FAQ: Neighborhood Potluck Dinners

Page created 30 January 2022. Last modified on 31 October 2022. Written by Preston Hunter.

Q. What are neighborhood potluck dinners?

A "potluck dinner" is an event in which people come together to eat together, visit and talk. Each individual or household brings a dish to share. Sometimes assignments or made, or people sign up to indicate what type of food they will bring. But not always.

Potluck dinners are traditionally hosted by many different types of groups, including work places, community organizations, churches, mosques, synagogues, HOAs, and geographically-defined areas. When we refer to these events as "neighborhood" potluck dinners, it is because people are invited to these events based on the fact that they live in the neighborhood. There are no other criteria.

Q. Are these events sponsored by anybody?

No. We are just neighbors organizing together.

Q. Where can I learn more about past events?

You can view our gallery of past events and our gallery of photos.

Q. Are these events part of the City of Tempe's Neighborhood Associations program?

No. Some people involved in organizing and hosting neighborhood potluck dinners are also involved with the City of Tempe's Neighborhood Associations program. But the potluck dinners are not a part of that program or any other city or government program.

Q. What are the benefits of neighborhood potluck dinners?

For those of us who are organizing this, the main purpose is to have fun. We like to attend potluck dinners. We like to host potluck dinners.

Beyond that, we recognize that potluck dinners can serve many positive purposes. These events can help strengthen a neighborhood. These events provide an opportunity for neighbors to meet and get to know each other better. The more that neighbors actually know each other, the stronger a neighborhood becomes. This contributes to neighborhood safety, and other aspects of well being within the neighborhood.

The city of Tempe actively promotes initiatives that help neighbors to meet and get to know each other better because the city knows that this reduces the need for the city to expend resources in the community, such as police and code enforcement. Neighbors who actually know each other are less likely to need to "call the cops" on each other if there is a problem. They are more likely to talk things over before there is ever a problem.

For example, on one particular block, a neighbor bought a dog that was barking incessantly at night, and his neighbors eventually called the police and the dog owner was fined. But on another block, a similar new dog owner was a person who was familiar to his neighbors. They had attended community events together and knew each other by name. The new dog owner's neighbors talked to him about the issue. He was a deep sleeper and didn't know that his dog was barking all night. The dog owner investigated and discovered that a faulty pool pump was generating a high-pitched noise that was prompting the dog to bark. He was able to fix the problem, and the neighbors were able to sleep soundly without ever needing to call authorities.

Community events such as potluck dinners can also be a solution to incivility and enmity that can be seen in society as a whole. People come together based on the fact that they live in the same community, and not because they work in the same office or attend the same church or belong to the same club. Neighborhood events such as these give people an opportunity to "get out of their bubble." Inevitably the people who attend these events belong to different groups. They may belong to different political parties, different religious denominations, different races, different ethnicities, different professions, different ages, etc. People who sit down and break bread together have a chance to get to know each other as fellow human beings and don't think of people outside of their group simply as "the other."

None of these things are "organized" or pushed as part of these events. These are simply natural outcomes from such events.

Potluck dinners are also economical. One can simply make one dish to share, and then go to an event, and there is a whole buffet of interesting, delicious food available. It is less expensive than going out to eat. And more interesting.

It is affordable entertainment. What is the cost for a family of 5 to go out to a movie? With tickets and snacks, The cost can easily be between $50 to $100. Attending a potluck dinner does not cost anything beyond the cost of making a single dish. Depending on what you bring, that may cost $5 to $15. But you would have had to spend money to eat anyway. So attending a potluck dinner does not represent an additional expenditure.

Plus, it takes less time to prepare one dish compared to preparing many dishes. If you attend a potluck dinner that is attended by only 4 individuals or households, then that means there are four different items on the menu that you will be able to eat. But you only spend time preparing one item.

Q. When did these events begin?

People have gathered together to share communal meals throughout recorded time. People in Tempe, including my family and other families, have hosted potluck dinners for a long time, inviting people they know.

This current initiative began on July 17, 2021. At that time, Covid-19 vaccines had become available to everybody, and the pandemic was widely regarded as under control. Local businesses and restaurants were by then open without significant restrictions. We decided to begin hosting potluck dinners again. Nine people were in attendance at this potluck dinner event.

