Potluck 101

Greetings Citizens,

As the holidays bear down upon us, you may be wondering, “How can I consume 25,000 calories in 17 minutes?”  It’s not easy for those of a delicate constitution, but as a man who eats like he’s preparing to survive a harsh winter (and let’s be honest, the next winter as well) I have developed some tips that will help you accomplish a new holiday goal.  My experience was built upon years of Public Service Potlucks, and I’m like a Jedi Master of Food Acquisition.  I keep a plate with high sides in the bottom drawer of my desk and I am 100% not kidding.

  1. Get your drink before the potluck starts.  You need both hands for the food line.
  2. Maneuver your way to the front of the buffet.  Pretend to tie your shoe, admire the pastel flower print above the table, fake a phone call and casually wander that direction; figure something out, be creative.  I am not a proud man, I am a hungry one.
  3. Take a plate AND a bowl.  It’s tricky but you can balance the plate on the bowl.  It’s like a food basement.  You’ll be glad for the extra room.
  4. Fork and spoon go in your pocket while you’re loading up.  Don’t get cocky and try to hold them in your hand, this will lead to disaster, or worse, smaller portions.
  5. Place similar food species together, like colors on a color wheel.  Pasta salad mingled with enchiladas = bad.  Tri tip mingled with potatoes = good.  You can’t avoid food touching each other, but you can control the Weird Taste Contamination.
  6. Bulky items go on the edge of the plate.  Taquitos make a great barrier to keep your meatballs from rolling the length of the conference room (that happened to me twice).  Mushy stuff goes in the middle, but I don’t need to tell you this.  Or do I?
  7. When you get back to the table you’ll be tempted to tuck in.  DO NOT DO THIS.  March your ass over to the dessert table.  Karen’s Lemon Squares will go fast.
    1. Secondary advantage: most people will just be sitting down to eat and you’ll have first choice of which of the three dozen cheesecakes to try.
  8. At some point you’re going to be grossed out and your plate will look like a pile of self-loathing and regret.  This will pass.  Keep going.  Did your mama raise a quitter?
  9. Be casual about getting seconds.  I often pretend like I’m looking for another fork or a napkin but I’m really scouting out anything I might have missed on the first pass.  Again, I am not a proud man.  This is reconnaissance.
  10. Wander slowly and casually, like you don’t really care.  Scoop up some of the crock pot mac and cheese, look at it with disdain, shrug and place it on your plate like you’re being polite and are just *trying* some. Crock pot mac and cheese is good.  It can also serve as a secure dock for the deviled eggs.
  11. Ignore the dirty looks, whispers, sneers, rolled eyes and the finger that Wanda from Personnel gave you.  This is Eat Day and their scorn masks deep-seated jealousy.  Feel pity for them.

Finally, do not try to use my tricks against me if we ever cross paths at a potluck.  I once made a coworker cry when she reached past me for an extra bread roll and I’m not even sorry.

Good luck out there, soldiers.

Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
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53 Responses

  1. Avatar Buffy Tanner says:

    I thought I was an accomplished buffet master, but I bow down to your Jedi-level skills. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us. We aren’t worthy!

  2. Avatar Cathy says:

    Having observed you in action, no way would I attempt to cut in line in front of you! You’ve earned these skills through hard work and lots and lots of practice. Lol

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Part of Potluck success is to know when you’re outgunned. Thank you for recognizing my superior skills.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Fun read, Matt. Thanks.

  4. Avatar erin friedman says:

    Brilliant! I’ve been an advocate for pockets in women’s clothing for years. I say it’s for “lipstick and stuff” but the reality is – we are at a disadvantage when it comes to utensil cargo capacity. Let’s level the playing field, folks.
    Great piece, Matt. I love the potlucks where everyone shows off their best family recipes — there should be a separate Buffet Table of Shame for the folks who just stopped at Costco. 🙂

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Thank you Erin!

      As for the Buffet Table of Shame, I cannot disagree. And yet I would be banished to this table because I have zero cooking skills and am always asked to bring drinks to a potluck. Which I do.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      My needs are few (wallet, phone, lip balm, reading glasses, sunglasses, keys, and hankie); so I started wearing scrubs simply for the pockets. No hauling around a purse. I’ve graduated to a travel vest, not because I need more pockets, but because cooler weather requires heavier clothing. I appear to be going fishing or hunting, but I’m happily hands-free with room for additional storage if required.

