Is a potluck wedding tacky?

Photo by Meddy Garnet, used by Creative Commons license.
Photo by Meddy Garnet, used by Creative Commons license.
[blockquote]I am planning on having an informal family-only wedding at my dad's church. I'm considering doing a potluck wedding but was wondering if that was tacky to ask our guest to dish something up for everyone to share in.

My fiancee is in Afghanistan and we'll only know a month in advance when we can set a date for the wedding. This makes catering (already expensive) even more of a challenge. If I where to do a potluck, how would I word it on an invitation? I run the risk of people not bringing anything!

I've read articles online and it seems most people think potlucks are tacky — even my own sister thinks it's too tacky. -Sylvia[/blockquote]

Ok, first thing's first: Yes, a potluck wedding is tacky. Your entire wedding is tacky! So was mine. "Tacky" is a subjective word that can be applied to absolutely anything and everything, from a $500 wedding all the way to a $50,000 wedding. It's all tacky, so let that concern go.

I've featured several potluck weddings on Offbeat Bride — I especially love Kirsten's story, where she explains:

We invited our friends and family to "bring what makes them who they are" to share. We had no idea what our wedding would look like — we were not disappointed. A beautiful and delicious homemade wedding cake just APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE! Our friends sang, read stories, played music, put on improv performances, made up carnival games, and told each other's families waaaaay too much about the new in laws!

So clearly, a potluck wedding can work beautifully and be an amazing community event that celebrates two families coming together and sharing food, stories, music, and whatever else people chose to bring. I love the idea.

But the issue isn't "is a potluck wedding tacky?" and more "Are you and your fiance's families comfortable enough with the idea to participate fully?" Only you two know your families well enough to know if this is the case. Here are a few questions for you and your fiance to ask yourselves:

  • Did you grow up with family/community potlucks?
  • Do your family members have their signature hot dishes and potato salads and special pies that they love to trot out for community events?
  • Are they foodies who like to cook and bake and share with each other … or do they mostly eat out?
  • Will you guests be traveling far, and will they have access to a kitchen to cook the day before your wedding? If not, can you recommend delis or bakeries where they can grab food to bring? (This one is super important!)

The answers to these questions will be much more valuable to you in deciding whether or not to do a potluck reception than anything I (or anyone else online) could decree about whether or not the idea is tacky.

In terms of invitations, you could try something like: "After our ceremony, we will be celebrating the union of our families by hosting a potluck. Rather than a gift, please bring your favorite signature dish to share." (Note the "rather than a gift" — that's key!)

If you decide a potluck isn't the way to go for your family, I'd suggest hosting a cake & punch reception instead. This goes off the best if you have an early afternoon wedding — people simply don't expect to be fed a full meal at a 2pm reception. This is also easy to message on your invitations … after listing your ceremony information, just note, "Cake and beverages to follow."

For people who believe potlucks are in poor taste, cake & punch is usually seen as the "appropriate" low-budget alternative. If you just don't think your family is going to get into the idea of a potluck, cake & punch may be a good option.

Mostly, remember this: your wedding is about celebrating the commitment you're making to your partner. With your fiance in Afghanistan, this hones the focus even more tightly: this isn't about having a big fancy brouhaha — it's about saying "We're so glad to be alive, so glad to be in love, and so glad you could all be here to share this with us." That's what's important. The rest is just hotdishes and cake.

Want to see some real potluck weddings? Of course you do!

  1. My close friend had a potluck wedding. In the invitation they added a card that started with "The rumors are true! It's a potluck!" The RSVP card had a space to put what you were bringing on it (if you decided to bring anything). It was a wonderful spread with lots of delicious food.
    A side note- having just gotten married last year, you will be surprised at how much people want to do stuff for you and your wedding – a potluck is a great way to include everyone.

    28 agree
    • THIS times 10,000 — my mom and aunt really wanted to help and assigning them a dish to bring was a great way for them to feel like they had a part in the wedding and it was low stress for everyone involved.

      Our wedding was in May and we did partial potluck, partial cookout. We provided the burger makings and my brother, best friend and FIL grilled (they all LOVE to do that). My mom and aunt brought some awesome sides and it went off great. I still get compliments on the food :)

      3 agree
  2. I have to say that it also depends if you have a lot of friends and family who will be traveling (say, more than 30 minutes to an hour) to your wedding. Our friends and families live all over the place and it would not have been practical to ask them to bring a dish to our wedding.

