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Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception


Everything you need to know, from setup to cleanup!

by Hayley Tuller

When we ran Hayley and Tim’s Episcopalian potluck wedding, a bunch of you chimed in wanting more about how to coordinate a potluck. Well, we asked and she answered! Here’s Hayley’s take on how to coordinate a potluck, and we’ll have more from her on the details of the reception later today.

Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception | A Practical Wedding

Why A Potluck?

We decided early on to have a potluck dinner reception. It was largely born out of necessity. We had a huge guest list, and we didn’t want to try to pare down the list to make a per-plate cost fit into the budget. People were our priority, so we needed a way to accommodate everyone.

We also knew that our wedding would be formal. The church is both of our first loves and Tim’s life’s work; we didn’t for one second ever dream of marrying any other way than in a High Nuptial Mass by candlelight. We also had our hearts set on a sit-down dinner reception. We’re really not dance-party people, and we’re absolutely not small-bite canapé people. We’re pass-the-gravy-please and I’ll-have-seconds-on-the-turkey people. We believe that there’s a reason why the central ritual of our religion is a symbolic shared meal, and we wanted to honor that. We believe there is spiritual power in the consumption of food made in love, and that’s the sort of thing that just can’t be bought.

Figuring Out Logistics

First, we looked at the logistics to see if the potluck was possible. We started by asking ourselves some hard questions about whether or not we could pull this off. I think to make a wedding potluck work, you need to have a mostly local crowd, and you need to have folks that “get” potlucks. Fortunately, our church does potlucks about once a month, so we knew we had a core guest list made up of potluck veterans. Potluck is hard-baked into the Episcopalian DNA.

Then we approached the key people we would need to make it happen—the kitchen ladies. If your church has a kitchen, I assure you, you have kitchen ladies, even if they’re not all women! We pitched the idea to our kitchen mafia and asked them if they would help. They loved the idea, and one of them even volunteered to captain the kitchen for the night. Their expertise paid off—it was one of the kitchen experts who came up with the idea to have the kitchen open that afternoon so guests could drop off their dishes ahead of time.

Once we had the kitchen ladies on board and were confident we had the right crowd, we counted everything in the church to find out if we had the materials we needed. Whatever was missing, we rented. I hired extra servers from the bartending company to be “kitchen minions,” which pleased the kitchen ladies to no end. This was probably the best money we spent, after hiring Holly our photographer. Having enough hands is crucial, and it was a bonus to be able to get folks who were experienced servers that I could count on to show up on time, dressed appropriately. Once the details were in place, we briefed our priest on our plan just to be sure we had top-cover. The party was ON!

Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception | A Practical Wedding

Getting The Guests On Board

After that, it was a question of whether our guests would go for the idea. I have always thought the key to keeping guests happy under any circumstances lies in managing expectations. People want to know what to wear, what time to show up, what will happen, and what is expected of them. It’s been my experience that most people happily get on board with your plans provided they know enough information, especially those that love you. We thought about restricting the potluck plans to only to those we actually expected to participate, but based on my “full disclosure” philosophy, I decided to open it up to everyone and see what happened.

Holly called our wedding “Couture Potluck,” and I think that captures it perfectly. To help shape everyone’s expectations, I used the social cues embedded in wedding etiquette to let our guests know that the event would be a formal one, but just one that happened to feature a potluck. This meant making some choices I would not have made otherwise in order get across the “Couture Potluck” theme, like formal invitations, a wedding website, and formal seating charts complete with hand-lettered escort cards.

I sent out the invitations on the early side, to give plenty of time for Q&A. Everyone got a creamy-paper formal invitation (which I made myself using Meg’s APW tutorial—thanks Meg!) with an RSVP card, addressed with calligraphy I did by hand. I carefully selected wording that made it clear to the Episcopalians that the liturgy for the service would be very formal.

