How to Host a Potluck Picnic

Hosting the picnic at your home is an ideal option for a couple of reasons; It gives you a reason to show off your lawn, deck, or patio, and in the event of inclement weather, you have a sheltered place to relocate the party!

Potlucks are a great way to plan a meal at any social gathering, especially those larger in scale.  Try hosting a potluck meal for your family reunion, office party, or any event where you will have hungry guests!

You will need:

*  Lawn, deck, or patio
*  Picnic tables or banquet tables and folding chairs
*  Guest list with contact information
*  Invitations
*  Paper
*  Pen or pencil

1.  First, you will need to set a date and time for your event.  Compile a guest list and send out invitations a couple of weeks in advance.  (Or you can always call, e-mail, Facebook, etc.!)  Set the RSVP date far enough before the event that you have time to contact each attending guest a couple of days before the party.  You may want to also inquire in your invitation as to whether any of the guest have known food allergies!

2.  If you do not have enough tables and chairs for your anticipated number of guests, you have a couple of options.  To save money, try asking friends, neighbors, and even guests of they have any picnic tables or tables and chairs they would be willing to let you borrow for the event.  If you are unable to find enough seating from these sources, most rental outlets have them available.  But be aware that they can be difficult to reserve on short notice, especially if it is on a weekend; you are competing with weddings!

3.  Once your RVSP date has arrived, make a list of the confirmed guests.  The next thing you need to do is assign who will be bringing what.  Take a sheet of paper and divide it into four columns; appetizers and munchies, main dishes, salads, and desserts.  Now assign each guest to a column, distributing them so that you will have appropriate ratios of all types of food.  (You don’t want a whole table full of potato salad and no cookies to be seen!)

4.  Contact each confirmed guest and tell them what type of dish you would like them to bring.  Contact them at least a couple of days in advance to allow them time to plan, shop for, and prepare their dish!  At this time, if any guests have reported food allergies, you should let the other guests know, so that everyone can enjoy everything, or at least know what to avoid!

5.  When the big day rolls around, you will need to set up your tables and chairs in preparation for your guests’ arrival.  Arrange your furniture so that there is a good traffic flow.  For example, avoid placing the food serving area where the line will hinder traffic coming in and out of the house.  If you have any handicapped guests, make every effort to ensure accessibility.

6.  You may also want to take this opportunity to decorate your outdoor space.  If mosquitoes or other insects are problematic in your area, keep them under control with citronella candles or torches.

If your yard has any features such as a flower bed or a pond, try to set up your furniture and decorations in such a way that the feature becomes a focal point.

7.  As your guests arrive, add their food dishes to the serving table.  Arrange the food in a logical order; appetizers, main dishes, salads and sides, followed by desserts.  If your guests are not expected to bring their own place settings and beverages, you will want to provide these things as well; and even if they are supposed to bring their own, have a few extra on hand in case anyone forgets!

When setting up your food serving area, it is very important to take a few factors into consideration to ensure food safety.  Make sure all food is kept covered or your serving area is in a screen tent or indoors.  Be sure that each food item has its own separate serving utensil, and that all foods are kept at the appropriate temperature.

For more information on safely serving food at an outdoor event, see the link in the resources section below.

8.   As the event draws to a close, take a moment to make sure each guest leaves with any serving dishes and utensils they arrived with.  If there is a lot of food left over, send plates with a little of each thing home with your guests as well so that it doesn’t go to waste!

*  If your outdoor space does not offer any shade, you may wish to set up a canopy to provide guests a cool place to relax.  Canopies can be rented at most rental outlets, and can also be purchased for a reasonable price at big box stores and many sporting goods stores.

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