How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Just the other day I was on CafeMom, and a woman had posted her proposed potluck wedding menu, asking other members if they thought it was tacky. The plan was to provide the foundation for the meal and ask guests to bring their favorite dishes to go with it.

The responses ranged from things like, “that menu really sounds delicious – food that makes you feel good” to “I’m not going to lie – that is really tacky and I would talk about you behind your back.”

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Because there was such a mix of answers, it really made me think of all the great potluck wedding reception ideas I’ve seen on Pinterest and around the web lately. Are those only for the tackiest of brides, or are those who call potluck wedding receptions “tacky” simply stuck-up? As you’ll quickly see, the answer boils down to much more than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Potluck Wedding Receptions are for Poor People!

I literally saw a statement very similar to this on that CafeMom post, and I cringed at the obvious ignorance packed into those few words. There are a variety of different reasons why a couple would decide to have a potluck wedding reception. For instance, when my cousin’s boyfriend proposed, it was quite difficult to spend months planning a wedding because he was deployed and they were never sure when he would be home for certain.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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So, when they got news that he’d be home in a month, they both wanted to make sure they could get married during the time he was home. Hiring a caterer at that point was out of the question, so they decided to do a potluck reception.

They informed family members that they would be cooking the main dishes – glazed honey ham, smoked brisket and lemon-pepper chicken. They asked that in lieu of gifts, guests bring their signature dish to the reception to share. Everyone got incredibly excited about this idea; my aunts playfully talked about how their dishes would be the first to be eaten, and my mother pulled out my great grandmother’s hand-written recipe book to choose a few of her absolute favorite dishes.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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The spread was absolutely wonderful, as the ham, chicken and brisket were surrounded by things like homemade macaroni and cheese, twice baked potatoes, broccoli and rice casserole, honey-ginger vegetables, peach cobbler, Cajun corn on the cob, crab-stuffed zucchini and fruit salad.

A potluck wedding reception is helpful for those on a budget, sure, but it’s also a wonderful idea for a variety of other reasons.

Your Family’s Style and Taste

One thing you might want to consider when determining whether to plan a potluck wedding reception is your own family’s style and taste. With my family, it was a perfect fit because nearly everyone cooks (and has been cooking long enough to have developed at least a few signature dishes), and we often have get-togethers where every person will bring a dish. My best friend loved my cousin’s wedding, but I remember her making a comment as we were eating about how everyone would starve if someone in her family planned a potluck wedding.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Growing up, my friend’s parents rarely ever cooked at home. They almost always ate out and when they did eat around the dining room table, it was from takeout boxes. Her entire family was this way – aunts, uncles, grandparents. A potluck wedding reception in a family like this probably wouldn’t go over so well. This is why it’s important to gauge your own family and determine whether a potluck reception would work out or not.

Is it Practical?

Another important thing you want to think about is whether a potluck reception is practical. If all guests are coming from within a 50 mile radius, a potluck reception can be great, but if a huge number of guests are coming from out of state, it wouldn’t be easy for them to bring a dish.

How Not to Be Tacky

I honestly believe that a potluck wedding reception is a wonderful way to bring a family together and celebrate with one of the most ancient traditions known to humanity – the sharing of a meal. However, there are some unique cases when a potluck wedding reception can be tacky. If you’re planning a potluck reception, it’s important to ask guests to bring a dish instead of a gift. This means no bridal registry, no expectation of gifts. The dish is the gift.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Would you honestly ask your guests to bring a gift after they’ve cooked a dish for you? Come on now, greedy pants. Didn’t you learn the definition of gratitude? If you’re going to ask guests to bring a dish, that’s it – no dollar dances, no gifts, no honeymoon fund, etc. Also, “thank you” notes aren’t just for wedding guests that bring gifts. If you have a potluck reception, you need to send thank you notes to everyone who shows up, including those who opt out of bringing a dish.

You Must Provide Something

Make sure you and your groom provide the basis for the meal…this will act as a theme-setter and help individuals determine what kinds of dishes to bring. For instance, if you’d like an Asian-themed potluck, you could provide a few different types of meat and fried rice and allow guests to bring the additional sides. If you don’t provide anything, then it doesn’t really seem like a potluck meal – it seems like you’re trying to get a free meal. At that point, it could seem tacky.

