Worst Potluck Ever

Potluck. The very word harbors mixed emotions.

I love a good potluck. Surveying a table full of diverse culinary delights can be thrilling for a foodie like me. The options appear endless. So many dishes. So much possibility. Try a little of this and a big scoop of that -- nobody judges when you go back for seconds or even thirds!

In fact, the more food you take, the prouder the participants. Everyone's eager to show off their mad culinary skills. And there's simply no higher praise than an empty pan of secret-recipe baked beans, pasta salad or lemon bars.

Everyone brings their A game to a potluck.

Right? Wrong.

There may be no worse hell than a poorly executed potluck.

In my experience, a good potluck can go bad for any number of reasons, but it boils down to the big three:
  • Bad food - It's rough when potluck participants phone it in. Best case: A bag of stale chips and canned nacho dip. Worse case: potato salad of mysterious origin/expiration date.
  • Under or over-organization - Ever been to a potluck with no plates? I have. Or perhaps you've dealt with a Potluck Czar who tells you what to bring and how to display it. I honestly don't know which is worse.
  • Lack of enthusiasm - How about the ghost-town potluck. People bring decent food, but they plate up and run away to eat in their cubicle, backs turned to avoid human interaction. So anti-social. So weird.
I'll never forget a bad potluck I suffered through several years ago. I was working for a small technology firm when I received a cryptic "Food Day" email inviting me to a potluck in the Garden Level break room. (By "Garden Level," I mean basement.)

The company was overrun with computer programmers and data analysts, in this case jobs held primarily by single guys in their early 20s. Even though I was only slightly older, at times I felt more like a Cub Scout Den Mother than a coworker.

And this day was no exception.

The guys, while total wizards in the tech world, were lousy cooks. And they were totally ill-equipped to run a potluck. Most of them were still living on spaghetti-o's and frozen pizza!

Food Day arrived and the table was set. The spread included 10 jumbo-sized bags of tortilla chips (no dip), a small bucket of fast food fried chicken and a bowl of white rice. When I arrived, the guys were congratulating the rice guy on cooking "from scratch."

The food was disappointing to say the least, but the potluck was successful in one aspect: It brought people together. And that's what food should do. Breaking bread with each other is one of the oldest ways to build and strengthen relationships.

A customer recently ordered a large pan of our Classic Shepherd's Pie for a potluck. He told me he wanted to contribute to the spread, but didn't know how to cook. He said he thought it was best to leave the cooking to an expert, which is why he called Cream City Casseroles.

I carefully explained how to heat the casserole, offered suggestions to keep it warm during the event and wished him luck. I never heard back on how it went, and honestly, I'm DYING to know.

I'd like to think his dish was the belle of the ball and that he went home with an empty pan. Regardless, it's rewarding knowing I set him up for success.