      Absolutely agree, Erin, about the Buffet Table of Shame. To make the effort of cooking or baking then have a clam shell of cookies from the grocery store (made with Crisco, I might add) set down next to a homemade masterpiece takes away some of the joy.

      • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

        …unless you’re the guy who can’t make anything anyone would ever want to eat. Plopping a plate of burned cookies or undercooked chicken on the buffet table will steal not only joy but appetite.

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Matt, my days of 25,000 calorie binges are loooooong gone, but I laughed all the way through that in remembrance.

    My over-indulgences weren’t at potlucks, though. Back in my Tahoe skiing days, Harvey’s Casino had a famous Friday seafood buffet that was definitely a loss-leader (it hemorrhaged money, but it drew hoards of people to the casino). As a teen, I’d eat until I could barely move.

    Early skiing season coincided largely with wrestling season. That buffet didn’t help with making weight.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      An all-you-can-eat buffet is like a permanent potluck. There are still dirty looks and scorn, but it comes from strangers instead of your coworkers and friends. It’s much easier to face.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        The shame subtext reminds me of an old Yelp review of Hometown Buffet.


        • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

          That guy shared lots of funny reviews, and I agreed with most of them (when familiar with the establishment), but I thought he was a little harsh in his reviews and remarks about In-N-Out. But then, I like mac and cheese out of a box, and when nobody is looking, I’ll drink a Coors Light.

          But hey, I have *some* standards. I walked into Hometown Buffet once, about a decade ago. I looked around for about thirty seconds, and walked back out, never to return.

        • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

          That is pure gold. “Nobody is talking – it’s like an SAT exam is going on in there. Everyone is inhaling mountains of food.”

          • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

            I went to Hometown Buffet once, and that was with some co-workers – all fellas. They were SO happy to go there, after all, there’s no buffet in Eastern County. I looked around and filled my plate with fruit. The co-workers chastised my choice since their plates were laden with meatloaf, gravy, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. By the way, I’m not a bit unhappy about its closure, but I’m really surprised that Hometown Buffet is closed. Anybody know what happened? Their parking lot always seemed full. Same with Famous Dave’s. Why did it close?

            I just caught a typo: I had written “meatload” rather than meatloaf. I think meatload was a better description.

  6. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Matt, I still have an angry scar on the back of my hand from when you stabbed me with a plastic knife as I was reaching in front of you for the spoon for the meatballs and you thought I was going to take the last portion of scalloped potatoes. People, do not get in the line of fire when Matt’s at the potluck table.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      You’re lucky it was only a plastic knife and not the shiv I keep in my sock. I held back out of respect for our friendship and the fact that you’re one of the best cooks I know. I don’t want to eliminate a prime source of quality cooking.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      OMG Barbara that made me laugh out loud :-D.

  7. Avatar Jamie says:

    Size matters! I’m talking potluck plates here. The bigger the better!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      You are mostly correct but the plate needs to be a manageable weight. When you’ve loaded up you need to be able to make it back to the table without incident. I won’t sacrifice efficiency for overwhelming my muscles.

  8. Dearest Matt, oh how I loved this piece! It’s just what we needed.
    I literally laughed out loud as I read this, and then read it again just for the laugh. Thank you!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Doni, you’re the best. I got a kick out of writing it.

      I do have a nagging fear that someone will try to abuse my tricks, turning a potluck into a melee. Because I will throw down if I have to.

  9. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    I said it before and I’m saying it again. This is pure gold. Dipped in chocolate, rolled in crushed nuts, and piled atop a mound of whipped cream on the hot fudge sundae buffet at the desserts table. I read this aloud to the whole family this morning and we laughed our butts off!

  10. Avatar Debbie Davis says:

    Matt – You are hysterical! I can picture all your moves with that adorable face of yours. This was laugh out loud funny and worth saving for future reads. Thank you for a great start today and the holiday buffet season!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Thank you Debbie, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Best wishes for a bountiful buffet plate this season!

  11. Avatar Anita Brady says:

    Timely advise- my husband is going to a holiday potluck in just a couple hours. I read him the important points. LOL

  12. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    Loved this piece so much, Matt! “It can also serve as a secure dock for the deviled eggs.” The genius of that idea is just… genius. There’s me, with years of deviled eggs sliding around the dang plate-edge. IF ONLY I HAD DOCKED THEM.

