when are potlucks a bad idea?

A reader writes:

My office is doing a potluck for Thanksgiving. We are a company with just over 100 people. I have dietary restrictions, so I asked if there would be a sign-up so I’d know in advance if I could eat anything. HR declined, saying they don’t want people to feel pressured to bring anything.

But … that’s the whole point of a potluck. If they don’t want to pressure people to bring food, they should cater it. I am also concerned about food safety, as I have had negative reactions to potluck food before. My current plan is to just eat a meal beforehand and bring some roasted potatoes.

Is there a point at which a company is large enough that a potluck is just a bad idea? Or am I overreacting?

Your potluck is being strangely run, but I don’t think it’s because of your company’s size.

If they’re going to hold a potluck, it makes sense to offer a sign-up sheet where people can note what they plan to bring so that you don’t end up with 20 potato salads, 50 packs of napkins, and nothing else. (Actually, I would be delighted to eat a meal of 20 different potato salads, but it’s probably not what most people are going for.) Including a sign-up doesn’t really amp up the pressure on people to bring something; it just makes things more organized and less likely to result in day-of chaos.

And yes, if they’re concerned about pressuring people to participate, they should indeed just cater it. People often do feel pressured to participate in potlucks. Other people love them, of course! But if they’re this concerned about a sign-up sheet causing pressure, catering is the way to go.

That said, I don’t know that a sign-up sheet would have helped you know in advance if you’d be able to eat anything — since you wouldn’t know what surprising ingredients people might be putting in their mashed potatoes. (Although I suppose if you saw something very simple listed, like a fruit platter, you might reasonably guess that would end up being safe.)

Really, though, dietary restrictions and potlucks can be a tough mix, unless your workplace is vigilant about requiring accurate ingredient cards with each dish. Even if you do, depending on the nature of your dietary restrictions and especially if they’re strict, I still might be cautious, because people are notoriously allergy-unaware and far too many people will faithfully write out all the ingredients their cookbook listed for the recipe but not add that they always add their own dash of paprika for color, or claim their lentil soup is vegetarian without thinking to mention they used chicken stock in it.

And that’s before we get into your concern about food safety. Generally if you want to enjoy a potluck, you have to deliberately not think too hard about your coworkers’ hygiene practices or how sanitary their kitchens might be. If sanitation/safety is a hard limit for you, potlucks are a tricky proposition.

Your plan to eat a meal beforehand is good, or you could bring something that you’ll enjoy and that will be filling enough for you even if you don’t eat anything else there.

{ 533 comments… read them below }

    1. ferrina*

      I misread your comment and thought you were saying that cheap ass rolls should be mandatory for all office potlucks.

        1. Olive*

          I would have categorized King’s Hawaiian as cheapass rolls to begin with, and I like them just fine.

        2. Debouched Sloth*

          For a person concerned about dietary restrictions, rolls with hidden eggs and dairy are a little annoying.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          throwback win.
          Cheapass rolls will NEVER get old, but it’s good to hear the B sides as well!

        2. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

          How do I find this dog cookies story? All I have found are other AAM comment threads mentioning the famous dog cookies story from the past.

          1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

            One must search for “dog dressed up in a Santa Claus hat and a harness that was covered with hanging cookies” and the headline of the article refers to the even more infamous “I will confront you by Wednesday of this week” story

            1. Confused*

              Thank you!! I have been reading AAM for years and somehow missed this one. What a delight. Not remotely surprised it happened in academia.

              1. Random Dice*

                Omigosh all of those were hilarious – I’ve read them before but they had my crying laughing like new.

                #5 Legal leaving the Elf on the Shelf snorting hot chocolate powder off a naked Barbie. I’m DYING.

                #1 the screaming banister destruction, can you just imagine??

                #9 the overhead crotch twirl, oh nooo

    2. Momma Bear*


      The last time I participated in a pot luck, the organizer posted a list with slots for different categories, everything from veggies to meat to napkins. You signed up for what you wanted and the company filled in the rest if necessary. Then everyone was highly encouraged to write down the ingredients (which was sometimes funny “contains blood, sweat, and tears of one Engineer”) to prop up next to their dish so people could choose what to eat. You didn’t have to eat anything. You didn’t have to bring anything. Sometimes people just dropped in for a slice of pie between meetings. Very low-key, low-pressure but also helped ensure a good distribution of food. I really appreciated that little bit of organization.

  1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn Profiles**

    If they’re going to hold a potluck, it makes sense to offer a sign-up sheet where people can note what they plan to bring so that you don’t end up with 20 potato salads, 50 packs of napkins, and nothing else.

    Or a huge spread of similar foods but no napkins or plates or utensils because HR wouldn’t allow a sign-up sheet.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        At a church women’s group meeting, we did a true pot-luck. We all decided to bring relish trays. Fortunately, I like pickles and olives. We laughed at ourselves and learned out lesson. Sign-up sheets!

        1. PhyllisB*

          At the church I used atttend, our church ladies group did a potluck every Christmas. The year I attended I decided to do something I’d never made before; a green bean casserole. We had nine green bean casseroles. Luckily we had some desserts and plenty of wine so we were good. I suggested having a sign up sheet, but the president said that would that would “spoil the fun.”
          I don’t know what they did later because we were attending a different church the next year.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            In some parts of the country, a green bean casserole is the defining characteristic of a church potluck. Following a close second is the canned fruit in jello in a mold.

            1. Miss Muffet*

              Tell me you’re Lutheran without telling me you’re Lutheran :)
              (And I know you are anyway bc you’ve said it in other posts. So am I!)

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                My church is more recently German, and so has different characteristics. But whenever I find myself in central Pennsylvania the Pennsylvania Dutch meal is instantly recognizable. I am good for it once every two or three years.

                1. They Called Me Skeletor.....*

                  Not potluck related, but Jello mold related. Several years ago, I got a mold for a human brain. it was a gift for my boyfriend at the time. It came with a recipe of how to make jello that was the same color as a human brain. I made one, put it on a plate and took it into work. I thought it would be good for a few laughs. The president of the company opened the refrigerator door, saw this thing sitting in there on a plate and screamed so loud and jumped back literally about 10 ft in one jump until she hit the wall. it was the best response.

                  I never did that again.

              2. Lurker Cat*

                Not Lutheran but from the Midwest, can confirm no potluck is complete without at least one green bean casserole, to the great confusion of all my coworkers here in the Southwest.

            2. Mongrel*

              “Following a close second is the canned fruit in jello in a mold.”

              For moulded jello… items (and Spam atrocities) go look for B Dylan Hollis on TikTok, he’s brilliant.
              There are some third party compilations on You Tube but you’ll be missin a lot

            1. Ink*

              The hilarity of your bad luck can be really fun! …as long as you can eat enough casserole or potato salad or whatever to fill up, or you don’t get hangry.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            Are you attending another church because of the nine green bean casseroles? Was it just way too much? :D

        2. Beans Beans Beans*

          Similar story but it was all baked beans. So. Many. Baked. Beans.
          I recently mentioned this story to someone from the church and she told me that her dad used to only come to church potlucks hoping for a singular dish of baked beans, since no one else in her family liked them so he never got them at home, and that night ended up being possibly the greatest day of his life.

        3. Mostly Managing*

          My potluck mess was a group that had one in the spring and one at Christmas. It was a smallish group (two dozen of us?) and potluck with no sign up had always worked well.
          Until the spring that everyone brought some variation of potato salad. With pickles in. With chunks of egg in. With….
          The following Christmas, every single person brought dessert!

          After that there was a sign-up sheet.

        4. Kay*

          My church’s choir believes firmly that potluck means the luck of draw. It will be left to chance, and don’t try to control their whims or late planning! This means there was once a potluck with only one main dish, and they said, “Oh well!”

          There was also once a tenor who was hosting a potluck at his home, and asked for a sign up sheet in advance (he wasn’t there that night, but his daughter was). The choir revolted and everyone signed up to bring variations of potatoes. There was much good-natured brain storming, and some very creative potato dishes landed on the sheet. Of course everyone brought a variety of items, but he learned that the choir cannot be tamed. He still hosts the choir Christmas party every year, but he’s never tried to do a sign up sheet again.

      2. Kyrielle*

        At $PreviousJob it would have been all desserts and sodas. And probably no cups or plates or napkins, either. I mean, you might get lucky…but only might.

      1. Debouched Sloth*

        Exactly! You pays no money and you takes your chances, and maybe it will be a delicious multicourse balanced meal, and maybe it will be a table full of jello salads.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      I do hate it when people don’t understand basic organizing needs. Like a potluck needs some management/organizing of who’s bringing what.

      Also with a holiday meal like this, you probably need the business / big boss’s to fund the expensive turkey and ham mail dishes and leave everyone else to sign up for appetizers, sides, and desserts.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yes! OldJob had a Thanksgiving potluck the Friday before the holiday every year. Work was very clear that they would provide all plates, cups, utensils, and napkins. They also bought the turkey and gravy. For everything else there was a signup, and it was not necessary to bring anything (unless you were the people who made 1-the delicious mashed potatoes, 2-the pork dumplings or 3-the homemade samosas. They got specific requests every year). We always had far too much food, and it was recommended to bring tupperware or something similar to bring home leftovers. You have to plan a certain amount to make a potluck successful!

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Yes my old job did this! We had various holiday potlucks and the company always provided the main dish (such as a turkey for Thanksgiving), drinks (soda, beer, and wine), as well as all the cutlery/plates/cups/napkins/etc, and the employees signed up for side dishes and desserts.

        They were always awesome affairs where everyone had fun and ate a ton of great food. It also pretty much meant the work day was over – the feast would start around noon and being right before a holiday meant there wasn’t really any work to do at that point. Combined with it being a smallish company (~50 people) and most of us were in our mid-20s it ended up being a fun afternoon of food and hanging out.

      3. Chirpy*

        This. My current job may be terrible at doing potlucks, but at least they’ve got the “management supplies the meat main dish and plates” right.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      OP! remember, file folders work as plates!
      Learned that here from another free for all potluck.

    3. Antilles*

      That’s where my mind immediately went too.
      In my experience, people only think to bring utensils to a potluck if there’s a sign-up sheet which specifically lists “plasticware and plates” as something to sign up for*. If it’s not listed, people just assume there’s already some available or someone else will cover it or just straight up don’t think about it.

      *Hi, it’s me, I’m the one who always signs up to bring utensils and plates. Spend <$10 and five minutes at the store? Yes please!

      1. dawbs*

        Ah, I’m spoiled.
        I live in a little town where one of the major employers is a factory that makes disposable picnic ware.

        Nobody signs up for plates, they just magically appear because someone who works there brought the misprints. We all know someone who works there when you need 350 cups… :)

      2. Ink*

        My mom has a stack of disposable dishware that makes the rounds of every family event. We wound up with nothing a few too many times, so now her big bag of possibly-extraneous dishware goes from meal to meal until it runs out and she has to buy more. Which is more often than you’d think, because somehow we’re just that bad about remembering (and they aren’t expecting her to handle it. It still happens at events where everyone knows we definitely won’t be making it X’D)

    4. Mulligatawney*

      A legendary potluck-without-signup, before an annual meeting of church committee members: everyone brought baked beans. It was the shortest meeting ever.

      They started using signup sheets after that.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      We don’t do office potlucks any more but when we did we were assigned a category of food by department. The main items (turkey at holiday parties, for example) were purchased by our employer and the sides, desserts, and tableware were potlucked. Department A got vegetables, B got breads, C got desserts, D got utensils, etc. In theory it could rotate but the same departments tended to sign up for the same categories each year because some people had specific cooking strengths.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It worked really well, the caveat being that I work with a bunch of functional adults who can be trusted to bring actual food and not to use potluck to play out weird office drama.

      1. Random Biter*

        This is how it worked at my OldJob. Of course, after the year my department was assigned desserts, and I brought a homemade red velvet cheesecake we somehow became the designated dessert-bringers all time.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I’d be so sad if my department ended up with the wrong thing. I basically only bake desserts, so I just wouldn’t have made anything if my dept got something else. Other people also often have a regular dish or two they make for potlucks. I’d rather just have a sign-up sheet with all the categories listed so people with more varied skills can make something for the empty categories.

    6. Tyche*

      It’s wild to me that they’re not using a sign up sheet. Thoughts and prayers to them figuring out what to do with the mountain of rolls and store bought pies.

    7. Bethany*

      Every office I’ve ever worked in has had enough plates for its staff, why would plates need to be brought?

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        That’s a lot of dishes, and it’s probably hard to find people willing to wash all of them, so they want disposables.

        1. amoeba*

          We always went the dishwasher route as well, so would probably not even consider plates, unless it’s for an outdoor picnic or something!

  2. Catalin*

    I’m on Team Yikes when it comes to potlucks. Sanitation, cross-contamination, secret ingredients, NOPE.

    Who puts crushed up PECANS in fruit salad!?

    1. Be Gneiss*

      Yeah, I’m good at guessing which of my coworkers probably lets their cats walk around on their kitchen counters, but I’m not good at guessing what they brought so I can avoid those things specifically.

      1. anywhere but here*

        To be fair, it’s quite hard to train cats to stay off of counters, especially because they can always prance around while you’re gone. In lieu of successfully training my evil roommate, I sanitize my counters right before doing anything food related on them. That said, I would not trust the average person to have great food sanitation procedures.

        1. Cats are not the problem*

          Yes. I also have cats, and of course they’re on the counters sometimes, and OF COURSE I sanitize the counters before I cook, and ~also~ I don’t put any type of food at any stage of prep DIRECTLY on my counters.

          I promise, Be Gneiss, there are so so many ways people’s home cooking and/or kitchens can be gross/unsanitary, and it has exactly nothing to do with whether they have cats or whether those cats are ever on their counters.

          1. Orv*

            Wait, do people actually do prep work directly on the counter? Seems like that would make cleanup harder and lead to lots of knife marks in an expensive countertop. I always use cutting boards.

            1. TriviaJunkie*

              I sometimes have done, but it’s rare and I get it extra extra clean first. I just don’t have any dishes big enough to roll out dough on.
              Also recently cut some Costco pizzas on the counter, but I have one granite counter that can take it (and as above, no dishes big enough). Mostly just the baking though, and tbh I don’t actually bake all that much

                1. JustaTech*

                  Pizza dough and cookie dough I do on parchment, but pie dough and rolled breads go on the (washed right before) counter in order to get the right amount of friction.

                  Also, if I’m doing a *lot* of peeling prep of apples or potatoes, they often end up on the counter, so again, washed before starting. And my late cat never touched that counter!

            2. Ace in the Hole*

              I kneed bread dough directly on the counter… but I clean the countertop thoroughly right before doing so.

              I might also set whole fruits/vegetables on the counter before chopping them (with actual chopping done on a cutting board). That’s pretty typical from what I’ve seen of others cooking.

        2. Set999*

          My cats aren’t allowed on my counters (and they mostlyyy comply). And even with wiping down the counters, constantly vacuuming, and running an air purifier, I was melting butter for a dish the other day….and found a single, gd, cat hair.

          1. Roland*

            I don’t really believe that any cats comply with “no counters” when their humans aren’t looking, haha.

            1. Dek*

              I feel fairly confident that my old housemate’s cat did after the baking pan incident. He never really was one for trying something again after a Bad Noise.

              …mine, on the other hand…

            2. I'm just here for the cats!*

              Believe it or not there are cats that don’t get on the counters. My cat’s dont. I know for a fact because they are too darn fat to jump that high! Also, my old cat only got on the counter when we lived in an apartment that had one of those penisila things that divided the livingroom from the kitchen area. And she just thought it was a table, which she always got on. THat was the only time she ever got on the counters.

            3. NotAnotherManager!*

              Five cats in, ours have zero interest in the counters. (I think one of the cats jumped up on the counter one time when we were bathing the baby in the sink – he wouldn’t let the baby out of his sight and needed to supervise the new parents. When we moved baby baths to the tub, he was in there, too.)

              Now, every desk surface, computers, whatever you’re trying to work on at that moment, the patio furniture, and the guest bed which they believe belongs to them? Yeah, good luck keeping them off of those.

              1. Annie*

                My cat rarely ever got on counters or even my desk. She was remarkably well behaved. I think I only saw her on a counter maybe twice, and I think that’s because there was tuna or salmon out and she could smell it. Otherwise, she didn’t seem to have any need to get up there.

            4. Old Woman in Purple*

              Yeah, mine just learned to stay off the counters when the humans were within line of sight.

            5. Ace in the Hole*

              Mine don’t go on the counters. I know this only because I find muddy paw prints on every surface except the kitchen counters.

            6. Princess Sparklepony*

              It’s why I only have super senior cats. The highest I’ve had one jump is onto the bed or the couch. Cats with arthritis and that are practically blind are lovely roommates.

          2. Misshapen Pupfish*

            I know for a fact that anything I make in my kitchen will have dog or cat hair in it. I really, really do my best but I have a dog with a thick undercoat and a longhaired cat and I don’t even want to know how much hair I’ve ingested in my life. But that’s my burden to bear, and so I dutifully (but not sadly) pass on ever making homemade goods for others.

