Guide To Potluck Personalities

Regardless of what a host does, short of sending specific recipes to their guests, there is no such thing as a sure-shot potluck. Throwing the ultimate potluck, however, takes more than just luck: it's all about whom you know, and how well you know them. You're going to want to manipulate your guests' offerings. Here's how that can be done tastefully.

First, determine who's coming to dinner. Then give the invites just enough direction on their dishes so even they'll be surprised how well their food "happens" to combine with everything else. To achieve this effect, settle on a menu theme in advance, (say American comfort food or whatever suits the talents of your guests), then decide who'll bring the appetizers and who your gut trusts with the main course.

Remember, the whole point of a potluck is to take the burden off the host, so if you're hosting, assign yourself the easy part: the ambiance (plates, napkins, music, decorations, etc.) and consider inviting the usual suspects.   

The Oddball:
Every dinner party needs one. Of course, you'd love one at your party, but you wouldn't be caught dead eating the Oddball's cooking or you're afraid you might be caught dead after doing so. To make it simple, give the Oddball the beverage responsibilities. Feel free to get specific (diet, alcoholic, caffeine-free) or just let your guest run wild. After all, this is what an Oddball does best. Maybe you'll get ice picks (tea and vodka)?

The Corner Cutter:
The Corner Cutter is someone who you wouldn't count on to make anything elaborate. This is the type of person who traditionally at the last minute (and most likely on the way to the party) will pick-up a premade dessert or appetizer, maybe even a fast-food value meal. Tell the Corner Cutter to bring an appetizer, and keep your fingers crossed for some barbecued pecans or beer-and-cheese biscuits.

The Closet Chef:
This is the galloping gourmet who's ready to bust out of the stable. Closet Chefs secretly (or not so secretly) want to be the center of attention and by all means, let 'em! Maybe they'll make individual chicken potpies for everyone. No matter what you tell the Closet Chef to bring, he or she will go overboard -- the Martha Stewart of the party. So, no matter what dish this overachiever cooks up, expect nothing less than delectable extravagance. After all, the Closet Chef probably started testing entree recipes the day your invitation was received

The Debtor:
Also known as the Favor Ower, the Debtor will cook to impress (ah, guilt) and also feel obligated to pitch in if you find yourself in a last minute pickle. (e.g., the Oddball arrived with a flask of licorice absinthe and a case of malt liquor, so the Debtor offers to make a last-second run to the store for something more suitable). Assign the Debtor an entree and don't be surprised if he or she brings a side dish, too. Imagine, oven-fried chicken and garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes.

The Unexpected Guest:
Joker's wild! You can't plan on this personality, so expect the unexpected. It's all in the cards: If the Unexpected Guest arrives with the Corner Cutter, it's safe to assume they'll bring cuisine to complement the Cutter's dessert or appetizer (e.g., ice cream to go with the cherry cobbler or crackers to go with the vegetable dip). If this Unexpected card arrives with the Oddball, however, your guess is as good as any. Take a deep breath -- but don't panic: if you've planned accordingly, the joker's dish won't make your party a pot un-lucky. On the other hand (and on the good foot), if the Unexpected Guest arrives with the Closet Chef -- jackpot (cha-ching)! Sit back and reel in the winnings.

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