What is Potluck?
You are a newcomer to Canada and you get invited to a potluck. What is it? What is expected of you? Part of learning English is learning how to adapt to a different culture.
Potluck is a wonderful tradition here in Canada! It is a popular, relaxed way to host a group meal. Sometimes a group of neighbours, a church, or a business will have a potluck.
Each person (or family) contributes food for the group, with the idea that the combined dishes will provide a complete meal (i.e., hot dishes, salads and desserts).
The food is typically arranged on long tables, buffet style. The guests serve themselves, seat informally, and visit while they eat.
What Should I Take to a Potluck?
Traditionally, the food at a potluck is left to chance, or “luck”. If everyone brings the same dish, then that’s the way it is! I once went to a potluck in the summer where most of the guests had brought potato salad! Everyone thought it was quite funny, and we enjoyed tasting the many different potato salad dishes.
You may be invited to a potluck where the host, or coordinator, asks you to bring something specific (e.g., a hot dish and buns), ensuring that there will be a variety of food at the meal.
We were invited to a potluck where seafood was specially purchased from the Maritimes. The guests all contributed money to pay for the fresh seafood and we all brought potluck salads and desserts.
I love an international potluck, where everyone brings a traditional dish from their home country!
Do I Take Drinks too, or Only Food?
Typically, the host provides a non-alcoholic cold beverage, plus tea and coffee.
Since potlucks often happen in a community family setting, there may or may not be alcohol. (For example, at a school potluck, there would be no alcohol.) If you are uncertain, ask the person who invited you. If there is alcohol, typically each family would take their own alcoholic beverages. (If you are told that the potluck will be BYOB it means you should bring your own beverages. BYOB stands for bring your own bottle, or bring your own beer.)
Depending on the setting, you may be asked to bring your own beverages, as well as your own cutlery, plates, etc.
Sometimes a potluck is outdoors. For example, neighbours may agree to have a potluck at a park. In cases like that, you will probably be expected to bring your own dishes, so that one person doesn’t have to supply cutlery, plates, dishes and napkins for the whole group. You can always ask the person who invited you.
How much food should I take to a potluck?
If you are invited to a potluck, you should take enough food to feed your family, or group, plus a little extra for unplanned guests.
If you haven’t already been to a potluck, I hope you have the opportunity.
Potluck is a great chance to try new dishes, get some new recipes, and enjoy visiting with both new and familiar friends!