would You Ever Go To A Potluck Empty Handed?

potluck tips, potluck, party tips

I love a good neighborhood potluck. For a minimal amount of effort to make a single dish, I get to eat the savory creations of all my neighbors. But sometimes I find that going through the effort to bring something to a potluck is actually a waste of time. I went to one such event over the weekend.

There’s a family that hosts the neighborhood holiday gathering every year. The polite question to ask when they deliver the invitation is to ask, “What can we bring?” The answer is always the same; bring your favorite side dish, appetizer, or dessert.

When we show up, not only has every neighbor fulfilled their potluck duties, but the hosts have also supplied enough food for everyone. There’s hardly a spot on the counter big enough to place a new dish. Typically, at the end of the night we’d pick up the remnants of what we brought, finding that only a small portion of the dish had been consumed.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was just too much food.

So this year, we took a different approach. Instead of making a side dish, we grabbed a bottle of wine we had on hand and brought that over instead. Entering my neighbor’s kitchen, I handed the bottle to my friend saying, “We knew you’d have food covered, so we brought wine instead.” He smiled and thanked me as he took the bottle from my outreached hand, and placed it on a small table, next to half a dozen other bottles of wine.

I guess they had beverages covered as well.

At the end of the night, I noticed our bottle of wine had not yet been opened. At least I knew half of it wouldn’t go to waste, like a partially eaten fruit salad that a guy can only eat so much of for lunches over the next week. I thought about picking it up and taking it back home with me, but it felt a little weird so I left it there most likely to be consumed during a future neighborhood gathering.

I really didn’t need to bring anything to the potluck, as there was plenty of everything and my contribution wasn’t even opened. But my bottle of wine was the perfect compromise. I didn’t waste time making something that would end up back in my fridge, and I didn’t end show up empty handed.

Do you find yourself at potlucks that just have too much food? Have you ever brought home a mostly uneaten dish?

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I remember one man at work who was always at the front of the line filling his plate, yet he never brought anything to contribute. Not even a package of napkins! One time at the end of the day when the secretaries were clearing the table, one commented about the huge decorated bakery cake that was left over (party was for a retirement). Since it was a Friday, we knew it wouldn’t keep over the weekend and one of them said why not cut it up and send pieces home with people who had children. The guy was lurking nearby and upon hearing that he swept into the room, scooped up the entire cake and said “I have 6 kids at home who will make short work of that cake” and out he went. Everyone was speechless! So no, I would never go to a pot luck empty handed. If I couldn’t contribute, I wouldn’t go.

  • Like Kathy, I wouldn’t go empty handed. We always bring food. Even if there will be too much food, you just never know. I recently went to a potluck where half the people couldn’t go at the very last second because of bad weather. We didn’t have enough food for everyone!

  • There are always too many items at potlucks, you figure if everybody brings a big plate of food, the group of people would have to consume that entire amount and everybody would have to do likewise in order for all the food to be gone. Never happens! I think your approach was a good one, and if it’s a regular thing, you can look for other areas that maybe could use some attention. Another thing that could work is to offer services, like grilling if it’s a BBQ type thing. That doesn’t always work but creativity is good here.

  • @Kathy – that’s a great story…..I have to admit that I’m a lurker for stuff to be sent home with people too after our work holiday potluck. But I always bring something – we have a signup sheet so that makes it easier. When there’s a signup sheet, that means someone put some thought into how many of each thing we need so there’s less waste. Thanks for sharing that story!

  • @Michelle – Good point…you never know when unforeseen circumstances can limit the attendees and thus the contributed food. Sometimes it may be a matter of bringing something other than a food item too that can help out a lot – like plates, napkins, drinks, etc. Thanks for stopping by!

  • @Moneybeagle – Cool idea – offering services – I’ve actually done that by accident. I’m a huge griller, so when we go to gatherings in the summer I’m asked frequently to man the grill. Other times (usually family functions), I’m enlisted to smoke pulled pork or brisket or something, but they’ll reimburse me for the cost of the meat.

  • I asked what to bring one time, and I was told to bring Chex mix. That was before you could buy it pre-made. Well, I had never really made anything before, and I really messed it up. It turned into a giant sticky glob. No one touched it until the annoying guy (who, like Kathy’s subject, never brought anything, cheap as a skunk he was) got there and said mmmmmmmmm and gobbled up the entire tray of it. There’s just something about people like that …

  • With work potlucks, there is usually far too much food – BUT, we just go ahead and have the food the next day too for lunch. With neighborhood potlucks, I could see where the issue would lie. I would probably just bring something tiny.

  • One of the things that organizers can do the minimize having too much food is the give clearer guidance than “bring your favorite dish.” I’ll often go to potlucks where there are way too many main dishes. When you only have a couple main dishes and the rest are salads, sides, and desserts, there seems to be less left over.

    One of my fears as a hostess is that there won’t be enough of one type of dish, when specific things are assigned to specific guests, I feel less pressure to provide a ton of food on my own.

  • @PrairieEcoThrifter – it’s become almost a problem at our neighborhood potlucks…..next time we host, I’m going to tell everyone to think of what they’re going to bring…then cut the recipe in HALF. That might just do the trick. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by!

  • @liz – That’s a great idea….and one that we actually do at work for our holiday potluck. They have specific numbers of side dishes, cookies, soda 12-packs, etc, etc. Seems to work out well!

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