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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

A Rookie’s Guide to the Office Potluck

Whether your office is celebrating an employee’s recent promotion or simply fostering some holiday spirit, sooner or later you’ll be the lucky recipient of an office-wide email prompting you to don your oven mitts and prepare your best dish for sharing.

OK, so it’s not nearly as nerve-wracking as your first presentation in front of the corporate execs, but as a potluck rookie, you probably have some concerns. If you’re nearing your first collaborative meal in the workplace, the following tips will guarantee your culinary success.

Skip the Excuses and Participate

It’s tempting to take the easy way out and simply forego the potluck—after all, you’re probably strapped for extra cash, stressed about an upcoming deadline, or altogether too exhausted to cook. Well, put those excuses aside, grab your mixing bowls, and get cooking. More than anything, potlucks are meant to be a fun way to connect with your co-workers, so give in and make the most of it!

Pull Out the Family Recipes

There is certainly an appropriate time and place for that package of Oreos in the back of your pantry, but when it comes to a potluck, your co-workers want a glimpse into your life. They want to taste your great-grandmother’s Swedish meatballs, or bite into a piece of your sister’s famous fudge that makes an appearance only once a year. Prepare a favorite family recipe, and use the story behind it to strike up conversation with an unfamiliar co-worker.

Show Up With a Plan

Do a little forward thinking when you select your dish. Does it need to be kept warm? Bring it in a small Crock-Pot and keep it plugged in at your desk until it’s time to serve. Do you plan on nuking it? Unless your office is outfitted with an industrial-sized microwave, your 9x13 inch casserole dish probably won’t fit. Instead, try dividing your fare into two smaller pie pans for easier reheating.

And a word of advice: The easiest dishes are ones that come pre-portioned—think cupcakes, chicken wings, mini quiches, individual cups of seven-layer dip. With these dishes, your officemates can quickly grab and go.

Plasticware Doesn’t Always Cut It

If you are serving up a heavy dish, like lasagna, the plastic forks from the office kitchen don’t stand a chance; make sure to bring a sturdy spatula. Mentally run through how you’re going to serve your dish and remember to bring your utensil of choice, whether a ladle, tongs, cake knife, or all-purpose serving spoon.

Get as Much Out of it as Possible (and Not Just That Extra Plate of Dessert)

When the food is gone and your belly is full, it’s time to retreat back to your desk, right? Nope. While potlucks are usually optional, they’re also a great opportunity for some internal networking. Food makes for an easy conversation starter, so use it to get some face time with your co-workers—especially the ones you don’t know so well. While you’re loading up your plate next to the marketing associate from upstairs, lead with, “You made this spinach dip? It’s to die for!” and let the conversation progress to, “I would love for you to glance over my PowerPoint and give me some pointers for my presentation next month.”

For bonus points, offer to help the host wash dishes and tidy up the break room when the event is over. You’ll show your spirit of teamwork and willingness to pitch in where needed.

If you opt to bring the package of Oreos, don’t worry—you’ll survive. But with a little forethought and preparation, you have a prime opportunity to gain a few new office contacts, some enthusiastic recipe requests, and maybe even a reputation for being the most organized, prepared, and thoughtful employee-turned-dishwasher your company has ever seen. How’s that for a performance review?

Need some recipe inspiration? Check out these delicious dishes:

  • Buffalo Chicken Dip (The Girl Who Ate Everything)
  • 3-Ingredient Sweet and Sour Meatballs (Tablespoon)
  • Individual 7-Layer Dips (The Girl Who Ate Everything)
  • Best Recipes for an Office Potluck (The Kitchn)
  • Photo of office potluck courtesy of Shutterstock.