Is a potluck wedding tacky?

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Photo by Meddy Garnet, used by Creative Commons license.

Photo by Meddy Garnet, used by Creative Commons license.

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

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 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!