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For other uses, see Pot luck (disambiguation).
An assortment of food at a church potluck

A potluck is a gathering of people where each person or group of people contribute a dish of food prepared by the person or the group of people, to be shared among the larger gathered group. Synonyms include: potluck dinner, spread, Jacob's join,[1][2] Jacob's supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, dish party, bring and share, shared lunch, pitch-in, carry-in, bring-a-plate, dish-to-pass. It is also referred to as a smorgasbord or potlatch.


The word pot-luck appears in 16th century England, in the work of Thomas Nashe, and used to mean "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot".[this quote needs a citation] The sense "communal meal, where guests bring their own food", appears to have originated in the late 19th century or early 20th century, particularly in the Western North America, either by influence from potlatch or possibly by extension of traditional sense of "luck of the pot".

To the Irish, a potluck was a meal with no particular menu. Everyone participating brought a dish for all to share. The term comes from a time when groups of Irish women would gather together and cook dinner. They only had one pot so they cooked the meal together with whatever ingredients they happened to have that day.[citation needed]


Potluck dinners are events where the attendees bring a dish to a meal. Potluck dinners are often organized by religious or community groups, since they simplify the meal planning and distribute the costs among the participants. Smaller, more informal get-togethers with distributed food preparation may also be called potlucks. The only traditional rule is that each dish be large enough to be shared among a good portion (but not necessarily all) of the anticipated guests. In some cases each participant agrees ahead of time to bring a single course, and the result is a multi-course meal. Guests may bring in any form of food, ranging from the main course to desserts. In the United States, potlucks are associated with crockpot dishes, casseroles (often called hot dishes in the upper Midwest), dessert bars, and jello salads.

Potluck is popular as an entertaining method, as it reduces the cost to the host of an event. Potluck dinners, brunches, and even potluck wedding receptions are hosted as alternatives to traditional event hosting or catered events.


Safari supper[edit]

One variation is the progressive dinner (US) or safari supper (UK and South Africa), where a group of neighbors physically move between different houses for each part of the meal. Typically, this involves the preparation of one course only (a starter, main course or dessert, etc.), and visiting different neighbors for the other courses. Although it does require careful and complex planning, the idea is relatively straightforward: for example, Neighbor A makes a starter, and is visited by Neighbors B and C. After this, Neighbor A moves to a different house, Neighbor D, and is joined by Neighbor E. Neighbors B and C go on to different houses also, but not the same one. Finally, a similar pattern for dessert: Neighbor A moves to Neighbor F's house, joined by Neighbor G. This style of eating has recently become popular as a charity fund raiser in rural Britain, and is seen as a good way of meeting different neighbors in the community by virtue of each participant having 6 separate guests.


Another variation on the potluck dinner is the rota meal. Participants take turns providing food for the entire group, rather than each participant bringing a dish.[where?] For regular meals with a fairly consistent set of participants, this dramatically reduces the amount of preparation effort required. Potluck dinners are usually celebrated in schools, colleges, and certain office and related gatherings.

Meal train[edit]

A meal train is the process of organizing meal giving by matching the special meal needs and requests of the recipient with the availability and abilities of meal givers. Different from a potluck, meal trains are organized for one person with typically only one person making a meal each day.

Meal trains are commonly organized after significant life events, including birth, adoption, surgery, illness, death, divorce, new job, or moving to a new community. Caring friends, family, co-workers, congregation members, neighbors, and communities show their excitement or compassion though the organized delivery meals.

The meal train is typically organized by a friend of the family (organizer) who has knowledge of the recipient’s meal preferences, allergies, schedule, calendar, and knows who should be included. With this information, the organizer creates a meal sign up calendar of the available days and known meal preferences. Then, s/he contacts friends of the recipient to let them know that a meal train has been created and to ask if they would like to participate in bringing a meal to the friend in need (recipient). The organizer keeps track of the days that are booked and what meals will be given and communicates the information to the meal recipient and other participants. Additional friends and family who would like to participate after the initial invitation contact the coordinator to learn the specifics of the meal train.

Potluck paranoia[edit]

Potluck paranoia or a case of the "potluck willies" may be experienced by some individuals who are uncertain of food preparation methods, sanitation, and unknown ingredients.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Partridge, Eric and Paul Beale. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 8th ed. (1984).
  2. ^ Bachelor, Lisa (October 4, 2002). "Surviving on a student budget". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ "Potluck fear and loathing". LA Times. December 15, 2008. 

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