    16 agree
    • So much this! We thought about doing a potluck, but most of our guest list will be traveling from out of town. So we'd be saying "Now that you've spent $$$ on airfare, $$$ on a hotel, and have nowhere cook, please bring food! Here's the nearest grocery store!"

      Also, potluck logistics can get crazy when you have larger crowds of 120+; we wanted everyone to be able to celebrate with us instead of trying to figure out where serving utensils and plates are.

  3. Maggie, what a great point re: people coming from afar! I'm going to update my answer to include that.

    3 agree
  4. I think a potluck wedding is a great idea, and a fantastic way to get everyone involved! However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea, check with the various boards of your father's church. There's often a group that will make food for various functions at the church, and the cost will most likely be MUCH less than formal catering. My father's church has a "Men Who Cook" group that does GREAT food!

    2 agree
  5. We're going to have a potluck wedding–it was actually my fiancee's mum's idea >:) But mum & I are going to cook a "base" of foods (ham and salads and such) and then hopefully our guests will just relax and have fun and bring something delicious to share. That way no one needs to bring anything big or feel a burden, but can hopefully just relax and enjoy the community spirit we're hoping to have at our reception (think: giant family dinner). But I'm friends with a lot of foodies…

    2 agree
  6. Personally I LOVE the idea of a potluck wedding. I wish I knew someone who was having one. I think the idea of making a wedding a community event is an amazing way to bring families and friends together. I wish I had an in-law family that would go for it!

    8 agree
  7. Seconding #2 Maggie about the travel. I would have loved to go the potluck route, because (a) I am a cheapskate, and (b) there are a LOT of amazing cooks and bakers on both sides of the family, but we're getting married 420 miles north of his family and 430 miles south of mine. Not practical to have anyone bring anything. :-(

    3 agree
  8. I think it's really important to do that gift vs. food dish trade-off. We recently photographed a pot-luck wedding where guests were asked to bring a dish as well as a gift AND a 20 minute dollar dance had been scheduled. That does come across as greedy, no matter how much you thank everyone in the toasts.

    The other thing to watch with a potluck is how many guests will be present. I think if you have more than 50 guests, you should stick with cake and punch. The food is cold by the time the 150th guest makes it through (and therefore you could end up giving your guests food poisoning vs if caterers were running the show and keeping everything hot) and when you have so many guests, your last guests get the short end of the stick on the food front–with all of the "choice" dishes being emptied first.

    16 agree
    • If you know anyone who has the dish warmers than you are good to go, along with crockpots and ice/shade. We do potluck family gatherings throughout the year and it ALWAYS turns out A Okay.

      1 agrees
  9. Good tips on how you can guide whether having a potluck is feasible.
    While I would have loved to have paid for a potluck wedding, we have at least 25 out of towners and a fair number of non-cooks.

    How about a picnic/luncheon wedding? Sandwiches and antipasto plates can't be that expensive to cater and would be fun and fitting for summer!

    2 agree
  10. I love potluck weddings. I've been to several and the food is almost always better than fancy catered meals that end up tasting like airplane food. Potluck weddings aren't tacky. Spending a bunch of money that you don't have is.

    48 agree
    • totally agree
      especially if you are older… you do not need presents
      and why would you want to spend so much money and the food is not good?

      6 agree
  11. This is probably not a consideration for Sylvia, but for any offbeat Jewish or Muslim brides, dietary restrictions should probably also be taken into account. We were thinking about doing a potluck, but decided not to in part because our friends all follow different levels of keeping kosher.

    5 agree
  12. Ditto to Maggie and Kate. I'm hoping to have something similar to what LeAnna suggested – a bigass family dinner, but I know that since my family is nearly all from the East Coast and my groom's family is from Spain, and we're having the wedding in Ontario… well, logistics will factor in.

    (Though I do have my heart set on a bunch of lobsters being imported… mmmmm Nova Scotia Lobster. Gotta check when they're in season.)

