The best potluck dinners are fun and relaxing; the worst are chaotic and unsatisfying. The key to success? "You have to have some form of organization," says Marco Flavio Marinucci, founder of the blog Cook Here and Now (cookhereandnow.com), which organizes San Francisco–based potluck dinners. Marinucci spoke with Food & Wine to divulge his five best tips:
1. Create a theme
"I don't believe in hodgepodge potlucks. It's important to create a theme; it can really surprise and delight guests, and get them excited about cooking. Try to move beyond generic themes, like Italian or Cantonese; instead, choose a specific ingredient, like sustainable seafood or heirloom tomatoes. That way, you get really different approaches that reflect each cook's background, and you end up with dishes you might never have expected. Try to finalize the theme two weeks before the dinner so guests have time to come up with great recipes."
2. Plot out the courses
"Potluck should include every course—appetizers, soups or salads, entrées, desserts—as well as alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Always plan more than one for each course: Someone with the best intentions may bring an appetizer, for example, that does not work well, and you don't want that to be the only choice on the table. Or someone may have to cancel at the last minute. For that reason, I think it's important that the host always make the main dish—because then, it's guaranteed to show up!"