            1. Random Biter*

              After working in food service for many, many years, and seeing what the customer’s don’t….just let me say, pet hair fazes me not at all.

        3. Random Dice*

          When I had pets, their hairs floated everywhere, and gathered in obscure corners into tiny little tumbleweeds. I loved my pets but that one thing was revolting.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              My theory is that every single cat and dog is a portal to an all-hair alternate universe.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I do not allow mine to walk on tables or counters, but I also bleach my food surfaces regularly because trust, but verify.

        1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          LOL, this. It helps that one of my cats busted his leg as a kitten and just isn’t inclined to jump up onto things besides the couch, but it’s good practice to wipe things down before you cook anyway, because you never know what got set down there that later got picked up.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            One of mine jumped on the stove and burned her paws. She got antibiotics and ointment and recovered just fine but I’m pretty sure she hasn’t done that since.

            But they’re still cats.

      3. Cabbagepants*

        I am very amused by the concept of “letting” a cat walk around on counters. Unless your cat is physically restrained around the clock, it is going to invite itself onto your counter.

        1. Generic Name*

          So true. My dog is not allowed on the furniture (but the cats are…) but I guarantee that she has made herself a pillow nest and is snoozing contentedly on the couch right now. :/

          1. Helewise*

            Right? As far as the dog is concerned, the rule is “I am not allowed on the couch when the people are here.”

          2. There You Are*

            Whenever I left my house, I used to tell my dearly-departed dog to “Bark at everything and get up on the couch,” just so she could be the Goodest Girl by obeying her human.

        2. THAT girl*

          Yes, as a multiple cat owner (or as someone who is owned by multiple cats), the concept of “letting”or NOT “letting” them do anything is very amusing.

        3. anon24*

          My cats have been trained since they were babies that they are not allowed on the counters under any circumstances. Because they are very obedient little creatures they follow this rule faithfully… until I take an unexpected day off and sleep in and wake up halfway through the morning and stumble into my kitchen half awake and they’re vibing on my counter with an “oh shit I thought you were at work!” look on their face.

          Cats are just gonna cat. Wash your preparation surfaces.

          1. anon for this*

            How we learned to always keep the butter in the fridge, a play in one act:

            Me: *Quietly doing homework*

            Kitchen: *clinking noise*

            Me: “That better not be the butter dish!!!”

            Kitchen: *sound of cat jumping down onto floor*

            Cat: *coming around the corner still licking whiskers* “What?”

            1. Seashell*

              Decades ago, we had a cat who ate butter that was left on the counter, and, on another occasion, took some bites out of a pumpkin pie that was left out to cool.

                1. There You Are*

                  I had one who found a resting, fully-cooked slab of prime rib and decided that was hers.

                  Nothing like the sight of a housecat dragging a “bloody”, dripping slab of meat across the living room the way a cheetah drags an antelope (firm grip of the meat with her teeth, chin held up as high as it can go, slab of meet between her legs making her walk awkwardly).

                  She did not, in fact, “Drop it!” when we yelled at her and instead growled at us and duck-walked faster. :-D

                2. Anax*

                  You can’t even trust them to stick to meat and dairy. One of ours has done the same predatory drag with a banana.

                  (Yes, he made a very serious attempt to eat it. With the skin on.)

                3. Ace in the Hole*

                  Years ago I had a cat who figured out which pantry cabinet held the cat food even though he was never allowed in the pantry. He somehow opened the latched pantry door, opened the cupboard, dragged out the 20-lb bag, chewed a hole in it, and scattered the contents all over the kitchen floor.

                  Unfortunately for him, he got the bag of litter instead of kibble. We came home to a big mess and a very disappointed cat.

                4. Princess Sparklepony*

                  My favorite memory is a combined Thanksgiving at my mom’s friend’s house. They had a huge house and at least three or four kids, with our four kids and the four parents. So a big group. A big turkey, all the feast sides as well.

                  We finish up eating and are bussing the table and in the kitchen the cat is more than halfway into the turkey carcass. The turkey carcass had a butt and tail sticking out. The cat was in heaven. We did not take home leftover turkey that year….

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                We found years ago that you had to sit within sightlines of anything cooling until the oven cooled off enough to put it back in there, or if it fit into the microwave.

            2. goddessoftransitory*

              I haven’t kept anything butter or carb related on a reachable surface for fifteen years. Ever since the memorable occasion of Peanut eating the tops off an ENTIRE BATCH of freshly baked corn muffins.

        4. LikesToSwear*

          I had a cat that was trained not to get on the counters, and she truly didn’t. Then, we had to move the cat food onto a small separate section of counter (for reasons involving dog-sitting a super hyper always starving beagle), and ended up leaving it there. For three years, she would jump off IMMEDIATELY if she saw a person.

          Then I got a betta fish that lived on a different counter that she never went on. Until I got that fish… then, she would happily get on that counter and drink out of the fish bowl. Even when I caught her and told her to get down, she looked right at me and went right back to drinking out of the fish bowl! But she would still get down from the food counter if she saw anyone.

        5. Clare*

          I don’t let my cats on my kitchen counters. I bought an older house with a separate kitchen for that exact reason. The doors to the kitchen stay shut at all times unless I’m in there too. Not really an option for renters, I know, but it is feasible without harm to the cats (despite what my older cat would tell you about how I’m torturing her by not letting her in to devour everything in sight). A solid physical barrier is the only way. Cats don’t understand rules that don’t make sense in their survival paradigm, so you can’t teach them this kind of thing. They only learn not to do it when you’re there.

        6. Ellen N.*

          That’s why my house isn’t open plan. My architect loves open plan houses and wanted to make our kitchen open when we remodeled it.

          I told him, “I bake and I have pets so my kitchen needs doors and walls.”.

      4. PNW cat lady*

        My cat generally doesn’t get on the counter, but there is a plant over the sink she likes to snack on and thinks I’m being ridiculous when I tell her to get down. But I CLEAN everything before making food that serves anyone else. I think your average cat owner is like me. However, this one lady ran a cat sanctuary out of her home. I went with my sister to pick up a cat. The house was gross. So gross. She is in the middle of making food for a potluck and also cleaning a litter box. She cleaned the litter box in the kitchen sink. I tend to not eat much more than my own contributions.

      5. Atalanta*

        I have multiple cats and dogs plus I foster kittens so I have no illusions that my cats don’t counter surf. I figure any meal I have at home is up for grabs but if I’m cooking for someone else, the cats all go in their room, I run the air purifier on high and bleach my counters before I start cooking. The only time this failed was the time one foster kitten hid when she saw me do the feline rodeo roundup and waited until my back was turned to hop the counter and sink her tiny little fangs in the Thanksgiving turkey. She went to a coworker and routinely causes havoc on Zoom calls. Can’t say I didn’t warn him!

    2. No Longer Working*

      Not to mention, food safety temperatures. I’ll stick to cheap ass rolls with wilted cheese slices, thank you.

    3. Just no*

      God, food cooked under dubious circumstances by random coworkers and served ~at work~ (at an event that you’ll inevitably be made to feel weird about not wanting to participate in) should just NOT be a thing.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Yes, but never assume that food poisoning can’t come from prepackaged store-bought items, or simple cut up fruits and vegetables. Quite a lot of Listeria outbreaks are from poorly or unwashed fruits and vegetables and getting it pre-assembled from the grocery store or deli doesn’t ensure anything. Worst food poisoning I’ve ever had was from pre-packaged baby carrots that ended up being part of a nation-wide recall many years ago.

      But on a side note: I guess I’m someone who thinks that some sort of nut in a fruit salad is totally normal and expected — pecans sounds fine…but could also be almonds or walnuts.

      1. Cabbagepants*

        I think we’re seeing the standard comment section phenomenon where a minority of people who strongly hate (thing) are louder than the majority who enjoy (thing).

        I also think nuts and fruit salad is normal! I’d put them on the side at a potluck because of allergies, but the concept seems nice to me.

        1. zinzarin*

          Yeah, nuts have been in fruit salad since we started cutting up fruit and calling it salad.

          In modern times, of course, we have an awareness of food allergies, so common sense says you shouldn’t put nuts in the fruit salad you’re bringing to share with a large group of people, but it’s sure not a <> situation.

          1. zinzarin*

            (Inside the carrots is supposed to read “gasp; horror” but it seems that I’ve inadvertently discovered some site code….)

        2. Catalin*

          I’m sure it’s very normal in some kitchens, but the nuts were diced so finely I didn’t realize they were in the dish until it was far too late.
          People with nut allergies have to deal with SO MUCH. We’re talking about contact contamination (No, we can’t eat the mixed nuts and just ‘pick the X ones out’! No, we can’t eat food prepared on a bare counter where nuts just were. No, I can’t eat barbeque infused with smoke from Pecan wood.)

          1. Anax*

            Allergic to onions and garlic here, so I feel your pain. :( At least I’ll just be miserable for a few days and not in serious danger.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            I never realized that smoke from pecan wood would do it. Yikes! My dad had just about every allergy under the sun but mostly he just threw up when my mom decided to “test” his allergies. She never had allergies and just didn’t understand the concept. But she didn’t test him often, just once in a while or she forgot that it had an egg wash on it or something like that. He was allergic to eggs, strawberries, and a bunch of other things. My little sister convinced him she was allergic to broccoli.

    5. Beth*

      I would actually love pecans in fruit salad (crunch! savory to go with the sweet!) BUT would not do it for a potluck, nut allergies are too common!

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I might do it for a sufficiently large potluck where there were multiple fruit salads… but only with an obvious allergen warning sign.

    6. Veryanon*

      I am also on Team Yikes, ever since the day when I discovered that a beloved professor in the department where I worked in college never washed her hands after using the ladies’ room, but would always bring in homemade treats for everyone. No thank you.

      1. Just Another Cog*

        Ick! Very awkward to always have to refuse their offerings because of what you know about their public hygiene.

    7. Forrest Rhodes*

      Also not a fan of pecans—but no nuts at all in a salad? Surely you jest!

      My favorite quick lunch is baby spinach with sliced olives (green or black, whichever is on hand), chopped up mushrooms, a big handful of walnuts, a sprinkling of feta cheese, and a splash of vinaigrette.

      Takes only a few minutes to make … and mmmmmm, now I’m hungry!

    8. Former Red and Khaki*

      I hate to be the one to break it to everyone in this thread, but if you’re willing to eat at a restaurant but NOT willing to eat food your coworker made in their kitchen on sanitary grounds, you have got it all completely backwards. I can GUARANTEE that your coworker with ten cats has a far cleaner kitchen than literally any restaurant kitchen in existence. (My credentials are I worked in restaurants and in food service retail for years and HAHAHA you do not want to know. Anything. I promise you don’t.)

      Also re: pecans in fruit salad, you must not be from the upper midwest, although to be fair said fruit salad with pecans should also involve Cool Whip and/or pudding.

      1. Rose*

        I also worked in restaurants/back of house and this is gross and in my experience extremely, extremely inaccurate. Bugs were considered a fact of life but hand washing, hair up, sneezing etiquette, etc were always strongly enforced in a way I wouldn’t trust to happen in every home. I’m sure it depends on the quality of the head chef.

        1. TK*

          This is right. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of food safety-related illnesses come from home cooking, not restaurants. Saying that restaurant kitchens are more unsanitary than home kitchens is a smear to hardworking restaurant employees who really do care about food safety.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            And also most food poisoning comes from inappropriate cooling/heating procedures. And serving hot food at a work potluck runs a high risk of falling outside safe temperatures.

            Make it, chill it, bring it in, reheat it – did you do the temperature steps fast enough?

            Make it, bring it in hot, put it in a warmer – did it cool too much on the way?

            1. Dulcinea47*

              this is true but it’s one of those things people won’t believe no matter how many times you say it. “Lukewarm” is a happy temp for bacteria. But they still think they’re getting food poisoning from potato salad.

          2. Lexi Vipond*

            Wikipedia has a not-very-well-referenced stat that 58% of food poisoning cases in the US are from commercial food facilities – do you have a better one? Although of course a small number of cases in restaurants could make a large number of people ill, while a case at home would probably only make one family ill.

        2. anon for this*

          Agreed 100%.

          I have been in a *lot* of kitchens, and sure, standards can depend on the head chef, but for the most part the hygiene (personal and otherwise) is so much better in a commercial kitchen.

        3. Chirpy*

          I’ve worked in 3 different food service/ restaurants, and yeah, it depends a lot on the head cook/management. One place started out good with everyone freshly trained at opening, and within three years was a horrible mess of cross contamination and food poisoning waiting to happen. Nobody cared, least of all management.

          The other two were great. One involved a lot of outdoor cooking, and the head of food service there was excellent about making sure things were done properly, so despite the fact it should have been a lot easier to end up with dirt/bugs in things, or improperly heated/cooled food, there wasn’t, and it was a thousand times better than the first place I mentioned.

          Also, as a cat person, I always sanitize things, especially before cooking for others. It’s just good practice all around- who knows what’s on that counter? Dust happens even if you don’t have pets.

      2. Former Young Lady*

        I am your coworker with 10 cats. My counters don’t currently have any room for them to jump up, but therefore they also have minimal available prep surface. And I’m a lousy chef anyway. Out of recognition of my own limitations, I always bring prepared food to a pot luck.

        That said, I’ve also met way too many people who curiously don’t have hand soap by their household sinks (kitchen or bathroom). I’ll be darned if I’m trying their home-cooked anything!

      3. Bartender to Engineer*

        The folks saying this is smearing hard working restaurant folks… is making me chuckle. 10 years in the industry, and I started thinking of some of the worst offenses I’ve seen, and just kept coming up with more. Also, I’ve never been at a restaurant where someone got sick. But yes. No one ever wants to know. Also, the co-worker who doesn’t know to wash their hands after handling chicken also isn’t going to prepare chicken for the potluck. They’re buying cookies from the grocery store.

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        This was not my experience of food service. The floor of a commercial kitchen is much more dirty than most home kitchens, except maybe at the very start of a shift. But everything else? Much higher standard.

        We had pretty strict enforcement for frequent handwashing, cleaning/sanitizing for prep surfaces and equipment, holding times/temps for food, washing produce before preparing, cross contamination protocols, etc. Restaurants in my area get inspected routinely and will be shut down if they fail to meet safety standards, which are quite rigorous. On the other hand most home cooks I know don’t even have a thermometer in their refrigerator.

  3. Tink611*

    As a former administrative assistant, this sounds chaotic . So just guess people are bringing food? Hope there is enough for a large group? I personally think no one wants to take over the planning. Sorry OP, you are kind to still participate.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      the thing is there really isn’t much planning with a potluck. Put a sheet up to sign up and call it good. I like to divide it up between appetizers, side dishes, mains/proteins, deserts and others. We have plates, etc so don’t need anyone to bring those things.

      1. Florence Reese*

        That is planning, though! “What do we need” & “how much do we need” & “how will we serve this” are all planning items. Writing up a list and maintaining it as people sign up for things is planning. It doesn’t feel like much if you do it a lot, but ask the non-planner to sort out a potluck and you could get 10 store-brand seasonal cupcake trays and an uncooked can of sweet potatoes.

        1. JamieG*

          At my office (about 30 people) we do potlucks by just posting a piece of paper in a common area and asking people to write down what they’re bringing. There’s no suggestions or limits on what stuff, but since everyone can see the sign-up sheet it’s obvious if there are going to be 8 versions of potato salad and no drinks. We self-police pretty well.

    2. Ink*

      “Hope there’s enough” is what’s getting me. Sometimes you assume that people will bring homemade stuff so you don’t need to contribute your veggie platter or cheap ass rolls, or the like, and the only way you’ll ever find out that isn’t the case before the day of is with a sign-up sheet! And for 100 people, you’re hitting the point where sending someone on a last minute grocery store run becomes difficult.

    3. WonderEA*

      Fellow exec asst here – this would make me sweat, the *not knowing* what is coming and where the gaps are. A sign-up sheet and confirmation that plates and silverware will be provided are baseline for me.

    4. Oska*

      I’m in a very small org that does, well, chaos potlucks. And it works out fine for two reasons: Only about ten people usually show up for the potlucks, and someone* always brings a dish big enough for everyone so we don’t have to share tiny bowls of shredded cabbage and call it a meal.

      Honestly, a sign-up sheet and a list of allergies makes everything so much easier and I wish we did that.

      * Me and one guy.

  4. Hello, it's aMe*

    I will forever remember the breakfast potluck where all eight staff members brought cheese and crackers because we never did sign-ups and no one could be bothered. This may or may not have been the same breakfast potluck where the CEO showed up late with vanilla icecream.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I am a gremlin who will eat cheese and crackers for breakfast, but I would never bring that to a breakfast potluck.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        same, but I would also be so delighted to find out other people brought them to a breakfast potluck

    2. Lenora Rose*

      We had a potluck where the only two non desserts were banana-chocolate chip muffins (so not dessert technically but still chocolate) and a carrot-raisin salad, and all the desserts except the mini-donuts were chocolate.

