Q: It’s officially potluck season, and year after year, friends brings chips to the function. How do you tell them to step up their potluck game?
A: The best way to get people engaged in bringing a great potluck dish is to really create a sense of occasion.
Let them know in the invitation. Right from the beginning, let your guests know that their potluck contribution is a critical part of the event. Get them excited about how they’re going to contribute, and they will be more invested in their dish!
To ensure people follow through, have them sign up with what they’re going to bring by creating a shared document. The key is to get people to commit to a dish. This way they actually bring what they say they will and you don’t end up with too many of one kind of dish at your party.
You can also make it competitive because everyone loves a prize. You can create prizes for different dishes, things like most creative, best presentation and most delicious. The list is endless, and it really helps to engage your guests in the event.
Ultimately, your guests will rise to the challenge if you create a sense of occasion and make it clear that their contribution to the potluck is a key part of the celebration.
— Lisa Orr, etiquette and protocol consultant
A: Be honest and direct. Let them know that you’re looking forward to a delicious meal and want everyone to contribute something enjoyable. Chips are basic. And lame. Unless you are about to send those chips on a journey of self-discovery through some buffalo chicken dip, they have no place alongside other dishes at the table. Without anyone candidly reporting disappointment to the chip-bringers, they’ll fly under the radar. Before we can become competent, we must become conscious of our incompetence.
If you’re organizing the event, assign the folks more prone to chip-mongering a specific recipe or a category. “Here’s a link to an awesome dessert I saw. Do you think that’s something you could do?” The infinite number of self-published recipes on the internet can daunt more novice chefs; being given an assignment can alleviate the stress of choosing.
They probably default to chips because they don’t enjoy cooking, so offer to make something together. For some adults, cooking still has a foreign mystique that they’ve never conquered, and the notion of making something to share with strangers breeds more anxiety than excitement. Cooking with company can instill confidence, motivating them to up their ante.
Otherwise, if they’re enthusiastic about being uninteresting, make space for that. Task them with supplying booze, or the unsung hero of every successful potluck — plasticware.
— Jack Disselhorst, actor