How to Plan a Potluck Wedding
Thinking about taking a unique approach to catering your reception? Check out this post to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to plan a potluck wedding!
Whether you’re getting together with your family or planning an event with friends, the parties likely have something in common — they’re likely potluck parties where everyone is bringing a dish, a drink, or a dessert to share. But what if you took the same concept and transformed it from something you do for football games, summer barbecues, and birthday parties into a different and more affordable way to cater your wedding? Today, we’re diving into the what, why, and how of hosting a potluck wedding.
Why should you consider a potluck wedding?
There are many reasons why couples opt to host a potluck wedding, but we’re going to highlight the two most common reasons.
One reason is timing — deployments, in particular, can be very unpredictable, and a partner can learn with last-minute timing that they’ve been granted leave. That type of timing doesn’t bode well for planning a wedding with a full team of wedding professionals, but it’s perfect for gathering family and friends together!
Another reason to host a potluck wedding is cost. Catering and venue fees typically account for 50% of a wedding’s budget. In order to save money or divert some of your budget to another area, you might consider asking guests to bring their favorite dish, potluck style. It’s a way to save money and involve your favorite people in a much-anticipated celebration.
What should you keep in mind about a potluck wedding?
If you choose to plan a potluck wedding, you will want to keep everyone’s time in mind. Organization and venue choice are also key!
The biggest thing to keep in mind about potluck weddings is timing. Because you and your family members and friends will be doing all of the cooking, you will want to choose a theme and corresponding dishes everyone can make in a reasonable amount of time (you don’t want to ask anyone to make something that requires days of prep and hours of cooking!). Plus, timing is also key on your actual wedding day (more on that in a moment).
Organization is paramount in every wedding, but it’s even more important when your guests are providing all of the food. You will want to ensure you have all of your bases covered without an abundance of some of the easier offerings to provide, like drinks, appetizers, and desserts.
Finally, your venue also comes into play. Most often potluck weddings are hosted in backyards, park pavilions, or banquet halls that do not have an onsite caterer. Keep in mind many venues either require you to work with their onsite caterer, or they have a list of preferred caterers for you to choose from for your wedding day. You will need to have full catering control in order to have a potluck wedding!
How can I plan a potluck wedding?
Planning a potluck wedding is surprisingly easier than you might think. Like any other area of wedding planning, the most important things to do are to create a process and lean into family and friends for help!
When you first start planning your potluck wedding, one of the most helpful things you can do is to pick a theme for your wedding meal. Whether you want to offer international fare, Italian, barbecue, or upscale American, it’s important to have a jumping-off point that each dish can encircle. Inspired Bride has a number of great menu ideas on their site if you scroll through their article!
Another helpful thing to do is to talk to your friends and family who love to cook. Not only can these loved ones help you to decide on a menu, but they are also more likely to lend their excitement and expertise to the cause. Though the idea of a potluck wedding is for everyone to bring a dish, you may find you have a core group of great cooks who are more than willing to team up and take on a bit more.
In general, people are more willing to lend a hand when the task feels doable. So rather than asking guests to provide the main dishes, consider taking on part of the main course (think: the meat) and ask guests to bring side dishes, appetizers, desserts, and drinks instead.
How can we keep our potluck wedding organized?
As we mentioned, organization is so important when planning a wedding, and it’s even more important when you’re asking your friends and family to provide the food! So, put together a plan and continue to refer back to it.
When you’re initially talking to family members and friends, one thing you might want to do is ask if you can appoint anyone as the lead potluck planner. This doesn’t mean you will be hands-off, but it does mean someone other than you will take the reins and assist with planning this piece knowing you will be getting ready, reciting vows, and trying to be present on your wedding day.
Once you have your initial plans hammered out, start to lean into technology. You will want to have decided on a potluck wedding prior to mailing (or emailing!) your invitations. When you invite guests, plan to include a link that takes guests to a potluck page on your wedding website that explains your plan. You can further link out to a Google Spreadsheet, and you can ask guests to note the dish they plan to bring when they RSVP.
The joys of a Google Spreadsheet deserve their own paragraph — it’s a wonderful tool! Once you decide on your menu, you can list the dishes you’re hoping to serve to guests and/or you can ask friends and family to note what they’re planning to bring. The great thing about Google is it updates in real-time, which will help to prevent guests from signing up to bring the same thing.
Pro Tip: Send Reminders to Your Guests
As your wedding day approaches, send a reminder note to your guests! The most enthusiastic ones will have turned their cooking into a game to see which recipe guests will enjoy more. But some guests may have forgotten what they signed up to bring. Making sure everyone is on board and ready will help to ensure you have a complete menu for everyone to enjoy!
On your wedding day, keep serving requirements and cook times in mind. Similar to holiday meals, oven space is likely going to be limited. Ask guests to bring their dishes fully cooked, but let them know they should bring them in platters that can be warmed up in an oven. Knowing you won’t have to fully cook anything on the day of your celebration other than the main course you’re providing will help things to go off without a hitch!
What are the best ways to display our potluck wedding menu?
There are times to do formal plated dinners and even family-style meals, but a potluck wedding is not that moment. We highly recommend serving your potluck wedding menu as a buffet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it look aesthetically pleasing!
No matter where you host your wedding, you can order rentals, like barn tables or classic folding tables and linens. Plan to do one of these options so you know you have tables that are big enough that also have some style!
If you would like, you can purchase classic white serving dishes for all of the food. This will offer the setup continuity in terms of the look. You can also purchase buffet serving kits. Although there are ways to keep the look consistent, the temperature of the food is also important. Guests want to enjoy a hot meal, so think about leaning into crockpots, which have great warming settings.
Lastly, a few bouquets of flowers placed in simple glass vases or mason jars can go a long way in dressing up your buffet tables.
As long as you plan a menu, organize the items you would like everyone to bring, provide a serving plan, and keep cooking or warming times for food in mind, a potluck wedding is absolutely doable. Plus, it can provide a wonderful way for your friends and family to bond in advance of and on your wedding day. If you’re up for it, we say move ahead!
Are you planning a potluck wedding? What advice would you share with brides and grooms? Continue to share with us in our community!