Karl’s take on the matter:
Many of us have been asked to bring something to a potluck, party or other type of get together at one time or another. This is your opportunity to shine as a cook. There are some basic rules to keep in mind, though.
- If the host as some type of dietary restriction, you may want to consider bringing something that you know the host can eat.
- If there are no dietary restrictions that rear their ugly heads, make and bring whatever seems most appropriate for the event.
- Never bring pre-made or pre-packaged food (dips, chips, etc.) because that makes you appear lazy or uninterested. Perhaps you may not bring (or need to) an expensive concoction, but even trying to cook shows some fortitude on your end. Even some nice cookies or a basic dessert will do.
- Consider the temperature of the food you bring. Can it be served at room temperature? Does it need to be heated or chilled? Depending on the event venue, these are some things you may want to confer with the host about before the event.
- If someone asks about the recipe for what you brought, consider that high praise, and be sure you follow up with the recipe for those who ask about it.
- Never, ever, bring home “leftovers.” This is the height of boorishness. Allow the host to enjoy what you made. Keep in mind that it may be a long time, if ever, before you get the vessel that you brought the food in returned to you.
Let’s have Philip take a crack at it:
Sheeeesh! This is a sore spot for me. Long before I went into the food business for myself and people felt too intimidated to cook for me, I loved to entertain at home. When you come to my home, you will not leave hungry. I love it when my guests bring flowers or wine, but I am going to make sure that – should you turn up empty-handed – we have everything we need. I would never comment if your turn up empty-handed, but I will wonder where you learned your dinner-party etiquette and it may be some time before you receive a another invitation.
- If I have had you over to my house for dinner, have you really returned the favor by asking me over to your house for a pot-luck? I am going to feed you splendidly at my house. Now I have to feed you at your house?!
- If you need special plating/heating arrangements for your dish, call ahead and see what is on offer or give a heads up. Lots of folks have chaffing dishes or electric plate/food warmers, but you are really going to throw a wrench in their ability to be a charming host if they now have to go up into the attic to fetch something that could have been in place and up to temperature long before the guests arrived. Think your dish through, folks.
- This is related to point number 2. When you are invited to contribute a dish, you are not being invited to cook. These are two completely different things. Just as you should not hi-jack your host’s time, you should not hi-jack your host’s facilities. I am not kidding here – not one thing; not a single burner, not a square inch of kitchen counter space. You will not ask for a single ice cube to chill abuelitas gazpacho. Your granny probably took great pains to make sure that her prized soup was served at the correct temperature – you should too!
- See that guy over there who brought his homemade baked White Chocolate Cheesecake? His ingredients alone probably cost $25.00 before he added value through his labor, kitchen skills and utilities in order to turn it into slices of fried gold! Take your chips and dip out to your car and put them away for college game day at your house. Then drive to your local liquor store and come back with a case – not a six-pack – of Theakston’s Old Peculiar or a couple of bottles of nice wine. Heck, a couple of bottles of Retsina – cheap Greek drinking-wine with a wonderful taste of pine – will contribute more to the gathering than your stinky chips!
- Karl is absolutely right about taking your leftovers home. This is the where we apply the Wheaton Principle – Keep calm and don’t be a dick. Social food is about being generous. Your dish is your contribution. Do not expect a single scrap back. If you love what you are making – and you should – make double quantities and keep the second batch for yourself.
There is, however, a host responsibility that should not be ignored. If you have brought a fabulous trifle in an even more fabulous glass bowl, you should not have to leave the house without your family heirloom. The host has earned the leftovers, but not the bowl. With the best will in the world, something could happen to a bowl or dish that is left behind.
And here I will restrict myself to a final point – only because Karl had six points – but there is plenty more krank in the tank.
- Always help with the clean-up/dishes. Yeah, it’s not your house and yeah, the host just made out like a bandit because you are leaving almost an entire rack of smoked ribs behind – but, if you want your plate and you want to show your appreciation for the cheesecake, roll up your sleeves and help your host put their home back in order. The better your host feels at the end, the more likely you are to receive another invitation.