Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Case for a Potluck Wedding

Potluck wedding via Recipes and Ruminations

Potluck wedding via Once Wed

When I first moved to Houston back in 2003, I lived in a commercial apartment complex. I had grand aspirations of building community by hosting potlucks and creating a directory of residents, their contact information, and their birthdays.

Ironically, I had never lived so close to other people (physically) and yet so far apart (emotionally and psychologically).

After two years there, I took a year off to travel. When I returned to Houston, I decided to live in a house that had been converted to five apartments. There, it was much easier to achieve my community-minded aspirations. We had Community Dinners about once a month, and I made cards to welcome new neighbors into the house.

After one year there, Matt and I moved to Denver (are you sensing a trend? I move around a lot...) to get our Montessori teacher certification and teach in public Montessori schools.

After one year there (yes, we really, really move around a lot), we moved back to Houston. This time, we bought a house and really committed ourselves to putting down roots (for a while at least). We held a potluck dinner to meet our neighbors, and then decided to start a Time Bank.

A Time Bank is a time exchange system that builds community. For example, when you spend an hour doing something for a neighbor--like babysitting, home repair, guitar lessons, etc.--you earn a Time Dollar that can then be spent on getting another neighbor to do something for you. Time banking is an international movement.

We currently have 18 members. Our first monthly potluck is Friday, and I'm reminded again of how much I love potlucks. I love the element of surprise that comes from people going in their own directions and deciding what to bring. I love the sense of collective accomplishment that comes from realizing, "We created this meal together." And then there's the metaphor of each person taking a small piece, putting their small piece together with everyone else's small pieces, and creating something big.

It makes me wonder why more people don't host potluck weddings. I love the idea of asking guests to bring their best dish. Imagine the possibilities! Imagine the scrumptiousness! It would be awesome to label each person's dish with their name, as a way to foster more interaction among guests who are meeting each other for the first time. ("Oh! I must meet Mary to tell her that her quiche is divine!") And you could ask people to bring the recipes, put them on a website, and share the link with your guests after the wedding.

I think we probably would have done a potluck meal, if the majority of our guests had been in-town. Or maybe our Welcome Picnic on Friday would have been potluck and we could have still self-catered Saturday night. The possibilities...
  1. I was able to find a potluck wedding via Once Wed (see second photo above). The summary is lovely.
  2. There's also one at Offbeat Bride. The couple baked lasagna for their 200 guests and asked people to bring drinks and dessert.
  3. Then there's this couple who have a whole wedding website dedicated to the potluck idea!
  4. Ooh, this couple had a beautiful spread (see top photo).
For those of you who are considering the potluck route, you can find some good step-by-step guidance on this site.

I was also able to find lots of forums that talk about how "tacky" a potluck wedding is. Matt and I tried to avoid this kind of judgment from others by only inviting our closest friends and family. Of course there are still critical people within that circle, but they loved us enough to respect that we wanted a wedding that expressed our values as a couple. Plus, several of them ended up enjoying those things that seemed "tacky" initially.

I don't understand why asking your friends and family to contribute a small piece of themselves to share with the community is considered "tacky" or "budget." To me, it's an amazing way to build community and connection among your friends and family. Further, it's the way weddings were done for hundreds of years before consumerism took over. It's also fun!

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E. said...

We thought about a potluck wedding, but eventually vetoed the idea, because we have 130 people coming, and all of his family is coming from out of town - and will be staying in hotels - and it seemed really rude to me to ask people to bring food when they had no way to prepare it.
I have a friend who is thinking about it, and I think it will be great for him because his friends and family are all from the same town and can easily prepare and bring food.

EmilyAnn said...

I went to a potluck wedding last spring that was lots of fun! It really suited the bride and groom and it also enabled them to invite everyone that they wanted to come.

Kristy said...

*sigh* Between my mother and his, even the suggestion of a potluck wedding would've caused us to be disowned. Ok, maybe it wouldn't have been THAT drastic, but considering that my mother has said she doesn't want us to have the cakes and pies scattered on the dessert table because it looks "too much like a potluck" (using cake stands is ok, though) and that his mom thinks we're going to look back on our wedding in 30 years and regret not spending more money, this definitely would not have gone over well.

If we have a daughter and she wants a potluck wedding, I will fully support her in that.

Brite Lines said...