      And we had one where there was a pot roast (cooked safely), samosas, and a good dozen bags of chips. And one dessert.

    3. LCH*

      probably the best potluck ever. plus sounds like all food was pre-packaged so more safe than homemade. win-win!

      1. Chirpy*

        I’ve had a coworker who used to dig through bags of chips with his hands….his probably unwashed hands…he cleaned the bathrooms….so even pre-packaged food wasn’t safe once he’d gotten to it.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who was a pretty strong germaphobe who didn’t trust any of us *at all* about food at work, but also wanted to eat the food the company provided. Day of he solved that by usually being first (or at least early) to the event so he was one of the first people to get the chips or whatever. (I also started putting out scoops or tongs when he pointed out the “hands in a bowl” thing.)

          The problem was the next day when there were leftovers. One time he really wanted some of the leftover tortilla chips, but wasn’t comfortable with how much they might have been handled. So he microwaved them.

          If you microwave tortilla chips, they can catch fire!

  5. Awlbiste*

    I’ve gotten food poisoning from one too many work potlucks, I no longer participate. I don’t bring anything and I also don’t eat anything. Most people accept my reasoning and it’s not a big deal.

  6. 2023 is Ending Soon*

    I do not trust other people’s home made food. I almost never eat it at office meals, only commercially prepared. I’ll make exceptions for desserts occasionally. I have heard so many bad cases of food poisonings and unpleasant details, no thanks.

    1. Former Red and Khaki*

      Please see my reply above if you think commercially prepared food is better …. (it’s not. It’s way worse)

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I would love to know where you have worked…because of the 8-10ish restaurants I’ve worked at (even the mom and pops) what you stated above (and here) is absolutely not my experience.

  7. Jane Bingley*

    My old office held these. I called them chaos potlucks. You never had any idea what would be served, especially since we were an unusually diverse organization and people often brought dishes from their heritage, and couldn’t always name all the ingredients in English!

    As a picky eater, I’d usually bring rolls or garlic bread to contribute and then my own lunch to eat. If I got a couple other things, that was a plus, but it was easier to just assume I wouldn’t be able to make a lunch for myself from the chaos.

      1. UncleFrank*

        When I was in grad school we did a “favorite childhood/family/heritage” potluck with the grad students and it was SO fun. I ate the worlds most amazing dumplings!!!

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          My family is German and Eastern European so my colleagues would have to be exceptionally fond of sauerkraut.

      2. Tau*

        I work in a very international office and we had a “bring something from your home culture!” potluck last year (voluntary, I think office management were preparing for a rapid pizza order if we turned out not to have enough or too imbalanced foods). It was amazing and I’m crossing my fingers we have it again this year. People were generally pretty good about putting out cards with ingredients, although of course since I don’t have allergies (+ my only food restriction is being vegetarian and I’m not super strict on things like gelatin) it’s easy for me to say.

      3. Madge*

        This is a thing in Australia! In March we have an event called “Harmony Day” that is meant to celebrate the different cultures of immigrants living in Australia. You’re meant to wear orange and many offices organise pot lucks where people bring food “from their heritage”.

        Of course, it ends up with a bunch of really nice food from non-Anglo cultures and a bunch of cheap-ass lamingtons and anzac biscuits from the Australians. I’m Anglo-Australian and I made a tofu massamun one year just because I wanted to have something that I liked, lol.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Also agree!

        I recommend avoiding the whole situation by just pre-emptively taking the day off! That’s what I used to do in a former workplace.

        We actually had a catered meal – the problem was that, as support staff, even though this meal was supposed to be a “treat” and recognition for everyone…we always ended up being expected to clean up for the executives afterwards, which I personally found insulting. I avoided the whole thing by just taking the day off!

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          I love this comment because this is my preferred tactic. I’m not shy about it either. Everyone knows I don’t just happen to be off, but rather I am off because I refuse to participate in forced fun at work. I also do things like rsvp no to awards ceremonies where I’m getting an award. Very honored hate a fuss just pop that in the mail please and thanks!

          My colleagues are (mostly) lovely, and I get along great but this is my quirk and it’s both intended and taken as good naturedly.

    1. ferrina*

      username does not check out.

      Middle Name Danger, what is more dangerous than eating a melange of food cooked by people who almost certainly didn’t follow recommended food safety practices?
      Potlucks are the food of true daredevils. (well, that and my grandma’s cooking)

      1. Tanya*

        “…food cooked by people who almost certainly didn’t follow recommended food safety practices?”

        Huh? So happy I don’t think of my co-workers and neighbors so cynically. They are kind and generous, and I know they wash their hands pretty frequently.


        1. ferrina*

          Not meant as a slight, just that home cooking usually doesn’t follow commercial cooking guidelines. Food safe practices are not always intuitive. For example, temperature guidelines can be tricky in a home-to-potluck setting. Any cold food must be kept below 40 F or served within 2 hours. Any hot food must be kept above 140 F or must be served within 2 hours. If you premake a hot dish, cool it then reheat it, the temperature upon reheating must reach at least 165 F.

          Example: I cook the food at home, then take it out of the stove, and the timer immediately starts. Let’s say it takes me 20 minutes to leave the house, and hour commute, then I’m in the office to deliver the food to the potluck (in this scenario I’ll work a half day so I can spend the morning making the food). I set it up 30 minutes before the potluck is officially opened. Now the food is only considered food-safe for 10 minutes of the potluck. Realistically it might not be too bad, it depends on a lot of factors (ambient temperature, the food, etc)

          Another example: I make the food the night before. I take it out of my food-safe fridge, then commute an hour into the office. I put it into the office fridge, which probably isn’t at 40 F because people keep opening it to put potluck food in. Who knows if it will stay food safe. Then I reheat it in the crock pot but don’t’ check the temperature. It only reaches 120. It’s not considered food-safe.

          And that’s without the cats in the kitchen that are mentioned earlier in the post (obviously more likely in a home kitchen than a commercial kitchen). Of course, that also assumes these are considerate, knowledgeable people who are careful about washing their hands a lot. And wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds. And neither the cook nor anyone else touches any of the prepared food with their hands (using either gloves or utensils…yes, I’m the person that grabs gloves to serve pizza at a kid’s birthday party).

      2. Chirpy*

        Have you considered that some people bringing food to potlucks have previously worked in food service, and know the proper procedures? Or that some high schools/ middle schools taught food safety in home ec? Or learned food safety when they learned to cook?

        Otherwise, everyone would be getting food poisoning all the time from their own cooking, and it just doesn’t happen that often.

        Some of my current coworkers may be terrible at hygiene, but almost everywhere else I’ve worked or volunteered, people were good about it.

    2. Random Dice*

      Always a bad idea!

      Except for the time my friend’s aunt made her famous flan, and I ate basically just flan all night. I raved about her flan for YEARS. Years later when I visited my friend, he brought a plate of her flan, made just for me.

    3. Snow Globe*

      Disagree! I used to work in a department with a lot of really really great cooks. No one cared if some people didn’t bring anything because there was always so much more food than we could eat. And everyone behaved themselves and shared in the cleanup. Pot luck days were awesome! I realize this may be the rare exception, but you said “always”.

    4. Hrodvitnir*

      Dude. Alison is pretty much constantly asking people to stop generalising based on personal preference.

      Workplaces vary a lot, and many people enjoy pot lucks. I am very sympathetic to people with dietary restrictions, but being unwilling to eat food not made by a professional or your own hands is far from universal.

    5. JustaTech*

      I disagree.
      I’ve enjoyed many work potlucks where I got to try foods from all over the world. I’ve enjoyed many potlucks with friends as well. And while I am an n-of-one, I’ve also never gotten sick from a potluck.

      If you don’t enjoy potlucks, or if there is a history of people getting sick from your work potlucks, I totally understand you not liking them. But that doesn’t mean that they are impossible.

    6. Anonymous Potluck Hater*

      I hate potlucks and completely agree with you, with the one exception that potlucks on Thanksgiving Day with family/close friends who know each other’s dietary restrictions can be okay, if there is a well-run sign-up sheet. I feel like here in the comments are my people who also hate potlucks, whereas in the real world I can never find anyone who doesn’t think potlucks are a wonderful idea. Thank you for the opportunity to rant anonymously on the internet, and if you disagree then feel free to stop reading.

      I especially hate (multiple!) Thanksgiving-themed potlucks the week before Thanksgiving, because I do not understand why anyone would want to cook and eat the same food and then turn around and do it three more times within two weeks. I don’t enjoy cooking, so that might be part of it, but also my kitchen isn’t particularly clean in this season of my life, I’m constantly sick/germy, I am a perfectionist who feels like I have to make something that requires more energy and time than I actually have, and it all adds up to being a stressed, sleep-deprived employee for two weeks of November each year who should absolutely not be cooking for other people. I know there are people who don’t have those issues and think potlucks are pleasant and fun, but I honestly don’t think their desire for a potluck outweighs mine to not have a potluck. I DO enjoy getting together with colleagues and eating good food (which is why I don’t usually opt out altogether, though I’ve considered calling out sick) – but that can easily be accomplished with a catered meal or even a brown bag or group order type of thing if the company really cannot afford catering.

      If people insist on a potluck, a sign-up sheet with categories laid out should be a minimum requirement, but I hate having to use political capital to suggest to the big boss that their (lack of a) potluck plan is not the win they think it is, so after a couple of hints I usually just watch as it crashes and burns. This year’s was even worse than usual because it was off-site (adding 3+ hours of commuting time for some) so there were issues with temperature/how to carry everything while riding multiple buses/unfamiliarity with what supplies were available at the destination. Only one person brought a main dish and there were only two beverages. I was the only one who labeled my ingredients. That was yesterday at my departmental potluck; I have another one in an hour with a different group, and more coming up next week that I still need to shop for. Help me.

  8. Anon in Canada*

    I don’t like the idea of potlucks at work at all. People can be pressured to participate even if they don’t want to; they’re a mess for people with allergies or dietary restrictions to navigate, and the potential for food poisoning looms over the whole thing. Also (not as bad, but annoying) there always tends to be too much food and a lot of it gets wasted/not eaten. Bad idea.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      always way too much food, because everyone brings enough for everyone. 100 people aren’t going to eat 100 different dishes.

      I just had to go through this with a potluck among friends I organized. I said plan for enough for 4 or 5 people. The pushback I got. But more than that are coming, we won’t have enough food. Sure enough at the end of the night we were begging people to take the extra food home. because there was way too much.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        “Bring the equivalent of what you will eat in total” has sort of worked for me, though most people bring about 120% of their own capacity.

    2. Grandma*

      I recently made a Crazy Cake for the elementary school fall fair cake walk. I typed out the ingredients and taped them to the top. This particular cake doesn’t have any eggs, milk, or butter. The school secretary was so happy because her allergic grandson could eat this cake. When you are lactose intolerant (me), allergic to eggs and/or dairy, it is so nice to know what’s in that food and what’s not. When you’re a kid, it’s great to be able to claim a cake if you win the cake walk.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        Many people with severe allergies will not eat food prepared by other individuals, even if an ingredient list is provided; they simply don’t trust anyone enough to risk their lives over an undeclared ingredient or unintentional cross-contamination. It’s hard to blame them for being cautious; this is a matter of life and death. Considering how common allergies are nowadays, this issue excludes a lot of people from participating in a potluck.

        There are just too many issues associated with potlucks and too many people excluded. They don’t belong in the workplace.

        1. Random Dice*

          Not all allergies are severe, and Grandma can just trust adults to manage their own medical issues.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            That’s why I said “severe” allergies and “many” people not “most”. I have met people with life-threatening peanut/nut allergies who would not touch food cooked by a friend/coworker/stranger with a 10 foot pole, and I don’t blame them!

        2. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, I read this, thought of my friends with food allergies, and they pretty much don’t eat at potlucks for the most part. Or only eat what they brought for themselves or only eat fruit or something they can trust that came packaged (kettle chips, Oreos).

          And even then, it’s likely that someone might oh, use the wrong spoon and contaminate everything.

    3. Samwise*

      See, that’s the advantage of working in higher ed. If the employees don’t take home the leftovers, students will eat them. Especially grad students.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      I like potlucks in general, but I agree that they are a bad idea at work due to the constant danger of the “not a team player” brush being applied to non-participants.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        I have no problem with non-participants if they’re not also constantly eating the stuff that they don’t bring. That’s our usual issue – someone who prides themselves on never bringing anything in is the first to stuff their face.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          It’s a bit different, though, if it’s an Event, rather than just “we rotate bringing in snacks at lunch time.” If you are excluded from a whole Event because you’re not a good cook/don’t have time/don’t want to spend your evening cooking for your colleagues/etc it doesn’t sit quite right with me.

          And “stuff their face” feels a bit judgemental. Do you mean they eat more than you personally would? How much is stuffing your face vs just eating?

          If an employer wants to do a work celebration or event with food, there should be catering or a meal out or something, in my opinion.

          1. JustaTech*

            Yes, it would be easier if the bosses just bought food. But not all organizations can do that. When I worked for a university if we wanted food at an event we had to bring it ourselves (home made or purchased) – there just wasn’t a budget for food. I believe government can be the same way.

            As for “stuff their face”, based on stories shared here, it probably means taking two plates of food before most people have had one. (I had a coworker who would take a whole quarter of a pan of brownies before anyone else had gotten a single one.)

            And no one should be expected to be a good cook to participate in a potluck! Reasonable, kind people (or just sensible people) would be happy to accept drinks, utensils, or store-bought food.

            It would be better if there was plentiful, well-made, correctly-labeled food provided by management, but that isn’t always possible, so sometime people make do with a potluck.

    5. another_scientist*

      I always thought one of my previous workplaces handled the pressure to participate-aspect perfectly. Our annual holiday party had a nice catered dinner, and drinks were provided. The potluck portion was restricted to desserts, and there was a sign up for those who wanted to bring a dessert. This way, people could share their love of baking or cooking, and we had some fun and unique dishes on the dessert table BUT only a quarter of people (probably less) brought anything, so it was truly voluntary and nobody looked bad for not bringing a cake. And if you had other concerns related to your coworkers’ cooking, you still got to enjoy a professionally prepared dinner.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        That sounds more reasonable. Also, most baked goods and desserts come with less risk of food poisoning than main dishes and appetizers.

  9. CL*

    Potlucks are hell for people with dietary restrictions. For example, that completely bland potato salad…does it have mayo? Sorry, I have an egg allergy. Does it have bacon? Sorry, I keep kosher/halal. Does it have onions? Sorry, FODMAP diet. I always bring one think I know I can eat and label it clearly.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      A friend had a signature salad — a marinated slaw with protein in the form she could eat, and vinegar based to allow for dicey refrigeration. It let het be sure to have a meal, and she’d add bits from others to forestall busybody comments.

      Quietly brilliant.

      1. Smithy*

        This is what my mom used to do. She was a vegetarian, so it was her pasta salad where she also added cubed cheese and it had a vinaigrette.

        Worst case she could eat that with whatever obvious items anyone else brought (veggie tray, cut fruit, etc.).

    2. Thistle Pie*

      Potlucks are hell for people with diet restrictions but so is catering and eating in general (ask me how I know). So it doesn’t mean no one should have them, it just means you do exactly what you said and bring food that you know is safe for you to eat. I grew up going to birthday parties where my mom packed me my own dessert for when cake time came, and did it suck watching everyone else eat a beautiful birthday cake that I couldn’t have? Yeah. But I was 7 years old and I handled it. Adults can handle it too as long as the potluck is optional (which I think is an important part of it).

      1. Bartender to Engineer*

        Came here to say this. I couldn’t have something as simple as a piece of candy as a kid without prior approval, and I have issues to this day. Once you have experience dealing with your restrictions, you figure it out. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to deal with my weird brand of “no dextrose please”. I bring my own food, and sure as hell don’t eat the catered meals unless I know the restaurant and have done safe experiments before. Frankly, I find it way easier to prepare a meal for myself than something to share with the group.

      2. MtnLaurel*

        My husband has many dietary restrictions, and that’s how we handle it…we make a salad with dressing on the side so that he can have that, if nothing else. And there have been times when that was the only thing he could eat at a potluck. I love potlucks but they are work.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      They’re not terrible when it’s just within a group that knows each other. I was once on a team that did quarterly potlucks that always went great. We knew everyone’s restrictions & preferences – I’m vegetarian, we had some shellfish allergies, a gluten allergy, and several people who weren’t big on spicy food (which matters because it was Texas). People would still bring in items that someone on the team couldn’t eat, but would either label the item or let them know directly. We would also balance each other if we knew what others were making in advance.

    4. Your Mate in Oz*

      A potluck where you can only eat the thing you brought is just bringing your lunch to work but with extra steps.

      I’m glad not to have experienced these at work, it’s bad enough trying to find something to eat when we have commercially provided food (or the boss does a BBQ, because for some reason people insist on adding dressing to everyone’s salads rather than just their own so I can’t even eat the salad most of the time. Great BBQ, I really enjoyed my cheap ass roll).