    Anyway, I agree that what it really comes down to is how the people involved will feel about it. Potlachs only work if everyone believes in it. If they do, there's nothing as heartwarming and full of community as sharing food. But if they don't, it's just a big headache.

    1 agrees
  13. If you decide against the potluck route, try your local grocery store deli. Even 24 hour notice is enough for most stores for orders of dollar sandwiches and salads, and the staff can sometimes even rent out warmers/dishware for free.

  14. The first rule of a budget wedding is… don't apologize for your budget wedding. Catering is expensive and a potluck can be a wonderful alternative. (That's exactly what my mom did for her reception, back when sensible weddings were more acceptable.) Besides, everyone knows you're on a tight time table and will likely be under a lot of stress with your new husband leaving – so make sure the wedding doesn't add to it.

    But, if asking everyone to bring a dish becomes impractical, there are several alternatives:

    1) Skip the food and do Ariel's suggestion of a punch and cake reception.
    2) Costco/Sam's Club for picnic-type ingredients, then have guests assemble their own sandwiches, salads, etc.
    3) BBQ, if you have access to a few grills and grill masters.
    4) Get a cheaper eatery (sandwich place, Mexican joint) to do the catering, rather than a capital-C Catering company. Think "lunch" places rather than "dinner" places.
    5) Pizza, because who doesn't like pizza?

    14 agree
  15. @cNc We're keeping our costs down by doing just what you suggested…having an outdoor luncheon. The caterers happen to be my friends, but it certainly is reducing their costs because they're making lighter foods and people will probably eat a little less than if it was a dinner.

    My best friend's wedding was a potluck and it was really great. She asked specific people to bring dishes so that out-of-towners and people she didn't know as well wouldn't be put out. She provided the meat and beverages and it worked out really well. I had a great time and it was really stress free. Everyone changed into casual clothes for it as well, so it was just really a nice back yard party.

    4 agree
  16. I'm not a fan of potlucks in general, because I don't trust other people's food choices. I tend to get a lot of grocery store deli and veggie platters.

    We saved money at our wedding by having it very late evening so guests could get dinner before hand and only offering appetizers and desserts. I could also see doing it mid-afternoon or mid-morning and only having drinks and cake.

    5 agree
    • We just had our wedding in May and did an evening reception (after people would have already eaten dinner) with a few catered appetizers and a bunch of desserts. I thought it was important to have Some kind of protein available since we were going to have dancing, but mainly we just had desserts. BUT (big but), we spread the word beforehand that it was a dessert reception. I know it said that on my invitations And on my website but I was still worried that people wouldn't realize.. So we tried to mention it in passing to as many confirmed guests as we could. Everyone was really supportive about it though- I was worried that people would be put off that we weren't serving a whole dinner. But it worked out great!

  17. Potluck weddings are simply…amazing.
    People WANT to help out and I find that often what people bring/make is just as delicious as something you'd get from expensive catering. The rsvp card idea with what your bringing is an excellent way to know who is bringing what and is also a great way to thank them for their "famous corn and bean salad" that they brought. A suggestion on the rsvp card is to ask the attendee to label on the top of their food what it is.
    Obviously if people are coming from far away this makes it hard for them to bring a heated dish…why not a cold dish? or a pie? or cookies??

    One wedding I helped out with gathered all the pot luck items and put out the food in white serving dishes..added real white dishes and linens along with real silverware..You would have never known it was all a potluck! Another good suggestion is to premake labels with what the dish is, (you'll know this by the rsvp card, asking the person who brought it what it is, and the person who sets the food out in the pre-determined dish with the right label. Sounds complicated but it will save alot of money AND time AND look/taste amazing.

    14 agree
  18. Why not have a pot luck? When my grandmother tells stories about her wedding her happiest tales are about how her friends and family came together for her. They all brought a dish, and one neighbor supplied all of the wedding and reception flowers from her garden. I think this is the best type of wedding, everyone you know bringing something to symbolize their support of your union.

    10 agree
  19. Woah, I have to disagree with Rose both about OBB and about potluck weddings. In my opinion, Ariel isn't just a cheerleader for "anything offbeat," I recall a number of posts from her in which she said "this isn't how I would do it" or "you might want to consider…" If someone wrote to her about the wedding Rose described…I think she might have some constructive criticism (although possibly done not in the public forum of the blog).