Becca Dacyczyn (daughter of Maine celebrity Amy Dacyczyn, author of The Tightwad Gazette) is having a pot-luck wedding, which is featured in today's Sun Journal.

The comments to this article are great, and very supportive of potluck weddings!

Anonymous said...

We went to one potluck-dessert reception. That helped the couple to get around the problem that about half of the guests were coming from out of town. It was okay if only a third of the guests brought something, and it was easy for people like me who had a five hour drive to still bring something (a salad would have wilted on the hot summer day, but some cookies rode along just fine)

It was by far the most casual wedding we've ever been to, and we had a great time.

Sarah said...

I love this idea! This is actually what has always been done for weddings in my family. I mean, who really wants to spend so much money on food? The union of two people should be a combined effort.

betsy and iya said...

I think this idea is brilliant. I've been contemplating it for a bit (uh...only been engaged for a month now, but yeah...) and think it would be so special this way. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

thanks for such a great post! I LOVE potlucks- we host one at our house weekly, and we got engaged at potluck!! Food=community. yay!

Sarah B said...

this post makes me really happy, becaue I love the idea of a potluck reception and have been toying with the idea in my head, but wasn't sure it would work. This gives me great hope that it will!

MaryAshley said...

I really do think the potluck weddings are brilliant and probably about eighty times as "traditional" as we'd normally think. I imagine many a town wedding from a century or so ago involving the church community all pitching in with dishes or desserts.

Unfortunately, it won't work for us— the closest folks will still be traveling a couple of hours, and some have 3,000 miles to fly, so asking for participation in bringing a dish just may overwhelm all the flighty inlaw souls, hah.

That said, a big element of or plan is the day-of-the-wedding afternoon cooking session, where I've solicited a dozen or so friends to help put together all the side dishes for our picnic buffet. Some people have donated recipes which we'll use, others just want to chop potatoes and strawberries, but I'm honestly looking forward to a few hours whipping up salads and breads and chattering. Food can be such a bond, no?

Michelle said...

Ditto on the out-of-town guests thing for my own wedding, but I was just thinking how much I would love to attend a potluck wedding!! I would have so much fun preparing the food, and imagine the spread! I am getting so tired of the "New York Strip" and "Grilled Salmon" menus; I would love me some homemade lasagna at a wedding.

Tori said...

My younger brother's special education teacher had a pot luck wedding reception. Some of her friends gave her a DJ for a gift and some gave a dance floor and tent. It was an awesome event because it was so relaxed and meaningful! Plus, she was able to share the day with her students, which made it very special for her and all of us!

christina said...

i *love* the potluck wedding idea. we were going to have a potluck, but then my dad offered to pay for catering...i was almost disappointed!! {not really, it was a very generous gesture on his part.}

but i went to a potluck wedding not too long ago & it was the *best* wedding i've ever attended! it was so fun because i really felt like i was a *part of* the wedding, a participant, not just a bystander or voyeur.

when i was researching potluck weddings, i read somewhere that in the 20s & 30s potluck weddings were the norm...{before the WIC took hold!}

thanks for this post...

happy weekend.

Meredith said...

I'm getting married in two weeks, and we're doing a modified potluck.

It was always our vision to have a banquet of food made by our friends and family, like a traditional wedding feast. It feels somehow right for what a wedding means to us. Sharing food is just what humans do, and it's community building and feels symbolic and important and fun.

We decided to provide a main dish which will be pizza, made by a friend who has a mobile wood fired brick oven. And we're making green salad and a few little snacky things like roasted nuts and marinated olives, and then we asked our friends who we know enjoy cooking if they would bring an appetizer or a dessert.

I'm glad that you posted this, because a lot of the things you find when you google "potluck + wedding" are not encouraging.

I can let you know how it turned out!

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Meredith: I am so excited about your mobile wood fired brick oven and your modified potluck! Please keep us updated!

@ Everyone: Thank you for creating such a welcoming space for wedding potluck throwers!

Elsa said...

I just wrote about the most joyous, engaging wedding I've attended, where everything was potluck: the food, the (very simple) decor, the chairs, everything. It was such a perfect expression of love, with friends and family coming together to share in a celebration.

For logistical reasons, I wasn't asked to bring anything to that wedding, but more recently, a friend asked me to bring mezze for 60 to her wedding. I was honored to participate, to contribute in some small way to such a special occasion.