Tips for Potluck Success

While many brides dream of a fancy, Cinderella-style wedding, others would prefer something much simpler. A potluck wedding is perfect for a small, intimate ceremony. Here are a few tips to help you plan a perfect potluck wedding get-together.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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1. Seek Out the Chefs

You know the ladies or guys in your family and friends group that are always cooking up something new and delicious. Seek them out and ask them if they’d be willing to bring a signature dish instead of a wedding gift. Make sure you make notes of the dishes they’ve agreed to, so you can prepare a full meal.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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2. Ask a Volunteer for Drinks

For the friends who may not be so handy with the baking dishes, why not ask them to make drinks? Whether it’s gallons of lemonade or fun mixed drinks, get a few different friends to make drinks so there’s a variety of options.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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3. Create a Theme

Tell your friends about your theme idea and let them choose dishes and drinks that fit the theme. For instance, backyard barbecue is a fun theme, or a Tuscany night full of delicious Italian dishes. The sample menus below can help you plan a delicious themed potluck meal and make sure all the bases are covered. It can be fun for family to suggest fitting dishes they can prepare as well!

A Texas BBQ Potluck Wedding Sample Menu

  • Grilled Slider Burgers on Garlic French Bread, provided by bride and groom.
  • Grilled Franks on Artisan Bread, provided by bride and groom.
  • Grilled Chicken, Bell Pepper, Onion and Squash Kebabs, provided by bride and groom.
  • Cajun Deviled Eggs, potluck dish.
  • Molasses and Brown Sugar Baked Beans, potluck dish.
  • Baked Macaroni and Cheese, potluck dish.
  • Southwestern Black Bean Salad, potluck dish.
  • Fresh Fruit Salad, potluck dish.
  • Choice of Beverages: Sweet Tea, Lemonade, Bottled Beer, potluck provided.

I don’t know about you, but this sample Texas BBQ potluck wedding menu sounds absolutely delicious, and guests will love the tasty comfort food the menu provides.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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A Night in Italy Potluck Wedding Sample Menu

  • Parmesan and Romano Spaghetti and Meatballs, provided by bride and groom.
  • Chicken Parmesan, provided by bride and groom.
  • Italian Sausage Served with Bell Peppers and Onions, provided by bride and groom.
  • Fresh Pepperoni Yeast Rolls, potluck dish.
  • Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni, potluck dish.
  • Steamed Zucchini, Carrots and Squash, potluck dish.
  • Baby Spinach Salad, potluck dish.
  • Canolis, potluck dish.
  • Choice of Beverages: Red Wine, Signature Cocktail, Coffee

This is another menu that sounds absolutely fantastic! While it’s not considered a “fancy” menu, it is definitely not tacky and absolutely appropriate for a wedding menu.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Country Cajun Wedding Sample Menu

  • Spicy Shrimp Etoufee Served over Rice, provided by bride and groom.
  • Crab Cakes with Hollandaise Sauce, provided by bride and groom.
  • Blackened Catfish with Fresh Lemon and Turnip Greens, provided by bride and groom.
  • Red Beans and Rice with Spicy Sausage, potluck dish.
  • Louisiana Jambalaya, potluck dish.
  • Cajun Cauliflower in Garlic Sauce, potluck dish.
  • Fried Green Tomatoes with Cajun Remoulade Sauce, potluck dish.
  • Sauteed Cabbage, Mushrooms and Onions, potluck dish.
  • Choice of Beverage: Sweet Tea, Moonshine Cocktail, Bottled Beer

If this menu isn’t enough to tingle your taste buds, I don’t know what is!

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Delicious Vegetarian Wedding Sample Menu

  • Veggie Meat Loaf with Homemade Ketchup, provided by bride and groom.
  • Roasted Tomato Penne Salad with Goat Cheese and Asparagus, provided by bride and groom.
  • Eggplant and Smoked Mozzarella Tart, provided by bride and groom.
  • Organic Hummus with Gourmet Crackers, potluck dish.
  • Vegetable Curry, potluck dish.
  • Mushroom Risotto, potluck dish.
  • Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes, potluck dish.
  • Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Garlic, potluck dish.
  • Choice of Beverage: Sparkling Fruit Juice or Honey Meade.

This healthy and oh-so-yum menu caters to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike – really anyone that just loves delicious dishes!