Enclosed in the invitation and printed on fancy-looking parchment paper was a letter that we wrote that explained our spiritual philosophy about shared meals, and how everyone was also invited to participate in the potluck if they choose. We poured our hearts out about how we loved shared holiday meals and how we wanted to evoke that same feeling for our wedding. We labored the point that everyone was invited the wedding no matter what, that the potluck was a totally separate thing and not something they needed to do if they wanted to come. At the bottom of the page was a section they could fill out and rip off with all the details if they wanted to play. It was important to have a separate RSVP vehicle for just the wedding—one that didn’t mention the potluck anywhere so people wouldn’t feel obliged to tick a box—and a totally separate RSVP vehicle for the potluck itself. The goal was to avoid a sense of obligation. We feared the perception that a covered dish was the “cost of entry” for our wedding. We also wanted everyone to know what he or she was getting into when they RSVP’d for our wedding. I’m sure a few people felt the potluck was inappropriate, and this way they could opt out of the entire affair from the get-go if they felt that way.

Note: You can download a Christian Version of the potluck letter, inspired by Haley and tim’s original, and a Secular version right here.

Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception | A Practical Wedding

I also put in the letter that we would be collecting recipes ahead of time to bind into a recipe book for guest gifts on the day of the wedding. I wasn’t sure how many people would actually want to participate, but I reasoned that based upon the RSVPs I got and what dishes folks sent me the recipes for, that I would have some sense of what we were working with, and whether we needed to order more food from the local deli. To “anchor” the meal and make sure there was enough main dish for everyone, we placed an order for some honey-baked hams and bought a few frozen turkeys on sale at the local market right after Christmas.

Within a week, the RSVP cards started to roll in. I practically skipped to the mailbox every day giddy with excitement. Those creamy little envelopes with my shaky calligraphy came back stuffed with recipes. Some handwritten, some typed on old typewriters, some computer printouts, all of them covered with the fingerprints of love. We even received a few cell phone photos of ancient index cards written out longhand by grandmothers. Many of them came with little stories about their past and the loved ones who had made them who had long since gone to heaven, and what the dish meant their family. In the end, far more people participated in the potluck than I ever expected; of the 220 guests who RSVP’d they were coming, we had about seventy-five families who brought a dish, and some brought multiple dishes. Because so many people had participated in the recipe exchange, we mostly knew what was coming, and when guests asked in the weeks just before the wedding what they could bring, we were able to suggest types of dishes that we needed most.

Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception | A Practical Wedding

Delicious, Delicious Setup

The Thursday before the wedding we set up the parish hall and roasted the grocery store turkeys in the church’s ovens. All the rental items were delivered, and we hung the decorations and set up the buffet tables. The turkeys were carved, tucked into buffet pans, and stashed in the fridge. We split one long buffet into two so there could be two start points, and mapped out sections for mains, salads, sides, and set up separate tables for desserts. The kitchen experts went through the potluck roster and staged serving dishes accordingly. The church smelled like roast turkey. All was ready, and we took all day on Friday to spend time with our out of town guests.

The day of the wedding, Saturday, the kitchen opened hours before the ceremony. As dishes arrived, the kitchen crew re-plated dishes on the church’s serveware, washed the dish it showed up in, and sent it home clean. The kitchen closed for about an hour so they could go home and change for the wedding, and then reopened for the last hour prior to the ceremony for the remaining dishes. This meant no one needed to balance a casserole on their lap during the ceremony or leave a dish in their car. Just minutes before the procession, the kitchen mafia dashed into the back pews, giggling conspiratorially. During the actual ceremony, the waitstaff we hired watched over everything and took care of any stragglers.

We were lucky that our church had an extra reception space for cocktail hour separate from the parish hall; this kept everyone out of the way while the buffet was set up. While the guests mingled and had drinks, the kitchen crew and the waitstaff sprung into action. The kitchen boss directed the rewarming as needed, and the waitstaff ran the dishes out to the buffet. This process consumed the entire cocktail hour. I had planned to truncate cocktail hour if the ceremony ran long (which it did), but in actuality the kitchen staff needed every minute of that hour. When the board was laid, we let everyone find their seats in the hall, said grace, and a friend directed tables to the buffet one at a time and cruised the room with bottles of wine.