The Fella and I aren't having a potluck wedding, but the celebration is starting to feel like a barnraising, with family pitching in to help with certain elements. It's much more intimate than handing off these tasks to strangers.

Unknown said...

Amen! Hooray for the potluck idea! I think it's absurd how almost everyone I know loves a good potluck but for some reason very few people are willing to accept it as part of a wedding celebration. But somehow it's o.k. for a couple to go into debt to spend thousands of dollars on catering? Let's unite for the re-introduction of potluck weddings! Lift the stigma! (You're right, it's the way it was always done, before the Wedding Industrial Complex took over.)

Julienne said...

My cousin had a pot luck reception and it was great! We have a huge family (my mom has 12 siblings) and everyone has their own specialty that they were asked to bring. We had fun with everyone there and we all got our favourite family foods all at the same time, so great.

Jocelyn said...

I love the idea of a potluck reception, especially at a wedding when the main event is about the merging of the couple and their families. I think food creates a wonderful environment for bonding and I'm saddened by all of the resistance to potluck weddings that seems to exist online.

I saw someone who posted about wording for their potluck wedding invitations and instead of providing solutions to the problem she was faced with concerning the wording, she was attacked by message board members on the knot who thought it was extremely tacky to ask guests to bring their own food to a reception in which she was the host. It's quite sad to see how people reacted.

marriedinLOVELANDCo said...

My husband and I were married on short notice, I had aprox. 30 minutes to get showered, dressed & get baby ready. We were extremely young & very broke. After the ceremony, w/ 4 witnesses, we went home. I had flour, yeast, & oil, so we asked our friends to bring their favorite pizza toppings, cheeses, veggies, sausage, etc. My new groom ran to king soopers, bought ingredients to make my moms homemade pizza sauce, which I then started making, guests showed up, & some helped with prep, while the dough was rising, and even tho we did'nt have a phone, our musician, and biker friends, about 75 in all, showed up, we had homemade pizza, no cake, lots of different varieties of beer, lots of homemade music, and made pizza til 3:00 AM. A great time was had by all, and we are still married & spontaneous 26 years later. My point being, your friends love you already, they will always love you for being true to yourself, which includes your financials. And everyone who was there will always remember the good time. The reason I am here on this site, ...that baby ran off & married his sweetheart overseas, and she will be joining us here in USA soon, so I am planning a stateside reception here for the friends & extended family. We host cook-offs quite often, & we may do a chili, or cajun cook-off, here at the lake, his friends always participate, so it will be a bit more planned, but guests will be free to bring a dish, beverage, or? as they wish. My older sisters wedding was potluck, her friends organized it, guests brought a dish, casserole, platter, with the recipies, and left the dish, bakeware etc as a gift, as I mentioned, the friends did coordinate this, so she got no duplicates, and friends shopped for the serveware etc that she had registered for. As someone else mentioned,wedding potlucks were very common years ago, and they are warm, and familiar to some of us, and most do not mind sharing the prep & love to present the feast for the newly married couple. Good Luck & many Memories, and a lifetime of friends, families, happiness, & LOve to all of you, meg

Mrs. Byrum said...

how could i word in a wedding invitation a potluck reception?

I also would like to include a recipe card so they could fill it out and bring it with their dish, so that we could have it in our home

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for posting this. I am getting married in 5 months and we are doing a pot luck wedding and I have already gotten much grief out of it, but I am maintaining the idea that we are having a celebration, not a party. It is about, the joinging of our families and our love for God. I needed that boost from you today, so thank you!

Megan said...

We had a modified pot luck, and it was wonderful.
We had a US wedding/reception and then a UK reception (he's British). The UK one was a full-on potluck and we received some great favourite recipes from family members. People loved it, and it made for a great friendly atmosphere.

For the US wedding, we provided free range burgers and lamb kebabs, and then asked people who lived locally if they could bring a salad. Other local folks brought a pie--we didn't have a wedding cake, we had 13 pies instead! It was delicious, it was well received, and it was pretty ethical.
People said it was one of the best weddings they had been to, and I think that was because it was fun (or maybe that's just what you always tell the bride...)

I heartily recommend it. For relatives and friends who poo-poo it and say it's not fancy enough, ask them to bring a favorite dish and to bring the recipe on the day or beforehand. Maid of honor or mother of the bride can then have them made up into a recipe book for the couple. It's a way to make it a bit more personal and make sure people realise that a potluck involves the community.

