Potluck Problems: Getting guests to bring a dish

by epi on November 23, 2011

Q: You invite a friend to join your for Thanksgiving.  She accepts but doesn’t offer to bring anything.  Do you ask her to contribute?

A: Yes.  Families celebrate in different ways and your friend might not be used to potluck.  But if that’s your style, just let her know.  Request something general, like an appetizer, rather than something specific, like cheese dip.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara November 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

Yes, please let people know if they don’t offer–I often don’t offer because I don’t cook even for myself on a regular basis, and I was not raised doing potluck (and I’m in my late 20′s and the matriarch of my family still insists on making everything herself for family gatherings), so the idea of bringing something doesn’t automatically occur to me, BUT if the host asks me to bring something I’m more than happy to do so!


Jody November 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

Definitely let people know. You can keep it light — something like “we do our Thanskgiving potluck style, is there any specialty you’d care to bring?” I don’t always cook, but I’m happy to stop at the store and pick up a vegetable tray, fruit, beverages, etc.


Country Girl November 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I like Jody’s suggestion. If she doesn’t have anything special she can think to bring, as Sara mentions, she may just not feel comfortable cooking. It might be nice to ask her to bring something with low/no cooking skills required; ie. wine or beverage, crackers to go with the cheese plate, or ice cream to go with the pie?


Jerry November 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm


What happened to the rule that you don’t ask your guest to bring something to a party? (Guest should still come with a hostess gift like a bottle of wine or some flowers or some chocolates.)


Just Laura November 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I applaud your enthusiasm, but I believe this is in reference to potlucks.


Elizabeth November 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I’m not a huge fan of potlucks myself, but Thanksgiving is a special example – the menu is largely set by tradition, and since everyone celebrates it, there is a sense that the work/effort/cost of putting on the meal should be distributed, especially for a really big gathering.

In the original question, it sounded like a single individual had been asked, and in that case I wouldn’t necessarily ask one person to bring “mashed potatoes for 12.” But this year, my mom realized that friends of theirs were having a small Thanksgiving, so she invited them (a couple, one of their mothers, and maybe one adult child of the couple) to join us. In that case, I think it is more reasonable for them to bring some part of the meal. I believe they’re bringing the potatoes and a pie. (can’t wait!) I’m making a side and a dessert, and my sister is making the salad and a dessert, so the burden on my mom (who really doesn’t love to cook) will be lessened. We’re all giving thanks, so why shouldn’t we all contribute?


Lisa A. November 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I’m in agreement with Jerry- I would not have thought of offering to bring anything unless the invitation specifically mentioned potluck. Thanksgivings are not potluck where I am from. I would of course bring a hostess gift, but I would not offer to bring food. To mention it now would seem a little petty, and if I were the invitee, I would rethink my acceptance of the invitation.


Maren December 5, 2011 at 12:24 am

I also have to agree with Jerry and Lisa that unless the invitation stated that it was a potluck dinner, then the guest, if she has good manners or just common sense, should just bring a hostess gift. Wine is always appreciated at my house. I would never invite someone to my home for dinner and then ask them to bring something unless they insisted.


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