Ask Miriam | Potluck Paucity Poses Problems


Dear Miriam,

I recently hosted a Shabbat potluck dinner, and if it wasn’t for me making a number of extra dishes, we clearly would have run out of food. People showed up with such small portions of food (mainly store bought), that there was not enough to share. I don’t want to shame my guests, but how do I tactfully tell people that bringing enough salad for two when 10 people are coming just won’t cut it?


Poorly Potlucked

Dear Potlucked,

What could have been a disaster wasn’t because you were prepared. Even under the best potluck circumstances, the host often has a couple of extra things in waiting just in case everyone brings pasta or no one brings dessert. While you’re understandably frustrated by what might have been, you don’t need to beat yourself (or your guests) up about something that could have happened but didn’t. There’s nothing to gain by going back to the guests and suggesting there wasn’t enough food. Rather, use this as an opportunity to be better prepared next time.

I’ve found that different cities and communities and groups of friends have different potluck norms. If this was a group that’s had successful potlucks in the past, maybe it was just an off night. If this is a new group for you, maybe the norms just haven’t been established yet up to your standards. Feel free to ask around to other folks in this community to find out how potluck invitations are usually worded or what the normal expectations are for both hosts and guests.

Before you host next time, send out a message that says something like, “I’m expecting about a dozen guests. Please bring a dish that can serve eight to 10 people.” Truthfully, if all 12 people bring food for 12, you’ll have too much but, of course, if everyone only brings food for two, you’ll run out. There’s a sweet spot that might take some trial and error for everyone to achieve. There are also a variety of websites and RSVP formats that let you track what people are bringing. This doesn’t necessarily help with quantity, but it does help with variety, and you can put the number of guests to feed clearly in the instructions.

You can also model your ideal potluck behavior the next time you get an invitation. Make something delicious and homemade and plentiful, and when people remark about how amazing it is, you can say, “I hope you’ll bring one of your favorite homemade dishes next time I host. I’d love to see what sort of food you enjoy.” While you can’t enforce that things are homemade, you can encourage it, while still, of course, making others feel valued for their contributions.

Hosting a potluck is definitely a fine line between control and optimism, and even though this past Shabbat was kind of a bummer food-wise, you can easily adjust both your invitations and your expectations for the next time.

Be well,



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