We began hosting potluck dinners on a monthly basis. Initially these were attended only by people we already knew. But we realized there was interest among many other people in the community. We invited all of the people on our block.

We realized we had no real way of knowing who would or would not be interested in these attending these events. So we launched the survey, to simply ask people.

Our goal is to ask everybody in the neighborhood if they want to be invited to these events. And then everybody who wants to be invited to these events can be, and those who aren't interested won't be.

Q. Are these events always held at the same place?

No. There are a number of people who volunteer to host.

Q. How many people are at these events?

The numbers vary. The number of people at the events we have actually held since July 2021 have varied between 5 to about 215 people.

As of this writing (April 26, 2023), the average attendance at general events during the past 4 months has been 40 people. The largest attendance at an event held in a private home has been 64 people. The typical attendance at non-general events (including neighborhood-specific, block-specific, Pop-up Potluck, Socratic potluck) is about 14 people.

Q. What if I can't attend an event that I receive an invitation to?

Attending an event is not mandatory, of course. If you are on the list of people who want to receive invitations, and you receive an invitation then please RSVP either "yes", "no", or even "maybe." Your RSVPs help tremendously with planning.

Q. Am I required to host?

No. Most of the people on the list do not host events at their own home.

Q. I know about an event that the people on this list might be interested in. Can you send out an invitation?

Probably. If it is a neighborhood potluck event, then of course we want to invite people to the event you are hosting if you want to invite them. If it is something SIMILAR to a neighborhood potluck dinner, but a little different, then we call that a "potluck-adjacent" event, and we can invite the people on the list to that as well. We have specifically asked the people on the list if they want to be invited to "potluck-adjacent" events. Some opt out of receiving such invitations, but most people are interested in receiving those as well.

Q. How do I get invited to these events?

People sign up to be on a list of neighbors who are invited to neighborhood potluck events. People who sign up can specify how they prefer to be invited, such as via email or text message. People can also sign up for the group on Meetup.com, where the group is named "Tempe Neighborhood Potluck": https://www.meetup.com/tempe-neighborhood-potluck/.

Originally we offered the opportunity for neighbors to receive invitations via direct message (DM) on Nextdoor or Facebook, or via physical postcard or letter, etc. But as the size of the group has grown, it has become impractical or cost-prohibitive to use those methods.

There is also a public calendar listing upcoming events. People can RSVP to events as guests even if they are not on the list of neighbors who receive invitations. But we strongly encourage everybody interested to sign up to receive invitations directly, so that they don't miss out on any information.

Q. What if I sign up and then don't want to receive invitations any more?

Then you can simply let us know, and we will remove you from the list of people who get invited to these events. The reason we are conducting the survey is to identify people who want to be invited as well as people who don't want to be invited. Identifying who does NOT want to be invited and then NOT sending them invitations is one of the main purposes of doing this.

Q. The domain name is "potluckdinner.org". Is this part of a national program or service?

No. We just bought the domain name. Nobody was using it. This is just for our neighborhood here in the Tempe area.

Q. What happens at these events?

We bring food, eat, and talk. We get to know people we already know a little better, and we get to know neighbors we have never met before.

Q. Is there a program or presentation?

Usually there is no program.

Originally, none of the events had any program whatsoever. After one year of organizing events without any "program" at all, we organized the first event with planned discussion topics, an event known as a "Socratic Potluck." Since then we have organized some events with additional elements outside of a pure potluck dinner. We have guest speakers (such as at "meet the candidates" and "meet the artist" events), watched films during the event, had live music performed, sung karaoke, and more. Anything along these lines is announced as part of the event details ahead of time.

Q. Indoors or outdoors?

It depends on the host, and it depends on the time of year. Many events feature both indoor and outdoor seating. Some events only have outdoor seating. Some events only have indoor seating. We try to include this information in all invitations. If you have a question about a particular event, feel free to ask.

Indoor seating is almost always available. If weather allows, we always try to have outdoor seating available. At many of our events, most people are seated outdoors. During the hottest months, there are times when it is too hot to eat outside and we have not had outdoor seating.

Q. Are there age restrictions?

We have not hosted any events with age restrictions. This means that children are welcome. But if an individual host wanted to have age restrictions, they could do so, as long as those restrictions were announced as part of the invitation.

