A family sharing a meal.

Nothing says a rollicking good time more than the classic combination of friends and food. But going out to eat can be expensive. And with inflation driving up the cost of food — the greatest year-over-year increase since 1982, in fact — it might be time to consider an old-fashioned potluck. They’re fun and budget-friendly!

Whether it’s for your tight-knit friend group, co-workers, family or sports club, you’ll need to have a plan in place to ensure a great party. So, here are some tips on how to organize a potluck.

Picture the event in detail

Before you send out invites and get a food sign-up sheet going, envision what kind of potluck you’d like it to be. Will there be a specific theme? How many people might attend? Will it be in your backyard, a park or another location? If it’s outdoors, what do you anticipate the weather will be like? Run your ideas by a friend or family member if you think you need a second opinion. Nailing down the main details of your bash before sending out an invite means less hassle down the line.

Create the invitation

When you’re creating the invite, detail is key. Besides the basics such as the date, time and location, include the following info:

  • Potluck theme
  • Food suggestions and requests
  • If there’s a cap on the number of people in attendance
  • Whether the people invited can bring a guest
  • Vaccination or mask policy (if any)
  • Whether kids and pets are allowed
  • Parking tips
  • Notes on accessibility (Are there stairs? Are bathrooms wheelchair friendly?)
  • A place to note food allergies or dietary restrictions

Create a sign-up sheet thread for food

You can ask your guests what they’d like to bring. Alternatively, you may want to consider assigning attendees to a food category, such as salads, non-meat dishes or desserts, so you don’t end up with, say, six lasagnas and one fruit salad. Also, assuming that everyone will bring enough for the potluck or not being clear with expectations can lead to last-minute scurrying to the market in a mad grab for supplies and food. As they say, the devil is in the details, so you’ll want to specify:

  • Roughly how large a dish should be (e.g., enough for 6-8 servings)
  • The need for an ingredient list for those with dietary restrictions
  • Whether alcoholic drinks are allowed (this is especially important if you’re holding it at a local park or other public space)
  • Available food safety resources like reheating and refrigeration

Beyond food, consider asking people to bring:

  • Silverware, cups and napkins
  • Beverages
  • Folding tables and chairs
  • Music requests or lawn games

Stock up on supplies ahead of time

A few days before your potluck, load up on supplies. This might be the food you’ve committed to providing, utensils, cups, napkins and libations. You can check out our website or app for promo codes, coupons and cash back from your favorite grocery stores. You can search for deals based on category, whether it’s food, beverages or household items.

If you’re planning on making two trips, consider purchasing items with a longer shelf life first — think utensils, tablecloths, drinks and nonperishable snacks. Then, for your second trip, you can purchase any dairy products, produce or meat.

Give prizes for “best of” food dishes

Ramp up the fun factor by doing a contest centered around a theme. Give a small gift card or fun food prize, like hot sauce or wine, to whoever can come up with the tastiest nonalcoholic beverage or signature dessert. Whether you’re organizing a potluck that’s tropical themed, centered around a holiday, or based on shared interests for your hiking group or neighborhood dog owners, voting on a fun competition can get everyone talking.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting together

While you might be tempted to pull out all the stops and go a bit overboard with the food and small touches, remember that it’s all about the people, the camaraderie and creating memories.

Trying to figure out how to organize a potluck doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. With a bit of planning and resourcefulness, you can come up with a potluck setup that’s easy and delicious.