How to Survive the Family Potluck (Plus tips to make it exciting and successful)

by Lizette Barretto-Gueco | |

If your family is anything like mine, any and every small occasion is an excuse to get together. Not that we really need an excuse but family time is always a priority and also a default option when there is nothing else to do.  All else falls in between.  So having established that fact, let me therefore stress that thoughtful planning goes into every gathering to ensure a pleasant time together.  Besides sharing and exchanging stories, gossip, anecdotes and internalizing every mundane issue, (yes, all of us are drama kings and queens) food is the binding agent that makes it exciting and keeps everyone interested.

My husband’s family is also a large one so between my family and his, all our weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and holidays are mostly booked. Add to that some middle of the week impromptu breakfasts and such. That’s a lot of family time!

Thanks to our family potluck rules, which I have shared below, everyone has so far remained calm and every tummy is satisfied most of the time.  Oh, we’ve had some epic fails in the past when there were 3 kinds of chicken dishes, 3 kinds of noodles, and not to mention no vegies or sides of any sort. This is already so wrong in so many levels. But say, no dessert?!!!  Tragic!  Always a cataclysmic mistake in my family especially since all of us have that proverbial sweet tooth.  We all go berserk and resort to nibbling on leftover Christmas or Easter chocolates to satisfy that end-of-every-meal, sweet craving.

It’s a good thing that most of us love to cook and show off! We each have our specialties and sometimes, even if we keep making the same dish over and over again, it remains interesting.  This is because it goes through a process. It is first criticized then always tweaked, sometimes tested until it becomes the perfect version (or so we think) of what it started out as.  It’s an evolution thing. My opinionated siblings, my chef in training daughter, the meddling, know-it-all in-laws and I, all cohabitating in one boiling pot, don’t tire of discussing the recipe. We dismantle, dissect and put together again until we are satisfied we have created our very own Frankenstein (or foodkenstein) in the most appetizing contrivance. Everyone is then responsible for how the dish actually turns out.  And all the discussion happens in between the appetizers and the merienda.

That’s how it is in my family.  Food, discussion and argument.  Not necessarily in that order. It is always good fun!


So, to put some meat in my ramblings, here are some surefire tips to get a good Family potluck going. At the very least, it has worked for us.

  • Venue. It’s a good idea to do a rotating venue. This Sunday my house, next Sunday, my brother’s house until we’ve visited all of the family homes.  This way it doesn’t get too tiring for the host and boring for the rest.
  • Identify which parts of the meal you want covered.  Appetizers? Soup and Salad? Main course? Sides? Dessert?  Can’t forget Merienda as it is hard to predict how exciting the discussions can become.  Important to have more food to fuel the lively arguments. Important too to identify allergies and food peculiarities. By peculiarities I mean the vegans, the lactose intolerants and that kind of thing.  Must make provisions for them too so they can enjoy the gathering without worrying about what they can or can’t eat.
  • Assign, assign, assign!!! Make sure all the bases are covered. Since I’m the eldest, this privilege is usually mine.  My sister loves putting out her lovely cheese and cold cuts spread so this is her assignment. My sis-in-law contributes the raclette and some other cheeses and sausages from Europe (from her travels as a flight stewardess for Emirates) so the appetizers are covered. Someone has to make the salad and this usually gets assigned to the non-cooks in the family. The main dishes are trickier. Everyone wants to do the chicken dish! Only because chicken is so versatile and hey, who doesn’t like chicken? Rule of thumb, though, is to make sure everything goes together. And what goes together is really subjective. It all comes down to differing preferences. But the basics are to at least have a balance of tastes and textures.  So this means, some saucy dishes, some dry, some spicy, some sweet-ish and so on and so forth. You get the idea. The main can be a combination of poultry, seafood, beef, pork, lamb (choose 2) and just supported by the sides. If we are having steak, then a nice scalloped potato dish or some mashed potatoes would be the perfect side dish for it.  The dessert!  I am surrounded by sugar fiends therefore, the more desserts, the better. The family bakers usually like to take this assignment. Then it’s usually me or my sister. If both of us get assigned to make a main dish we just order the dessert from our favorite pastry chefs. Merienda is easy. It’s usually just little snacks or an extended dessert like banana turon, leftover cakes, ice cream, chips etc.
  • Drinks are a part of the whole experience. Beer, wine, soda and juice during lunch. Coffee and tea for after a meal.  Depending on the occasion, maybe something heavier and more intoxicating for the adults during the cocktail hour and dinner. Except for the designated drivers and kiddos. Don’t forget to assign the ice to someone too. Implement a BYB rule. (bring your own booze) This way, everyone happy as they get to choose their own poison.
  • Presentation should not be neglected. I go crazy here! Bring out the pretty table things, light the candles, cut some foliage from the garden and put them in vases. So many ways to get creative with what is already available. Remember, a feast is only worth the memories if it is delectable visually first, then gustatorily second.  We eat first with our eyes, as they say.
  • Set the mood. Some background music is a good idea. My family cannot live without music.  It’s in our blood.  If we don’t hear it in some form or another, we spontaneously break out in song! Bohemian Rhapsody! Seriously! Any kind of music, in any genre or style works as long as it’s pleasant but much better if it’s singable.  Then some fun begins!  Most reunions with our musical cousins get wild when we gather around the piano and channel our inner Madonnas or Billy Joels. Oooops, I meant our inner Taylor Swifts and Ed Sheerans.

These basic suggestions should get any family potluck into the swing of things.  I’m not saying it will work for everyone but it does lay down the foundations for truly enjoying each other’s company.

Give it a whirl, who knows, it just might solve some of your family get together dilemmas.

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About the Author

Lizette Barretto-Gueco

Lizette Barretto-Gueco

Lizette Barretto Gueco is a regular columnist at  She writes about her life’s passions which are family, home, food, relationships and how they fit in perfectly in her scheme of things and in the circle of life.

Lizette is now a busy home based mom after working in marketing and the travel industry for some time. She also ventured into jewelry design while she was a partner at a prestigious jewelry store at Greenbelt 5. Aside from juggling family schedules and managing the home, she also finds time to bake and sell her sweet offerings from her home as well as indulge in her other hobbies like jewelry making and arts and crafts.  She is an amateur filmmaker, traveler, foodie, dreamer and lover of life.

Lizette is a graduate of AB Communication arts from the Ateneo de Manila University.  You can email her at