    Thank you for the snortles this piece gave me!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Your snortles are my delighted reward! And I’m like Rain Man when it comes to putting food into my head. Unorthodox approaches, absurd attention to complex combination issues…you name it.

  13. Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

    Very funny, and I have tried all of these tricks. And last night I succeeded in NOT trying them at the Shasta Land Trust holiday open house. Keep it going, Matt!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I’m disappointed that you held back. Think of what you probably missed out on! You don’t know when you’ll see those turkey wraps again, it’s important to load up.

  14. Jon Lewis Jon Lewis says:

    Thanks Matt. I have encountered some meatballs that would justify the throwing of hands. It’s good to have an ally in the manly art of potluck pugilism. Bon appetit

  15. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Matt, I laughed until I injured myself. My son seemed kind of worried. “Dad, are you okay?”

  16. Avatar Candace says:

    “Scoop up some of the crock pot mac and cheese, look at it with disdain, shrug and place it on your plate like you’re being polite and are just *trying* some.”


  17. Avatar Linda Coplen says:

    OH Matt……one of your best and most hilarious writings of all time, LOVED IT, laughed myself silly!! You are indeed a potluck expert, and I commend you for your clever, well calculated potluck talent and determination to exercise those maneuvers with the utmost of accuracy…….for the final reward of indigestion for the rest of the day…….and still worth it!! I love funny people, and you are one of my all time favorites. Thank you for always keeping us entertained!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Every county employee understands how amazing the potlucks are, and having a plan on how best to enjoy it all is important.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece!

  18. Avatar Sheri Eby says:

    This was wonderful. Thanks for making all of us laugh!

  19. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Very funny, Matt! Two lowlights of the potluck buffet: 1) The people who stop – in a group – to seriously investigate any particular dish, discuss who made it and what its history might be, at length………….2) The point where I think to myself (having put some of everything on my plate): “What the hell…………??”

    ps, thanks for taking care of ANC’s Original Phoenix all year!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I could write a whole other piece about the Human Logjams in a potluck line. I’m not a violent man but if I gave out beatings, they would richly deserve them.

      And it has been my pleasure to be the caretaker of The Phoenix!

  20. Avatar John Balma says:

    Hahahahaha! I have much to learn from you, Matt Grigsby. But let me give you one essential tip, pro to pro: always help set up the buffet. If you’re clever, a favorite dish (in my case that would be pie) might mysteriously be placed on your table instead of the buffet table, and it might land right in front of your seat.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      John, I wish I could hide in plain sight like that but the truth is anyone who knows me would be fully aware I’m inspecting the spread and not actually helping. I cannot mask the hunger on my face for long.

  21. Avatar Karen Calanchini says:

    When I worked for RPD, the volunteers always did a potluck dinner or lunch for the officers at least twice a year. We also invited city council members and City Manager. Everyone made home made dishes that went over well and became requested dishes each year from the officers. We fed a lot of folks, and my biggest annoyance was one volunteer who brought a dish each year with enough to feed two. Once I got up the nerve to ask why she brought such a small amount, and she told me she had down sized and only had very small dishes for serving. Several of us got together and bought her a nice size casserole, with a few easy, but delicious recipes and presented it to her at a nice luncheon for the volunteers. Her gift was presented after the luncheon so as not to embarrass her. It was a fun thing to do and every year after that, she DID use it when we did our buffets. Boy, did we ever have some mighty fine food at those potlucks.
    Great read and gave me some good chuckles.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      That was a very kind (and rewarding!) thing for you and your friends to do.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece!

  22. Avatar Rob says:

    Great article and insider advice! Try to observe firefighters going thru the line in fire camp. Lots to be learned from food line Jedi Masters at work..

    When it comes to the buffet dessert line and making your own sundae, take a detour by the soup or salad area and get yourself a real bowl to build your masterpiece in.

  23. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    But Wait!!! I woke up thinking about this one!! What about the time(s) when you arrive at the potluck buffet, only to realize that just one side of the table is used for the line???? Oh No!!! What numbskull didn’t think this through clearly?? This is the biggest mistake that could ever occur and I don’t mind admitting I have more than once taken it upon my own self to rectify it. Phew, disaster averted! Again!
    Also, the phrase: “Well, somebody’s got to go first!” can be beneficial if used in time.
    Just trying to help here. (Like it sounds like anyone here needs help….)