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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Gluten-Free, Whole Food Wedding Sample Menu

  • Lightly Steamed Vegetable Medley Wraps, provided by the bride and groom.
  • Lundberg Roasted Brown Rice Herbed CousCous, provided by bride and groom.
  • Spaghetti Squash with Summer or Winter Veggies, provided by bride and groom.
  • Salt and Herb Kale Chips, potluck dish.
  • Fresh Berry Medley, potluck dish.
  • Butternut Squash Soup, potluck dish.
  • Gluten-Free Squash Casserole, potluck dish.
  • Beverage Choice: Berry Infused Water, Mango Smoothies

As you can see, with most of these menus, the bride and groom provide the “foundation” of the meal while guests bring along delicious side dishes that fill out the menu. The most important thing is to get the dishes people will bring in advance so you can provide guests with the menu at the reception, and so you can fill in any gaps that might occur (providing a vegetable dish if most guests want to bring meat dishes, etc).

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

londoncatering.org.uk – Roasted tomato, basil and parmesan cheese quiche, Tuna Pasta, mixed peppers with walnut & lemon pesto, B-B-Q Chicken Wings, Mixed Olives with feta cheese on a cocktail stick, Sundried tomato and parmesan cheese loaf

4. Doing it Yourself

Even if you choose to do a small, intimate dinner all yourself, it will be cheaper than purchasing plated dinners or carving stations for your wedding. Simply plan out a themed menu and create foods that can be kept warm with buffet-style serving dishes.

Overall, a potluck wedding can be fun and romantic as well as delicious.

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

The Overall Verdict

So…after exploring the topic of a potluck wedding reception, we’re still left with the question of whether or not it’s tacky. I personally believe that going into massive debt for a fancy dinner you can’t afford is tacky, whereas a wonderful sharing of different dishes made with love is…well, lovely. You certainly can’t deny that those sample menus sound delicious. However, as with anything else, it’s all in how it’s done.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Danielle says

    I’m sorry, but I think this is totally tacky and inappropriate. If you can’t afford a big wedding, just do a punch and cake afternoon reception. That’s way better than asking your guests to pay for your celebration. People would definitely talk about you behind your back about this.

    • Jo says

      so what if people talk behind your back? if you are happy, and most of your guests love and get you, this won’t be an issue anyway. If people do talk behind your back, well … more power to them. the people who love you will love you anyway no matter what others are gossiping about.

  2. Nicole says

    Times have changed, and if the people in your life are not understanding of this, then maybe they shouldn’t be on your guest list. Just because a couple can’t afford to hire a caterer doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have food at their wedding — it’s their wedding day after all. What makes this not tacky is that it is in lieu of a gift. Plenty of people (in my life anyway) would probably prefer to bring a baked/cooked dish rather than a gift anyway. It’s more personable and less materialistic. If the couple doesn’t have everything they need, then maybe the potluck thing isn’t for them.

  3. Holly says

    I agree with Nicole here, and am actually researching to do this with MY wedding, possibly.

    I get the impression that people assume a potluck wedding is somehow because the couple can’t afford to pay for a caterer. This doesn’t have to be the case. In my case, we don’t want an over-the-top wedding. We do want a fun afternoon/evening party with the people we love. We’ve been together a long time, have lived on our own for a long time, and generally try to be eco friendly–not to mention that the people in our lives come from hugely varied backgrounds, including economic. This offers a solution to us not wanting any gifts (because people always want to bring something), it allows everyone to give and help to their own abilities, and ensures that everyone has something they can eat (a big deal when you have anaphylactics, vegans, and vegetarians included on your list).

    People need to get over the idea that you need to drop thousands of dollars on a big fancy day to prove you love eachother. You have the rest of your lives to prove your love–buy a home with the money instead. Maybe if people cared about the marriage more than the wedding, there’d be less divorce.

  4. Ashley-Rae says

    We are having a potluck reception for my upcoming wedding in August. Everyone I’ve talked to about it raves about the idea – as a matter of fact I have an up and coming event designer offer to do my entire wedding for FREE and hire a photographer (also FREE for us) to publish on her blog. A potluck is economical, and eco-friendly. It adds a sentimental, personal touch. We will be donating any significant leftover food to a homeless shelter in our city. I wouldn’t call that tacky. Tactful, maybe.

    Truth is, not everybody has $10,000 to spend on a wedding. Ours will be done for just under $4000. We are in our mid-twenties with young two daughters. We are still paying off our student loans, we don’t need to spend the next 5-10 years paying off a wedding too. Potluck was the smart choice for us. Not to mention that we have a lot of friends who are vegan or wheat sensitive. A potluck guarantees that there will be at least a few dishes for everyone to try.

    It’s a community effort, a marriage. You need the support of your family and friends in times of hardship, which WILL happen inevitably. That’s why you invited them to your wedding to begin with. In my opinion, if you have friends who would talk about you behind your back about anything, let alone the choices you made for your own wedding day, than they aren’t true friends.

