How to have a Potluck wedding

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“It takes a village,” they say. “No man is an island.” But if you dare to send guests invitations to a potluck wedding, they’ll soon be saying a lot worse. How do you find ways to involve your guests and to give your wedding a community feeling without coming off as a cheap host? If you’ve always dreamed of a potluck-style wedding reception, don’t give up yet. There are ways to involve your friends and family that won’t make them feel like they’ve been pressed into the catering profession against their will.

The goal in a potluck is to get everyone feeling involved and invested in the celebration. When each guest brings a dish, they’re bringing a bit of their home to share with the larger community. The feast, when assembled from pieces of everyone’s offerings, becomes a melting pot of well-wishes and nourishment. It is a tangible reminder of the love that has gathered everyone together to witness a special occasion. It’s a beautiful metaphor as well as an eclectic feast.

The key to throwing a classy potluck is to keep the goal of community involvement foremost in your mind. This is not a quick way to slash your wedding budget. If you can’t afford to feed your guests a full meal, you’re better off serving a light tea service and snacks instead. Hosting a potluck should be, above all else, a reason to engage the community. If it’s thrown with that goal in mind, your gesture will not come off as “being cheap.”

Potlucks are more well-received in close-knit communities that are already familiar with the concept. If the majority of your guests will be coming from social circles that have potlucks often, like churches, co-ops, large families, or school friends, you’ll find them much more receptive to your idea. If you suspect that some of your guests may be turned off by the idea, take care to explain your reasoning on the invitation.

As you’re wording your invitations, emphasize that no contribution is expected. You’re not forcing your friends to cater your wedding, after all. No one is required to bring a dish, nor are there restrictions on dish size or ingredients. (However, you may want to encourage guests to bring lists of ingredients along with their dishes for the benefit of those with food allergies.) You may also want to make it clear that any contribution to the potluck reception will be in lieu of a typical wedding gift. Not only will this take the financial pressure off your guests, allowing them to fully focus on a suitable dish, but it will also drive home the point of why you have chosen a potluck-style celebration.

You may want to take your inspiration from the old folk story, “Stone Soup,” in which hungry travelers arrive at a village with nothing but a stone and a pot of water. They convince each villager that passes that their stone soup is delicious, but would be even more delicious with just a small garnish of, say, carrots. The next passing villager gets asked for a garnish of just one potato. Since each villager is being asked for just one small ingredient, they readily bring it, and soon there is a bubbling soup that the entire village can enjoy. If you ask each guest for one ingredient, you’ll soon have a flavorful soup that represents cooperation, support, and love.

If you provide the main dish or most expensive course yourself, you can ask your guests to bring potluck-style side dishes and appetizers. This approach puts less pressure on guests to provide the bulk of the menu, but includes their contributions as a way to add personal flavor to the celebration.

Don’t forget–potlucks are supposed to be fun! You can turn your request into a game, such as, “We’re having a multicultural wedding, so please bring a dessert or appetizer that represents your own culture.” Or ,”Everyone bring a topping for the wedding waffles.” Don’t forget to give a speech thanking your community for coming together around such an important occasion.

Who says birthday cakes are the only cakes that are allowed to shine? Wedding cakes can enjoy a warm, glowing taste of potluck-style. If each guest brings one candle and sticks it into a plain white cake, the happy couple can blow it out together (don’t forget to make a wish!). Not only will you save money on expensive wedding cake icing; you’ll stay much cleaner with this wedding cake tradition than you would by shoving a slice into each other’s faces (although no one says you can’t do that anyway).

Potluck weddings run much more smoothly with small, intimate receptions. The more informal your wedding is, the better a potluck will fit into your theme. With a potluck wedding, you’ll have a personal touch from each and every guest. Better yet–you’ll have a guarantee that every guest can find at least one thing on the menu that he or she loves to eat.