Potluck Dinner: What Should Your Dish Cost You?

My wife and I were recently invited to a potluck dinner/appetizers at our neighbors house.    Some people love the idea of going to a friend’s house and trying dishes made by all of the different guests.   Others are horrified to go to these events wondering what exactly the green stuff is in the white casserole dish.    The dessert table always seems safe with cookies, tarts, and assortments of different pies.    I’m always worried when I get invited to these shindigs what exactly I should bring to the party.   Should I be bringing food and a bottle of wine?  Does it have to be a homemade dish or is it appropriate to go to the local bakery?     So, how much should you spend when you get invited to a potluck dinner?  So, here are a few Ted rules after giving this a bunch of thought (and sleeping off whatever lemonade cocktail was in that pitcher at the bar).

  1. Make sure whatever you bring is recognizable–    O.K.—here’s the deal.   Nobody wants to come to one of these parties wondering whether it’s chicken or tuna in the off white rice in the bowl.   Anytime you have to use the stirring utensil to mix the food around in the bowl to guess what it is creates a sure sign that you’ve failed to bring the right thing to the potluck party.   This isn’t a Secret Santa party and nobody wants a surprise that will repeat on them later in the event.   Please be certain people can quickly assess what’s in the dish.
  2. Come up with your trademark dish– As long as your trademark dish isn’t a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies in a box, you should be good for the long haul in your neighborhood.    A good friend of mine had a signature spinach and artichoke dip that was plunked right in the middle of a bread bowl and served with a bevy of vegetables which was always a party hit.    It could be as simple as a special Antipasto dish or perhaps you have a family recipe that has been around for generations.   Once your neighbors rave about your dish, they’ll want you back for the same stuff over and over again.
  3. Cost is relative to the number of guests-  Remember, the whole idea of having a potluck dinner is so you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars going out to dinner.    Make sure the amount of servings you make is still enough for all of the guests to try a bite, but most nights it shouldn’t cost you more than $30 to make your dish.    Even if you do have to go out and pick up something for the party, you can still grab something delicious for a reasonable price.   If you do feel like bringing something for the host, you can pick up a bottle of wine or a small gift for $10 to $15 which will work just fine.
  4. Bring your serving bowl and appropriate utensil-   Nobody likes having to use a plastic spoon to ladle out a bowl of chili or a helping of the fruit salad.  If you know your dish, then you should also know the best way to present and serve it.    This won’t even cost you any money as you may be able to take your serving bowl home at the end of the night or pick it up the next day.
  5. Solo Cups- How could I not make mention of Solo Cups.  Not only do I like the cult hit “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith, no host can ever have enough of these cups at a potluck party.   Unless your parties are in the high rent district, Solo Cups can be another cost effective thing to make a potluck party great.

Usually when I leave these parties I feel relieved because I always manage to spot at least one thing that looks worse than what I brought to the party.    The other night there was some pineapple mango dish that I wasn’t quite sure if it was an over-sized bowl of salsa or meant for some fruit for dessert.   Either way, it was something I couldn’t quickly recognize, and I simply don’t eat what I can’t explain.  Neither should you . . .

Let us know your potluck stories and ideas – Comment Now

Written by:

Ted Jenkin, CFP®, AAMS®, AWMA®, CRPC®, CMFC®, CRPS®

Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc – The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice

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About the author  ⁄ Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves

Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves


My friends and family all think I’m a workaholic, but I say I’m just a guy that loves to help people do better in life.

My mother is still the only one that calls me by my real name Theodore Michael, my wife calls me Teddy, but for the rest of you it is just plain old Ted.

Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved money and being an entrepreneur. In fact, I still have cassette tapes of me talking to my grandmother at the age of five and my mother tells me all the time how much I played with money as a kid...

Read More About Ted Here

Ted Jenkin is a frequent guest columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Headline News Weekend Express. He is the co-CEO of oXYGen Financial. You can follow him on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/in/theceoadvisor or on Twitter @tedjenkin.

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  • Avatar
    June 14, 2012

    Great post. My family have done pot luck for as long as I can remember. My mum had a couple of signature dishes and once I was married and attending my own pot luck dinners I used her signature dishes and everyone loves them.

    One I made was a family favourite. I did it for a function with my in-laws and they could not believe it. It was a recipe their aunty used to make, but she had passed away years ago and no one knew how to make it. Ever since then it has been requested at every function. I have given them all the recipe, but they are all convinced I do something different to the recipe. I think things just taste better when you didn’t have to make it. :)

  • Ted Jenkin @ oXYGen Financial
    June 15, 2012


    Thank for sharing!

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