  5. Monica says

    I can’t wait to have this sort of wedding. When April and Andy had a dinner party wedding on Parks and Recreation I wondered why more people didn’t do it. It’s really rude to call a potluck wedding tacky, Danielle. Besides, a punch and cake reception is a little boring, don’t you think?
    I come from a family full of really good cooks who show their love by cooking special dishes. Their effort means more to me than their picking out some bs gift from a Target registry.

  6. Nicole M says

    I feel bad for the first poster: Danielle
    Here’s why: If you have friends and family members that will be talking behind your back for having a potluck(not to mention that you actually care what people say about you), then I feel sorry for you. Have some pride, girl.

    My fiancé and I are getting married in August and it is a potluck reception. The wedding style is informal and rustic. Many of our friends are wonderful cooks and in our invitation (which was a video by the way, not a formal I-just-killed-7-trees-two-envelope-embossed-cardstock invitation) we stated that in lieu of gifts, please bring your favorite dish and the recipe written on a 5×7 card so we can have them all. We also are providing beer, wine, and desserts. I, as well as the many friends and family members that will be attending, have expressed how amazing they think this event will be and consider that us providing drinks is more than fair. I do have quite a few “ladies” that are going to bring bigger-dish main courses just in case, and I am planning on keeping tabs of everything.

    We love food, and to be honest, we cannot afford a catered meal. However, I have been to sooooooo many weddings where the food that was purchased for $15-$25 per person and consisted of dried out chicken with a 8 hour old sauce in a chafing dish or well done prime rib with what tastes like horsey-sauce from Arby’s on the side! This is just not what we want for our big day.

    Anyways, I will come back and share our experience if I remember. By the way, a lot of our guests are going to be camping that night with us…. no drinking and driving!

  7. Devin says

    Oh, I don’t think this is tacky at all! I LOVE this idea. I’m not the biggest fan of catered food & I MUCH prefer home-cooked meals! I have a large family that loves to get together for big dinners & many different family members have signature dishes. My dad’s smoked ribs, cousin’s coleslaw, soon-to-be mother-in-law’s baked beans, mom’s potato salad & grandmother’s macaroni and cheese are some of the best dishes I have ever had! Regardless of saving money (which just happens to be an awesome pro), we would rather have the best of the best for food at our wedding & that means asking our amazing families to make their signature dishes in lieu of a gift.

    It isn’t always about the money, but rather sentiments and traditions.

  8. Marissa says

    This is a FANTASTIC idea! My fiance and I are just planning our wedding and from the start I had thought him and I would would do it all for our backyard wedding; he appy’s, BBQ meats and salads AND cupcakes. Our parents explained how much stress that would put on our big joy filled day and to let the families help out more. We are very do-it-yourself kind of people and don’t like to ask for help, and certainly can not afford catering. We weren’t sure about asking our guests to bring foods, but we realized they’ve all been offering to help this whole time. And as I already adore crafting, I don’t exactly need help on that front with the diy decorations. Your family and friends are going to be with you on that day to celebrate your union, and will be happy to help you in any way they can, and food is the easiest thing they could bring. Gifts and registries can be so stuffy, and puts a price on the gifts, and that is far tackier than a potluck could ever be. It’s all about the couple and the fact that two families are connecting, after all. :)

  9. Loretta says

    Due to the many food allergies and issues in our extremely large families and caterers not being understanding or wanting to almost double fees we have decided to do a potluck reception. We both come from families of excellent cooks !

  10. Sabrina says

    Let ‘em talk! It’s YOUR wedding and if you wanna have a potluck, that’s your choice and your right to do so. What do ya think the pioneers did back in the olden days? or the hippies back in the 60s and 70s? Not everyone wants to put all their money into the wedding. Better the money go into the marriage itself than some show-offy wedding where talkers will talk anyway simply because they can.

  11. Sheryl says

    I am having a potluck wedding reception at a barn venue next month. I put instructions with my wedding invitations that we are kindly asking our guests to bring a dish instead of a gift. We are providing the smoked meats, drinks, and cake of course. We are both on our second marriage and have a mortage, blending families with 4 kids total, and are paying for our own wedding which still isn’t cheap even with doing potluck. We don’t need gifts, so this is a great way for our guests to feel like NOT doing a gift is okay. Not one person has scoffed and I’ve had only a handfull of people not respond with what they are bringing.

