Posts Tagged ‘food


a little potluck etiquette

Reader E.W. writes:

It’s potluck season! Can you please write a post about etiquette for these gatherings? Not for me, for my clueless friends.

Dear E.W.:

Why, sure!

Potlucks are supposed to be a way for a host or group to diffuse the burden of feeding the group among the group’s members. That way, no one person has to do all the work. (That’s the goal, anyway.)

If you are invited to a potluck, be prepared to bring a dish. If you’re a good cook, it’s your time to shine. Prepare to make that thing you make that everyone loves. If you’re not a good cook, prepare to order something from your favorite bakery/deli/bbq joint and bring it with you.

If you are hosting a potluck, be gracious. Prepare something big so that if the people in your group don’t read my blog, you can feed them anyway. The world is full of mooches who don’t recognize their own mooching, and they probably have a great rationale for why they don’t bring food with them (I’m a bad cook; everyone else makes more money than I do; whatever). Appreciate their company if nothing else. The only thing you can do to a shitty potlucker is not invite them to the next potluck.

For you shitty potluckers who don’t want to get kicked out: You probably run with a group of people who do potlucks all the time. Think of the people who consistently bring good food. What do they bring? Can you ask them for advice? And can you relieve them of the inevitable “I’m the provider” fatigue that accompanies being the person who always brings good food to the potluck?

Here are a few good pointers to being invited back:

My potlucks never look like this.

Image: Rosen Georgiev /

Make a main dish or at least an exciting and substantial side. The problem with potlucks is that it is a diffusion of responsibility, so people don’t think they need to bring anything important, and you end up with a bunch of chips and salsa and 2-liters of diet soda.

If you’re really smart, you will contact other people going to the potluck and see what they’re bringing, so that it’s not a battle of the enchiladas or a spread of slaws. A great host will even assign you an item to bring, or at least a category of food to prepare.

Bring enough food for yourself and everyone else in the group. If you’re bringing alcohol, bring enough for you to drink, and enough for everyone else to drink. One bottle of wine? Okay, if there are only three people at the potluck. One six pack? Same rule. Bring more. And bring a variety. As a friend recently said, “If you bring a bottle of wine and drink the whole thing yourself, you are NOT contributing.”

If you have a food allergy or “alternative” diet, this is not the time to preach about it. Also, a potluck is not the time to try and punish people for not subscribing to your extreme vegan diet. Bring a dish you can eat and make sure there’s enough for everyone else. Make sure it’s something delicious so they’ll say, “Wow, maybe she doesn’t just eat hay all the time!” Be kind about it. Food is a tough subject and people are crazy, and that includes you.

Make something that is easy to reheat or doesn’t require reheating. Something in a crock pot is a good idea, or something that will maintain heat from your way over to the event (potatoes!), so you don’t have to line up for the microwave or oven. If you’re bringing a tray of something, be careful about meat and milk. Food poisoning sucks. Being the person who poisoned everyone at the potluck sucks more.

Also, be prepared to bring your own serving utensils, and keep track of your dishes. It’s a good idea to put masking tape on the bottom of your dish with your name on it. If you buy cheap kitchenware like most people, it’s highly likely they saw the same sale you did and stocked their kitchens in an identical manner. If you are a host, have extra utensils and serving available, in case someone forgets them. (Nothing quite like microwaving something in a tupperware container and getting melted plastic as part of the meal.)

Be prepared to handle leftovers, either by taking them back home with you or having your own tupperware. Your host may want to keep the leftovers, so offer to give them to him/her, but don’t just assume he/she wants a fridge full of other peoples’ food. Don’t expect the host to wash the dish for you, either.

Finally, when you do go to a potluck, try every dish that you can, at least a little bit. (“Can” is determined by food allergies or dietary restrictions, too.) There will probably be dishes that are preferred over others, and when you go back for seconds, you can have those. Just make sure you’re not eating so much that other people don’t get food, or so little that it’s obvious you’re picky and ungrateful.

Remember that the word “luck” is in the title of this event, and so what you get to eat is at the whims of the other people involved. But you can make your own luck by bringing something you like.


food issues

Reader J.S. asks:

The enemy. Image: Carlos Porto /

I’m fructose intolerant. It’s like gluten or lactose intolerance, in that eating something with fructose in it (like anything made with high fructose corn syrup or, say, an apple) won’t kill me; it just makes me really uncomfortable and sick. My problem is that it’s such a rare and weird-sounding issue to have, I don’t know how to break it to friends or relatives when they’re making food or asking me to dinner. I don’t want to sound like the needy, whiny, picky, weird person at dinner parties, but what can I do to ensure my own comfort and ability to eat without freaking people out?

Dear J.S.:

While fructose intolerance may be a somewhat new malady on the market, it is not one without plenty of precedent and good company. (If you can call any sort of food intolerance “good” in any sense.) Celiac disease (that’s gluten-intolerance, more or less, for you playing along at home) and lactose intolerance have certainly become more accepted and recognized in the food world over the past few years. Nowadays  restaurants have entire gluten-free menus, and there’s a “may contain milk byproducts” warning label on many foods. And let’s not forget the rise of vegetarians and vegans, plus those who are deathly allergic to peanuts — all have inspired their own walls in grocery stores and sections in airplanes.

What I mean here is: you’re not alone. And you should keep that in mind.

Speaking up about something that disturbs you is important, even if it may cause discomfort in those around you. Although the issue of when to speak up is fuzzy when that discomfort is intangible or emotional, when it’s physical discomfort, you have a right, nay, an obligation even, to speak up about it. Your friends like you. They want you to be comfortable. And they’ll probably be somewhat fascinated by your dietary restrictions.

So if a friend invites you to dinner at their place and asks what you’d like to eat, let them know you have trouble with fruit and fructose. You can do this tactfully without making them feel evil. Tell them that tomatoes and apples give you trouble, but you’re fully capable of eating around the grapes or the bananas if need be. Make sure to give them a good list of what you can eat in the category at hand — table sugar, sucrose, berries, chocolate, etc.

You’re right to be a bit hesitant about the issue when you’re out in a big group at a dinner somewhere. If you’re out with strangers, it may be inappropriate to bring up your dietary restrictions, especially in a place where you can find food that suits your needs without having to make a big stink about it. Besides, dealing with your dietary constraints should be the waiter’s problem for the evening, not your friends’.

But by all means, let your good friends and family members know your concerns. They need to know, and you shouldn’t feel bad letting them know. It’s okay to be a bit needy sometimes. You’re not proselytizing or trying to convert them to fructose intolerance; you’re simply expressing a physical need. If you were diabetic or allergic to peanuts, you would do this without a second thought. Just because it’s not life threatening, it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it to make other people feel comfortable.

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