      I don’t envy whoever tries to organise stuff like this, but my contribution is making that easier by not participating. When I’ve worked in places that deal ok with dietary restrictions it’s been different, but a lot of Australian companies just ignore the problem and pretend it’s gone away.

  10. mb*

    I think potlucks can be okay but they work better for smaller offices – and where nobody has to worry too much about food restrictions/health issues. But also, you also don’t know how many people are participating – so somebody could bring enough for the entire company, and someone else will bring enough for their team of 5. This just seems totally idiotic – plus if someone brings some cheap ass rolls, there could be a meltdown.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      We are having a pot luck with desserts and appetizers this year.
      I am super excited. For all seven of us.
      I think 8 is my limit.

    2. amoeba*

      Yeah, the group where I did my PhD had amazing potlucks! (Or rather barbecues but with tons of salads and desserts etc. so basically potluck barbecues).

      We didn’t have anybody with major food restrictions, just a few vegetarians and some people who kept halal who were also happy with vegetarian food. I also trusted all of them and had zero worries about food poisoning. (Also, have never ever heard about food poisoning from a potluck here and am now wondering whether I’ve just been lucky or it’s for whatever reason more common in the US?)

      The lack of organisation sounds less than ideal though. Could you talk to some trusted colleagues/work friends to make sure they bring something you can eat? Or rather, you both/all bring stuff that everybody in your smaller group can eat?

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I feel like I’ve only ever heard of people getting food poisoning from restaurants!
        Presumably these coworkers are not regularly going off sick due to eating their own food – it’s not suddenly going to become poisonous when you eat it.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Someone who got food poisoning at a potluck will tell the story every time the subject of potlucks arises. And that is fine, but we should be aware of the selection bias in play. The few times I or a family member has gotten food poisoning it was from a restaurant. We might contemplate why few people tell those stories whenever the topic of restaurants comes up.

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah – I actually believe restaurants are probably a lot riskier (even nice ones – the stories I’ve heard of not washing salad properly, which is one of the most dangerous things for food poisoning, right?)
          I mean, it obviously depends on the people who participate, as well. But in general, I trust my colleagues more than random overworked and underpaid staff I’ve never met. (I do still eat at restaurants without fear, though! But I always check the google reviews, and if they’re mediocre, I always go through the one star ones to see if anybody actually got sick or it’s just, like, unfriendly atmosphere or whatever…)

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, this potluck may be a potunluck for all the reasons listed in AAM’s advice, but also because it’s for an office of 100 people. That’s a LOT of people for a potluck and sounds truly chaotic. I hope that OP sends an update in immediately after the event ends.

  11. Studious*

    I am overwhelmed by the idea of a 100-person potluck. If everyone brings an item, you’d have to have an enormous buffet table! Not to mention, how many servings of food is each person responsible for bringing? And how many dishes is each person realistically going to get on their plate (surely not 100)?

    It seems to me that the concept of a potluck breaks down when the audience is above 20 people or so for the reasons mentioned above. Myself, I refuse to eat food if I haven’t seen the inside of someone’s home, so I don’t enjoy them at work (vs. a get together of a social group or family).

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      This! How much food do I make for a 100 person potluck? If I make one pie, that feeds about 8-12 people reasonably. Do the other 88 people miss out? I’d be annoyed to be at the back of the 100 person line.

      1. Troubadour*

        The other 88 people will miss out on *your* pie but (unless every other attendee neglected to bring anything) they’ll be able to get a piece of *someone else’s* pie. Really for a potluck of any size, each person only needs to bring as much as they could eat for a meal if they wanted to eat a meal composed entirely of asparagus rolls, or entirely of fudge. That way you end up with 100 meals’ worth of food on the table, and each person can pick and choose bits from here and there to get a full meal to their taste.

        For a 100-person potluck I’d do it on several tables throughout what’s presumably a large hall, and people can browse as they mingle.

        To the OP: One advantage of a large potluck is that even if no-one’s doing any organisation then at least it’s statistically a lot less likely that *everyone* will bring the same thing. I’d also expect chances are extremely high that at least a few people will bring a fruit platter, and some will bring cheese and crackers, or crackers and dip (some will be wheat based, others rice-based), and some will bring other food straight from the supermarket so you’ll be able to recognise “Oh yeah, those are *those* cookies, they’re fine.”

        But depending on your relationship with your colleagues, it might also be an option to ask around your immediate team what they’re planning on bringing, so at least you have an idea about *some* of the dishes in advance.

        1. ClaireW*

          I think if you’re doing this approach though (and we don’t really do potlucks much in my country apart from in a small friends group, but we do catered lunches) – you *must* make sure the people with allergies/dietary requirements are at the front of the queue where at all possible. If I went for my food and people had been able to pick and choose so that the only things left were things that triggered my allergies (citrus and oats) I’d be pretty unimpressed :(

          1. umami*

            I’ve wondered how to handle this! We always make sure to have vegan options at our events, but we don’t have a mechanism to ensure that the vegans are the ones who get it because suddenly everyone wants to have a little bit of the vegan food too. It’s hard to monitor what people choose from a buffet, so I’m not sure how to ensure the vegan food is reserved for the right audience.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I think 100 person potluck is pretty unorganizable. But if I had to try, your company or the big bosses bring turkey/ham/main course for 100 people. And the plates, silverware, napkins, ice, drinks.

      And then divy up the rest of the people about 1/3 appetizers, 1/3 sides, 1/3 desserts that bring something that serves 5-8 people. You still get beaucoup leftovers But you bring one pie and everyone can’t have a piece of your pie, but everyone can try 3-4 desserts.

      1. Roland*

        We had a potluck at my elementary school growing up every year. Way more than 100 people! Not everyone eats from every dish of course. You just organize things in vague categories (salads, hearty mains, sides, dessrts, etc) and people can get what looks good to them.

        1. mb*

          My highschool used to do the *School* Family Christmas Dinner on the last day of school. It was organized by homeroom. Everyone paid $5 for the turkey, stuffing, and gravy to be catered. Each homeroom organized a potluck for all the sides and desserts. So you sat with your homeroom and ate. Honestly, I loved it. No pressure to participate but all my homerooms had at least 15 people participating and the school cafeteria was pretty full so I’d say at least half the school was there. We’d eat and sing carols, then go home for the Christmas break.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It is absurd.
      They are trusting that people will bring enough food that people can and will eat to be their lunch for the day?
      And without a sign up sheet? It’s moronic.
      Because if 70 people bring food (my ten years with the morale committee says 60-75% of the people will participate) where, how, when will it be? It will take 45 minutes from person one to person 70 to get through the line (if there are at least two).
      Are they looking for an excuse never to have one again?

      1. BlondeSpiders*

        IDK, this might be a good application of the 80-20 rule.

        20% will bring food, and the other 80% will bitch about it.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I choked on 100% of my diet pepsi trying not to spit it out.
          This should be on a pillow!

    4. Roland*

      Potlucking for 100 people is not that different than catering for 100 people. The overall amount of food should be similar – enough for everyone to have their fill and then some. It’s just going to be in more, smaller containers instead of fewer, bigger containers. It seems like a lot of people think 100 people = you individually need to cook for 100 people and it’s just not true. There’s no expectation that everyone try everything.

      As a former caterer, sure sometimes we’d actively be refilling dishes so less space was needed, but it was also common to have orders where we’d simply drop off all the food and pick it up later. It’s fine.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Potlucking is very different from catering.
        Caterers know what the hell they are doing.
        Potlucks with 100 people have 30 crock pots and nowhere to plug them in.
        Potlucks with 100 people have jars of olive, pickles, condiments that nobody opens because the person who brought them didn’t and nobody feels comfortable opening someone else’s stuff.
        Potlucks with 100 people being led by someone who thinks a sign up sheet will make things worse, is going to be an awesome letter next month.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      There will so many boxes of grocery store cookies. I’m hoping for this group that there will also be a few bottles of soda at least.

    6. Macrina*

      I grew up going to church potlucks that would regularly serve between 100 and 200 congregants. If everyone brings enough for themselves to eat plus a little extra to share, there will always be enough to go around, and it doesn’t actually take that much space to put food for a hundred or two (serving dishes are more space-saving than 100 individual plates). We always did a true pot luck with no sign ups, and while some meals were more balanced than others, there was never a pot luck where a major food group was missing. (And out of the hundreds of pot lucks I’ve attended in my life, I’ve never once gotten food poisoning!)

    7. goddessoftransitory*

      Yeah, these numbers do NOT pencil out and smack of “we don’t want to pay for catering” on the part of the management.

      I think that 20 is the very highest number a potluck of this nature can be expected to absorb, and even then it’s got to be organized and understood logistically WAY ahead of time. Potlucks work best with a small–I’d say ten or less–group that can meet and arrange the details as a group.

  12. SPB*

    We often have breakfast potlucks during our training days (these happen once a year). With no sign up sheets, we ended up having bread and drinks, almost exclusively.

  13. Silver Robin*

    My workplace absolutely uses sign ups (and folks distribute themselves pretty well) and we are at about 70% on ingredient cards (some stuff is prepackaged, like oreos, so folks obviously skip those). Either I misread an ingredient card or did not notice, but I definitely took a scoop of pasta salad that had little slices of ham. Disappointing, but not deadly. I did also find out that a serving knife/spatula for pies had been swapping between the (store bought, so ingredients cards were good) pecan and apple pies and when I pointed out the issue with allergen cross contamination, the coworker was surprised. Unfortunate, and could be quite an issue for someone.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I’m kosher (at work, this means no pork or red meat) and I will never forget showing up to a staff meal at a conference that was the only place I could eat to see that Every. Single. Dish. except for a side of green beans had pork in it. Even the salad. I asked for a bowl of salad that didn’t have bacon dumped all over it, only to have a coworker immediately pick up the tongs from the bacon-slathered salad and go “Oh good, there’s no bacon in this!” and USE THE BACON TONGS in the non-bacon salad.

      To add insult to injury, after having nothing but the green beans for lunch, I somehow got food poisoning from them, as did everyone who ate them.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        What’s even crazier is the the coordinator who ordered the team meals also didn’t eat pork and knew that we had several vegetarian and Jewish/Muslim staff and still got a meal that had PORK IN EVERYTHING.

        1. Silver Robin*

          That is absurd! What did y’all end up doing? Did they at least reimburse you or flat out pay for you to get food you could eat?

          1. CommanderBanana*

            I gave up and ate the green beans – which gave me and everyone else who ate them food poisoning – and then chewed out the coordinator.

            She was a consultant that my org was paying through the nose to “help” us because our quote-unquote conference director wasn’t even onsite (long story, she was there over a year and ‘worked’ less than 6 months because she was constantly out on medical leave. They finally fired her after all but one of her direct reports quit rather than work with her. In addition to never actually being in the office or reachable, she was lazy, nasty and malicious.)

            We got a lot of staff complaints afterwards about the coordinator ignoring dietary restrictions, but honestly, it was such a dumpster fire that that was probably one of the smaller screw-ups that happened onsite. But, given that the organization was already in hot water for repeatedly discriminating against employees that were religious minorities, it certainly didn’t help matters.

        2. the cat's pajamas*

          OMG, that reminds me of that old Simpsons episode where they’re at the seafood restaurant and Marge asks “Does the bread have much fish in it?” I forget the sea captain’s response, but it totally did.

        3. MaryLoo*

          That happened at a company holiday party at a company with many employees that are Muslim. Every dish had meat, mostly pork or ham, including bacon on the green beans

        4. WellRed*

          Even if no one was vegetarian or Muslim or Jewish, WHY get everything with pork in it? Are you in Iowa?

        5. JustaTech*

          One time I was in charge of picking the menu for a catered work event and I knew that one of my coworkers was vegan. I tried to convey this to the folks doing the catering, but somehow every dish had either meat *or* cheese. Nothing had all three things, but like the asparagus was wrapped in ham, and the other vegetable had cheese – including things that normally wouldn’t have either meat or cheese.

          I was *mortified* and felt so terrible because I had promised that coworker that I would make sure there was something he could eat that wasn’t desserts (which he wouldn’t eat anyway because they had sugar).

          Of course we were stuck using that catering company for years because they were the cheapest by far, the food quality was good (even if the combinations were sometimes questionable) and they were across the street.

      2. Middle Name Danger*

        I think the craziest thing about that is that green beans are a side dish where I half expect ham or bacon to show up, but that was the only place they didn’t!

    2. Donn*

      Yes on the utensil allergen cross-contamination. I heard of a mom who sent homemade scones to her child’s school for treat day. She also sent a commercial package of gluten-free scones, for her child’s classmate who had a gluten sensitivity.

      The extra effort ended up being for naught because a school staffer used the same knife to slice both kinds of scones.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        That would make me SO MAD. My dietary restrictions aren’t allergies, so I’m not going to have a reaction or anything if someone does that, but it’s just SO thoughtless. Especially if you know you have people there with allergies.

        1. My Brain is Exploding*

          I think that people don’t realize the damage that cross-contamination can cause. Good idea to label things (this spoon ONLY for the jello salad, please do not use in other food due to allergen cross-contamination), but keep a lookout even so.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            I could understand that for your casual potluck-goer, but for a school staffer serving food to children with known allergies? Nope.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yeah! Speaking as an allergy sufferer, cross-contamination is a far greater concern than any other already raised, because it’s simply impossible for one hundred people to use exactly the right serving spoons and tongs AND without accidentally dropping crumbs into salad.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      My husband’s father nearly keeled over from an allergic reaction when a waitress at the restaurant they were eating at cut a slice of pie for him, using the same knife she’d used on a peanut butter pie.

    5. Summer*

      When I’ve done church potlucks, I was working off a written recipe, so I just printed it out and attached it. The quantities might have been tweaked, but the ingredients were accurate. (I generally assume anyone with cross-contamination-sensitive allergies to common food items is going to avoid anything out of a home kitchen.)

  14. Kate*

    I just read an article in the Washington Post that said the incubation period for foodborne illnesses can be anywhere from one to ten days, fyi.

    Not that foodborne illness isn’t an issue, but that if you (like a lot of folks) attribute it to the last meal you ate before feeling sick, you could be getting it wrong a lot of the time.

    1. KeinName*

      Off topic: I’ve always attributed to the food that made me feel the worst when thinking about it. So not the Toast I feel neutral towards but the pasta that makes me want to heave when picturing it. Is there medical evidence for this?

      1. Same*

        I feel the same way! I feel like I always just know what it was because I find the thought of it revolting after. Not like, that food forever, but the memory of that specific meal, somehow.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        It’s really a strong association your mind makes. Maybe it was the potato salad leftovers you ate yesterday that made you sick, but today you had a sandwich that accidentally had onions that you hate on it, and then you felt sick (because potato salad kicks in), but your brain says “UGH TURKEY SANDWICH BAD” and then you can’t eat turkey sandwiches for months because you think they made you sick. It’s a pretty well known phenomenon, although I don’t know what the actual medical term for it might be.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          That happened to a friend of mine: he got food poisoning from Mexican food, and couldn’t eat it for YEARS afterwards because he’d just have an auto-ick reaction to the smell–and he loved Mexican food!

      3. Skytext*

        That’s an interesting thought, because I’ve seen some documentaries that say there are more nerve cells in your gut than in your brain, and you basically have a “second brain” in your digestive system. Maybe those cells recognized what made you sick, and transmit that info to you through “feelings”. And why you get a “gut feeling” about something, or a “sinking feeling” in your stomach.

      4. Goldenrod*

        I got very sick once as a child after eating too much white chocolate. And I have NEVER been able to eat it again!

      5. foofoo*

        Yes, if you look up “sauce béarnaise effect” or “bearnaise syndrome”, it was coined by a psychologist who got food poisoning after eating bernaise sauce and as a result, would get nauseous whenever he smelled or tasted it.

        “a colloquial term referring to a conditioned taste aversion. If a person happens to become ill after tasting a new food, such as sauce béarnaise, they may subsequently dislike and avoid that food. Regardless of the actual cause of the illness, the sauce will be identified with it.”

        1. foofoo*

          There’s a wikipedia entry for “Conditioned taste aversion” which has more details, including the information about the psychologist who termed it for the sauce.

    2. Anon in Canada*

      The incubation period for Listeria, the deadliest foodborne pathogen, can be even longer than that – in the 1-2 months range. That can be hard to trace!

    3. Astor*

      Yes, but it’s highly dependent on what kind of food-borne illness! Here’s a chart from the mayo clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20356230 which describes some as happening as soon as 30 minutes, and others taking up to 50 days. Even then, I note that it doesn’t include some more rare food-borne illnesses that I’m familiar with; vCJD is estimated to be have an exposure of years (and possibly decades) before the onset of symptoms. So there’s a wide range!

