Many years ago, one of my friends had her wedding reception in her mother’s back yard. The food was potluck-and I thought it was the best wedding food I ever had. I’ll have to admit, I love potluck dinners. The food is usually delicious and the variety is fun. I also could eat hors d’oeuvres for dinner every night. I decided to email my friend and ask her about it-any regrets? Anything she would have done differently?
I’ll have to say I was surprised at her answer–she regrets going that route. Her thinking (and in my experience this was true) was that she had so many friends in the food business, and so many friends that were excellent cooks, that potluck would be more interesting and delicious than anything she could afford to have catered.
One of the problems was that people brought a dish AND a gift and she certainly felt that the dish WAS the gift, so that made her feel bad. Also some people felt that it was rather low class.
Her advice if someone wanted to do pot luck–use a tool such as SignUpGenius that people could use to see what other people are bringing and sign up for a dish.
But wait–what about my memories of the excellent food and how much I enjoyed it? There has to be a way to do a potluck wedding reception that works.

Potluck dinnerI went out on the web to find out more about the potluck wedding experience. Okay, most were horrendous and the ones that were successful had things that they would have done differently, but there WERE potluck wedding success stories. So we are taking the best advice out there so you can make your own choice. At an average of $68 per person for catering, it’s worth at least reading on!
First, don’t even consider a potluck wedding if most of your guests are coming from out of town or it’s a destination wedding. There just isn’t a way to pull it off.
You may want to consider it if you have a family that loves to cook. One post recalled how her aunts were all in friendly competition with each other to make their signature dishes the best at her wedding. Several weddings had people bring their favorite family dish and email the recipe ahead of time. Then the recipes were put in a little book for a gift to the guests. I love this idea!
Everyone agreed the bride and groom should supply the foundation of the potluck. For one successful couple they provided turkeys and hams, fruit, bread and cheese boards, and the wedding cake. Another couple had a more Mediterranean twist with a crockpot of Italian Wedding Soup! Brilliant!
How you word the request to bring a dish is very important. Don’t make your guests feel as if they have to bring a dish to attend your wedding. Make sure they know that THIS IS THEIR GIFT to you! Yes, you will have to forego your gift registry.


Potluck weddings will work better if the wedding and reception are at the same venue. You don’t want food sitting in a car while the ceremony is going on. In fact, that should be a deciding factor as to whether you do potluck or not.

potluck dinner


Include a checklist with your RSVP in your invitation, (sides, salads, etc.) or give the login information for a website such as SignUpGenius so you will have an idea of what people are bringing and what gaps there are. Many people will ask “what do you need” and you want to be able to tell them.


Don’t, under any circumstances, expect your guests or wedding party to organize and serve the food. Hire a coordinator and some college kids to do the organizing, serving and cleaning up.


Rent nice serving dishes that match and have warming trays. This will make the whole presentation feel more elegant. Have your staff switch dishes from the guest’s to the rented dishes. Wash the guest’s dishes and put them on a discreet table for them to pick up on their way home. That way you won’t be trying to find owners of dishes for months afterwards. And the old saying “but I never get my dish back” will be taken care of.

Cleaning up

One couple provided plastic containers for people to take food home with them. This greatly reduced the food waste!
As for the actual clean up, have your staff take care of this. One potluck wedding couple spent the day after their wedding cleaning up the church hall. Paying staff to do this is money well spent!

Should you do BYOB?

If you are having the wedding catered, what about BYOB? It depends. You will need to check with your venue about alcohol licensing. Make sure you get the proper permits. It could be fun, though, (again in lieu of a gift) if the guests brought a bottle of wine or some craft beers. The wedding couple should still supply some booze- maybe sangria punch or pitchers of mojitos. Again, it depends on your guests. If you and your friends love wineries and breweries, this could be great.

Like everything about your wedding, whether or not to have a potluck wedding is a personal decision. If done correctly a potluck wedding can be a wonderful way to share food with your friends and family.

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