Unknown said...

I'm so glad to see other people doing this! At my sister's wedding in October we had a semi pot luck, basically asking several people to bring specific things that are their specialty.

For my upcoming wedding in May we are also sticking to this idea, although I plan to buy fried chicken and mashed potatoes from a local restaurant I've asked my dad to make mini crab cakes, my brother to make cornbread, my grandfather is making chocolate chess pie and so on. I'm a bit concerned about all the work involved (we expect between 50 and 70 guests) and especially the cleanup as we are not hiring any vendors and it is a backyard wedding.
Unfortunately a lot of people live out of town (including the groom, who is British). But I wanted to capture the Southern family reunion theme because I enjoy them so much. Here's hoping it all works out smoothly!

Anonymous said...

I really want to do a potluck wedding...but how do you word it on the invitation? Do you just include a seperate card in the envelope telling people about it?

Sara said...

We are doing a potluck wedding reception for our wedding in mid-June. It will be a small wedding(50 people or less) and we often do potluck get-togethers, so this probably didn't come as a huge surprise when people got the invites.

On the invitation we have this- "Dress is informal, and the reception will be pot-luck. Please bring a dish to share and a bottle of your favorite wine."

Above that along with the address we have it listed as a tweetup(the group is all Twitter geeks! LOL) and pool party, so again, pot-luck is not out of line with this sort of thing.

All in all it will be a very relaxed, intimate atmosphere and I am counting the days :)

Elizabeth said...

Ladies, I love you all for your enthusiasm and sensibility. I am down to 4 months before my wedding and have so much to do because I am not willing to go into debt for mine and my man friend's celebration and I would love some input on my modified version of a potluck. I have been searching hi and low for advice on how to cater your own wedding, and all I could find was "Don't do it!" until Sarah's website came into my life. (I call $2000 Wedding my serenity now website) It has been so encouraging to see that other people have done what I have in mind without being shunned from the family. Thank you all for the encouragement!

I am trying to limit my guest list to no more than 150 (mom thinks 300 is more practical!! after reading Sarah's website, I was able to articulate why I hated the idea and she has come to terms with this, preferably closer to 100. Does anyone know how I go about determining how much food I need for this many people? I want a variety of dishes and stations -- salads, breads, hot sides, meat and deserts. I am doing a modified pot-luck where I ask specific people with food skills to prepare a menu item I know they are good at. I am supplying the ingredients, dishes, etc. But now I need access to the planning skills of a caterer to understand how much I need.

For the other details, I hope to hire the B&B owners to reheat and manage a team of teenage girls from the church (who I will pay for their time) who will be serving and refilling dishes.

Anyone have any thoughts on pulling this off and how many servings of each item I need per number of guests? I will have way more variety than anyone person can handle, but I worry about grossly over/under estimating need.

This post has been the most helpful thing I have found since I started my information search months ago. Thank you all for your reasonability!

American Homemaker said...

I'm throwing a big potluck wedding this summer! It's going to be like an old fashioned town picnic!

angie :)

JoniOstbY said...

Thank you thank you thank you for these thoughts. Community is so very important to my fiancé and I... I've always loved the idea of involving the community in our big day, but started to get distracted by worrying that our (no less than 130) invitees would thumb their noses.

When we began to realize the post- wedding financial reality(including that he will still be helping to support his disabled parents), we began visiting this idea. For goodness sake, my engagement ring is made out of a quarter (and I absolutely LOVE it) because he knows me well enough to know I'd rather have humble beginnings and a life overflowing with love and full of meaning than something artificially beautiful at the cost of some huge debt.

Considering having people write their recipes on cards with their names included so we can include their culinary contributions as a line on their thank-yous as well as for their participation and attendance.

Darlin said...

My fiance and I are getting married in two years. he wants to do the pot luck reception where I am not so much for it. My explanation is I want everyone to be able to sit down and enjoy everything about the wedding and for the families to get to know each other instead of having family members running back and forth making sure everyone has enough to eat and replacing dishes. I feel catering, although more expensive, may be better for that reason. My fiance still argues with the fact that won't happen, everyone will be able to enjoy themselves. So I'm stuck on making that decision as far as the food goes.

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