      It’s definitely worth considering more meals other than the last food that you ate as being the culprit. I’m mostly replying because I’ve had multiple situations where people have learned that food-borne illnesses often involve 1-10 day incubation periods and end up thinking that it’s “not possible” to have a quick reaction to food and I wanted to correct for that possibility. Especially because those quickest ones are the ones I think most likely to occur during large-team potlucks: leaving food out at room temperature for too long.

      1. Don’t put metal in the science oven*

        Thank you for this. I knew Staph (& now know some other pathogens) can make you sick fairly quickly, and want people to have the complete picture you provided.

    4. Kelly*

      Staph is pretty fast and easy to contaminate dishes with. I don’t eat potluck food anymore. I got food poisoning at a wedding catered by the bride’s friends who were well-meaning, but let it sit out for HOURS prior to being served due to only having one regular fridge for storage.

    5. Skytext*

      Yes, but if everybody who ate the potluck green beans got sick, and at about the same time, it’s a pretty sure bet it was the green beans, because that was the only thing in common they all ate.

      1. Deborah*

        Yeah, people always play CDC after a food poisoning incident. When I was in China years ago, a bunch of us got sick after a dinner at a seafood restaurant and initially we were blaming the giant lobster, but after asking everyone what they did and didn’t eat, it turned out the guilty party was a CAKE.

        1. JustaTech*

          Food borne outbreaks are a *bear* to investigate, because people are always sure that they know what it was – it must have been the potato salad when no, it was the chocolate ice cream, the donuts (!), the spinach, the watermelon, the weed (yes really), or the store-bought cookie dough.
          That last one was a nightmare for the investigators to figure out, it turns out that now you have to worry about flour being contaminated with E. coli.

  15. Just say no to potlucks*

    As someone newly gluten free, I really wish I could just skip the work potluck as I think in previous years the office solution to make sure we had food was a platter of meat sandwiches. I’m also a vegetarian….

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I keep (strictly) kosher and my kid has celiac. We recently went to a school potluck. I made enough gluten-free kosher mac N cheese for us to have giant plate-fulls and ignored the rest of the food. I also served both of us right after we got there, so that we knew there was no cross-contamination (used a disposable bake-tray and brough my own disposable serving utensil).

      It wasn’t ideal, but we got to participate (also, kid loves mac N cheese). The only other food they could have was a Sprite or something (I was able to have some store-bought cookies)

    2. Dragonfly7*

      May you be blessed with a truly knowledgeable dietician and understanding friends and family as you adjust. My first holidays after diagnosis were mired in misinformation.

  16. Ama*

    My family gave up their habit of having everyone “just bring whatever” to holiday meals after the infamous No Main Course 4th of July (we ran out and bought fried chicken) was followed by the even more infamous No Pie Thanksgiving (we had desserts, just not pie). Now we at least check ahead of time to see what everyone is bringing. I can’t imagine how much more chaotic an office potluck run this way would be.

    1. Antilles*

      At least in a family “bring whatever” potluck, it typically falls into a pattern after a year or two where people generally bring the same thing. This uncle loves grilling so you can count on him to bring some form of meat entree, maybe it’s burgers maybe it’s ham maybe it’s steaks but you know you’re getting antree. This aunt always bakes some kind of dessert, so that’s covered. Etc.

      Free-for-all potluck in an office is absolute madness.

    2. Single Parent Barbie*

      My family is planning our holiday plans right now. We lean towards untraditional so we are not doing a turkey dinner. We are also including some of my son’s friends from college who are unable to go home.

      I sent an email out telling them what I am providing around the main course and the basics that go with it and a list of suggestions of what we would still need to flesh it out. The kids and friends can email each other and figure that part out.

      I set it up that it is an acceptable meal if no one else brings anything, but its really ups it a notch if they do. Most of the list falls well within college budgets as well ( my own kids are 25, 23 and 20)

      Although I did NOT put pie on the list. This may be a bad thing!

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      No Pie Thanksgiving means No Pie For Breakfast Friday, the highest and holiest of holidays!

  17. Former lab rat*

    Someone in HR is either lazy or has their head up their behind. For a company of 100 people it seems safer to use catering. That way there is enough food and variety – not to mention food safety.

    That said I worked in research science and the potlucks were great – wide variety of different cuisines. You had to be fast to not miss out on the Chinese dumplings! BUT there is always someone that contributes a single liter bottle of soda then proceeds to load their plate, eat and then load another plate for later.

    Fun fact: Miss Manners is married to a (retired) research scientist. We always believed she hated potlucks because that’s all scientists do for get together meals.

    1. mli25*

      I am going with lazy. A non work group I am part of, uses a free online sign up tool. It allows for setting how many people are bringing food to a particular meeting (usually 4). We use the same thing for our December potluck, when everyone brings a dish, so that we don’t get 12 plates of cookies for a 10am celebration.

      1. mli25*

        We have folks in our group that are gluten free and dairy free (thankfully not the same people). It’s common enough knowledge and those bringing food tend to support those needs. We have gotten much better over the last couple of years with labeling and listing ingredients.

  18. Sneaky Squirrel*

    If they really don’t want to host sign ups for fear of pressuring people to bring food (which is counterintuitive when you’re asking people to contribute to a potluck), could LW suggest to the team that everyone label what their food is on the day of so that people with food allergies or dietary restrictions can exercise caution? Even a name can be more helpful to those with dietary restrictions than just having to guess from the food.

    I’ve brought in a dish before that I know contains nuts and dairy, but a reasonable onlooker might not guess it. I have enough sense to label my dish every time, but recommending all staff use a consistent template label might help someone else with dietary restrictions.

    1. Middle Name Danger*

      I think the problem with ingredient cards/lists is that there are many allergies someone wouldn’t think to label unless it affects them. I have to rely on catering at work and some venues are fantastic about allergies but others, nobody on the team understands what ingredients potentially contain gluten or dairy, much less what dishes have it. Not every allergy is a Big Eight, either. I’m deathly allergic to mushrooms so anything with a nonspecific “vegetables” or gravy is out, and mushroom powder is a surprise ingredient in an alarming number of things. People get really secretive about recipes, too.

  19. Valancy Snaith*

    I’ve done potlucks with a team of 50+, but I know for a fact no one on my team has severe food allergies/intolerances, and we also make use of a sign-up sheet. But usually we also note approx how many are served out of each dish with the understanding not everyone will be trying every single dish…it works well and is pretty popular.

  20. Panicked*

    I grew up going to church potlucks though, which always had the best food. I loved all the different desserts, jello salads, crockpot dips, little meatballs, whatever. I never questioned the safety of the food… that is until I saw someone sneeze directly into a pasta salad, stir it up, and walk away. Nope. Nopenopenope.

    I now have food allergies and celiac disease, so potlucks are a no-go for me anyways.

    1. The mashed potato incident*

      Oh no! Yeah boy do I have some stories having worked in a church to help set up this potlucks…. But the most egregious was at a family Thanksgiving. I saw a toddler reach out and grab two fistfuls of mashed potatoes with his bare hands after having had his hands in his mouth. His parent (my cousin) told him not to grab at food and then squeezed the mashed potatoes out of his hand and back into the serving bowl of potatoes. Nope nope nope nope. Can’t do any of it anymore. Trust no one! Lol.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        I think parents of toddlers are just inured to germs and general grossness. It’s like a temporary blind spot because you are CONSTANTLY doing stuff like that!

    2. Kelly*

      A kid sneezed right onto the apps at a wedding I was at. Her parent DID NOTHING and expected us to eat the food. Also had a coworker brag that her sick child, who stayed home with the flu, helped her make the fruit plate for our potluck. Nope, no way.

      1. mli25*

        I have seen the little cousins get out of the lake and put their hands into the chip bag. I try to stop them, if I see them, because it’s gross. Luckily, their parents are getting better about having them put food on their plates instead of just grabbing from the community bag/plate repeatedly.

      2. Baby Yoda*

        This was at a fast food chicken place, we watched the cashier open a large double doored chicken oven/rotisserie thing and sneeze right into it. Left and never returned.

        1. pally*

          A coworker and their family watched gob smacked as the manager of the pizza restaurant they’d walked into, picked up toppings that had fallen to the floor. He then pitched them -basketball-style- right back into the bins where they made the pizza.

          Coworker’s sister, a medical doctor, got right into the manager’s face to tell him she was reporting this to the health department. All he did was laugh. I know she followed through but not sure if the guy lost his job.

          (you bet they walked right out of there!)

    3. pally*


      We had the coworker who never washed her hands after using the toilet. This was witnessed numerous times. She insisted that her arthritis prevented her from washing her hands.

      No one touched the dish she brought.

  21. working5daysaweek*

    My workplace has hosted several holiday potlucks since we returned to the office. Besides the food safety issue, it bothers me how it’s organized by the women in the office. And women are mostly the ones who bring the crockpots, relish trays, homemade food, etc. The men bring gas station donuts.

  22. MAOM7*

    I have dietary restrictions due to allergies and Type 2 diabetes. I never assume I can eat anything at a potluck, and I bring my own food and eat it while everyone else is eating whatever the potluck participants brought. Having food allergies or a medical condition that limits what you can eat safely is nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to apologize for. I have no problem talking about my allergies or what I do to control my diabetes with people – it normalizes such things, and makes it likely that future potlucks will include choices of foods that you CAN eat because people remembered you have restrictions. Just my advice.

    1. Orange Rain*

      Oh, but I’ve been to an annual potluck with the one person who “has no problem taking about their food allergies.” I do not want to hear what gluten does to her system, while I am trying to eat, EVERY YEAR. They weren’t normalizing, it was like a hobby they talked about. All. The. Time. So there are limits to this kind of talk.

  23. SQLWitch*

    Every year one of the charities I volunteered for would make one of its potlucks vegan, which accommodated an awful lot of other folks (halal, kosher, etc.) as well.

    Ten years in a row, somebody proudly showed up with a dessert or salad made with gelatine.

    1. Former lab rat*

      LOL – and if they were told that wasn’t correct they would have switched to dessert with marshmallows.

    2. Anon in Canada*

      Making it vegan does accommodate vegetarians and Muslims, but still does nothing to accommodate other restrictions like allergies or gluten-free. Also most people who aren’t vegans themselves – including many vegetarians – don’t like the taste of vegan food, especially vegan baking (which few people know how to do anyway). No food is going to suit everyone. I think workplaces should not do potlucks at all.

      1. Bookmark*

        I mean, you’re right that no food will suit everyone, but if you’re going to use that as the basis for arguing that workplaces shouldn’t do potlucks, that logic would also mean that workplaces should also never cater food for their employees. Sometimes it’s OK to do something that doesn’t suit everyone at the organization, as long as the same people aren’t being consistently excluded from every workplace-provided perk/event.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          Good point – but at least, getting catered food is less risky than having people bring their own from home kitchens. Catered food is much less likely to cause food poisoning, and ingredient lists are more trustworthy. Also, at least in more “diverse” environments where religious dietary requirements and vegetarians are common, employers getting catered food will usually ask around if anyone has special requirements. (My area has lots of Indians and Muslims, so getting vegetarian food in such a situation is almost automatic.) The same may not happen in a potluck.

          Some may still be excluded by this (mainly people with severe allergies who never eat out), but as long as you ask around about special requirements beforehand, it’s better than a potluck.

          1. Bookmark*

            My experience of employer-catered food (which admittedly is less than my experience of potlucks, since I’ve worked for several government employers that aren’t allowed to spend money on catering) is that the practice of accommodating dietary restrictions is also pretty hit or miss (there are lots of letters about this in the AAM archive too). It comes down to implementation for BOTH catering and potlucks.

            1. Anon in Canada*

              Oh, yes. It depends on how common having unusual requirements is in that particular location or in the organizers’ experience. In the area I grew up in (super white, meat-heavy culture), when I once told an employer in a situation like that that I don’t eat meat, they simply told me to bring my own food. In the area I live now (more diverse, tons of Indians who are often vegetarian and Muslims who only eat halal meat), having vegetarian options is almost automatic, and no one will think twice about accommodating other restrictions like gluten-free or vegan.

    3. Silver Robin*

      I host a lot and keep vaguely kosher at home. Gelatin being an animal product, and, specifically for me, pork, is noted in *every* invitation. And a reminder to check if the product contains gelatin (marshmallows!!!)

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Just a heads up that you can buy beef gelatin, and it’s used in kosher marshmallows. (obviously still an animal product, but nice to know in applicable situations)

        1. Silver Robin*

          Yes, I get marshmallows from the kosher section that have fish gelatin. Pectin (fruit/veggie gelatin) is also sometimes used for gummy-type things and that is okay. Those items in the house are *mine* XD

          1. Fellmama*

            My husband once bought a bunch of kosher marshmallows on deep clearance after Passover. He then made Rice Krispie treats with them . . . or as I called them, Fish Krispie treats. *shudder*

      2. CommanderBanana*

        My big thing is what the sausage casings are made out of. Hotels will proudly announce that they have chicken sausage if we don’t want a pork breakfast meat – and then when I ask them to go check with chef and see what the casing is made out of, almost every time it’s either pork or sheep casing.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          When we use chicken sausage we specifically buy from a company that uses veggie casing, but yeah, they’re the exception.

  24. Lacey*

    Company potlucks are always a bad idea unless they’re just snacks for people to nibble on.
    Each person spends much more than they normally on lunch would to cook 8-10 servings of something they like (or that’s easy) and hates most of the rest of what is there (or can’t eat it) and ends up having to bring a back-up lunch or buy an extra lunch so they can actually eat a whole meal.

    1. Middle Name Danger*

      I’m good at desserts so I was always asked to bring cheesecake, but then nobody would ever make a main or side dish that I could eat. If I wanted to bring one of those to make sure I could eat, I got crap for not doing dessert. So I not only had to spend time and money on feeding others, I also still had to provide my own lunch!

    2. Bast*

      I think for smaller teams it can work well, but it can definitely be harder to manage for a larger group. I worked for a 10-ish person company where the yearly potluck was a much beloved tradition — but this was a small company where everyone knew each other and we all tended to know who was bringing what — we had one person known for his chili (no, this was not Kevin from The Office) and someone else who brought her take on Arroz con Pollo every year. Overall, it was a fairly joyless place to work, so little things like the prospect of Not Kevin’s chili kept us going. I’m not saying this is going to be the case everywhere, but I can see it for smaller places.

  25. MagicEyes*

    I’m on a committee at work that’s attempting to have a potluck. In the past, we’ve usually had this meal catered. I’m wondering if I should say something, because it’s a bit problematic to expect people to provide food in the middle of a workday. I feel a little different about department potlucks. That’s okay, but a potluck for a comitteee feels like too much.

    I will always remember with affection the Thanksgiving season potluck where we had 4 or 5 variations of green bean casserole. I’ll also remember forever the time I almost ate glass that was in a green bean casserole because someone used a chipped glass lid. PSA, if the lid of your casserole dish is chipped, throw it out and buy a new one!

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Please say something! Putting financial burden on employees to have a work “celebration” is terrible. Especially when the company has previously footed the bill.

  26. EmmaPeel*

    I will go to any potluck put in front of me. That said, when I have had dietary restrictions for medication and the like, I brought my own lunch and ate with everyone. The idea is the community building, not just the potato salad (though I too would eat 20 different potato salads!).

  27. Elle*

    Sign up sheets don’t always work. I was at an office that had a lot of potlucks. We’d always end up with dozens of donuts because people forgot what they signed up for or couldn’t be bothered to cook.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      My first thought was The Office when Angela gets mad at Pam for signing up to bring chips and then bringing brownies instead. “And I made cookies. SAME CATEGORY!”

  28. Allergenic Anon*

    FWIW, sign-up sheets can be really helpful when you have a food allergy, because some people prefer to bring prepared food. I usually steer clear of most everything, but one co-worker always signed up for a particular brand of sour cream and cheddar chips, and hey! There’s my decoy snack to avoid questions about why I’m not eating! (Plus you can find out what the coworker whose kitchen you trust is bringing.)

  29. amanda*

    Isn’t there anyone in this comments section who just likes free food and isn’t picky about it? I enjoy getting to try new dishes, learn what my coworkers enjoy eating, and share my favorite dishes with them. If you hate all unfamiliar food and are paranoid about food safety, fine, don’t participate, but don’t kill the fun for everyone else.

    1. Middle Name Danger*

      A potluck with your friends is fine. Even organized among coworkers, sure. But when it’s being pushed by the company itself they’re obligated to make it safe for everyone.

      “Don’t participate” is easy to say when you haven’t been pressured to participate and borderline harassed for sitting out.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        “your enthusiasm at company social events forms part of your performance review”.

        Combine that with complete disregard for people’s dietary requirements and overtime availability and it was not a fun experience. Unpaid, of course, everyone was on a salary carefully calculated to be barely high enough to get out of legal restrictions. I took the job at a low wage because my previous one was a husband and wife team who liked to bring their domestic violence to work. I quit without a fallback plan.

        Anyhoo, that was the job where after discussions with my manager I agreed that I would eat the tasty cake and enjoy interacting with my coworkers. Then I went back to work and got sent home when they discovered that by “makes me fart” I mean copious toxic farts. I old them, “we agreed” that I would do it… and I like cake.