Putting Together A Couture Potluck Wedding Reception | A Practical Wedding

A Meal Of Love

Guests raved. People left the buffet with plates piled high like it was a family Thanksgiving. Several made repeat visits for seconds. Everyone talked about the dishes, and laughed at the little stories I included in the recipe book. We let dinner run on as long as it felt natural to do so; the focus of the night for us wasn’t really dancing because we’re not really dancers, so this was no sacrifice. We didn’t throw bouquets or garters or have speeches. We all just sat and ate and told stories and drank toasts; it was like being at a massive family holiday dinner. At the end of dinner we did cut the cake and do a first dance, mostly because I feared that there were guests that wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving unless those things happened first. Then I went back for a plate of turkey-and-gravy seconds.

A Note About Cleanup: The only other downside was cleanup, which was a bear. We wound up paying the waitstaff nearly two hours overtime to try to get all the dishes back into the kitchen and things returned to order. Looking back on it, this is the one thing I would do differently. I used mostly the church’s serving- and diningware, which meant everything had to be washed completely and put back into storage. The job wasn’t even fully complete until the next morning, and I spent the first morning of my married life doing dishes along with several of my friends in the church kitchen. In hindsight, I think it would have been worth the expense to have just rented all the dishes and serveware. Everything would have effortlessly matched, the rental company would have handled the setup, and all that would have been necessary at the end of the night would be to rinse and restack the dishes since the rental company I used offered a cleaning service. When I was originally quoted the cost, I balked because it seemed unnecessary. After all, the church had its own dishes. But now I think the savings in time and effort would have been well worth it.

Hayley Tuller

Hayley is a transplanted Midwesterner and reluctant Floridian; she lives with her husband the organist/choirmaster and their self-important corgi, Max. After 20 years trotting the globe as a linguist, cryptologist, and sometime aviator in the US Navy, she is now a college student relishing her long-postponed education. And before you ask, she still has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up.

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  • laddibugg

    “I think to make a wedding potluck work, you need to have a mostly local crowd, and you need to have folks that “get” potlucks. ”
    Yeah. It’s a great idea, but I don’t think this would work for my ‘crowd’. People expect to have food provided for them at a wedding, not to have to be the one’s providing. Definitely a regional/cultural thing. It might also not work for those who have many guests that are relying on public transportation to get to the venue.

    • Meg Keene

      I don’t think it’s regional, I just think it’s straight up cultural and sub-cultural. Church communities usually DO POTLUCKS, for example. So if you are a serious church person, it’s probably within your cultural context. I’m part of a small counter-cultural community that also does potlucks… and communal anything. So I went to a potluck wedding within that community and it made a lot of sense.

      But at the same time, as much as I grew up in church and the counter culture, the particular crowd at our wedding did NOT do potlucks, so it wouldn’t have been an option. So it’s not as simple as regional, it’s sort of micro-community stuff. If this is for you, you’ll know.

      • TeaforTwo

        “If this is for you, you’ll know.” Absolutely. My brother’s wedding was a potluck, and so was my BFF’s. And the food at both of those weddings was OUT OF THIS WORLD. My in-laws, on the other hand, would not have had any idea of how to process the idea, so we had caterers.

        One reason I think it’s so important is that feeding 100+ people is just plain hard to pull off. It doesn’t need to be impossible, but it does take practice. I come from a long line of Anglican church ladies who have been organizing potlucks their whole lives, but a wedding shouldn’t be the first potluck your crowd have done.

        It’s the difference between an office potluck where everyone shows up with something storebought, vs. the last potluck wedding I went to that was full of cries of “I would know Deirdre’s cabbage salad from a mile away – everyone out of my way!” and “Oh, I’m SO GLAD your mom brought her butter tarts!” No one wants to get married and then show up at the reception to find out that there’s nothing to eat but endless bags of tortilla chips and a veggie tray from the deli.

        • Meg Keene

          YES. I think this is probably the best advice out there. Your wedding shouldn’t be your community’s first potluck. (If it is, and the issue is simply that you need food to be affordable, refer here for lots of self catering/ light catering tips:http://apracticalwedding.com/tag/self-catered-weddings/)

          In fact, for the one potluck wedding I went to, I had been outside the fold of that particular community long enough, that I hadn’t done a potluck with them. What did we bring? Something we bought at Whole Foods an hour before. What did people close to them bring? Something carefully home cooked. It’s not that the other guests loved the couple more, it’s just that they spoke the language of that community’s potluck style, and were practiced at it.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            On different potluck styles, a now-funny story: My first potluck at my present (Anglican) parish, I brought cornbread, which was a totally normal potluck food at the non-Anglican churches I grew up in 15 miles away. But the Anglicans I run with now are more English/urban/Yankee in their tastes, and mistook the cornbread for lemon bars. I noticed the cornbread wasn’t served with dinner, but was too shy to speak up. I suppose there were a few people disappointed with their “lemon bars” come dessert time.

