The Pros and Cons of a Potluck Wedding

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woman holding plate of fried chicken, bean salad, and green salad at a potluck wedding

The concept of a potluck wedding may seem crazy to some, but this reception idea is gaining traction—and there’s good reason why. Couples choose to have a potluck wedding in order to save costs, include more friends and family in their day-of activities, offer a wider variety of dishes to their hungry guests, and create a shared sense of community. But…a potluck? At a wedding? How does that even work, you might ask, scratching your head? And does this concept take the act of cutting costs a bit too far, verging into tacky or uncouth behavior on the part of the hosts?

bride and groom serving themselves diner from a buffet line

Photo Credit || Tom Daly Photography

Well, we can’t tell you straight up if a potluck wedding is a good idea or not—you’ll have to come to your own conclusions about whether it’s appropriate for you and your wedding. But we can help you arrive at that decision with a good, old-fashion list of pros and cons: what benefits you’ll gain from a potluck wedding meal, and what drawbacks you should consider before forging ahead. We’ve also put together some potluck wedding sample menus to inspire your planning. Read on, and then pat yourself on the back for making a well-educated decision! And regardless of which type of wedding meal you decide upon, be sure to use Zola’s Checklist tool to keep all of your wedding to-dos organized, scheduled, and on track.

Potluck Wedding Pros

Pro #1: Major Cost Savings

The biggest pro of having a potluck wedding is kind of a no brainer: it will save beaucoup bucks on your catering bill. If you’re set on serving guests a complete meal but don’t have the budget for full-service catering, asking your guests—or just a handful of close friends and family—to bring a dish with them with solve this dilemma. Of course, there are still some expenses you and your partner (or whomever is hosting your wedding) will have to incur. For starters, it’s pretty customary for the wedding hosts to provide the main course(s) or proteins, leaving guests to fill in the apps, sides, desserts, and/or beverages. Here is a list of costs you’ll still need to consider with a potluck wedding:

  • Renting dishes (including dinner plates, salad plates, bread plates, and/or bowls), flatware, and glasses—or purchasing disposables.
  • Renting or purchasing linens, napkins, or other table coverings.
  • Renting the tables and chairs themselves, if your venue does not provide them.
  • Renting or purchasing serving ware such a platters and large bowls, chafing dishes, serving utensils, pitchers, or drink dispensers—particularly if you want your spread to have a coordinated look.

Pro #2: Involving Loved Ones

A potluck wedding requires that some or all of your guests contribute efforts to your wedding festivities. For families and circles of friends who love to gather over big, home-cooked meals, the opportunity to continue this tradition for a wedding is both welcomed and exciting. You might have certain folks who can’t wait to show off their signature dish to your wedding crowd, and will feel honored that you asked them to play a special role.

As the hosts, you can choose from one of two options when organizing your potluck wedding. You can either ask a select number of people whom you know will happily participate to bring a shared dish, or you could ask every guest to bring a digestible contribution. This decision should take into account the number of out of town guests you expect. It’s pretty difficult to prepare a tray of baked ziti to feed 50 from a hotel room, so think twice before asking traveling guests to contribute to your potluck.

display of desserts at a wedding with sign that says "baked with love by sarah"

Photo Credit || Afton Photography

Pro #3: Building Community

To some, nothing is more sacred than breaking bread with friends new and old around a shared table. And since a wedding is all about the unity of two people as they combine their individual worlds into one, the support of the couple’s community (i.e., their wedding guests) in creating such a collaborative meal is a no-brainer for some. You could even take the community-building vibe one step further and ask guests who bring a dish to also write down the recipe on a notecard (which you should provide for them in advance, of course). Then you—or a DIY enthusiast buddy—can create a personalized cookbook (complete with wedding pics from your photographer!) to send to guests afterwards as a thank you that includes all of the delicious recipes your guests enjoyed on your big day. Talk about a meaningful (and useful) wedding favor!

Potluck Wedding Cons

Con #1: Complicated Logistics

As obvious as it is that a potluck wedding will save you money, it’s also very clear that it will increase the logistics of your planning. How do you make sure you have enough food to feed everyone, with enough variety (and no repeats) to make a well-rounded meal? And how to ensure the food gets delivered to the right place, at the right time, and is at the right temperature with the right equipment to be served at meal time?

We recommend that you start by outlining the menu for your potluck wedding (see a few sample ideas below). Once you know what main course(s) you’ll be providing as hosts, you can then sketch out what types of dishes and drinks are needed to round out the meal. Then, reach out to those friends and family members whom you think would be happy and willing to pitch in. Feel free to let them come up with their own dishes, or make suggestions if you’d rather keep tighter control over the menu. Either way, BE SURE that you (or your day-of coordinator/mom/best man/maid of honor/trusted helper) communicate with all guests who are bringing dishes at least TWO WEEKS before the wedding day to confirm the size and contents of their offering. This way, you’ll have an overall sense of what the wedding meal will consist of—any gaps can be filled in, leaving you with zero surprises on the day of.