        One pattern I’ve noticed is that people tend to stay in the really good jobs for as long as they can, but you can rack up a whole lot of shit jobs really quickly…

    2. anywhere but here*

      I’m not sure that saying, “This isn’t the best option for a group event where everyone (or almost everyone) is expected to participate and eat” is precluding you from engaging in potlucks. You can always organize something smaller scale with enthusiastic colleagues who actually want to participate.

      It’s also not exactly free if you have to buy ingredients and make your own dish in order to partake.

    3. Bookmark*

      Yeah, it does feel like the anti-potluck contingent is over-represented in the comments (similar to the anti-any kind of workplace-sponsored social activity). For sure it’d be a bummer to work in a place where potlucks were de-facto mandatory for attendance and it was the only kind of workplace social activity that ever happened. But if they are low pressure and one of a mix of different kind of activities that people can attend or not as they choose, they can be really fun! A former office did a pi day pie baking contest and a souper bowl soup/chili contest among other optional social events. You didn’t have to bake anything to attend– I think we asked for like a dollar per person to be a “judge” (taster). People who were really into cooking or baking and/or had competitive streaks had a great time coming up with recipes. People who liked eating different foods enjoyed trying new things. People who weren’t into either didn’t participate, and that was also fine.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Optional pot-lucks are fine, but they have to be genuinely optional, which is harder to do at work than with a group of friends. The moment someone says either “why didn’t you bring anything?” or “you have to try some of my special chili” it’s a problem.

      Unfortunately, there are also enough people out there who “don’t believe in” allergies or “can’t believe you don’t like bacon,” or will hassle someone because they think she’s too fat to decide for herself what she wants to eat, that there’s likely to be one in any large group. And all too often, it’s the person who has dietary restrictions, or dares to dislike a popular food, who will be accused of spoiling the fun. And even if someone correctly identifies food-shaming Fergus and bacon-pushing Jane as the problem, they’ve already spoiled the mood for their co-workers who just want to have some garlic bread.

    5. Joielle*

      I love potlucks! I can certainly understand why others don’t (especially those with food allergies) but working in state government, it’s pretty much our only option if we want to do a big group meal. We have a lot of vegetarians and vegans so there’s usually a good mix of things for people with different needs. I always have a nice time eating some good food and connecting with coworkers I might not usually talk to.

    6. Seashell*

      My former office had a potluck for the annual holiday party, and it seemed to be well received. If anyone ever got food poisoning, I didn’t hear about it. We had a few people who kept kosher, and the coordinators always tried to make sure they had some options.

      1. Dahlia*

        Everyone else is presumably going to be eating food regardless, though. Can everyone else not eat a potluck without you?

    7. Bast*

      I’ve always been a fan of potlucks myself, but I do find they tend to work better in small groups. When I worked in a company of 10-ish people, it was a much beloved tradition with people tending to bring the same thing every year. I also worked for a larger (100-110 ish) company that did a large Thanksgiving potluck. Somehow, we always ended up with an abundance of premade pies, cupcakes, and cookies, more than anything else, and I can easily see the “20 potato salads” with no variety becoming a thing.

      That being said, I think the main issue is when companies try to pressure employees into participating in this — or really, any– event, whether it’s a potluck, bowling, or a strip club (yes, seriously a company event). The second company I mentioned had very much a rule of “participate in company events or your raise will be negatively impacted” thing going for it. People should not be participating because they feel forced into this event, or any event, for a variety of reasons, which I can guarantee is why so many people stopped at the grocery store a mile down the road from the event and picked up the cheapest pie they could find to bring.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        a strip club (yes, seriously a company event)

        Me too. Unless you worked in Wellington, New Zealand that means two different employers decided that taking everyone to a strip club was a good idea. Worse than that, I knew people in the industry and this wasn’t one of the good clubs to work for.

        I “got lost” as we were walking from the office to the club. Ooops.

    8. Fluffy Fish*

      No one here is advocating showing up to the potluck and being a jerk. You like potlucks? Great, enjoy! I’m not hating potlucks at you.

      People sharing why they don’t like something has nothing to do with your enjoyment.

      1. Roland*

        You might only be saying you don’t like potlucks, but a lot of people are talking about why they’re bad and no one should hold them.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Yes of course they are myself included. We are just as entitled to hate potlucks and think they’re bad ideas as people are to enjoy them.

          And there are completely valid reasons to ban them. I highly doubt there’s going to be a mass movement to ban potlucks in all workplaces around the country.

          But again that’s not being done AT people who enjoy potlucks. Even if someone successfully convinces their workplace to not host them, that decision isn’t being made AT people who like potlucks.

          Liking potlucks so much that you think people with valid concerns are “ruining your fun” is certainly anyone’s choice to feel that way. But my opinion is it’s pretty sad to disregard valid criticisms like allergies and monetary burden of something in the workplace because you like it.

    9. Lily Rowan*

      Me! I have never had an issue with a potluck, but I have no food restrictions at all and enjoy most kinds of flavors. I will basically eat anything, which I know is not true for most people. (Even people who like fun and communal experiences.)

    10. Silver Robin*

      I do! I just have to be careful, but my dietary restrictions do not impact my health and I do not work somewhere where people get weirdly emotionally invested in who eats what, brings what, thinks what about what…

      That said, I love trying other people’s dishes, I enjoy making food to share with others. We have some incredible cooks with lots of different backgrounds so it is a true feast every time. And folks self-distribute pretty well so we do not end up with Only Beans.

    11. Delphine*


      I completely understand people who are germophobic, but I don’t love that that fear is sometimes represented as, “my coworkers are dirty/let their pets on the counter/can’t be trusted to have basic hygiene.” That kinda talk strikes a little close to home, as the child of a culture that people say has “stinky food.” But of course, it’s easier to trust that your coworkers *do* care about hygiene and food safety and won’t lie about food ingredients when you’re working in smaller groups and not 100 people!

    12. BlondeSpiders*

      Hmm. Say “I am lucky enough not to have any food allergies/intolerances and I have zero preferences” without actually saying it?

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I am a vegetarian with definite food preferences, and I do enjoy a nice potluck.

        I also enjoy cooking, so I often sign myself up to make more than one dish. (And follow through!)

    13. Tau*

      I’m with you! I mentioned upthread that my international office had a “bring something from your home culture if you want!” potluck last year that went great and where I’m hoping it will be repeated.

      Not only was the event itself optional but bringing food was also totally voluntary, management basically said that if there wasn’t enough food they’d order some pizzas to make sure we had enough (and IIRC provided some bread and sides? not sure, been a bit). IDK, people always jump to “but is it *really* optional, what if you’re not seen as a team player” in the comments and maybe in some offices that’d be a concern, but I cannot imagine anyone in mine would care if you said “sorry, can’t make it, have fun!” Especially since we’re hybrid with multiple office locations, plus some people have kids and can’t do evening events or have conflicts or the like… at this point it’s a minority of the company who shows up to most in-person events.

    14. Hrodvitnir*

      Haha, yeah. I honestly prescribe to the school of thought that too much paranoia about food hygiene leads to limiting your ability to eat a variety of foods – it always amuses me that NZers can be less prone to getting food poisoning travelling to Asia due to our propensity for dodgily cooked BBQ meat.

      Sure, it doesn’t suit all workplaces. And I have a lot of sympathy for people with food restrictions. All the pot lucks I’ve been to there’s been a real effort made to cater to everyone – and no one gets upset if the person with coeliac isn’t willing to risk it. We have plenty of examples of ordering in not always being any better for restrictions!

      IME people love free food, and it’s fun to make people happy. If anyone doesn’t want to trust my multi-animal household, that’s not a problem.

  30. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

    All of the above reasons for no potlucks are on point, but also I have always found the clean up and organizing afterward to be a daymare. Suddenly the org is left with 20 glass bowls that no one claims and 50 cheap ass plastic soup spoons. And people suddenly disappear when it’s time to clean up their dish.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I have always found the clean up and organizing afterward to be a daymare.”

      YES! This! I’ll eat just about anything, but my god, the mess afterwards. And everyone disappears, leaving the few sad support staff with the mess.

    2. Samwise*

      Easy solution: Dirty dishes into sink. Announcement at the event and also a mass email: clean and remove your serving bowl and utensils by (day/time) or they will be thrown out. Follow through (although I might have taken home an abandoned set of serving tongs rather than chucking them). If you have severe enough rbf, no one will b*** at you about it. Or if they do, give them The Look, then turn away without saying one word.

    3. Elitist Semicolon*

      “Suddenly the org is left with 20 glass bowls that no one claims”

      I just scored a vintage set of Corningware bowls this way. They sat in our kitchen for months and after a company-wide “are these yours?” email went unanswered, they went up for grabs.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      This! Someone upthread asked why there were always signups to bring plates and such, and basically nobody wants to get stuck washing the dishes for 100 people.

  31. Goldenrod*

    I guess I’m just being mean, but I dearly hope that OP’s potluck *does* turn into a weird “everyone brought napkins” situation. Just to prove HR wrong!

      1. pally*

        There clearly are exceptions to the ‘everyone brought same’ concept. Brownies, cookies, desserts in general, are that exception.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Me too!! I totally want to do this now. Or maybe an all-salad potluck, so we can also have cole slaw and pasta salad and such. YUM!

      1. An Extremely Fresh Start*

        Ooh and then someone can bring the green jello, pineapple, and …carrot? and maybe cool whip? Is there some kind of nut? That one.


        1. NOSTALGIA*

          OHOHOH…today is my late dad’s birthday and every year on his birthday he wanted steak and fried potatoes and CARROT PINEAPPLE SALAD (uses lemon jello and is actually pretty good). I don’t think the green jello salad had carrot in it. But there is a great one that uses frozen raspberries and has a sour cream and something mixture in between two layers of the jellos.

          1. Jessica*

            I have a thing like this! It’s a dessert though. Bottom layer raspberries in raspberry jello. Middle layer sour cream/cream cheese/walnuts. Top layer more jello mixed with raspberry yogurt.

    2. Feckless Rando*

      I actually had a potato salad party a few years back! I invited my friends to bring a variation on potato salad, with a specific focus on potato salads from various ethnic cuisines. I shared a bunch of recipe links and inspiration but was also open to people finding their own and we had a great time!

  32. ASDFK*

    As a federal worker, I’m always going to have a knee-jerk reaction to defend potlucks when they come up here, haha. To be fair, the centres I’ve been at have a) always have a sign up sheet and 2) been fewer than 100 people (and I guess more importantly c) full of relatively reasonable people). But when the office is allowed to spend $0 on food, potlucks are kinda the only way! I do know that there have been people who either have more strict diets or who simply didn’t want to partake in the food who brought their own lunch and happily sat in the kitchen area to socialize and maybe grabbing a soda can. Hypothetically, I think you could definitely do an office potluck with 100 people, but you’d just need to account for space more than anything.

    Anyways, I think the LW’s office will have a weirder than average hodge-podge of food for this potluck without a sign up sheet and they should probably just go with their current plan of eating before (or after), especially if they’re more concerned about food safety.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’ve had a lot of good potluck experiences, but too many bad ones to support the practice. Team No for me. If you ask me when potlucks are a bad idea, I’d say always.

      Unfortunately, for many of us in government or education, there isn’t an option for the employer to pay for safer and saner food options. It’s norovirus or nothing.

      As a manager, this puts me in the unenviable position of being implicitly expected to generously contribute to all potlucks, but not feeling comfortable partaking.

  33. Doctor What*

    As someone who got food poisoning so badly I had to be hospitalized for 2 days, nearly missing my flight home for the Holidays.

    Just say NO to potlucks!

  34. Bruce*

    One of my early jobs we had wonderful potlucks in our group, with foods from most of the inhabited continents. My boss in particular was a great cook, she made galab juman herself from scratch… she also used them as bribes when she needed a long checklist signed off by the other managers. Since that high point the best potlucks have had a catered main dish or two and people only need to bring a low stress side dish.

    1. Bruce*

      (note that this same boss moved on to become a VP at a medium sized IC company, she had more than one way to convince people to go along with her ideas…)

  35. Julie*

    I had a colleague who would only eat work potluck food made by people she knew. She felt this was safer. It was absurd because everyone who met her pretty much wanted her dead, but strangers had no good reason to taint/poison something she’d eat.

  36. The Farmer's Daughter*

    We have gone a different route – we have taco lunch or a baked potato bar where everyone just signs up to bring one item. It is so much less work when all I have to do is sign up to bring a bag of shredded cheese or a bowl of shredded lettuce or a can of black beans. Everyone gets to eat together with very little food prep for anyone! We have also had a baked potato bar run in the same manner.

  37. Jaina Solo*

    My one company would have an occasional potluck/bring some food in, but for the most part they catered office meals. Which was really nice for those with food allergies or hygiene concerns–they used Cracker Barrel for our Thanksgiving meal so you knew what you were getting and what you could or would want to eat. It saved all of us time and money too, and we felt way more appreciated by having something brought in instead of having to provide it ourselves.

  38. kiki*

    I really enjoy the occasional potluck because I think they can be a fun way to get to know more about your coworkers, share different cultures, etc. One of my favorite holiday events was one where everyone brought in their favorite holiday side dish. The party was in February and the organizers were clear that they meant *any holiday*, so people brought in foods from holidays throughout the year. There were some fourth of July items, some winter holiday foods, somebody’s election day cocktail (good in celebration or mourning!), etc. It was really cool to see what people shared!

    But I think that was very much an opt-in thing for people who were excited to share their traditions and those willing to take the risk that potluck foods bring. All our other work parties were professionally catered to ensure folks would have food that met their dietary and sanitary specifications.

  39. AnyaT*

    I work in government so EVERY office party is a potluck (no catering budget). I detest them, not so much for the food, but because it requires me to spend the emotional and actual figuring out what to make that will have broad appeal, getting the ingredients, preparing it, and then transporting it to work (I usually take transit, so lugging large covered bowls or cake plates is not ideal). Even if I buy something premade I have to decide on it and spend money on it. I’d far rather everyone throw in $5 if they want to participate and order a bunch of pizzas.

    That said, potlucks were at least workable when I was on a team of ~10 people. I’m now in a department of ~200 and it just seems ridiculous. They tell people to prepare enough food for 10-15 servings so we end up with a ton of small dishes and a scramble for the most appealing ones.

    1. Runcible Wintergreen*

      For anyone looking for an easy and inexpensive potluck contribution, my default is a bagged salad. I buy a big bag of some kind of prepared salad (either with dressings/toppings included, or I buy a bottle of dressing and a bag of croutons separately). Leave the dressing/toppings on the side, and you can accommodate many dietary restrictions. Alternately, 2 lb bag of baby carrots and a container or two of dip.

      Definitely not the most interesting dish to bring, but I find that it’s uncommon for people to bring vegetables so most everyone will take at least a serving to round out their meal. Bringing something premade helps remove the gross-out factor for anyone afraid of other peoples’ kitchens. It’s also easy to buy in advance and transport if you keep it in the original bags (just bring a bowl, or even just a disposable aluminum tray).

  40. PurplePeopleEater*

    I love a small team potluck: it is one of the aspects of working in-office that I miss most! I am, however, the weirdo who puts lots of labels on the food she brings. And sometimes just tapes the recipe to the container.

  41. Ranon*

    My 300 person office did a potluck for Halloween and although I didn’t participate I think it went as well as it could:

    – Type of food (e.g. appetizers, main, etc) were divided up by department, each department had a few people take the lead and sign up (there was also a team table decorating and costume contest so for folks who are into that thing there was more draw) Company pitched in a small budget for decorations

    – Sign up sheets! They happened!

    – Office is always stocked with utensils, plates, etc

    – We are in the Midwest so culturally prepared to participate in potlucks

    – Company culture has norms around disclosing ingredients of shared food and accommodating diets

    – Entire event was opt-in, participation not remotely pressured

    – Office services arranged tables, power, etc logistics and setup

    Honestly seemed like a lot more work than ordering some catering trays but folks who got into participating seemed to really get into it

  42. thelettermegan*

    I’ve always been in the ‘host should provide catered sandwiches with vegan and gluten-free options to the potluck at the off-chance that everyone shows up with jello salads’ camp.

  43. jellied brains*

    I’m dreading our company potluck. I foolishly agreed to bring something but now I’m not certain if I have the bandwidth to make enough food to feed 50 people.

    Wonder if a couple packages of Oreos would suffice?

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Oh my goodness you don’t have to feed 50 people :) The whole point is that several people bring entrees, several bring sides, several bring desserts. So while everyone should be able to get a full meal, everyone may not be able to try every offering.

      In theory. In reality some people act a fool but that is firmly not your problem.

      So you are absolved from making food for 50 people. Have a crock pot? A crockpot’s worth of food is a perfectly fine offering. So is a couple packs of grocery store cupcakes.

