Is It Rude To Bring Store-Bought Food To A Potluck?

The answer isn’t so clear-cut, especially when a tray of nuggets is involved.

Shout Hallelujah Potato Salad
Hector Manuel Sanchez.

By chance or design, almost every Southern meal tends to end up a potluck, no matter if the meal in question is a holiday dinner, family cookout, or full-fledged planned potluck affair with dish assignments and a lengthy guest list. Cooking is an integral part of Southerners’ social lives, because we believe that the best way to be a gracious guest is to never show up empty-handed, even if that means just a batch of pimiento cheese or an embarrassingly easy 4-ingredient appetizer.

When it comes to actual Southern potlucks, it’s not uncommon for there to be a packed lineup of casseroles, cold salads, desserts, and other regional delicacies. Often, certain people might be known for a particular dish that gets specially requested again and again. Just as often, folks take a potluck as an opportunity to finally try out a new group-friendly recipe they’ve been waiting to test out. Rarely, does someone show up with a takeout bag in hand. It’s one of those unspoken rules that needs not be said, until a brave face unknowingly breaks it. 

That leads us to a potentially divisive debate: Is it ever okay to bring store-bought food to a potluck? It goes without saying that arriving with a box of pizza for a barbecue might not necessarily be the best way to impress the group, but what about things purchased from the grocery store? Upon posing this question to the Southern Living team, the answer wasn’t so finite. While it’s always appreciated and appropriate to contribute your own creations (particularly for holiday meals), there’s not always time or ability to make it happen for every occasion. In these instances, it’s acceptable to simply do the best you can. No judgment! 

As far as what store-bought foods are preferred, skip the bag of chips, and get creative. It’s no secret that Southerners love their regional grocery stores, and a place like Publix can be a treasure trove for prepared foods for those who are in a rush but do not want to show up to a party empty-handed. In fact, our editors swear by the Key lime pie and buffalo chicken dip that can be baked in a casserole dish with extra cheese on top (“it always disappears quickly,” says Digital Editor Jenna Sims), amongst other Publix must-haves. Even Publix’s fried chicken can make for a shortcut main dish in a pinch, gussied up on a serving tray. 

However, there are also special exceptions to the no-takeout rule. Often, you might have local restaurants and bakeries that are staples for potlucks and showers. These are store-bought foods that everyone is happy to see, or even perhaps expects, on the spread. Think of items such as the best cookies or sandwiches in town from a mom-and-pop storefront. Just make sure to arrive with the prepared foods on your own serving platter. Many times, no one will be the wiser anyway. 

Alas, it seems the ultimate loophole might be a tray of nuggets from Chick-fil-A. Try as they might, even the most traditional Southern cooks won’t have much to say. They’re just that good. While folks might not notice the plastic platter in the midst of enjoying such fried goodness, switch to your own bowl or platter for hosted occasions. 

In short, it’s completely fine to utilize a shortcut when necessary. Just be mindful of time, place, and event when choosing what to bring! 

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