Potlucks are not appropriate for wedding receptions as wedding receptions are supposed to serve as a thank you to the guests for doing the important duty of attending the wedding. However, you can get away with it in certain circumstances: having a VERY small wedding of mostly locals who are enthusiastic about the idea. It’s also a lovely idea to throw a potluck FOR a couple who otherwise wouldn’t have a reception.
For less formal gatherings, a potluck can be a great way for a bunch of people to get together without it being a significant cost for one person/family.
However, if you want to plan a potluck, make it clear when issuing the invitation. Do not pull a bait and switch:
“Hey, do you want to come over for dinner on Saturday?”
“Sure! That sounds so fun!”
“Great! Come at seven and bring a salad to feed 8!”
That is not okay. You must say something like, “Hey everyone, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and it would be really fun to hang out and play board games and have dinner on Saturday. We can have it at my place if everyone will bring a dish. I will grill burgers and hot dogs, so bring some sides, desserts, and drinks that go with them!”
And if you are the one with the great idea to host a potluck, please actually make some effort towards planning. In addition to food, you will need serving utensils, plates, cups, silverware, etc. You want to also help guide the party so you don’t all end up bringing potato salad. Making a party potluck doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any work. That being said, don’t be a potluck dictator! Letting people know what categories of items are needed is great, telling people that they must bring a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is not. Also make sure you have a convenient area to set up the food in a central location so everyone has a chance to access it.
For the potluck attendee, of course it goes without saying that it is beyond rude to show up at a potluck empty-handed. It is also rude to bring significantly less than anyone else. Don’t show up with one $2 2-liter of soda when everyone else is bringing their famous lasagnas and layer cakes! It’s fine if you can’t cook, just say that you will bring all the paper goods or 5 2-liters of soda- something comparable!
Another good rule is to bring at least enough to feed the number of people you are bringing with you plus a few more (ie a couple with two kids should bring way more food than a single person!)
If you have significant and difficult dietary needs, make sure you bring something substantial that you know you will be able to eat, or just decide that potlucks are not your bag and decline the invitation. Don’t get there and complain there is nothing you can eat.
Never criticize a dish someone else brings. If you don’t like it, simply don’t eat it.
Your dish should be ready to serve when you arrive- you won’t be able to guarantee that there will be fridge or oven space (unless you clear it with the host in advance.)
When serving yourself, be sure to take small enough amounts that there will be plenty of food for the people behind you. It sucks to be last in line and have nothing left to eat besides some melting jello salad.
Don’t go back for seconds until everyone has gotten firsts.