    As far as potluck, I think the other comments make clear that (unless your guests are jerks) they're not going to leave talking about "how tacky you are." I _don't_ think that potluck says "we can't be bothered," I think it says, "we want our friends/family to participate and our friends/family make great food and we don't have a lot of time or money to plan ahead of time with."

    13 agree
  20. I think that there are two types of potluck weddings – in the first you do not have a caterer and instead have all homemade foods – like cake by grandma and salad by aunt jane – but all the organizing is done in the background in one on one conversations, if you say to your family 'I think it would be nice to have us all bring our special dishes' and they all jump in with what they'd like to make then this is pretty easy to manage. In this case even though the food is potluck style the wedding is still being hosted by the bride and groom, just with a lot of help from family/friends.

    The second kind is where you state in the invitations that it's a potluck and ask every guest to bring something. I have a problem with this in that if you are going to ask someone to do you a favor an invitation is really not the place to do it. Also another name for traditional potlucks is 'a no-host party' and I feel that weddings being what they are they should definitely have a host be it the bride and groom, the brides parents, or others.

    10 agree
  21. I really have to disagreed with much that Rose (a troll on OBB?) said, but I'll focus on the potluck aspect. It's simple, if anyone would think that a potluck, a sharing of food and community, is tacky, it's time to re-evaluate their place on your guest list. There are valid reasons to chose other food choices, but potlucks can be loving expressions of friends and family.

    10 agree
  22. We had our wedding at a bowling alley. All that was served was pizza and soda, and a little veggie tray. (Tacky!) If people wanted alcohol, they had to pay for it themselves. (Tacky!) When my fiance and I got engaged, that was our original idea. Get everyone together for a BBQ/Potluck party in the park. I don't know about you, but nearly every party I've ever been to has been a potluck. Why should a wedding be any different?

    I really like Jocelyn's way of announcing it. "The rumors are true! It's a potluck!"

    A wedding is just a party. As an unwritten rule, all parties are tacky. Make your wedding your own kind of tacky. It'll be one of the best days ever, no matter what.

    9 agree
  23. A potluck was my mom's first idea, but I wasn't up to it. We are having all aspects of our celebration in a park, so no power, no sinks, etc. Plus, FH and I are vegan/vegetarian, and I wanted the food to reflect our life style. In the end, we are having a cater company do boxed lunches for an earlier in the day event. In one month, I'll ket you know how it went :)

  24. I think its an awesome idea… IF you can pull it off.

    Plus, you have a great excuse :)

    2 agree
  25. I like the potluck idea, and in the interest of family coming together, you could have blank recipe cards on the table so people could trade recipes (or maybe email addresses to trade recipes later on) if they want. It might be a good conversation starter, and jumping off point for future get togethers. Most wedding I have been to have involved me chatting mostly with my own "side", so I think that would be a great way to get your family members making friends with your partner's family members.

    6 agree
  26. We considered doing a potluck, but since it was kind of a destination wedding (with an industrial size kitchen), we went ahead and planned the menu, bought the food, and requested help in preparing the food. Most people pitched in.

    A suggestion may be to provide a main course, and have everyone bring side dishes. A friend from Alaska went home at some point before her wedding and caught a salmon to serve. Everything else was potluck.

  27. Okay, I don't have much to add over any of the other great comments but this: You know what rocks? Food made with love.

    And I have a feeling that's what a wedding reception with a community potluck would be filled with.

    7 agree
  28. I think its a wonderful idea but I think you should definitely make it an *option* for your guests. I hate to cook and am terrible at it. The idea of having to think of a dish, actually make it without it turning out awful and then have a bunch of people eat it is very stressful. I would much rather just buy a gift. I think the gift *or* dish option is a good call.

    8 agree
  29. I think potlucks for a wedding is a great idea! I spent 10 grand on my first wedding and completely regretted it as hardly anyone who rsvp'd actually showed!
    (it should have been a sign as the marriage ended a couple years later…)

    This time around I want something simple and more me and my partner…
    This might be something different to try.

    3 agree
    • What an excellent point – potluck parties have built in portion controls! Love that!