  12. sentina says

    This is pathetic. If you cant afford a wedding dont have one. Its enough hassle for people to take the day off, travel, and get dressed in proper attire for a wedding that asking them to now bring food is to much. Its not your guests fault you have a mortage, kids etc. If you cant afford to host it then you dont do it.

  13. colleen singh says

    I am planning a wedding for early August 2014. My ceremony is taking place at a small art gallery for 50-65 guests, all of whom will be immediate family and very close friends. I have intended to serve a potluck meal immediately following the ceremony at the same location. There is a benefit of saving money, but my reasons for choosing this style meal are not that. I and my fiance have grown up in a mid western community where the milestones in our lives (out side of weddings) are often celebrated by families getting together and sharing food. Retirements, graduations, baby showers, even BRIDAL showers are often pot luck events and it is totally the norm. Now that I want to plan a pot luck meal for my wedding my family is completely against it and I can’t get any better explanation than “It’s just not how it’s done.”

    I feel with a small ceremony in a non traditional venue a pot luck style meal suits the event and it suits us as a couple. I think it personalizes the event and shows that we care about each other by sharing an important day with food we bring and share.

    And it certainly doesn’t get you off the hook for effort and expense. I intent to provide food and drink refreshment during the half hour it will take to break down the room from the ceremony and set it up again for dinner. I will be providing linens, pour service if wine is served, disposable (yet classy) plates, cups, and flatware, and at least one large main dish if not two. I will also have to coordinate with family and friends as to what foods they can bring to make sure we have adequate variety and quantities.

    For me it’s about what best suites me. And if I save some money on not having a caterer that’s great.

  14. Courtney says

    I am getting married this October, and here’s the thing… my fiance & I are both 25, both putting ourselves through college & are taking care of ourselves financially. We won’t be getting much [if any] help from either of our families financially, nor do we expect it, so we plan on paying for our wedding ourselves. While I have definitely thought about going to justice of the peace given our small budget and that we can’t wait to get married & start our life together, we want to share & celebrate our special day with our closest family & friends that we know want to be a part of it. So we are going through with a simple outdoor ceremony & reception.

    When we were announcing our engagement to our family, we had quite a few SUGGEST we do a potluck reception & OFFER to help bring dishes to share. Knowing how much it will cost to have the food catered, and the fact that so many have made it known that they will be more than happy to help do so, I am seriously considering going the potluck route. It can be tastefully done, and if you invite those who truly care for you, they won’t find it to be a “hassle” & will gladly help out any way they can.

    What makes me sad is that people have lost sight of what a wedding is… A wedding isn’t about how much a couple can or can’t spend, or how much they can put themselves in debt to kick-start their marriage. It isn’t about how fancy the wedding was or wasn’t, or how great the food was. A wedding is simply about two people making a lifelong commitment to each other & having their loved ones be a witness to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

    So to those wondering if something you want to do for your wedding will be ill-received… Who cares what others think about how you decide to do YOUR WEDDING?! As long as you are getting married for the right reasons, who cares?! It’s YOUR wedding day, and if you’re happy, so should be those who truly love you, period.

  15. Howard says

    I am shocked at the negative responses.
    I think just because you may have less money, and dont have the privledge of having parents to pay, does not mean two people should not be able to get married and have the celebration. Having your family experience the first kiss, the dress, walking down the isle, the facial expressions is not something someone should miss out on by settling because others do not want to bring food.
    If you are a person in someones life and this turns you off, check off decline and dont go. It would be better off for everyone. It is selfish for someone to refuse to spend maybe $25 on extra food to make a dish, but for some reason be okay with spending over $50 on a gift for the couple? Think of the appreciation and praise you would get when people try your dish. That doesnt beat anything.

    • Amber says

      Howard nailed it. People are accustomed to bringing registered gifts. If the type of gift a couple wants is food, then bring the food. I don’t see what the problem is. If you would rather bring a non-edible gift instead of food, then stay home. Easy.

  16. Irritated says

    I am invited to a potluck wedding and I feel insulted. Not only am I asked to bring food, but I am told what to bring.
    There is a rented ceremony location, a rented reception hall, a hired professional photographer, a hired DJ, alcohol being served, but the guests have to bring the food? Sounds like the budget ran out and this idea come about due to lack of funds. Do we have to bring our own plates and utensils?
    If you plan a potluck wedding from the beginning then the extra frills should have been cut also. Music can be played without a “DJ”, there is definitely at least one guest who would donate the photography and a good time can be had without alcohol.
    A well planned event of this style is fine if other financial compromises are made.

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