            I’ve since adjusted what I bring, though I often don’t bring anything these days, and no one seems to notice/mind/care. There’s always enough food, and while I do believe lovingly-prepared food is a great way to show love and community, as one of the few parish members who works full time, I don’t think it’s the best use of my energies at this stage of my life, and our community life.

          • Hayley Tuller

            Lemon bars!!!

            Yeah, on your second issue, I hear you… To me, that’s one of the great strengths of the Anglican church potluck lunch. We have folks in our parish too that for various reasons just can’t provide for the potluck in that season of their life. Those of us who can, we do for them. That’s called community. That’s love. :)

            Everyone has their gifts to share. And it all works because they’re all different.

        • Hayley Tuller

          YES, so true. I really think this worked for us because our core community did this on a regular basis. Maybe not for weddings — we were the first wedding potluck anybody at Good Shepherd could remember — but they understood what a home-cooked potluck was all about.

      • a single sarah

        Absolutely agree about it being a subculture of churches. The regional difference is whether you call it a potluck or a covered dish dinner ;) I think churches are doing fewer potlucks than they used to, which I blame on a lessening emphasis of cooking within American culture.

        • Hayley Tuller

          Oh ooh — or you call it “hot dish”!! I agree with your point on the lessening emphasis on cooking, which is such a shame…

          • a single sarah

            Or if you call the dish you bring a casserole (which I absolutely do)! And I don’t think any of those were on the dialect survey quiz.

            I’m going to keep fostering potluck culture within my communities. Grateful that you are too.

    • Hayley Tuller

      Yeah, expectations can really be a b—- when it comes to weddings, no? That was a large part of why we make the point of letting everybody know what was what from the get go, and that they were NOT obliged in any way. To that point — only about 1/3 of our guests actually participated in the potluck, which made for plenty of food. The majority of our guests indeed HAD food provided for them — they just came and ate and enjoyed themselves. It was just a homemade meal instead of a catered one. AND they didn’t have an expectation from me for a present.

      I suspect that there are probably still some people out there who wouldn’t be down with a potluck wedding reception even if they weren’t expected to “be the one providing,” simply because they would feel it was tacky or inappropriate somehow. Fortunately I don’t have a lot (if any) of those kind of people in my community, and if they didn’t like the idea they were fully informed from the beginning so they could just not attend any part of the day they didn’t like.

      Many of those same guests who just came and ate and celebrated with us were people who would have otherwise been struck from the guest list so I could afford to provide the catered meal I that some few might have “expected.” So for my community, I took the inclusive route, I have no regrets.

  • Laura C

    I love this! I’m not sure I could ever let go of my control freak tendencies around potlucks to do it and enjoy it, among other things, but it’s fabulous. I’ve been to a potluck wedding that worked really well — similarly in a potluck-oriented community — but it was a buffet and a much smaller wedding.

    • Hayley Tuller

      Umm… yeah, I hear ya, sister. That was the hardest part for me because I’m an absolute control freak. In a way, choosing to go this route was a spiritual discipline in practicing the acceptance of help and love, because as a control freak I normally find that hard to do.

  • Hannah B

    This is fantastic advice just for potlucks in general (or, for Pittsburghers, the cookie table). Thanks for sharing!

    • holly gardner

      Yes, cookie table… Of all the weddings I’ve photographed I think only 1 has had it? We need more of those in the South!

    • Meg Keene

      COOKIE TABLE. Who wants to write about one for us? I don’t think we have the right geographic mix on the staff to totally cover it.

      • scw

        yes! someone write one! FH and I went to a great wedding last summer (in pittsburgh) with a cookie table and we are trying to figure out how to coordinate it for our own wedding. I am sending this to the pittsburgh bride I know now in case she wants to write one, but she’s a busy lady!

