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Follow these tips to be the most admired hostess and most popular guest.

The holiday season is upon us and, along with decking our homes in festive décor and enjoying time off from work and school, many of us will be hosting or attending holiday potlucks. While it can be fun to spend time with friends and family over a good meal, if not properly planned, a holiday potluck can turn into one of those situations where one group does all the work and the other has all the fun. To avoid any unnecessary stress, here are three common potluck etiquette dilemmas and how to handle them with grace, as both a hostess and a guest.

All guests enjoy food, but not all can bring a dish

Hostess: Be sensitive to the guests who have to travel a long distance, making it inconvenient for them to transport a hot dish. Furthermore, remember that not everyone enjoys cooking as much as you do. Ask the travellers and non-cooks if they would prefer to contribute a charcuterie tray or pick up a dessert from the local bakery.

Guest: Don’t be one of those who just show up empty handed and eat. If you are invited to a potluck and cooking is simply not an option, ask if you can bring ice and soft drinks, extra wine, or a selection of deli breads and cheeses. Or volunteer to lead the cleanup detail. Your hostess will be glad to put you in charge so she can enjoy a glass of wine with her other guests. 

How many green bean casseroles are too many?

Hostess: Decide on a theme (Tex-Mex, traditional Thanksgiving food, etc.) and make a list of how much food you will need – three dozen deviled eggs, two enchilada casseroles, etc. Communicate this with your invited guests and ask them to choose what they would like to bring. If you think your guests will be anxiously anticipating Aunt Edna’s Triple-Layer Chocolate-Caramel Cake, go ahead and ask her to bring it. If guests are slow to sign up, it is fine for you to make assignments. Remember to have extra serving pieces on hand for those guests who forget to bring them.

Guest: Once you accept an invitation to a potluck, your next move is to ask what you can contribute. Your hostess may have a set menu or theme, so don’t get your feelings hurt if she declines your enthusiastic offer of the hot and spicy Asian recipe you have been wanting to try out. Don’t forget to pack the serving pieces along with your dish – it is hard to serve a gooey, cheesy casserole with a small plastic spoon.

Are leftovers fair game?

Hostess: Keep extra paper plates and aluminum foil on hand. As the meal winds down and before guests dive into the leftovers to make to-go plates, ask Aunt Edna if she wants to take the rest of her cake home or if Susie wants to share the leftovers of her corn pudding. Then you can make a decision as to how to handle the leftovers.

Guest: If you are in the company of close family, you probably don’t even need to ask before making a to-go plate for your daughter who is working an extra shift at the hospital. If most of the guests are new acquaintances, however, you need to ask permission before heaping on the mac and cheese.

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More potluck etiquette do's and don'ts:

Don’t take over the hostess’ kitchen and oven to assemble your dish at the last minute.

Don’t pile food on your plate with reckless abandon. Go easy on the portions the first time through the line to make sure every guest is served.

Do practice good hygiene! Don’t double dip when eating appetizers, and don’t touch all the rolls in the basket before choosing one.

Do label your serving dish so it won't be misplaced - in someone else's car.

Do arrive on time and don’t overstay your welcome.

Do send a thank you note to your hostess after the event.