      1 agrees
  30. At one friend's potluck wedding I attended, there didn't end up being enough for everyone to eat. Just to be safe, I would suggest doing what my other friend's mom did at her potluck wedding – provide plenty of filling backup food like loaves of good bread to compliment all the great dishes people brought. Other members of the wedding party made extra dishes (including a huge turkey!) to fill in for folks who traveled and couldn't cook. It was a night to remember.

    3 agree
  31. spiderbaby – More than once I've been asked to bring to party/event/etc. a type of food which I am NO good at. In those cases I feel zero guilt about stopping by the store and picking up something made by professionals. It's still made with love… mainly my love of not subjecting people to my poor cooking skills.

    20 agree
  32. We had the food catered at our wedding last year for practical reasons, BUT we did ask our friends and family to bring cakes as an alternate gift option. This ended up being one of the favorite things people still talk about from our wedding.

  33. I think a potluck is a fantastic idea. All the points brought up in this article and the comments section are encouraging too.

    In fact, Crate & Barrel's "Real Simple Weddings" publication showcased a potluck wedding last summer. I consider this publication to be on the traditional "Martha Stewart" side of weddings (not necessarily a bad thing), so to me, that's a sign that this is becoming a more acceptable approach to wedding catering. It's very intimate and communal if anything.

    In this case, the bride "asked guests to bring dishes according to their last names: A to E brought breads; F to M, salads, and so on." The food at this wedding looked great and I imagine you can get a pretty balanced spread this way.

    1 agrees
  34. I think the idea of a potluck is wonderful, it really brings families together and there will probably be recipe sharing. I would love to do this for our wedding but most people are traveling from a couple states away, its not practical to ask them to make something in their hotel rooms! My small side of the family does live in the area so we are making our own dessert table with baked goods and a cupcake tree, my mom and aunt are super excited about this idea, the rest of my family automatically wanted to pitch in on the dessert table!

    2 agree
  35. Ooh, Megan I love the idea of recipe sharing — you could even ask people to bring the recipe for the dish they made, and instead of having a standard wedding guestbook, you could create a wedding guest recipe book! Aww. I love the idea.

    13 agree
    • Sooooo cool!!!!! That's a GREAT idea and if someone wanted to take that project on then it could be a sweet gift to the new couple! :)

  36. My future mother in law had a smashing pot luck wedding. I've heard lore that at her wedding someone brought homemade tacos that were so tasty people didn't bother with plates-they just sticky with taco-they were so good. She seemed to really really really want the same thing for me, but local friends are all quite busy – and most of our guests are driving from 1-6 hours away! So, consider your guests. Are they driving or flying? That may be a no go.

    1 agrees
  37. my boy and i are doing a potluck reception. we have a couple of friends who have offered to make the main dishes and wedding cake. then we were going to ask people to RSVP with what they would be bringing as we've been trying to figure out how to make sure everyone doesn't bring the same kind of thing. i love the idea of the dishes according to last name. that way we don't really need to have people RSVP with what they plan to bring. i think we may end up using that.

    i also really like the idea of the recipe sharing. :)

  38. So I WILL be having a potluck wedding in September! We are providing cake, cupcakes, beer wine, hot chicken/veggies, falafel/hummus and a few other dishes. So my theory is I have way too many friends who are vegan, vegetarian, lacto-intolerant, gluten-allergic, kosher..you get the picture. Plus of our 150 guests, 80 percent of them are foodies. There would be no way to please all of them and I refuse to pay 40 bucks a head or more for a decent vegan/vegetarian friendly caterer in SF. On my wed-site I am creating a page specifically for the pot-luck, with things we would like to have and a place for people to say what they are bringing. I figured if they could bring food that would feed 8 people we would be covered. Luckily Hakone Gardens, has a small kitchen with fridges, so I am not worried about food getting cold, bad etc. What better way to include your friends and make your wedding about being a part of a tribe and not the bride and groom show. I'll let you know how it goes.

    2 agree
  39. Another aspect of travel to think about is food safety. What kind of dishes are you asking people to bring? What is the weather going to be like? How long will said dishes be in the car and/or un-refrigerated? I went to a potluck wedding where some dishes were say, mayonnaise-y or fishy, and had clearly been in the sun for a long time pre-dinner. I didn't touch those dishes, and I was more than a little worried about someone getting food poisoning. There are a million ways around this – provide a main dish, ask people to bring salads/ deserts, ask people who live nearby to bring meat dishes, etc. But it's something to think about.

