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How many dishes should you bring to a potluck?

When you are invited to a potluck party, one of the first questions you likely ask yourself is “How many dishes should I bring?” The number of dishes to bring can vary based on the size of the potluck, number of attendees, and what is requested by the host. With some strategic planning and coordination, you can determine the right quantity to provide so there is enough food for all without an overload of any particular dish.

Consider the Number of Attendees

The number of people expected at the potluck is the most important factor in determining how much food to supply. As a general guideline:

  • For 10 people or less, bring enough of a main dish, side, or dessert to serve 6-8 people.
  • For 11-15 people, bring enough to serve 10.
  • For 16-20 people, bring enough for 12.
  • For 21-25 people, bring enough for 15.
  • For 26-30 people, bring enough for 20.

Some additional tips based on party size:

  • For smaller potlucks of 10 people or less, coordinate with other guests to assign specific categories of dishes like salads, entrees, drinks, etc. This avoids ending up with duplicates.
  • For larger groups of 26-30+ people, you may need to bring more than one dish to ensure there is adequate variety and quantity.
  • Ask the host if you can view the attendee list to get an exact count if it is uncertain.

Basing the amount you prepare on the number of potluck guests ensures everyone will get fed without a whole dish going uneaten.

Consider Dish Type

In addition to portion size, the type of dish you select to prepare also determines how much you should make. Here are some guidelines based on popular potluck categories:

Main Dishes

  • Casseroles, pasta dishes, entrees – Bring enough for 12-15 people.
  • Sandwiches, sliders – Make 12-15 pieces.
  • Pizza – Bring two large pizzas cut into 12-16 slices each.
  • Meat (chicken wings, bbq ribs) – Plan for 0.5-1 pound per person.

Side Dishes

  • Salad – Bring enough for 10-15 people.
  • Chips, breads – Bring 2-3 bags/loaves.
  • Fruit salad, baked beans – Make enough for 10-12 people.
  • Veggie trays – Bring trays with various veggies to serve 15-20.


  • Cookies – 2-3 dozen.
  • Brownies, cake – Bring a 9×13 pan or 2-3 cakes.
  • Pies – Bring 2 pies cut into 8 slices.
  • Cupcakes – 2-3 dozen.


  • Soda, lemonade – Bring enough for double the number of attendees.
  • Iced tea, punch – Plan for 1.5 times number of guests.
  • Bottled water – Bring 24-36 bottles for a larger group.

Adjust portions up or down based on the type of dish you select. Main dishes and drinks generally require larger quantities.

Ask What’s Needed

To determine how much food or what types of dishes you should contribute, ask the host:

  • How many people are coming?
  • Is there a theme? If so, what dishes fit that theme?
  • Are there any dietary restrictions to accommodate?
  • What do they need most – entrees, side dishes, desserts, drinks?
  • Has anything been duplicated already?
  • Are plates, cups, ice, utensils needed?

Most potluck hosts have planned out their guest lists, decided on a theme, and determined what is still needed to fill out the menu. Ask specific questions to get details to inform what and how much you should provide for the meal.

Coordinate with Other Guests

To prevent 10 pasta salads and no main dishes, coordinate with other attendees so you complement rather than duplicate:

  • Request a list of who is bringing what from the host so you can sign up for a needed category.
  • Collaborate on a shared document or sign-up sheet.
  • Reach out to guests you know and decide who will bring drinks, entrees, sides, desserts, etc.
  • Look at the attendee list for families who might team up to bring a dish big enough for their whole group.

Advanced communication ensures variety, prevents duplicates, and helps guests determine what and how much is needed from them.

Consider Dietary Needs

Today’s potlucks require accommodating various dietary needs and restrictions. When determining what to make and how much, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Vegetarian/Vegan – Bring 1-2 hearty meatless entrees to provide options for non-meat eaters.
  • Gluten-free – Make sure 25% of dishes are gluten-free.
  • Dairy/nut allergies – Omit or offer substitutions for milk, butter, nuts in your recipes.
  • Kid-friendly – Include finger foods, quick snacks for little ones.

Checking with the host if any attendee has food allergies or intolerances ensures your dish will be edible for all. Having vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available makes your potluck inclusive.

Bring a Little Extra

Even after considering portions and coordinating dishes, it is wise to bring a little extra of your potluck contribution:

  • People may take larger first helpings than you planned per person.
  • There may be unexpected guests join at the last minute.
  • Leftovers allow guests to sample additional items.
  • You can send guests home with remains instead of the host.

Having a modest amount of extra food allows for flexibility at the party without going overboard. Gauge leftovers as you move through the potluck line and adjust subsequent portions accordingly.

