I’m pretty sure I inherited the hostess bug from my mom. Growing up, she was the queen of hosting birthday parties, holiday parties, backyard barbecues and no-special-occasion gatherings. My sisters and I knew a get-together was coming as soon as we saw an unopened bag of chips sitting in a serving bowl, or a castle of cans inside a 9x 13 pan on the kitchen counter. And our mom would have this set out a day or two in advance! On the day of, we’d lay down tablecloths and carry up folding chairs from the basement while my dad was sent out to pick up a bag or two of ice. And though we might have groaned about all that prep (and cleanup), it was always totally worth it! I didn’t realize just how much I loved entertaining and hosting until I moved into my own apartment my senior year of college. My place became affectionately known as “The Mac Shack” (my last name is McIntyre).
I probably put more detail into my get-togethers and parties than most college kids, but to me, going the extra mile mattered. If we were gathering early in the morning before a day of drinking, I filled my friends’ bellies with bacon, eggs and pancakes or Belgian waffles. For nighttime festivities, I would order pizza or serve simple appetizers like buffalo chicken dip, pigs in a blanket and cookies. It wasn’t anything extravagant, but people really appreciated having food around!
Once I realized that food was actually the star of the show, I decided to plan a Saturday night potluck with my girlfriends. While some of them stuck to store-bought items (nothing wrong with that!), others took the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and challenge themselves. My friend Taylor baked a cheesy potato dish and joked, “Aren’t you proud of me for actually cooking? Boys, wife me up!”
My other friend Becky is from England, so she made scones with jam and fresh whipped cream on the side. Seriously, how cute is that?! It made me so happy to see everyone trying a little bit of everything and bonding over what was on the table. We pigged out without judgment, played an intense game of Catchphrase and laughed until we cried while doing impressions of each other. The potluck itself was more fun than going to the bars afterward!
Now, I understand that hosting/entertaining is not for everyone. Maybe you have finicky roommates, or your space is too tiny, or you just don’t like to do it. That’s totally OK! But if you want to put on a potluck to remember, follow these tips to maximize the fun and minimize the hassle.
Party-proof your space. I know this sounds obvious, yet it’s one of the most important things to do! I mean, how many movies have you seen where someone knocks over a vase? Make sure there’s enough seating, place the garbage bin where people will see it (and have a recycle bag or bin for cans and bottles) and basically clear out as much clutter as you can.
Accommodate dietary restrictions and/or food allergies accordingly. A guest may be allergic to nuts, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegetarian, etc. and the last thing you want to do is (accidentally) make him/her feel hungry and left out!
Have a killer playlist. For my more prominent get-togethers that warrant a Facebook event page, I’ll invite friends to comment with song suggestions. Spotify also has quite the collection of pre-made playlists with everything from “Songs that Never Fail to Make White People Beyond Turnt” to “Mixed Generation Party.”
Organize in advance who’s bringing what. This will prevent duplicates and ensure that there’s enough oven and fridge space if things need to be heated up or kept cold. Don’t forget about dessert! I mean, I wouldn’t forget because I LOVE sweets, but just in case….
Try to stick to finger foods. It’s more eco-friendly than using plastic forks and spoons, not to mention you’ll save yourself the clean-up from additional dishes. Dips, mini cupcakes, bacon-wrapped anything, you get the idea. Muffin tins are spectacular for making mini pizza bites or mac and cheese bites (see Pinterest for more inspiration)!
Get into the specific occasion, holiday or theme. This is the secret element needed to evoke that lively, spirited atmosphere you want for your potluck. It could be balloons for a birthday. It could be candy canes scattered on the table for Christmas. Even those cheesy, cheap decorations at the dollar store are sure to be a hit!
Embrace your competitive side. Dust off those Uno cards in the back of your desk drawer or ask someone to bring a game if you don’t have any. Obviously some games are limiting in terms of how many people can play, but there are plenty out there that aren’t. My two favorites for a big group are Scattergories and What Do You Meme.
Clean up much faster with this simple trick. In college, my parties usually ended when it was time to go to the bars. Because I was Type A and didn’t like to leave everything out for when I came back, I found a way to enlist help while reducing the time my friends spent waiting for me. All I did was ask for someone’s help with something in the kitchen, and 9 times out of 10, a couple other people would get up and ask what else I needed help with!! I’d be like, “Hey so-and-so, can you hold this pan while I scrape the rest of XYZ into this Tupperware container?” or “Hey so-and-so, can you hand me those empty bottles over there so I can clear some space and throw them in the recycling bag?” I know it’s your job as the host to clean up, but if your friends are nice and appreciate you hosting, they’ll be happy to help! On the flip side, if you’re a guest at someone else’s shindig, I don’t think it would hurt to offer. Best case scenario: the host or the person you’re talking to is hot AF and boom, you have an excuse to continue the conversation. (Quick disclaimer: I’ve never tried this, but I bet it would work like a charm).
Do you have any party planning tips? Let me know in the comments 🙂
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