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Bad (Pot) Luck

What do you do when the dish you brought to the potluck is a dud?

Denver Post via Getty Images

It’s the adult equivalent of being picked last in sports: that frightening moment when the dish you brought — one you either slaved over or bought last minute in a panic at a grocery store — isn’t being served or eaten at a party.

How you handle this may determine whether you’re invited back or banned. You can storm out in a huff and eat your room temperature macaroni salad while crying in the car. Or you can pretend to relax and have a good time while painfully tearing yourself apart inside. In other words, your typical party experience.

Be kind to yourself, though. If you’re in this situation, you’re at least mature enough to know to bring something as an offering to a party, even if that something is just a hodgepodge of what you already have at home. Maybe those baby carrots or that one beer or the lamp. It’s a nice lamp; who wouldn’t enjoy the party more because of that lamp?

Perhaps if you’re really feeling motivated, you pour your heart into a homemade casserole. If you’re feeling lazy, you might just grab some taquitos at a gas station on the way. Whatever level of effort you put in, you will always feel like a hero when the host opens the door, eyes brightening with a cry of “Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

But then something happens as the evening progresses: the dish, so appreciated initially, doesn’t reappear. You keep gazing toward the kitchen hoping it will emerge. You flash back to the time you went to pick up your sexy ex at the airport, only they never showed up; once again you’re stuck, alone and limply holding a sign that says “Casserole.” (Your ex, oddly, was named Casserole, too.)

Or a second dreaded scenario: Your offering is actually served on the snack table and no one touches it. Your dish is there all alone, much like you, too uncomfortable to converse with the other dishes and too unappealing to be shoved in a guest’s mouth.

When your dish isn’t being eaten, there are a few passive-aggressive tactics worth trying to save the event, at least for yourself. First, you need to make sure people understand that the dish is actually edible food. Grab a helping of that green bean casserole or whatever other garbage you brought and choke it down in front of the other guests like a trash compactor.

Once they know its food, you can start creating buzz. It’ll probably be too late in the evening to get the local paper to list your casserole as the hottest dish in the city, but it’s rarely too late for word of mouth. I personally like to stand near the snack table and say, “Have you tried that casserole? I don’t know who made it but I need to get the recipe.”

The move should work on most people, until you get some wise guy who’ll inevitably say, “Didn’t you make the casserole?” With that person, try to bribe them with cash (remember, by the way, to bring cash).

Later in the night when the party’s winding down and even the dog is avoiding your labored-over slop as digs through the leftovers, it might just be time to cut your losses and try to do better next time. And how, exactly, will you do better? Opt for dishes that cater to your strengths instead of experimenting with something new, no matter how impressive you hope it’ll be. If the only thing you know how to make is beer-can chicken or garlic bread or French toast, then dammit, that’s what you make. Save your adventurous attempt at boeuf bourguignon for an evening in when only you and maybe your nearest-and-dearest have to suffer the results.

Perhaps you can’t cook at all. There’s no shame in a reliable store-bought side; there are reasons why chips and salsa are party staples — because everyone loves them and people are lazy. You can also hit up the grocer’s prepared food aisle, though really, why bother? Chips are cheaper AND people actually like them, unlike room temp pasta salad. Another option: BRING BOOZE. So contained, so appreciated by other guests and — if you’re a drinker — you can enjoy some glasses too. Uh-oh, you brought the worst bottle of wine? Who cares! You can blame the vinter. Everyone knows you got it off the under $15 shelf anyway. They know this, because that’s where they got their bottle too.

If you’re still floundering, well, you might not be meant to bring things to parties or — worst case scenario — attend parties period. Move on with your life, by which I mean returning to the airport to wait for “Casserole.”

Chason Gordon is a writer whose work has appeared in Vice, The Globe and Mail, and Paste Magazine, among others.

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