Offer to Bring Utensils, Serving Pieces

Reduce the burden on your host by offering to supply serving utensils and dishes for your potluck item:

  • Large spoons, tongs, spatulas, and ladles for serving.
  • Serving bowls, platters, trays, and baskets.
  • Chafing dishes or slow cookers to keep hot foods at temperature.
  • Trivets, hot pads, towels, oven mitts to handle hot items.

Transporting and serving your dish in an appropriate vessel with the needed implements ensures easy, clean serving. Offer to take these back home afterwards for easy clean-up.

Plan for Portability

Consider portability when selecting the quantity and container for your potluck dish:

  • Choose sturdy, spill-proof transport vessels with lids or foil.
  • Divide foods into smaller containers if very large amounts.
  • Pre-slice or arrange finger foods on trays for easy serving.
  • Use insulating containers, coolers, warmers to maintain food safety.

If you have to travel a distance or navigate small spaces like stairs or elevators, portable vessels streamline transport and minimize spills. Test-run the weight of your dish when full to ensure easy handling.

Plan For Allergies

Before deciding what dish to bring to a potluck, check with the host regarding any food allergies or dietary restrictions guests may have. If making a dish containing common allergens, clearly label ingredients.

Common food allergies and intolerances to accommodate:

  • Peanut/tree nut allergies – Avoid dishes with peanut oil, peanut butter, nuts.
  • Gluten intolerance – Provide gluten-free bread, pasta, and flour options.
  • Dairy/lactose intolerance – Use alternate milks, omit butter, cheese, cream.
  • Seafood allergies – Do not include shellfish in your dish.
  • Vegetarians/vegans – Provide meatless and animal product-free dishes.

Guests with food restrictions or allergies will appreciate your efforts to accommodate their needs and allow them to safely enjoy the potluck.

Coordinate With Other Guests

To ensure variety and prevent duplication of dishes, coordinate with other potluck attendees on what each person is bringing:

  • Ask the host to connect you with other guests attending.
  • Use a shared document or spreadsheet to claim dish categories.
  • Communicate directly with guests via email or messaging about who is bringing what.
  • Check in with the host periodically to ask which dishes are still needed.

Advanced communication allows each guest to sign up for a different dish category like appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts. This avoids ending up with four pasta salads and no main courses!

Label Ingredients Clearly

To allow potluck guests to enjoy your dish safely, clearly label any allergens it contains. Use sticky notes, toothpicks, or tent cards to identify:

  • Peanuts or tree nuts
  • Eggs, dairy, cheese
  • Shellfish, fish
  • Gluten, wheat, soy
  • Vegetarian, vegan

When including ingredients like nuts, eggs, dairy, shellfish, or wheat that often cause allergic reactions, call them out visibly. This allows guests to enjoy your dish or steer clear if unsafe for them to eat.

Bring Your Own Serving Utensils

To easily serve your potluck dish to guests, bring along the needed serving pieces:

  • Serving spoons, spatulas, tongs
  • Serving bowls, platters, trays
  • Ladles for soups, stews, dips
  • Potholders, trivets, oven mitts

Having the appropriate utensils to scoop, serve, and handle hot dishes means your item can be dished out easily. Offer to take serving pieces back home for washing after the party.

Consider Dishes That Travel Well

When selecting a potluck dish, consider how it will travel:

  • Choose sturdy casseroles or pans with lids that contain spills.
  • Transport items in secure containers tied down in your car.
  • Slice or arrange finger foods neatly on platters or in containers.
  • Use insulated carriers, coolers, or warming trays to maintain safe temperatures.
  • If needed, divide into smaller portions for easier transport in multiple containers.

Dishes that travel well reduce the chance of spills in transit and retain their presentation. Test your transport plan to ensure the dish travels securely and stays fresh.

Send Guests Home With Leftovers

Instead of leaving the host with lots of remains, send potluck leftovers home with guests:

  • Pack portions into containers guests bring.
  • Distribute remains among willing guests.
  • Offer to store and use up extra food in your own home.
  • Let guests know they can take leftovers as they are leaving.

Guests are often happy to take home remains so the host does not have to deal with an excess of food and leftovers. This also allows them to enjoy your dish again later.

Ask the Host for Help

If you are unsure about what to bring, how much, or want to coordinate with other guests, check with the potluck host for guidance on:

  • Expected number of guests
  • Dishes still needed
  • Introductions to other attendees
  • Allergy and dietary restrictions
  • Tableware or serving items needed

Most hosts have planned out the guest list, menu, and needs for their potluck. Tap into their knowledge so your contribution fits the overall plan.


Determining what and how much food to bring to a potluck requires consideration of portion sizes based on attendee count, dish types, and dietary restrictions. Ask the host for input, coordinate with other guests, label for allergens, and transport dishes effectively. With smart planning and communication, you can provide the perfect party contribution.