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21st Century Potluck Etiquette Question

Turkey potluck dinner; look, no aluminum foil! (photo: vincenthorn via Flickr)

[Ed. note: Although this post is too late for the Thanksgiving Day potluck, it may be an amusing and instructive read before the Hanukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa potlucks you’re invited to attend next month.]

We were so lucky to attend a delightful Thanksgiving pot luck dinner yesterday, with a dozen Portland men, each of whom brought something exciting and redolent of our own food heritage and holiday upbringing. It was truly extraordinary.

Clearly, our host did a lovely job coordinating our contributions: there was no duplication and every food group was well-represented on the dinner plate.

So flawless was our holiday meal that I was very intrigued to read the WaPo’s Carolyn Hax today, where she fielded a reader’s question about what might be the next iteration of the potluck supper: the recipe-driven potluck supper.

Dear Carolyn:

A relative just informed me that I’m about to get an invitation in the mail. Along with it will be a recipe for a dish I’m supposed to bring.

I’m used to calling the host and asking what I can bring, and I always bring something. Is this a trend and I’m just behind the times? How does one respond to such a thing?


Badger says this amounts to getting people to cook your complex meal for you: outsourcing specific labor by invite. I say it sounds a wee bit controlling, and discounts the wonderful discussions around the table about where someone’s beet salad recipe came from, or who first whipped rutabaga with cheddar in another guest’s family. I mean, what if my assigned recipe calls for a pastry funnel? Or a madeleine slicer, or meat grinder? I don’t think even our melon ballers made the move north!

Need I purchase the required equipment, or can I borrow it from my hostess?  . . .

Carolyn, for the record, addresses the form of the questioner’s response and not really the content of the inquiry:

When the invitation comes from a relative, and when the relative calls ahead to warn you, and when you pass on that opportunity to say, “I feel like I’m on the spot,” one responds, I believe, by playing along.

Sure, it’s uncouth, but who knows; the stage-managed menu might convert you. You can easily save your harrumph till next time, if there is a next time, but it’s tough to take harrumphs back.

So — what say you? How far over the ‘hostess coordination’ line do you think potluck managers can go before they are simply asking guests to cook THEIR menu? And, respecting Carolyn’s answer, what’s the best way to say at the outset “I know just what I’ll bring! No need to forward that recipe!”

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