How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 How to Plan a Potluck Wedding

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

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

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

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

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 – 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

 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!