When it comes to hanging out with friends few things can beat meeting at someone’s pad. There are no waiters to hurry you out. No loud music to drown your conversation. The food doesn’t come with a bill which makes your eyebrows hit the stratosphere. No Willy Winkies to send you home saying it’s way past your legal bed time.
Entertaining at home is not easy of course and sometimes can be a bit of a drag for the host. Arranging food for a large number of people. Looking after individual preferences. Cleaning up the house after the party is over. Yes, it takes a big and brave heart to be a host.
Potlucks are a nice way of reaching a happy compromise. You can still meet at someone’s place and yet not dump the load of hosting the night on one person. After all sharing is what friendships are all about as Hallmarks and Archies keep reminding us.
Potluck parties are those where each guest gets a dish over to the host’s place and then everyone shares these. Sounds like a great idea right? Well if executed wrong a potluck could lead to chaos so it’s important to plan a potluck well.
Here are some simple rules on what make a potluck work.
1. Planning, planning, planning - Discuss the menu well in advance. Is the group the sort that is happy in ‘eat all you can’ buffets or would it have discerning folks who might wonder whether rassam really combines well with pork hakka noodles? This will have a big impact on whether you need to plan your menu or whether you can let folks get whatever they want and leave the rest to fate
2.Division of labour - A meal has three broad components. Starters, mains and desserts. Ensure that each is covered amongst all those who are coming over. You don’t want to be left scrambling for glucose biscuits at the host’s place at the end of a multi-faceteed meal. Nor do you want to start your evening with Chicken Korma before dinner starts
3.Know your meats. - Coordination is key as you do not want to be left with a very unidimensional menu. Imagine a dinner with four types of chicken or three types of mutton
4.Segmentation is key- While on meats check how many vegetarians are there and ensure that there is food for them and you don’t end up with 4 paneer dishes for the vegetarians. Remember that while non vegetarians can eat vegetarian food the reverse doesn’t work
5.BYOB - Figure out what are the alcohol arrangements. In some cases the host takes care of the bar while the guests bring the food. Alternately if guests are bringing in their drinks then make sure there are enough options to cover all choices
6.Beyond food - Check with the hosts about whether there are enough plates, spoons, and bowls for the party. If not someone might volunteer to bring in disposable cutlery. Also helps to get some zip lock bags for leftover in case people want to take them home or else the host might suddenly end up with a mountain of food after the party
7.The dips guy - Not everyone likes to cook and sometimes when forced people get something like a chips dip or so on. Now it’s not important that everyone has to cook and get something to a potluck. Remember it is supposed to be a party and not an ordeal. For those who don’t want to cook there are enough things from starters to drinks to ice creams which people can buy and bring to the party
8.Hello Sheldon - Which brings one to the most important element of a potluck. As you have figured out by now, coordination is key to a potluck. You do need a Sheldon Cooper like control freak to coordinate in advance with those coming to the party on the theme, the menu and the allocation of responsibilities
Yes, planning a potluck is hard work and putting this time into it at the start will ensure that at the end you have a fun time.
Article and photo by – Kalyan Karmakar
Kalyan Karmakar will travel to any lengths for a good meal starting with his own kitchen. He is a consumer insights and social media specialist. He documents his food and travel stories in his blog www.finelychopped.net He considers it his life’s mission to give men the confidence to cook so that they don’t have to depend on anyone else to eat well. He lives in Mumbai.
Follow him - @finelychopped