Updated on 12.19.10

Out With The Old, In With The New: Start a Potluck Circle

Trent Hamm

Throughout the month of December, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

22. Start a potluck circle.

One of our favorite social events is the potluck dinners we have with our friends. At these events, everyone in our group congregates at someone’s house, the host makes some sort of main course, and all of the attendees bring some sort of supplement to it – beverages, side dishes, desserts, and so on. Since everyone’s together, we usually make a long evening of it by watching movies, playing board games, or doing something else socially together.

Having these events as a regular part of our social calendar cuts our entertainment budget significantly while often reducing our food budget a bit as well. If you add on top of that the fact that we’re building our friendships while also having a very enjoyable evening with them, then you can easily see the value of a potluck circle.

A potluck circle is simple to start. Just host a potluck dinner and invite some compatible people. Tell them what you’re going to serve and invite them to either bring a side dish, a beverage, or a dessert of some kind.

What should I serve? Keep it simple! Don’t worry about having some perfect seven course meal for a potluck dinner. Prepare a huge cauldron of soup. Make burritos or enchiladas. Serve up a giant batch of chili. Whip up some homemade pizzas. Focus on main dishes that can easily carry an entire meal with minimum accompaniment and you’re likely in the right area for this.

If you want, you can get very complicated with meal selection and preparation, but there’s really no need to do so.

Have something in mind for post-dinner entertainment Have a few interesting movies on hand. Have a few simple board games or card games on hand. Between the two of these, you can usually entertain your guests, no matter who they are.

Our circle almost always chooses to play games, and the games usually go on until late in the night. It’s perfect for us because we’re all sitting around a table conversing about random things as the turns pass.

Carrying the circle forward The biggest challenge for many people is simply making sure that the circle will move forward – in other words, ensuring that it doesn’t end up being just a one time thing or that you aren’t stuck always being the host.

My suggestion for solving this problem is to mention it up front. Simply state that you thought it would be fun to start having regular potluck dinners with the group you’re inviting and volunteer to host the first one. Suggest that the group can talk about future potlucks at the first one.

When you’re all together, it’s a good idea to come up with a schedule of hosts with a little bit of flexibility. Obviously, some people are going to have conflicts some weeks. My suggestion is to just rotate the potluck amongst possible hosts on a regular basis so that it’s easy for everyone to figure out the schedule and who is hosting the next one at any given time.

It’s also useful to suggest that whoever is hosting share what they’re planning on having for a main course so that appropriate side dishes and beverages can be selected and brought by the attendees. A Facebook group or an email list is a perfect way to do this.

A potluck dinner circle is a great way to maximize your entertainment and food dollars at the same time while also enjoying the friendship of others. In other words, it’s a win in more ways than one. Give it a shot.

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  1. psychsarah says:

    We did this regularly in grad school, as we were all broke, and then slowly got away from it for a while. Now that many of our friends have small kids, it’s more of a pain to congregate at a restaurant, so we’ve returned to the good old potluck. Everyone has fun, it doesn’t cost much, the kids can run around and play while the adults catch up. It’s a win-win-win!

  2. Briana @ GBR says:

    This sounds like an awesome idea! I definitely want to implement this in 2011. I love food, and our friends meet for food anyways.

  3. Michele says:

    We started this at our Church and play board games after dinner. It’s been a big hit!

  4. Sara says:

    I used to hold a weekly pot luck every Tuesday at my house. Our friends were pretty far flung, and we were centrally located and had a house large enough to host. It was kind of an open invite – people who were regulars could invite friends to join, and we would play games after eating or just talk and listen to music. The kids would run around and play together – it was fun. Holding it on a weeknight worked well because no one had to miss the dinner if some other weekend plans came up. I’ve since moved away from the area (broke up with the boyfriend I was with at the time) but they continue to hosts those dinners every Tuesday.
    Hopefully as I get more settled into my new home I’ll be able to find a new group to have pot licks with.

  5. Marle says:

    I go to potlucks my church all the time, and it’s great to see people, but they don’t really seem that good of a deal. The time, effort, and money required to make something that multiple people can share is the same as making myself a meal with leftovers that last for 2-3 more meals. Sometimes I’ve been tempted to go to the Chipotle around the corner from church and grab a $6 burrito, because it’s on the lower end of what I spend to make for a potluck and there’s no cooking, but I worry I’ll come across cheap/rude/etc. Maybe there’s something about me or my church specifically that makes these potlucks not such a good deal, but I’d much rather go out to eat than potluck.

  6. Laurie says:

    I used to do this with a group of friends. We had 12 “hosts” in the potluck circle and set the date as the third Thursday of each month – a set routine that allowed everyone to know far in advance which night to “save”. Hosts signed up for their month at the end of each year, and when someone dropped out, we brought in someone new. Sounds kinda’ structured, but it enabled the group to continue for many, many years. The socializing was great (as was the food)!

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