      • smanganaro

        I am the Pittsburgh bride scw is talking about! A cookie table was a great way for my numerous aunts/familymembers/friends to be a part of my big day. It also left everyone happy and chatting. After a night of drinking and dancing, few things are more enjoyable than a clam-shell of cookies baked with love. I must admit, a cookie table does take some consideration and planning- I would be happy to share my experience or offer some tips on making the cookie table organized AND fun.

        • Meg Keene

          We would love that!! And basing it on this post isn’t a bad place to start, she did such a bang up job. Also I want cookies.

          • Hayley Tuller

            Aawwwwww!! And I second cookies.

        • Hayley Tuller

          DO IT!!!

        • Alyssa M

          Please write that! I’m not from anywhere near Pittsburgh, and I didn’t even know a cookie table was a “thing,” but I’m pretty sure I’m having one at my wedding! I’d love the tips!

      • KC

        I can’t write it, but I can emphasize that having either hired help or friend-of-a-friend help for anything where there’s immediately-pre-wedding or during-wedding setup is really, really helpful. I was a pair of extra hands at what was basically a formal cookie table reception (allll the relatives had been baking for weeks beforehand), and while I knew the mother of the bride and was very good friends with the Head Kitchen Lady, I didn’t actually really know the bride, so I didn’t care about missing the wedding – which meant that I could guard the kitchen and finish the last touches while the other kitchen people dashed off to the wedding (which they really really did want to be at) and back. :-)

        Setup-wise, earlier in the day it was a lot of transfer and reorganization of things out of tupperware and into bowls, onto platters, etc., and then a lot of “refresh” work during the reception to get demolished cookie trays replaced with tidy ones and then refill the depleted ones as necessary. Really fun, altogether!

      • Cat

        We had 400 dozen cookies and 50-ish tortes (all homemade!) at our (huge) Ukrainian wedding in the Youngstown, Ohio area! One of my fondest memories is watching people attack the cookie table immediately following dinner. The following day, only 3 dozen cookies remained. So many family friends and relatives pitched in to make their signature desserts, and I have never felt so much love via butter and sugar. I would also be happy to share some hints on how to make it happen, because it was AWESOME.

        • Meg Keene

          We would love that! If two of you write something, we can always edit to combine.

          • smanganaro

            I love it! Starting now!

        • Hayley Tuller

          What an epically cool scene!

      • cecc

        I would love to read a piece about cookie tables. I just looked it up (how did I not know of this great thing?!) and turns out that’s what we’re doing except with pies! … and I need to figure out how to plan that shit.

    • http://batman-news.com jbryant6

      I had planned to do a cookie table (I’m in Oklahoma, for geographical reference) but it’s one of the things that got dropped as the wedding date neared. I decided to do homemade chocolate chip cookies as favors instead. Our wedding is less than two weeks away, and while I still wish we were doing the cookie table, I know it would’ve pushed me right over the edge!

    • Nope.

      Does anyone have any advice for cookie tables? We’re a Pittsburgher/Clevelander Italian-American duo, and I’d LOVE to incorporate a cookie table. We’re having a formal wedding, and I’m thinking of using the recipe book idea from this post in lieu of actually asking all of the guests to bring cookies. Anyone have any experience with this?

      • Hannah B

        There are a few other Pittsburgh brides on here, who I believe ARE doing cookie tables…the whole orchestration aspect stresses me out so I am not doing it. Several of my friends have done cookie tables, and it typically involves mothers and grandmothers and aunts pre-making lots and lots of cookie dough, freezing it, and baking it all up a few days ahead of time. Venues in the area routinely tell you when they’ll be there to accept cookie drop offs. Ladyfingers, buckeyes, black and white cookies, those little waffley things that taste like licorice, chocolate chip cookies, etc are all popular. It’s never been a thing my family has done, but I know that kids love it and it is a nice way to let lots of people be involved, if you know lots of people who bake. A friend of mine had an aunt who made TWO HUNDRED DOZEN cookies for his wedding…which feels insane. If anyone else had an easy time of it, I’d consider adding one! (Side note: the cookie table rarely replaces cake, which means you will have the most sugared up children possible at the reception.)