Q. Do you post guest lists?

You mean like a news article in the "society section" of an old-time newspaper? No. We don't post guest lists anywhere.

Q. Do you post photos or videos of these events?

Originally the answer was a simple "no." Originally, nobody took any pictures or videos of any kind at these events. It was not a rule or anything. I just don't think anybody thought of doing so. That's not why people come to these events.

But then I started sometimes taking photos of the food and/or the venue. I started doing this because I received questions about what kinds of food people bring, and I thought pictures would help answer such questions. I posted some of those photos on this website, in order to help people who are unfamiliar with these types of events to better understand what they will encounter if they attend.

The food is often pretty fantastic and I have occasionally seen other people take pictures of the food, as well.

For a while I only took pictures of the food and the venue itself. But ultimately the results of doing so struck me as being incomplete, because the main point of these events was the people, not the food. And I noticed that event sites such as Meetup.com use photos of events, with people, in order to illustrate what events were like and provide a way for people to know what the group is like. So it has become common for some photos to be taken at events. These are still not "photo shoots" or "photo opportunities." These are not "Instagram events." Any photography done at the events is intended to unobtrusive.

If you attend an event and do not want your photo taken, simply let the event host know.

Q. What happens at these events? Can you provide more details?

If you have attended any neighborhood potluck event, or if you have attended any of these events organized recently in our neighborhood here in Tempe, you DON'T wonder. You already know.

People bring food to share.
They eat it.
And they sit and talk.

That's pretty much it.

Here are some questions that I personally thought of. These have not necessarily been asked by anybody:

Is there a program?
It's not a presentation or anything.

There may be an opening prayer or blessing on the food, depending on who is hosting. But after that, people line up with plates, serve themselves food, sit down and eat and talk to the people around them, and go back for seconds or dessert.

The only other thing that we sometimes see is this:
Right before we eat, we may go around the room and say our names and explain what we brought to the potluck. If the group isn't too large, this is feasible. If the number of people is large, then this is not feasible.

What do people talk about?
Anything they want.
I have never made any "rules" at events that I have hosted, or seen that done anywhere else.
People introduce themselves to people they haven't met before. People talk about what they do for work or for fun. They talk about their kids and pets and topics they are interested in.

Do people talk politics?
Maybe. But I haven't seen it.
It just doesn't come up in the conversations I've been a part of.

Do people come alone?
Yes. Lots of people come with a spouse or date or their kids. But lots of people come alone. They are soon NOT alone, because they sit down at a table surrounded by neighbors and join in a conversation.

What if I don't know anybody there?
Then you'll soon get to know people. This is one of the main reasons people come to these events: To meet new people.

What if I'm shy?
Shy people enjoy these events. They get some food, sit down and eat, listen to conversation and eventually open up and join in as much as they want to. Some people end up talking more than others.

How many people are at these events?
The size of these events varies. The smallest number we have had at one of these events during the past year is 7 people. Which was a LOT of fun because we got to all sit around one table and get to know each other well. Some events have dozens of people, at many tables. That is fun, too, but you aren't necessarily going to talk to everybody at a large event.

Is there a theme?
Sometimes. Not always.

What if I don't bring anything?
There is always plenty for everybody. Don't let that keep you away.

Q. When do we need to solidify our "maybe" RSVP into a for-sure "yes" or "no" RSVP?

We don't have a "cut-off date" for solidifying a "maybe" RSVP into a "yes" or "no."

So the real answer to your question depends on what KIND of event it is.

Some events are essentially "unlimited seating" events. Some events take place at a home or venue with enough tables and chairs for significantly more people than we know will be signing up to come. Sometime there is enough seating for more than 100 people. So we would LOVE to have you come, and we DO INDEED want accurate RSVPs. But there will not come a time where you "can't come" because you did not change your RSVP to a "yes".

There are OTHER events which are smaller, sometimes around 14 people, and as few as 5 people. For those events, there may not be a specific cut-off date, but if OTHER people fill the "yes" slots, then you may might need to be on the wait list.

