Dishing the Love, Potluck Style

by Holly Minch   |   April 15, 2015

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When I attend a wedding, I’m always moved by the stories about how the couple met and of course, the toasts to their future. But I never expected to be touched by the catering – but a friend’s wedding changed that.

Tracy and her fiancé Jason, like most couples, wanted to be surrounded by loved ones on their wedding day. And who wants to limit the number of loved ones based on the per person fees charged by a caterer?

Their creative solution: wedding potluck. “We wanted our wedding to be all about the people we love being together in the same room,” says Tracy. “We came up with the idea of making the meal communal so we could accommodate more friends and family, and what we got was this wonderful extended family dinner.”

Tracy and Jason’s instructions to their guests were simple: Bring what you like to eat and want to share. They asked guests to give them a general idea of what they planned on bringing, but the rest was left up to culinary creativity. What they pulled together was nothing less than a community masterpiece, with so many people bringing delicious dishes. There was Spanish rice and molé sauce from Jason’s aunt and an amazing tiered wedding cake entrée made from vegetables, iced with mashed potatoes.

As a guest who didn’t know a lot of people to start with, the meal was a great way to meet people in an authentic way. The ritual of a shared meal puts people at ease, and so the food became a conversation starter to share history on how various people knew the couple. At one point I mentioned how excited I was to try the spinach casserole I had just scooped on my plate, and someone piped up and said, “Oh I made that!” What better way to be introduced?

While your potluck will be unique to your family and friends, Tracy did learn a few things that might be helpful as you plan your own potluck celebration. Here are her tips:

  • Kitchen Elves: Tracy’s aunt and sisters ran the kitchen, helping make sure it was a nice place to stage food and keep it warm. Because her aunt is natural leader (we all have that person our lives who likes to be in charge), it was a perfect way for her to give the best part of her self. Her sisters, who also prefer to organize behind the scenes, also got to participate in an authentic way. Tracy suggests having someone stationed at the door to welcome guests and walk them to the kitchen. Also, be sure to bring plenty of extra platters, serving utensils and containers, and to have someone keep an eye out to clear away empty food from the buffet table.
  • Foodie Cards: Provide little cards to go along with each contribution, so everyone would know the dish and who made it. “People were curious about what other people thought would be fun to bring,” says Tracy. So give them a way to show it off and kick start the conversation. Template blank cards can offer a space to describe the dish and note who brought it.

Like me, many guests gave Tracy and Jason positive feedback about the potluck experience of getting to know people via platters of homemade food. Guests got to catch up, meet family and make new friends over a meal that was entirely made by them. And it was very gratifying for the couple, who saw evidence in action of the warm and inviting environment they’d created among loved ones. “It was my favorite part about whole day,” Tracy told me. “It was so great to see what each guest brought, and to they had put time and thought into each dish. I felt really loved.”

Tracy and Jason really prove that going potluck is a way allows your guests to participate in – not just attend – your celebration. In the end, the celebration really is the gift.


Holly Minch is a founder of the LightBox Collaborative, a nonprofit consulting practice that helps nonprofits, philanthropies, and social entrepreneurs increase their impact through strategy development, community engagement, communications and marketing, and training. Holly also serves as a board member for the Center for a New American Dream, the organization behind SoKind Registry.