Potluck Paradise: How to Host a Fab and (Almost) Free Dinner Party

Most things about being an adult aren’t fun, but one of the perks of having your own place and your own sense of style is sharing it with your friends.  A dinner party is the perfect backdrop to showcase your personal style and hosting prowess.  Takeout and microwaveable meals aren’t suitable food options, but if you plan to do all the shopping and cooking yourself, costs that go into staging a proper dinner party can add up quickly.  You could easily find yourself blowing a week’s grocery budget on just one meal.  If you’re short on cash, inviting your friends for a potluck is an inexpensive and fun way to go.

A potluck doesn’t have to be chips and dip or a montage of church-supper casseroles.  If you get creative with a theme and take care to assign your guests specific roles, you can keep it luxe on short money.  Try one of these four themes to make your party one to remember:

1. Around the World (in One Night)

To add some international flair to your next shindig, declare an international theme.  This one’s perfect for the Olympics or World Cup!  When you announce the date, create an online sign-up with Google docs and have your guests choose a country to represent and a course to prepare (apps, sides, mains or desserts) — they can sign up when they RSVP.  Print out some place cards naming each country or purchase some toothpick flags to mark each dish when it arrives.  Bon appetit!

2. Swingin’ 60’s Housewifery

If you’ve never let go of your love of Mad Men, why not host a hip cocktail party?  Set up a wine or martini bar and turn your table into a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres (that your guests will bring). The fun part here is the research.  Direct your guests to choose a classic recipe from a list you provide designed to advertise all those packaged foods your grandmother used to cook with.  Spam canapés and Jello salads are kitschy and easy to make.  Even food snobs will cave for the quirkiness of the theme and the nostalgia factor!

3. Mexican Street Scene

One of the easiest potlucks of all is to have your guests help to create a giant taco bar.  Everyone brings a classic taco topping (think cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) prepped and ready to go.  As the host, you should provide the meat fillings.  This is a great way for friends with food allergies or very strong preferences that may or may not be medically documented (I am still not convinced gluten allergy is a real thing…) to get what they want without a hassle.  Whip up a batch of sangria with your favorite red wine and it’s an instant fiesta!

4. Iron Chef Night

Got a leftover CSA box that you have no idea what to do with?  If your friends are creative and like to cook, try building your potluck around a seasonal theme ingredient.  Tomatoes are a natural for summer and pumpkin is fun for the fall, but real foodies won’t shy away from a rutabaga or romanesco challenge!  Name your ingredient and have guests draw lots to see if they need to bring a cocktail, appetizer, side dish, main or dessert — the only rule is that it must feature the star ingredient!

With a dash of creativity, you can turn your potluck into something special.  A great theme will make the evening so fun that your friends will never notice you basically Tom Sawyer-ed them into prepping most of the meal for you!

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