If You're the Host
As the host, you do still have the most responsibilities for the party. Make sure that the venue you choose is comfortable for all the guests, that you have serving pieces and eating utensils, and that there is enough food for everyone. But all of this effort doesn't have to be difficult; it just takes some planning. When you're prepared for the party, you can relax and enjoy it too.
A theme always helps to get a party off the ground. It can be an obvious choice, like a birthday party or a holiday, or something more unusual, like a job promotion, housewarming, or the anniversary of an important date. If a theme doesn't readily suggest itself, think about having a bridge party, or a “Night at the Movies” fling.
POTLUCK PARTY IDEAS
Big Game appetizer party
Celebrate summer party
Wine and cheese party
Other good ideas include a party to celebrate your nationality, where you bring a dish prepared in your grandparents' homeland, or an All-American potluck, with a plethora of American dishes like macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad, and brownies.
As with any project, a party needs to be carefully planned. Make lists — lots of lists! List the guests you've invited, what each person is bringing to the party, the serving utensils and equipment you'll need, and a timetable for cooking.
It may help to keep all the information in a notebook or binder. You should have a guest list, the menu, shopping lists, timetable for cleaning and preparing the kitchen, and a plan for organizing the house as well as borrowing or buying any needed equipment.
When you're planning the menu, consider the number of dishes you are serving as well as the number of your guests. Each recipe has a general yield. Serving sizes may vary, but this is a general guide. The more dishes at the party, the more people each dish will serve. This is just human nature: if you're offered a choice of four entrees, you will take less than a regular serving size of each one.
A potluck party can be a gathering of old friends, or it can be a way to introduce people to each other. Since the party has an automatic built-in ice breaker, you don't have to worry about compatibility. There will always be something to talk about: the food!
Make sure that you don't invite more people than your house or venue can comfortably hold. Take bathroom facilities, available seating, and kitchen space into consideration too.
Invitations can be as casual as a phone call or e-mail, or as fancy as mailed, handwritten invitations. If you're throwing a theme party, the invitations can match to set the stage. Handwritten invitations, especially when created and made by kids for a family party, can be very charming. You can include the food you'd like each participant to bring in the invitation.
Be sure to request a response, especially if you've asked that person to bring a specific dish. If you want control of the party, include one of the recipes from this book instead of requesting a general category of food.
Put It Together
Once you've settled on the theme, the guest list, and invitations, it's time to start planning the meal. Sometimes the theme will suggest the menu, as in a Hawaiian party or a Christmas brunch. Other times, you may want to serve a special new dish you have created and have your guests bring accompaniments.
Compose your menu with your guests' cooking skills in mind. If one of your guests is a great baker, ask him to bring a cake for dessert. If another loves to grill, ask her to bring a grilled appetizer. Be sure to balance the menu for color, texture, temperature, and flavors.
RECIPES FOR HEALTH-CONSCIOUS GUESTS TO BRING
Vegetarian main dishes
Whole-grain side dishes
Fish and seafood main dishes
Low-fat soups and stews
Now you write, e-mail, or call your guests and tell them about the party. Make sure they can attend on the day of the party. Tell them the food you would like them to bring. Ask if they can make the recipe and if they're confident in their abilities. And be sure to ask if they have any special dietary needs or food allergies. Your party is on the way!