Organizing a potluck dinner can be a little more complicated than it sounds. While large functions like church potlucks tend to be slightly easier to coordinate because of the large number of people bringing food, a smaller affair--15 people or less--requires more organization so that you do not end up with six green bean casseroles and no desserts or main dishes. The best solution for either large or small potluck dinners is to divide up the types of dishes that are required This way, you can request a guest to bring a type of dish without infringing too much on his culinary creativity.
Things You'll Need
Colored printer paper
Select a venue. The venue should be large enough to accommodate all of the people that will be attending and a long buffet table. If possible, you should pick a venue that comes with tables and chairs, such as an outdoor picnic shelter or a church fellowship hall.
Make a list of every group or family who is invited to the dinner. It is important that you list by group rather than individual; it unlikely that a husband and wife will bring separate dishes even if you ask them to. If it is a large community function, you probably will have all the names and addresses in a database. If this is the case, simply move on.
Make a list of the types of dishes you hope to have at the potluck. Examples of these categories are: pasta, appetizers, breads, meats, fruits, salads, desserts. You can also add in paper goods, alcoholic beverages and nonalcoholic drinks if you want to let someone other than yourself provide them. You should not have more than 10 types of dish.
Divide these categories up among the people who are invited. If you have 40 groups coming and you have 5 categories of food then you will assign 8 groups to each category. For example, the Adam's through the Carrerra's might bring salads; the Denny's through the Foster's could be asked to bring main dishes, and so on through the end of the alphabet.
Assign each category a color of paper. You will print the invitations on different colors of paper to help you keep them straight. Also, each paper will have slightly different wording. All of the invitations will have the time, date and location. The last line should read, "Please bring a __ dish to share. Please R.S.V.P. with the name of your dish and number of family members planning to attend." Fill in the blank with the appropriate dish according to the color of the invitation. An R.S.V.P. will also help you be aware ahead of time if you are going to have a shortage in any category or if someone simply refuses to bring the requested dish.
Mail the invitations. Because a potluck involves food preparation, invitations should be mailed at least two and a half weeks in advance to allow time to shop and prepare the meal. Save time to compensate for imbalances in the menu.