Potluck Disasters and Other Opportunities

Problem solving with friends 


Planning a gathering can seem daunting. A potluck leans heavily on the ‘luck’ and that is good, but organizers can still worry about what is in the pot or on the table.

Some challenges can be avoided through good planning. We don’t want to make the organizing so tight that by the time the event arrives, the organizer is exhausted of it, waiting for it to be over. But some tools can help to know who is showing up, what they are expecting, and whether they are bringing anything to the gathering.

Google Drive – An open google spreadsheet with a shareable link can help keep track of who is coming, if they are bringing their dog, how long they are staying, and any food allergies they might have. This is great for events where a head count is needed, where many people are invited, multiple day events that are improved if one person doesn’t have to hold all the information, or when you want to repeat an event.  You can use a document to keep track of notes, and there are photo share sites that are a great place to share pictures with attendees. 

Group chat apps, like Group Me, allow you to keep in touch with people in the lead up to the gathering.

So what could possibly go wrong?

Problems will arise. To quote Douglas Adams and  “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – “Don’t Panic!” You are with people who share some common purpose. Take a deep breath and consider these solutions.

Weather:  There are some things we just can’t control, and the weather is one of them. So you planned to be outside, and it’s pouring rain. You were thinking beach, but they are closed due to water safety issues. 

If the gathering is moveable, move it! You can look for a local spot that will take in a group. Think about the snug at a local pub, a coffee shop, or a museum. If it’s too big to move, hedge your bets by holding a gathering in/near someone’s yard. Someone may have a tailgate/market tent that you can put up for some added coverage. Be flexible. The point is being together.

Food:  Live to eat! Eat to Live! That will be on our family crest. Sometimes the unexpected makes food complicated. 

Too much of (0ne) good thing –You host a potluck, and everyone brings chips and salsa. You could send an emissary to purchase pre-cooked chickens and a box of salad greens from your local grocery store, call for pizza, or have a blind taste test of all the chips/salsa combinations. 

Equipment fail –Maybe you planned to roast turkeys, and the ovens are dead at your venue.* Dig up all the grills you can find and barbecue. Dead refrigerators? Bags of ice and coolers. No tables? Picnic on the ground. Cafeteria trays double as cutting boards, platters, and a host of other creative uses.

Nothing fits together –People bring random stuff to the gathering. You can create a version of “Chopped” where the challenge is to see how all the ingredients fit into a meal. You can make Stone Soup! (Almost) everything ends up in the pot!

Miscommunication:  Someone shows up at your door a day early or a day late. I remember one confused family arriving for the Japanese Exchange Student potluck a day late with their family, their Japanese guest, and a side dish. The good news was we were able to invite them in and hang out for a while, letting our Japanese visitors have a chance to stop practicing English. To avoid this, good use of available technology can help, with calendar notifications and email reminders. If there is someone in your group who is challenged in this way, maybe assign a buddy to make sure they get to where they need to be with what they need in hand.

Lost:  I am the worst about getting lost. I have no sense of direction. This is why I love it when I am going to a new place that I have an exact street address and maybe some visual cues about how to get where I am going. Be prepared for there to be NO GPS, especially if you are going to a non-urban space. Written directions sent beforehand can really help if a place is hard to find. Share a contact phone number with everyone.

The point of gathering is to connect, and if you are with people you want to spend time with, then solving problems together can be part of the enjoyment. Remember why you want to be together. Focus on that and remember: it’s all worth it if it makes a good story.

*real talk – this happened.

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