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Potluck planning is just like arranging any event with multiple attendees. It can be painless, or it can feel like herding cats. The key is organization and staying on top of details. Planning a potluck party requires a bit more coordinating than a simple get-together, but if you approach it with a plan in mind, can result in a fabulous get-together!

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Step 1: The Basics

Who, what, when, where, why? Those are the basic questions that start the planning for any potluck (or event in general, for that matter). Once you've answered those, it's just a matter of organizing, planning, delegating, staying organized, and getting on with the show.

Step 2: Getting Organized

WHO'S attending? Make a list. Write it by hand, put it on the computer, make a spreadsheet, put it on your smartphone, a whiteboard, whatever. But write it down and keep it in a place where it won't get lost and you'll be able to refer back to it regularly. And keep in mind that it's going to be constantly changing, especially in the early stages.

WHAT is it? Potluck dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? Tailgate party? Picnic? Wedding? Whatever it is, put that at the top of the list.

WHEN is it? Do you have a specific date or will it change based on the availability of the attendees? Once you set a date, write it at the top of the list, along with the start (and end, if applicable) time.

WHERE will it be? Your house? Someone else's? Another place? Get the location firmed up, then add it at the top of the list.

WHY are you having it? Don't write this down, but keep it in mind when you're thinking of the next step.

Planning Apps Help You Stay Organized:


Step 3: Details, Details, Details

Now it's tme to think about the details. Which is to say, the food and who's bringing what. Start another list (or sheet in a spreadsheet) - this will become your "working list". Do not use the original sheet, which is going to become your "things taken care of so far" list. You'll need to refer to both at once sometimes as you plan!

  • Based on WHAT your event is, think about the food. Set up general categories and put those on the new list. For example, if it's a potluck dinner, your categories may be: Appetizer, Salad, Entree, Side Dish, Dessert, Drinks, Napkins, Utensils. Then add two more categories: setup and cleanup. Make sure to leave plenty of space in between the items, you'll need it in a later step!

  • coordinating potluck dinners
  • Will there be children at the event? This is the time to think about a separate kid's menu. If you need one, add categories accordingly.

  • This is a good stage to stop and think about if you want to ask someone to help with the planning/arranging as their contribution.

  • Now go through the attendees list and see if anyone jumps out at you for a particular category. Add their name under it, and put a check next to their name on the attendees list. (Hint: writing in pencil is a good idea at this stage.)

  • Once you've got the "obvious" ones done, go back and slot people into the rest of the categories.

  • Start contacting people and seeing how they feel about your category suggestions. Once they've okay's the time, date and place for attending and agreed to what they're bringing, put what they're bringing on the "final" list and cross that information off the "working" list.

  • Adjust/update the list as needed until everything on the "working" list is covered.

Step 4: Staying Organized

Keep on top of the food list and any changes. The trick is to never panic at changes, just adapt the plan so that things still fit.

Step 5: Enjoying the event

If you stay on top of the details, things should fall into place fairly easily as the event approaches. If you get into the habit of not letting changing details fluster you, you should be able to enjoy your company and the food when the time comes.

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