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Whether you are invited or doing the inviting, throwing a potluck can relieve a lot of stress. When everybody brings something, it takes a great deal of pressure off the host and offers guests the joy of contributing to the occasion.

HOSTING DUTIES

If you're hosting, you need to pick a theme for the menu, like Comfort Food, Winter Warmups or Family Favorites.

For one dozen people, you will need approximately two or three appetizers, two side dishes, bread and butter, two desserts, one salad and one main dish.

Provide the main course -- ham, turkey or a hearty casserole, for example.

When selecting your potluck menu, look for recipes and dishes that can be prepared in advance, can be reheated at the destination and offer leeway in serving time.

Assign each guest a dish to bring. You can even provide the exact recipe, if you have a particular menu in mind. This will eliminate the possibility of duplication.

Plan the seating, table settings, fun decorations and background music.

Clear space in the refrigerator for cold dishes, and create a schedule for dishes that will require oven time.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and then turn it off. As guests arrive with hot dishes, place them in the warm oven.

Gather plenty of utensils and serving dishes. Buy small, disposable containers so guests can take home leftovers.

FOOD SAFETY

Don't run the risk of ruining a great potluck. ...

Discard any leftovers that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Keep hot things hot and cold things well-chilled until serving time.

To prevent the slightest chance of food-safety compromise, put out small portions of perishable items and replenish as needed. Use a new serving dish, or wash the empty one before refilling.

GUEST DUTIES

If you're a contributing guest, you need to ...

Plan to have your food finish cooking just as you're ready to leave home.

Bring your assigned dish table-ready and as close to being ready to eat as possible, including an appropriate serving dish and utensils.

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Wrap hot dishes in several layers of foil and a thick towel to prevent heat loss. Pack cold dishes in ice in a cooler.

Consider bringing your assigned dish in a slow cooker. This will relieve the host's oven or stovetop that may be in hot demand.

Arrive on time -- not late, not early, unless you've checked with the host.

Alert the host in advance if your dish will require final prep (assembly, heating, baking) at the destination.

SERVING THE MEAL

Buffet style is the easiest way to serve a potluck meal. ...

Place plates at the beginning of the line and silverware and napkins at the end.

Leave room on the buffet table for guests to set plates down in case they need both hands to serve themselves.

There you go -- all you need to know to put together a lovely, casual event. Sit back, relax and enjoy your hard work.

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