  44. cardigarden*

    On our company sign up sheet, I always note that my standard contribution is vegetarian and gluten free, so people know at least that ahead of time. And day-of, I label the dish with the common dietary issues it contains (dairy, egg products). Honestly, this sort of labeling should be default by now.

    1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      Maybe it’s my area, but neighborhood and school potlucks are always great about listing ingredients (never had a work one) – people will list all major allergens as well as meat (and what kind – chicken, pork, etc) and dairy / eggs. And after one incident with a friend who didn’t think they needed to mention an avocado allergy when we asked “any allergies?” I’ll mention that too! (No actual avocados, but we used avocado oil!)

  45. Rachel*

    I bring chips/salsa OR 2-liters of soda to any potluck at work. I also do not eat anything homemade after a horrible food poisoning from a friends BBQ one summer. I make exceptions for cookies / cupcakes but that is my limit.

  46. An Extremely Fresh Start*

    If there are only potato salads and napkins, it follows that everyone will have to grab a napkin, scoop up a handful of a random salad, and shove it in their mouth. So that seems like it would definitely not be awkward at all.

    (LW: I HAVE had some success getting people to write ingredient cards when they bring stuff so I can minimize the odds I won’t know if I’m about to put something that will give me hives in my mouth. This plan does work better for potlucks than for caterers, who seem to universally feel that “caesar salad with croutons” or “meat lasagna with pasta and sauces” constitutes an ingredient list.)

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Everyone except for me, because I hate potato salad. (Unless it’s a warm one, but those are unfortunately usually not vegetarian.)

  47. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Well-intentioned but incompetent HR strikes again. I’d just go out for lunch that day and skip the potluck. Make sure to get updates from your coworkers on how badly it went because no one brought anything but iced tea and green beans – and then, most importantly, update us!

  48. Fluffy Fish*

    We have a kitchen/breakroom at work. Seeing how filthy people are regularly (and if they’re this bad at work imagine what this home kitchen looks like) puts me firmly in the potlucks are always a bad idea and I am not eating anything people I do not know well’s food. Ever.

    But yes, your employer is weird and the potluck is likely to be a bit of a disaster with no organization. In fact if you aren’t eating then I’d argue you don’t need to partake at all by bringing a dish.

  49. Grace*

    As a germphobe, how do I get out of these things? My current job has someone who LOVES any excuse to make us come into the office for inane food things such as bday cake, muffin tastings and now, apple tastings. I’m not kidding. I don’t want to eat sliced apples touched by coworkers’ grubby hands. What can I say to get out of it? If I confess to being a germphobe then it’ll be the topic of discussion for the next 6 months (just like how preferring colder weather became my persona).

      1. Grace*

        Dietary restrictions to apples, though? The ship has sailed on the bday cake bc they’re friggin mandatory and I’ve already eaten like 6 times in my 8 months here, ugh. Ppl here slice cake and then touch the slice with their bare hands to place it on your plate. It’s so gross, ughhh.

        1. WS*

          Yes, apples can be a problem for people with FODMAP issues due to the fructose! Also some people with diverticulitis or similar gastric problems because of the peel. Also people on low-residue diets for various reasons. There’s no food that’s safe/good for everyone!

    1. Samwise*

      “Oh, no thanks, I’m good!” said with a big smile

      No need for a story or history or excuse or reason or lies or… Just don’t share.

      In fact, you can just not go by the office or stay away from the break room. Or just walk right on by the food you do not want to eat.

      1. Fluffy Fish*


        If pressed follow-up with a vague “Not my thing” “I really don’t’ want to get into it but you enjoy!”

      2. pally*

        This! Providing excuses give them an opening:

        “Too busy? I’ll save the last one for you!!”
        “Not hungry now? Here take this one for later on!”
        “Celiac? Food restriction? Awww, eating just one won’t hurt.”
        “You don’t like [name of food]? C’mon, take some. Here, I’ll bring it to your desk. Everybody likes [name of food]!”

      3. Grace*

        It’s mandatory, I can’t just walk by or skip it! My boss’ boss is the one who does all these events. He forces us to come into the office for these things. I think for the apple tasting I’ll just try, “No thanks, I’m good” but I know he won’t relent and will ask me follow up questions (this is how he is). Ugh I’m dreading it so much.

        1. Jaina Solo*

          Can you say it’s for health reasons? Like, “No thanks, I can’t for health reasons?” I don’t remember if health is considered protected, but you’re generally not expected/required to give health info out unless it’s for accommodations or something official.
          And if your boss’ boss follows up, it’s personal and not something you’ll be disclosing at work. Honestly, I’d be tempted to say “I’m surprised you feel comfortable prying into my personal health which is only for me and my doctor to discuss” but that’s just me.

        2. pally*

          Geez! I don’t think I’d be very civil in such circumstances.

          Wonder if “Okay, I’ll try one. Is an EpiPen handy? Doc says that’s important when eating [name of food].”

        3. Fluffy Fish*

          “Are you trying to force me to eat something I don’t want to? – tempting but probably not helpful

          “I don’t want to eat thanks, but I’ll enjoy watching others try!” – repeat

  50. Give me ambrosia salad please*

    A community organization I’m part of would do a potluck every winter and your category of food was based on your last name, e.g. A-G you bring a dessert. The size of the dish was based on whether it was an individual, a couple, or a family, and there wasn’t a strict RSVP requirement. I don’t know of any food poisoning from the past however many years, but it’s always an odd hodgepodge. I do always love the bucket of fried chicken picked up on the way. This year it’s being catered and RSVP required to get a better headcount.

  51. Bookworm*

    Potlucks are always a bad idea. Maybe it’s me, but I’ve seen too many of those horrible video clips and TikToks of people cooking various things and the lack of sanitation is too scary. Especially with COVID (which is airborne but still). This is why I’ve always brought something store-bought if I ever had to participate.

  52. Flying Fish*

    I think pot lucks should be restricted to one category. I used to work at a place that would cater a main course and do potluck desserts. Then it didn’t matter if everyone brought the same things.

    They were also good about listing the menu ahead so people could speak up if they needed a different option.

  53. Pizza Rat*

    This is me being grateful our division head sent out a survey asking what we wanted to do for the holiday party this year. While pot luck was a choice, so was going to a restaurant or having catering. Also included was a space to put in allergies or other dietary restrictions and preferences.

    I do hope it’s one of the latter two. I take the subway into work and carrying food for a lot of people as well as my usual bag of necessary items makes for an awkward commute.

  54. SadieMae*

    I once attended a church potluck where a lady brightly insisted I try a slice of her “special recipe” cheesecake. When I took the first bite, it had a super unpleasant (and very UN-cheesecake-like) texture, similar to ground beef. She had followed me over and sat down with me, apparently to enjoy watching me enjoy the cheesecake, and as I sat there frozen – holding the bite unswallowed in my mouth and trying not to look grossed out – she proudly announced that the special ingredient was … texturized vegetable protein (TVP). Which is designed to mimic that ground-beef texture.

    I fought to politely get that one bite down while she twittered on about how she puts TVP in *everything* because it’s cheap and it has lots of protein. Which is true, and I use it myself in chili and so forth sometimes, but as a cheesecake filling?? Maybe she’d read that you can make a vegan cheesecake with tofu and somehow she’d gotten her soy products confused?? I was mystified. And I later saw that she was happily eating a slice herself, so it wasn’t that thing where you make something and don’t realize until YOU taste it that it didn’t turn out well…

    1. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

      There are no letters in the alphabet that can spell the noise I just made.

      TVP. IN ~☆CHEESECAKE☆~. Why. Dear God WHY.

      1. SadieMae*

        Right?? I wanted to say, “You know what else is fairly cheap and has lots of protein, lady? Cream cheese!!”

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I have come across a savory cheesecake recipe that includes Parmesan and is meant to be served as an appetizer. That sounds unusual and interesting.

          TVP cheesecake sounds like some sort of awful dare.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I attended a dinner event once where one of the appetizers was a savory crab cheesecake, and it was phenomenal.

  55. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

    If “fifty potato salads and no plates” is the concern, they can always go with the classic Midwestern church potluck approach – divide up whether people should bring main dishes, sides, or desserts by last name, and have the company supply plates, napkins, etc.

    (This is translated from the Minnesotan dialect where it was “hot dish, salad, or dessert”. Jello was a salad unless it included Cool Whip in which case it was dessert.)

    1. My Brain is Exploding*

      I had to read this far before hot dish came up as a topic!!! I was going to make a comment on it at the end of the thread if I hadn’t seen anything. (lived in ND for many years)

  56. This space left intentionally blank*

    I also think pot lucks are a bad idea. Most workplaces do not have the facilities to store food at its proper temperature, or enough outlets to plug in all the crockpots for hot dishes. I don’t want to eat someone’s mayo-based potato salad if it wasn’t in the fridge right up to serving time.

    I don’t need to go into the various types of diets there are out there. Kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, DASH, FODMAP, keto, paleo….and I haven’t even touched on allergies.

    Ask people what they can and will eat. Anonymously. Then find a caterer. Or two, if needed.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      you’re not actually likely to get food poisoning from mayo based anything, even if it’s been sitting out, b/c it also has vinegar/acid. If you want to avoid food poisoning stay away from anything that’s supposed to be hot but is lukewarm instead, that’s a happy environment for bacteria.

  57. Bluz*

    The cheap ass rolls is such a legendary tale. If there was a Hall of Fame for AAM posts that would up there. I go back to it for a laugh when I need a pick me up when work gets too much.

    Potlucks are such mine fields with the increase of food allergies and different diets.

  58. AnotherLibrarian*

    My rule for potlucks- bring something I can eat for lunch and know that it might be all I eat.

    Best run potluck I’ve ever seen- At one library where I worked, people were required to give their lists of ingredients to the cataloging department before the annual chili/soup party and the catalogers cataloged every chili with a full MARC record with the ingredients as the table of contents and then they were posted over the crockpots full of chili, so people could self select. (Between the folks who were vegan, dairy-free, various levels of kosher, most folks could find something to eat.)

    1. Dulcinea47*

      OMG LOLOL…. I’m a cataloger, I think that is hilarious. Now planning to do my ingredients card for the potluck in MARC format if I remember.

    2. Bye Academia*

      I just went to a chili cook off, and a teenager had an allergic reaction because she wasn’t expecting there to be peanut butter in anyone’s chili. If only it had been the librarian chili cook off….

    3. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I love librarians. (I hate potlucks.) (at work) (among friends, yes, I’ll do a potluck)

  59. Corelle*

    I fully understand and sympathize with the LW’s situation. I hate potlucks. But if I can’t get out of participating in one, I hate being pestered about what I’m going to bring ahead of time. I don’t know. My energy and available time are unpredictable and I can commit to bringing something but who knows what. I suck at planning. I’ve gravitated to a few tried and true recipes that I mostly rotate between, but sometimes the best I can do are some storebought cookies or a cheese and crackers tray.

  60. Katie*

    Can we also address the fact that, with inflation, it can be prohibitively expensive to make a dish for 40 people? We’ve had one every month lately (tailgate, Halloween, Thanksgiving) and each one has fewer and fewer participants. If the company doesn’t want to cater something, that’s fine, but I dislike passing along the costs of a holiday celebration to employees.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      You’re not intended to make a dish for 40 people. You make a normal sized dish, unless you’re expecting each participant to eat 40 servings of food.

    2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      You’re not making a dish for 40 people, though! You’re making a dish that will serve 6-8 assuming they eat a few other things too. One pizza, one recipe of whatever, one batch of brownies.

    3. This space left intentionally blank*

      Yes, we should address that.

      Considering how wages haven’t kept up with inflation, making a dish that will serve 6-8 can be a financial burden.

  61. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Much more a fan of a themed carry-in (I’m in the Midwest, that’s what we call them, “potluck” gives me the heebie-jeebies) than anything designed to be a meal. Asking other people to feed me lunch is a recipe for disaster.

    Everyone brings in desserts or appetizers or chips and dip or ice cream or toppings, etc. It’s more fun and less of a risk that someone won’t eat because Keith forgets he signed up to bring a main dish or Sara’s oven was on the fritz so she grabbed a bag of chips on the way in instead of the sandwich tray she signed up for.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’m from Illinois, and it’s a potluck.

        Carry-on is when you bring your own food liquor into a place that serves food.

  62. Tammy 2*

    My department of about 20 does a sign up sheet and the template includes a place to list dietary restrictions. It’s not required for everyone to accommodate them, but at least it means there’s a better chance there will be plenty of choices for everyone.

  63. Dulcinea47*

    My first potluck at new job is upcoming in two weeks. I don’t know these people well enough to trust their kitchen hygiene yet! But we waited too late to have it catered.

  64. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Might just be my experience, but the signup sheet was always like a game of Whose Line is it Anyway?

    We had people sign up for things and then bring something else entirely all the time. Either because they forgot what they signed up for or because they didn’t have the things to make whatever it was or because they ran out of time the night before or because they just didn’t feel like making whatever ambitious dish they thought sounded amazing the week prior when the sheet made it’s rounds.

    1. Jaina Solo*

      Omg, this! One potluck, I signed up to bring a dessert and actually took the time to bake something. It ended up going bad because someone else who didn’t sign up for any desserts brought several so then there was too much. I was so mad because of the wasted time and ingredients. It probably wasn’t my best baked good–I tried something new which is always dicey–but I don’t like to waste. After that, I only brought a frozen dessert that was super easy to make and would last in the freezer a while so no wasting and people definitely enjoyed that one.

    2. Elitist Semicolon*

      We had someone sign up for salad and then show up with a 5-gallon tub of ice cream. The host was pissed, partly because he’d gone around her carefully cultivated sign-up sheet and now we had no salad and partly because who has room for a 5-gallon tub of ice cream in their freezer?

  65. NMitford*

    One of my pet peeves in life is my husband’s best friend and his wife make almost every party at their house a potluck but except for one occasion (when they wanted tapas and had the unmitigated gall to send everyone a recipe) they don’t have any sort of signup or assignments. They hold this out to us all as a fun and nostalgic trip down memory lane from the best friend’s starving student/young professional days that they are sure we all must undoubtedly enjoy. Y’all this is an attorney in his sixties living in a paid-off house and earning orders of magnitude more than me and my husband combined.

    But, yes, I agree with eating beforehand because I’ve never been able to have anything approaching a decent meal at their potlucks. It’s either all desserts or all cheesy casseroles or all cheese and crackers… green vegetables and salads seem to a rarity. My husband has agreed that I no longer have to cook for their potlucks anymore, so I just show up, after my husband and I have eaten at a great Thai place near the best friend’s house, with my bottle of two-buck chuck and call it a day.

    If I could ban potlucks forever, I would.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      No one does cheap like a rich person.

      And I would have definitely been out by the time the tapas recipe showed up.

    2. Jay (no, the other one)*

      I am sort of in the opposite situation. The norm in our friend group is that everyone brings a dish when we go to someone’s house for dinner. We would happily cook everything when we entertain – in fact we’d prefer it. I’ve tried saying “Just bring yourselves!” and that usually results in people bringing something that doesn’t work with the meal or that someone (often my husband) can’t eat or they bring flowers that we can’t put out because of his allergies. So now I assign categories – a veggie side, something to nibble on before dinner, dessert – and at least I know what’s going to happen.

      When I bring something unsolicited, I aim for something that is a gift to the hosts rather than a contribution to the dinner – a bottle of wine if I know they drink wine, cookies in a decorative tin, a jar of homemade lemon curd – and I explicitly say “this is for you to enjoy sometime.”

  66. Decima Dewey*

    I’m bit surprised at the idea of a potluck for a food oriented holiday like Thanksgiving. Some people are facing a huge amount of cooking anyway, and now they have to whip up something for the office?

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        People are facing a huge amount of food purchasing anyway, and now they have to buy something for the office?

        (Holidays aren’t cheap.)

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Yes! I HATE this! I’m already planning/buying/cooking a ton. I guess for some people they just scale up and bring some to the office, but I have a tiny galley kitchen and just-shy-of-full-size fridge and a small freezer. So I am the curmudgeon who refuses to get involved with this noise at work.

  67. MissDisplaced*

    I’m not one for potlucks in general because I’m not much of a cook, but I also don’t like eating strange (as in you don’t know what they put in it or how they made it) foods. I’ve always been made to feel weird about that, but I guess I’m not alone!

  68. Factory Girl*

    I always include an index card to put in front of my dish that lists ALL the ingredients.

    For the sign up sheet, it’s a good idea to have categories such as salad, side dish, main dish, dessert, whatever. Then when someone signs up they can see that 20 people have signed up to bring dessert but nobody has signed up for salad, and make their choice accordingly. You could even have a set number of slots for each category.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Re: Index Card — ME TOO!

      I started doing it a few years ago when I had a coworker who found himself newly gluten-intolerant after an emergency life-saving surgery of some kind. People side-eyed my index card at first and made comments, but my coworker was SO appreciative that I wouldn’t even consider not doing it now!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m in the UK where we’re very used to European allergy warnings (top 14 allergens flagged on all food for sale) so if I’m baking for a cake sale I’ll put a card on the tray saying eg “chocolate brownie: contains gluten, milk, egg, soya; no nuts in recipe”.