        • Emily

          I had NO IDEA such a wonderful thing existed! It is the perfect balance of potluck, love baked in, family that just wants to help vs full-blown potluck.

      • Hayley Tuller

        The recipe book turned out to be just about my favorite thing from the wedding reception, and I got soooo many more recipes than I thought I would get. Word of warning — having them printed out at Kinko’s was NOT. CHEAP. I suggest pre-pricing that and adding it to your budget in the run up to your wedding day so you don’t get the shocking surprise I got.

    • Hayley Tuller

      OMG. I had to google “Pittsburgh cookie table.” I totally need to move to Pittsburgh now!!!

  • joanna b.n.

    SO COOL.

  • Acres_Wild

    I clicked over to this article expecting that I would come away still thinking that a potluck wedding is never a good idea, but I was surprised to find that I loved this. I think the reason I balk at potluck weddings is the “admission fee” vibe I usually get, but Hayley and her partner avoided it beautifully, while carrying on a really lovely and meaningful tradition. Thanks for this!

    • holly gardner

      I was worried about the same thing, but as observed everyone throughout the day I can safely say there was NOT that vibe. Just love and a real community feel!

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, again, it really is going to depend on the micro-community involved. Serious church people, serious counter culture people, that’s just stuff we do within that context.IE, of COURSE you help everyone out all the time (and they do the same for you). It spans from rides to the hospital, to fundraisers for medical bills, to food when you just had a baby, to cleaning your house after your partner died, to potlucks. Without that context, in our particular modern American culture, it can have a very different vibe.

      It’s all about the crowd. (And, side note, it’s really all about cohesive community. Cohesive communities really rare these days, but in most cases if you have one, pot-lucking is appropriate.)

      • mvanengen

        This is what I miss from my hometown of 850 people.

      • Hayley Tuller

        “Cohesive communities are really rare these days…”
        I know, isn’t that a shame? I feel like we were– we ARE– really fortunate to belong to one, and wanted to celebrate and honor that. Here’s to hoping that these sorts of communities are on the rise, because I think culture is shifting in America as people increasing eschew commercialism in the wake of the financial crisis. But that’s just my inner sociological economist talking.

  • Lindsey d.

    This is amazing… I think it really draws on people’s love to help. They really want to be there for you, you just need to tell them how. Incredibly tough to organize; amazing when it is pulled off. Of course, the very close relationship with the church helps a lot here.

    • holly gardner

      Hayley & Tim did an amazing job pulling it together! When I first heard the idea I honestly didn’t know how it’d work. But it was AMAZING! I think that the key is to hire a few helpers to help with all the last-minute details. It was definitely a wonderful thing to witness and document!

      • Hayley Tuller

        Holly’s right… just a few professionally hired helpers at the very end make all the difference.

    • Hayley Tuller

      YES we’re totally sharing that viewpoint. People love you and they want to help, and love is multiplied in being willing to receive it as much as you give it.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    As a fellow Anglican who’s a church lady once a quarter, I just love this. Considering sharing it with my Priests.

    • Meg Keene

      You should TOTALLY share with your priests!!

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Actually, I think this is going to go to the clergy and the vestry – it describes/encapsulates some things about community we’ve been talking about for the past year.

        • Hayley Tuller

          I LOVE THAT. I think that’s a lot of what we’re all about the Episcopal church!

  • MC

    The first wedding I attended as an adult was a potluck wedding and I was seriously skeptical about it. But it was AMAZING. It was very different than Hayley & Tim’s wedding – it was a secular, casual farm wedding – but man did people pull together to help! There was way too much delicious food to go around and it definitely created an atmosphere of love and support for the couple. If 90% of our guest list wasn’t out-of-state we would totally be doing this. Thank you for sharing all your tips & tricks!

    • Hayley Tuller

      I think that’s the cool thing — people who love you WANT to help!!

  • Bee

    I’ve been to a wedding with a potluck dinner, as well as a wedding with potluck desserts instead of a cake. Both were fantastic!

    • Hayley Tuller

      The great thing about a potluck desserts reception is that they would require WAAAAY less prep work for your kitchen crew. Cookies and pie don’t really need to be reheated. I think that would be an awesome option for someone who wanted the inclusiveness of a potluck styled reception but who didn’t have the facilities or manpower for the full-contact version we did.