There are indeed events that fill up and we have to cut off new RSVPs. The click-button RSVP system that people can access using their personalized link or user login account automatically blocks new "yes" and "maybe" RSVPs when an event is full, but allows people to add themselves to a "wait" list. Being on the "wait" list is counted differently than being a "maybe." If you RSVP-ed as a "maybe", then we really will try to have space for you no matter what, unless the event's seating is particularly limited and there are people signing up for the "wait" list.

To summarize: If you signed up as a "maybe," you can typically count on being able to attend. But feel free to contact us to be sure.

Q. Who hosts and organizes events?

Churches, mosques, synagogues, secular organizations, businesses, stores, restaurants, political parties, civic organizations, government agencies, etc.

Any local person or group can host or organize an event.

MOST of our events take place in private homes, hosted by private individuals.

But not all. The potluck group is simply local residents who want to have fun while getting to know their neighbors better. Meeting neighbors for informal potluck meals is a simple yet effective way to strengthen the neighborhood.

I have hosted some of these events. But most events are hosted by other private individuals, and sometimes by organizations.

It doesn't cost anything to host an event. The neighborhood potluck group can provide all supplies if anybody doesn't have their own (tables, chairs, table cloths, plates, utensils, glasses, etc.) Hosting a potluck event means guests bring the food, so there can be zero food costs for the host.

For an organization, hosting a potluck event is a great way to engage with the community. Hosts can choose any "theme", or have none at all. The purpose can be simply to be part of the neighborhood and meet neighbors. Or an event can be a direct way to introduce an organization. "Meet the Tempe 5th Avenue Church." Or "Neighborhood Potluck at Kosergi Dental Clinic."

A host can choose the size of an event, from as few as 5 people up to hundreds. Even if it is a small event which needs to cap attendance, the event is promoted to the entire group and to the community as a whole. The purpose of the group is definitely not marketing. But I suppose a business or organization could think of an event as a form of marketing. The group is always excited to meet new people and go to new places, and is grateful to hosts whether they're a retired resident who simply likes to invite people over to their home, or a business that wants to generate publicity and good will in the community.

Q. There is some confusion here. You appear to be in Shalimar, and the link you sent leads to a survey that says it is for "Warner Ranch neighborhood, and also in the McClintock High School / Shalimar neighborhood (Tempe, AZ). (Near the corner of S. McClintock Dr. and E. Southern Ave.)" but your message suggests asking everybody in Mach 8 (which is where I am)?

You are asking a very good question.

I am a list coordinator and organizer. The same list and survey are being used for people in multiple neighborhoods.

For example, on May 14, there is an event being hosted in Warner Ranch, and that event will be for all people in the Warner Ranch neighborhood. (To prepare for that event, I worked with the host to invite as many neighbors in Warner Ranch as possible to respond to the survey, to ask them if they were interested in being invited to neighborhood potluck events.) On May 13, another person is hosting an event in the Shalimar neighborhood which will be open to everyone on the "neighborhood potluck" list, but will be attended primarily by people in her neighborhood and some neighborhoods next to hers.

Similarly there are two events in April, one open to everyone on the list, and one which is smaller, just for people in the host's immediate neighborhood. All 4 of these events in April and May are being hosted by four different people. In many instances, the decision about whether to host a "general" versus "limited seating" event is based on the number of people who can be seated at the host's home. But not always. The same host may want to invite neighbors from their immediate block or neighborhood to one event, and may want to invite the general list to another event.

This may seem complicated, but from the perspective of a person on the list, it's simple: they receive invites to events, and they can choose to attend or not attend. If you are in the list, you would receive invites to the "general" events open to anyone, and you would receive invites to Mach 8 events. People are not sent invitations to events that they are not invited to.

I picked an address in the middle of the Mach 8 neighborhood. Now let me look at the next four neighborhood events. Here are the driving distances from that address and the next four upcoming neighborhood events:
April 24 - 2.3 miles
April 30 - 2.6 miles
May 13 - 2.5 miles
May 14 - 5.8 miles

We have gradually rolled out this initiative to additional neighborhoods in Tempe. We have not yet organized an event in the Mach 8 neighborhood, but our goal is to do so. Then the event would be within walking distance of where you live.

Q. I have a question that was not addressed on this page.

Ask us anything you want. You can contact me using this contact form. I will be happy to talk to via email, text message, Nextdoor, Facebook, Zoom, Facetime, etc. or meet you in person, as you prefer.