        If you’re catering only for people with known dietary requirements you can say “hey Sarah the pie is vegan”, “hey Andy there’s onions in the chilli but not the carne asada”. But with larger groups or unknown attendees it’s safer to just declare everything.

  69. No Real Name Here*

    Should not have read these comments after attending my (delightful) office pot luck today …

  70. Octhex*

    Perhaps you could ask for a request to be sent out asking for ingredients to be listed? In the vein of “it is optional but would be very considerate for any attendees who may have dietary restrictions.”

    OTOH, if you wouldn’t trust the ingredient list to be accurate/complete, that wouldn’t help you (though may still help others).

    Also, if you’re worried about cross-contamination, a fully-accurate list of ingredients that were intentionally added wouldn’t be sufficient.

    With 100 people, I would be very surprised if you were the only one who had a dietary restriction.

    (I haven’t had time to read the other comments so it’s quite likely someone else has already said this, but just in case I wrote this.)

  71. K.B.*

    I like potlucks! But a signup sheet is necessary, and we always have an anonymous list of dietary restrictions in advance, so everyone knows that if they use sesame, they have to label it. My office also does occasional Salad Clubs – we pick a salad recipe, and everyone who signs up brings an ingredient. That way you can assemble as you choose, and you know in advance what is going to be available.

  72. Quinalla*

    Yeah, you have to have ingredients listed if you want to be inclusive. There are too many folks with allergies, sensitivities, religious/moral/other dietary restrictions, etc. We did a few at my office when we had an office and since I ran them I made everyone put ALL ingredients and also always had the main course catered and made sure there was something in there that everyone could eat. We had one person who was vegan and another that didn’t eat pork for religious reasons in an office of 8 people. With 100 people, I’m sure you have way, way more.

    I know some people treat you like a spoil sport for bringing this stuff up, but I’m over it. I have a kid with peanut & treenut allergies – I am always THAT parent and I don’t care anymore lol. And I know too many people with various food restrictions/sensitivities/allergies – I just always, always ask when I’m hosting or getting food for folks. My brother has a tree nut allergy, so I was a helper dealing with it for him too growing up (taste tester in the time before good food labels and restaurants knowing what was in their food oh and a lot of people not believing food allergies were real, ugh).

  73. nnn*

    Potlucks are vastly improved by making them hybrid: you can either bring food or contribute money, which is used to order pizza or sushi or some kind of take-out/catering that meets needs and fills in gaps.

    Sometimes when this idea is raised, people argue “But no one wants to have to pay – bringing a dish is super easy!” And, if that’s the case, no problem – the result is a potluck.

    (But my experience has been more people than expected find it easier to contribute money – often including the person whose idea it was to have a potluck in the first place.)

  74. Helvetica*

    Interesting how many people seem to think potluck for 40 people = everyone making their dish big enough to feed 40 people. I’ve always approached it from the angle that since everyone’s bringing something, you can make your dish regular size because you’re not realistically going to get a piece of all 40 dishes – that would be so much food to consume! That’s always worked out well.

    1. nnn*


      I literally had no idea that was allowed! I figure since I’m taking some of everything (or, if I’m not, it’s because I’m a picky eater) I should assume everyone is taking some of whatever I’m bringing.

      In this context, what constitutes “regular size”? Enough for one person to eat as a whole meal? Or something else?

      1. JustaTech*

        I think of it as “a single batch” – like, one pie, one pan of brownies, a single 9×13 casserole of whatever, one box of pasta’s worth of pasta salad.

        In my experience that’s been enough that I’m not taking home a ton of leftovers but also the dish isn’t empty 5 minutes into the meal. Also it’s just what’s easiest for my brain, because I’m not scaling up or down a recipe.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      As someone who’s single, bringing a lot of food for people and then being forced to take it all home is not my favorite thing ever. I never know how much to bring and I can’t eat it all.

      I will note the next potluck I got invited to said “bring enough to feed 10 people,” which at least clarifies it. Also certain people always bring the main-dish-food so we don’t have to worry about that.

    3. Marvin O'Gravel Balloonface*

      I generally operate on the assumption that you should bring about as much food as your party intends to eat. So when I go somewhere with all my kids, I bring a lot! I expect a single friend to bring relatively less.

  75. Illogical Spock*

    My public school does a monthly Potluck Breakfast. I did it my first year but then opted out. There are about 100 staff and about 10 contributors per month (by subject or grade level) and you and your group get one time a year. First, it can get expensive, say $30 for your turn. Second, you eat it in a rush as some groups aren’t ready until students are arriving. Lastly, I just don’t want to do MORE work in the mornings. I now opt out, over and over again as I end up on the yearly list with my group. I say, “No, I don’t participate but thanks” in a yearly email. I’ve had new teachers come to me and say, “Wait, I don’t have to do this?”

  76. H.Regalis*


    -Provide an ingredient list for the items you bring.
    -Don’t remove ingredients list cards! People need to know what’s in stuff.
    -If you can’t bear the idea of eating food where you haven’t personally inspected the kitchen in which it was prepared, don’t eat at a potluck.
    -If you are deathly allergic to certain things, give it a miss. Food service workers get training on allergens, avoiding cross contamination, etc. Your coworkers don’t.
    -If you don’t like potlucks, don’t (metaphorically) shit all over their very existence.

  77. Raida*

    Personally I quite liked my sister’s office approach to their last potluck lunch:

    Have a sign up sheet.
    Anyone who can’t or won’t cook can provide a few dollars.
    Managers are responsible for anything disposable.
    Any gaps in the overall meal are filled with catering using the money provided by people who aren’t cooking.

    It was a great combination of low pressure, opportunity to cook for people who enjoy it, ensuring the higher paid staff are covering the boring bits, and ensuring there’s no obvious gaps.

    They ended up with a couple of trays of rotisserie chickens and drinks from the cash, it really goes a long way when you’re not trying to cater the entire meal.

    They did have plenty of staff that are a range of intolerances and restrictions and diets that all the food brought in had the recipe’s ingredient list included. Two plates had none provided – they still had a sign but it said “ingredients unknown”

    1. nnn*

      If by “managers are responsible for anything disposable” you mean managers are bringing plates, cups, napkins, etc., a variation I’ve seen is “interns are responsible for plates/cups/napkins/cutlery”, on the basis that the interns live in dorms and don’t have access to kitchens.

      (This was at a time when you could get all the necessary plates/cups/napkins/cutlery for under $5 at the dollar store. I haven’t checked how that might be affected by recent inflation.)

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      This sounds really good.

      I’d add something about clean up too. Like everyone is responsible for clearing up their own plates/etc. And maybe people who don’t cook could volunteer to help clean up.

      Or is that what you mean by managers being responsible for anything disposable, they’re in charge of the rubbish etc?

  78. Popular*

    wow, office potlucks are way more common than I’d expect. I’ve worked at dozens of companies and never had one hold a potluck.

  79. Rain*

    I worked at a law firm where multiple women would leave the restroom without washing their hands. No way was I eating any food they brought to an office potluck. You can keep your poo food to yourself, you dirty bird.

  80. Marvin O'Gravel Balloonface*

    Honestly, the times when it turns out to be “oops, nothing but cake” are some of the best!

  81. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    In OldJob, we sometimes did charity potlucks/bakes. Different teams took it in turns to bring in food. People were invited to donate any amount (it could be 5p) into the charity bucket, and then take a slice/bowl/etc.

    That worked reasonably well because people still could join in without baking anything themselves if they put some money in. And people could do simple options, or just purchase things if they didn’t want to cook.

    There was a bit of judgement about how much effort people put into their food though. That’s the main issue for me. It can end up in practice that you’re effectively asking people to do a whole bunch of planning and work.

    (I love cooking but the type of thing I’m good af making doesn’t transport well, and figuring out how to transport a pile of food into work via public transport is the type of thing that I personally find really difficult to navigate. it may seem obvious to some people but not to me and it isn’t a skill I need in my job.)

    Allergies and lack of clarity about what was in the food also caused issues. And we were a healthcare organisation with lots of medical people taking part.

    It isn’t just people who are dismissive about allergies. It’s random allergies that no one has ever heard of as an allergy, or people just forgetting some of the ingredients they added, no malice intended at all.

    Are workplaces liable in any way if they organise an event and someone gets seriously ill from a lack of transparency about what’s in the food? Probably depends on the country you’re in.

  82. Zee*

    The potato salad thing actually happened to me once! Obviously everyone liked potato salad so we just treated it like a potato salad-tasting evening. But after that we started sign-up sheets…

  83. Octhex*

    For what it’s worth, I do enjoy potlucks. (I started including an ingredient list on all my entries ten years ago, maybe more. Usually my food is one of the few with a list. To the best of my recollection, I’ve only ever attended only one potluck that requested ingredient lists.)

    I do prefer it when potlucks have categories on the sign-up.

    A volunteer organization that I am part of had a less-common category on their most recent potluck which I thought was great — “help with clean-up” and it had as many slots as all of the other categories. The person who made the announcement of the potluck pointed out that for years the clean-up crew was mostly the same set of people and they’d like to get some new blood in. So it’s a way to participate without having to spend money at all, nevermind having a lick of talent at cooking. I assume that this might not be useful for some business potlucks, but it worked out well for us.

  84. A person*

    We just had ours today. It went great. We’ve been doing it for years though and pretty much have it down. We put up a sign up sheet about a week in advance. The sheet has categories on it to help spread out the variety. Company provides the turkey and one of our guys cooks them that morning. I work in a company that is food-centric so we are actually all pretty well versed in food safety. Our food safety team always happily joins this potluck.

    We are a much smaller group though. We have about 15 people in a heavy day. I think for potluck day we usually have about 15-20 participants (some of our people that work with us but don’t office there will come for it). In my experience in larger locations, potlucks were usually organized more at the department levels so the groups were smaller even at a 500 person location.

    I know potlucks don’t work everywhere and they’re not for everyone but our site loves them and they always go well. I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick at them. We also sorta lay out the “we can accommodate a lot of crock pots but not many oven dishes” to help with the coordination. We had like 4 people this year where it was their first year with us and they all seemed to figure it out pretty well.

    We’ve had some dietary restrictions in the past (we don’t currently… we have some preferences but no restrictions). We try to make sure people with restrictions will have something safe and enjoyable to eat too. That will look different depending on the restriction. We’ve ranged from kosher, to vegan, to allergies and always try to make everyone feel welcome and included and safe.

    I brought crock pot green bean casserole and it all got eaten! Woot!

  85. Have you had enough water today?*

    I refuse to take part in these because I absolutely do not trust the cleanliness of other people’s kitchens, especially when I see how they leave the kitchen & bathroom at the office.

    I will bring treats with me on random days for people to enjoy if they want to, but I can count the people I trust to cook for me on one hand & none of my co-workers are on that list.

  86. New Senior Mgr*

    I’m okay with company potlucks for smaller groups. I think 100 is too large for this type of gathering and not having a sign up sheet is poor planning. Your company is being cheap. Why can’t they cater it or purchase the main entrees (at least)? As for LW, if you choose to attend, I’d bring my own meal.

  87. lilsheba*

    In this age of covid still being spread like wildfire potlucks are NOT GOOD. They are a horrible idea and need to just stop. My spouses’ work tried to do a potluck last year and I said I didn’t want them participating and bringing those germs home to me. They ended up cancelling the whole thing and I don’t think they are trying for it this year either which is fine by me.

    1. J*

      Eating unmasked around others indoors is the risk with Covid, not people sharing food. It’s not foodborne or spread through surfaces.

  88. DorothyGale*

    It’s not really a potluck if there’s a sign up sheet.

    I clearly enjoy chaos much more than the average person. But to me the risk of having 17 potato salads is part of the fun.

  89. Emmy*

    I work for the federal government and there is no budget for morale for us. Either supervision buys or we have a potluck, or everyone contributes money to buy something catered. Sometimes I dream fondly of a fancy lunch none of us had to cook or pay for LOL

  90. Sled Dog Mama*

    We do a monthly potluck at my work and I think we’ve hit on two ways that work well, each month a department “sponsors” the potluck and is responsible for making sure we have a meal, desserts and paper products so either providing or managing a sign-up. Then we either have:
    1) a “Theme” meal, ex. the theme is tacos, the sponsoring department gets several different types of proteins catered in (because food safety) and everyone else brings toppings (so lots of people run to the grocery store the day before at lunch or on the way in that morning and get something packaged that goes straight in our company fridge until setup)
    2) “bring your favorite” meal, my department is sponsoring this one next month so everyone is to bring their favorite holiday dish, we have no idea what is coming but there will be something that everyone can eat and we all get to try new things.
    I should say that the culture in my office is such that people have no problem opting out of the monthly potluck (I did the first two years I worked here) and people are aware of others dietary needs so we don’t have an issue with gluten-free or other special items disappearing before those who have restrictions get enough. I realize that other offices might not have the culture we do and this won’t work for everyone.

  91. GenXaerospace*

    About 5 years ago I worked for an aerospace company that had a lot of boomer male engineers. I signed up for a taco potluck and put on there giant bag of shredded cheese from Walmart (not really thinking about it, just writing it down like a grocery list).

    One of the older engineers was talking to the admin and saw what I wrote down then very loudly started making fun of it for 5 minutes, the whole department could hear it.

    As soon as he left I scratched it off and told the admin that I was doing it since it bothers people so much.

    There were a lot of mean people who worked there, and this was one of the reasons I left and found greener pastures. People continuing to use fragrant lotion after I told them it was giving me migraines, people who were married having affairs with coworkers, the admin and VP making fun of the past admin who had left unused adult diapers in the desk (she had medical issues), the company lobbyist telling us who to vote for, the list goes on. Truly horrible people and I keep getting contacted to come back but they couldn’t pay me enough to go back.

  92. Formerly Ella Vader*

    Having a potluck event and not initiating a signup beforehand also imbalances the emotional labour towards the people who already do too much of it. Without any information about whether the rest of the people are bringing enough food that will let everyone have a balanced tasty lunch, the people who tend to worry about these things are likely to do more than their share of the cooking, maybe make a meat dish plus a non-meat one plus a dessert, bring post-it labels and pens to the conference room for labelling, and so on. And if the result is an inclusive-enough adequate feast this time, nobody else will work harder next time, so the same people are stuck doing more than their share. Typically mid-career female administrative staff.

    Someone who feels awkward about wanting to bring something from a restaurant or who isn’t sure what they can prepare that’s okay isn’t going to be getting any clues from the list. So maybe they won’t participate, or they’ll bring pop and chips.
    Someone whose usual practice is to ask his wife to make him something isn’t going to plan that early or give her any information about what’s missing from the list.
    Someone who could easily leave the mushrooms out of their chili doesn’t bother, because there hasn’t been any chance for the allergic people to share their needs with the office on the signup.

  93. JustaTech*

    How to make a potluck work:
    1) Have a sign up sheet!
    2) Have everyone label their dishes with ingredients (provide notecards and pens) – it’s not perfect but it’s a start.
    3) Be equally accepting of homemade and store bought food.
    4) Be cheerfully open to people not participating for any reason at all whatsoever (food restrictions, think y’all are germy, don’t have the money/time/energy).
    5) Have enough space for keeping food cold/ have ability to re-heat food.
    6) Have a clean up sign up as well.
    7) Keep it on the smaller end (what “smaller” means will depend on potluck culture in your region).
    8) Everyone is a reasonable human being (probably the hardest part).

  94. Head sheep counter*

    Given the previous column is on someone self-identifying as a grump… I suspect… we have a number of self-identifiers.

    Potlucks are a nice way to mingle. One doesn’t have to eat if one has concerns. But the variety of humanity and what they think is good to share with others… is just one of the small joys in life. Give me the 5 jello salads. Yes to the 6 potato salads. 100% to the mystery crockpot. Are those funeral potatoes? Please be a funeral potatoes (https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/funeral-potatoes/).

    I may not eat any of the above or only one small bite… but I think of potlucks as sharing one’s history.

  95. Dogmama*

    The best potlucks I’ve been part of the company/org provided the must-haves (mains and plates/napkins/plasticware) and asked for sides, drinks and desserts.

  96. Pdweasel*

    I must admit, if I worked at LW1’s company I’d go nuts decorating a tree in order to win the baby clothes. I’d then stuff my cats into little company-branded outfits, have an angry cat photoshoot, swing through the ER for stitches and antibiotics for the bites, and then use those pics on my Sarcastic Secular Holiday Cards the following year.

  97. SometimesMaybe*

    I am not saying that food poisoning at potlucks isn’t possible, but from so many of the commentators, it appears many people believe it as an inevitability. If this were the case and so many of your coworkers were so completely unhygienic, food poisoning this time of year would be so much higher than normal, but it is not. Potlucks can be and most are often done safely. Again this does not mean you shouldn’t take precautions, and i know at least a few people are going to come at me with personal food poisoning stories, but antidotal evidence does not equal a severe threat.

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