We also recommend that you appoint someone else—preferably someone with good communication and organization skills who doesn’t have a major role to play in the ceremony and other proceedings—to be the Potluck Captain. This person will ensure that the dishes are set up appropriately on the buffet table at the reception and are ready to be served at the right time.

Con #2: Might Offend Some

A potluck wedding is certainly not for every couple, nor for every couple’s circle of family and friends. For those with more traditional tastes, or those who can’t imagine asking their guests to do additional work than (potentially) buying a plane ticket, booking a room, preparing appropriate attire, sending a gift, and showing up on time, a potluck wedding is out of the question. Some might feel it’s tacky or cheap-looking to invite guests to an event as significant as a wedding, and then ask them to bring the food they’ll be eating. If you suspect (or have solid intel) that any guests you intend to invite might be off-put about being asked to bring food, we suggest you find an alternative way to meet your budgetary needs.

Perhaps this means having a much smaller affair than you originally intended—say max of 50 people. Or you could plan for an intimate wedding ceremony, followed by a more casual backyard gathering after the fact to celebrate your union—for which a potluck format would be more expected. Or consider eliminating the idea of a full meal and serve your wedding guests fun and unique post-ceremony refreshments: wine and cheese pairings, a low-key brunch spread, local pizzas and salad, or just desserts and bubbly.

Con #3: Less Wedding Gifts

To stay on the right side of appropriate, make it clear to your guests that you don’t expect them to give you a wedding gift AND bring food to your potluck wedding. That would be asking a bit too much. When you choose to have a potluck wedding, the prepared dishes your guests bring to share with all of your invitees is the wedding present. For some, the idea of having a full, sit-down meal at your wedding is worth foregoing all other presents. For others, this might be a tough trade off…after all, your wedding lasts for just one day, whereas that set of quality sheets or that KitchenAid stand mixer will last you for years and years. (Check out Zola’s pages and pages of amazing registry offerings for just a glimpse of incredible wedding presents!)

trays of baked brie and toast at a wedding buffet

Photo Credit || ksant photography

Sample Potluck Wedding Menus

So, what do you think—is a potluck wedding for you? If you’re leaning towards “yes” but feeling stumped with where to begin, here are a few sample potluck wedding menus to get your wheels turning (and your tastebuds wagging).

Sample Menu #1: BBQ Potluck

Main Courses: Pulled Pork BBQ, Pulled Chicken BBQ, Beef Brisket
Vegetable Side Dishes: Roasted Cauliflower, Sautéed Greens, Cole Slaw
Grain Side Dishes: Mac ‘n Cheese, Potato Salad, Sweet Potato Wedges
Appetizers/Side Dishes: Deviled Eggs, Baked Beans, BBQ sauces
Drinks: Peach Iced Tea, Local Bottled Beers
Desserts: Fresh Berry Pie, Vanilla Ice Cream

Sample Menu #2: Tex-Mex Potluck

Main Courses: Pork Carnitas Tacos, Chicken Tacos, Refried Bean Tacos
Vegetable Side Dishes: Citrus & Avocado Salad, Black Bean & Corn Salad
Grain Side Dishes: Mexican Rice, Cheese Tamales
Appetizers/Side Dishes: Jalapeño Cornbread, Tortilla Chips, Assorted Salsas, Guacamole, Queso
Drinks: Agua Fresca, Horchata, Fresh Margaritas
Desserts: Tres Leches Cake, Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Sundaes

Sample Menu #3: Cookout Potluck

Main Courses: Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Veggie Burgers
Vegetable Side Dishes: Green Salad, Grilled Vegetable Kabobs
Grain Side Dishes: Corn on the Cob, Pasta Salad
Appetizers/Side Dishes: Spinach Dip w/ Crudite, Onion Rings, Assorted Pickles
Drinks: Arnold Palmers (Lemonade + Iced Tea), Local Bottled Beers
Desserts: Strawberry Shortcake, Root Beer Floats

Sample Menu #4: Mediterranean Potluck

Main Courses: Grilled Chicken, Beef Kabobs, and Falafel with Dill Yogurt Sauce
Vegetable Side Dishes: Tomato & Cucumber Salad, Grilled Eggplant, Moroccan Carrots
Grain Side Dishes: Chickpea Couscous Salad, Greek Pasta Salad
Appetizers/Side Dishes: Hummus & Pita, Olives, Figs with Goat Cheese
Drinks: Mint Iced Tea, Pomegranate Sparkling Cocktails
Desserts: Olive Oil Cake, Baklava

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