  • lady brett

    very, very cool – and lovely.

  • Amy March

    One tip that has worked well for our office potlucks is handing out the aluminum catering trays before hand- the ones that fit in the heating stands. No worry about washing and returning casserole dishes. If you have a close knit pot luck friendly community, you might be to hand those out ahead of time to many people helping.

    • Hayley Tuller

      We TOTALLY did that, and I couldn’t agree more with your tip. Those things were lifesavers.

  • emilyg25

    This is just so awesome. My parents had a potluck wedding in the 70s and I attended one a few years ago between two crazy artists. I just don’t see what the big deal is, as long as you know your crowd.

  • enfp

    Loving this series of posts from Hayley! Her posts are a great example of knowing yourself, being true to your values through your planning process and communicating that in a beautiful way to guests. Even though a potluck wedding wouldn’t work for my out of town crowd, that’s useful and inspiring to me.

  • http://peckishadventurer.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    I think this makes a lot of sense for couples whose guest list exceeds their income. It would be great to have the potluck in lieu of gifts!

    • Hayley Tuller

      Yes, precisely. We instituted a firm “no presents” policy along with the choice of a potluck. Some people encouraged us to register for a honeymoon, but I stood from on that point. I felt strongly that I didn’t want our wedding to be an outsized financial obligation for anyone, including us!

  • Amy M.

    Aaaaaand this is why I read APW :-D Who else is going to tell me how to throw a couture potluck wedding? Thanks for sharing your advice Hayley!

  • Sarah

    First: this was a great post. I loved reading about how this concept worked. Second: how cool would it be if all weddings were potlucks, if that’s just how weddings were done? Our wedding – and many other life events we’ve shared with loved ones, like graduations, moving, etc – had this vibe of a community gathering, where guests were there to rally around us, witness our commitment, and offer us support. Sure we threw them a great party, but wouldn’t it seem more sincere if the whole thing were a potluck, kind of like “hey someone we love is embarking on this great life adventure. Let’s all get together, cook each other a big meal, wish them well and offer our support.” That’d be awesome and would probably make for so much less wedding-related stress.

    • Hayley Tuller

      I totally agree… one of the things I loved about doing this was that it took away a lot of the sense of commercial obligation. I hate how weddings have become about the obligation to buy a present for the guest and the obligation to cater a meal and buy drinks for the hosts. To be clear, I have NOTHING against a catered wedding feast or wedding presents, but I’m vehemently against the sense of OBLIGATION. It kills me that to this day one of the major critiques I hear of this style of wedding reception is that people feel obliged to bring a dish. We worked hard to mitigate that perception, and in actuality, only about 1/4 of our guests actually brought a dish — those who liked to cook and wanted to participate. Those who didn’t, just didn’t. And at my insistence, they didn’t bring presents either. They just enjoyed our hospitality and celebrated with us.

      I say that’s far better than nearly all of my guests feeling obliged to buy me a present that I probably won’t use anyway, and me feeling obliged to buy them a catered meal that they wouldn’t like as much anyway, simply because of “expectations”… and having to cut people out of the celebration to boot just so I could afford it. To me, going this route was standing up for the value that the ceremony was the most important part of the day. It may not be for everyone, and that’s okay too, but for us it was. By choosing an unorthodox and uncommercial route for the reception, I was making it possible to be inclusive in who we invited to our actual wedding, which to my mind, was over before anyone took a bite of anything, catered or homemade.

  • wrenochka

    My partner and I are doing a potluck wedding this June, and we borrowed a lot of our planning ideas from friends who had a 300-person (!) potluck in our neighbourhood last year. One of the best ideas we’ve used so far has been to create a potluck dish pie chart that automatically updates from our RSVP form, using a google doc and a wordpress widget, so that we can aim for a decent balance between the kinds of dishes people bring (i.e., not all desserts!): http://ivanakupala2014.ca/potluck-2/

    One thing we’re trying to figure out right now, though, is how to work out the logistics of how many chaffing dishes to plan on using, etc – if anyone out there has any specific tips for estimating this kind of stuff, please let me know! :)