    Go food safety!

    PS Yes. Also, having been there, it's very frustrating if you just flew in to have to stop by the supermarket and figure out… um…. What can I buy and bring to the wedding? Ack! If you are having people fly in, I'd suggest exempting them from potluck duties (they can contribute other ways.)

    4 agree
  40. Ok, so, get this. My mother was SO CONCERNED about the tackiness of a pot-luck wedding that, when I told her I planned to have one, she immediately offered to pay for fancy catering herself instead. It was ridiculous, but still… score!

    3 agree
  41. I don't trust potlucks, because I don't trust other people's hygeine. I know my family well enough to know that they're not too concerned with handwashing or keeping pets out of the kitchen when they're cooking. But I like the ideas of cake & punch and light deli lunch receptions.

    1 agrees
  42. Do you have some people who like to grill?

    Re: keeping food hot for over 50 guests, why not have a BBQ? Hire a friend who's good with a grill to continuously serve up hamburgers and hotdogs. Super cheap AND familiar to everyone.

    My co-worker is doing a potluck like that at her house. She's getting married and providing the meat and booze, and everyone else is bringing their favorite dish. It's not "traditional" but it IS fun.

    Like the family reunion you WANT to go to!

    2 agree
    • This is PERFECT! Who doesn't love a barbecue??? Another option could be marinated chicken or kabobs – I actually make kabobs with pre-made meatballs and veggies and EVERYONE loves them!!!! It's fun and casual and you know the men will love it too! 😀

      1 agrees
  43. Your friends will be thrilled you're getting married, and most people are happy to help out. We had a "check box" list of things on the RSVP – one line: able to attend and bringing a side dish, one line: able to attend and bringing a pie, one line: for able to attend, oneline: for not able to attend That way if someone wanted to come but couldn't bring something, they didn't have to!

  44. I would LOVE to go to a potluck wedding. I've been to several recently ranging from just dessert, to cheap sandwiches and cake, to a buffet in which the groom (my Uncle/favorite chef) taught the caterers how to make his dish. But when you have food brought by the people you love, what could be better? Of course consider where guests are coming from.

    If a caterer is the only feasible option look to favorite cheap eats. I was recently at a party catered by Qdoba, which was a huge hit!

  45. I think it is an absolutly awesome idea, if i was one of your guests i would think it was the coolest most original idea. And i would definatly bring more than one dish :)

  46. Oh, I wish this had been posted a few months ago! :) Our potluck was killed by the fact that the side of the family which potlucks was coming in 2 hours away… but there is so much good advice on low cost catering here (so now we are self-catering)… Thank you ladies & gents (and Ariel! :) )

  47. My FH's cousin had a potluck wedding. It would have been okay if not for the fact that

    -It was in Maine
    -Nearly all of her family (except her mom and step dad) had to travel from out of state

    Not only did she not take this into consideration, she got upset when some people didn't show up with food (due to driving 10+ hours just to get there) and threw a fit.

    My wedding will be catered since I'm not going to do this to my mother. I'm getting married where she lives and she, my dad and my sisters are the only people in that area. I'd rather they enjoy the day than worry about dishes and how much people like whatever they prepared.

    4 agree
    • "Tacky" to me is when a request is unreasonable. Wow man. I'm glad you're being considerate towards your guests.

      2 agree
  48. Not only do I think potluck weddings are not tacky, I think that they are amazing. They are a great way for families to come together and share their heritage and history with each other.

    1 agrees
  49. We are semi-potlucking it for our wedding! The ceremony and reception will be held in his grandmother's yard so we'll ask her to make her famous fried chicken. My Nana and Papa will bring their German Potato Salad and the day before the wedding my dad and I will bake pies! The groom and I will make fried green beans and a green salad and drop biscuits. I am excited to share all of my favorite foods with the people I love and have a lovely time with them.

    It's not tacky if it represents you and is full of love!!

    • Hey Allison – will you invite me? It sounds wonderful!

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