How to Graciously Host a BYOB Potluck

There absolutely is a way to BYOB and potluck successfully, and it all starts with the host.

Dear Lizzie,

What is the deal with BYOB and potlucks? It seems like every time I attend one of these parties, issues arise: No one labels their dishes (either with their name to get a container back or with ingredients so that others know what’s in the dish); some people bring cheap wine or booze, and others bring nice bottles, and the nice stuff always goes first. Do you hide your nice bottle of wine so that you still get some later in the evening? That doesn’t seem very gracious or in the spirit of sharing. Is there a way to BYOB/potluck successfully?

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Yes! There absolutely is a way to BYOB and potluck successfully, and it all starts with the host. If you’re planning a party where you want guests to contribute, it’s best to put some simple guidelines in place.

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With potlucks you’ll want to consider what you need people to bring, then go from there. Hosts typically provide the main dish, and guests fill in the meal with side dishes, beverages and other courses. Hosts should balance what they need and what guests are comfortable bringing, and they should always make sure that guests know how much food to make.

Give your guests options and play to their strengths. My sister bakes a killer ginger apple pie, and while we always give her the option of bringing something else, she’s usually very happy to contribute a crowd favorite that she’s confident making.

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Charmean Neithart Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Sofie Barfoed, original photo on Houzz

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Give guests who don’t cook the opportunity to bring something store-bought or to contribute in another way. One reader wrote in about a friend who always does the dishes as his contribution. If that works for both guest and host, then it’s good party etiquette in my book!

Hosts should remember to let guests know of any allergies or dietary restrictions that other guests may have (especially true with allergies that can be triggered by contact or that can have airborne triggers, such as peanuts). Depending on the type of restrictions you’re accommodating, you may want to label dishes with ingredients to help keep guests informed.

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Although it’s up to the hosts to decide if and how leftovers are divvied up (let guests take home the rest of what they brought or maybe a sampling of everything), they should make an effort to get containers — especially anything that’s a step up from disposable plasticware — back to guests as soon as possible.

Take note when guests arrive if a dish is labeled or not. If it isn’t, use a sticky note or a piece of masking tape to label it so that you know to whom to return it. If possible, hosts should wash and return dishes and utensils to guests that night. If that isn’t possible, give the washed items back to their owners within a day or two. Guests can always offer to swing by to pick up their containers if they feel it would be helpful.


 TREX COMPANY INC, original photo on Houzz

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The quick version: Be prepared to bring what you want to drink and to drink what you brought, whether that’s an alcoholic beverage or not. Also, be prepared to share and to take home with you what’s left over if open-container laws allow for that in your town or state.

BYOB is a fabulous way to not break the bank on a fully stocked bar, but to still allow everyone to enjoy their beverage of choice. (Note: BYOB is not meant for hosts to use as a means to stock their own bars with the leftovers.)

However, it can be frustrating to bring a nice bottle of wine, a specialty beer or a high-end brand of liquor and barely get a sip of it for yourself. While the nature of BYOB is that you bring your own beverage for your own consumption, the practice has morphed into making a contribution to a collective bar, available to all the guests. It’s certainly considerate to aim for a balance.

If you know that you’d like to have two or three glasses of wine out of a bottle you’re bringing, it’s probably a good idea to bring a second bottle so you ensure that there’s enough for you and some to share. Try to avoid watching your contribution like a hawk all night. And certainly don’t try to hide it or tell people that you’d rather they didn’t drink it.

If you think the M.O. at certain parties is for people to go after anything they want from the collective bar, rather than sticking to what they brought, then you may want to consider bringing something that you’ll enjoy but that you won’t feel possessive or protective about. At my house, I have my “sharing” wines and liquors that I am always happy to bring for BYOB, and then I have the stuff I keep for special occasions and smaller gatherings. When I’m preparing to go to a party, I think about what type of party it will be and decide what to bring based on that.

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