Outdoor Potluck Ideas

Outdoor Potluck Ideas

By Diana Elizabeth Steffen

Potlucks don’t have to be a collection of mismatched foods, and by that I mean food that doesn’t seem to go together. With a theme, you can gently encourage your guests to bring dishes that complement each other and avoid nachos with potstickers, or cold sandwiches and a stew. All are great dishes, of course, but they sometimes may not look appetizing when presented all together for a get-together.

After years of hosting, I’ve learned I do in fact need help with the menu – because food can be costly for a host, and guests actually love to pitch in with something they are proud of! They just need a little direction, and many times they want and appreciate your direction!

Here are my tips on how to create a successful potluck:

  • Have a sign up sheet. This can be shared via a Google Sheets spreadsheet that is linked in your digital invitation.
  • Have a theme. I had a citrus themed potluck and encouraged guests to bring a dish using citrus! I also encouraged people to bring store-bought items, or to pick up a dish from a restaurant if they needed to. This year I am having a farm-to-table theme with an emphasis on presentation!
  • Assign a dish. If you have a guest who is flexible, just ask them if they would mind making a specific dish (and send a recipe link). Or just generalize the assignment, can you bring a dessert and fruit salad? I was asked to make a specific viral TikTok appetizer and I was happy to oblige! 
  • Make it a contest! Who doesn’t like to win something? I surprised guests at the end of the evening by announcing a Citrus Queen, crown and all. There was a winner, a 1st runner up, and a 2nd runner up (announced in reverse order, of course). Everyone in attendance got to vote on presentation and taste! I bought flowers for the occasion, too! You can make it as casual or as fun as you wish!
When it comes to presentation, as in the tablescape, I like to give myself plenty of time to prep! I set the table the night before, place a flat bed sheet or another tablecloth over the table to avoid dust and curious birds, and then remove the sheet hours before the party and put out the florals.

Would you believe it if I told you these lemon plates I found at The Dollar Tree? I know!! And the best part was decorating the table with free citrus from friends and my own backyard!

It’s also fun to find a themed guest gift. For my citrus party, I found citrus hand soap and wrapped them with a ribbon. This year, with my farm-to-table style dinner, there are botanical cookies and a botanical lollipop for a takeaway gift.

Don’t forget to-go boxes! There will be lots of leftovers and some guests may want to take some home to enjoy later so I like to have to-go boxes handy for that! And guests are always so happy when they can take home snacks and continue to enjoy the food later, or share it with their family back home.

Here’s another important tip: As the host, take care of the drinks and the main protein course. That way if a guest must cancel, you have the important aspects of the meal covered.  Sometimes I just order some extra things and have it delivered via DoorDash. I just plate it and don’t think about it!

Welcome your guests with a smile and have a wonderful time! Happy entertaining!

Diana Elizabeth Steffen is a Phoenix-based photographer and blogger at dianaelizabethblog.com, where she shares her home and garden projects with her camera in hand!

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