The Other Side of Potluck Paranoia: Potluck Performance Anxiety

According to Wikipedia, people who are uncertain of food preparation methods, sanitation, and unknown ingredients may experience a case of the “potluck willies” or “potluck paranoia.”

People with potluck paranoia are grossed out by the batch of deviled eggs you prepared using a cross-contaminated spoon, while petting your cat, and with your long hair dangling over the mixing bowl.


Sort of like this. See how my hair isn’t really pulled back and my fingers are cootiefying the batter.

I am not one of these people. I eat with abandon at potlucks.


Probably because my husband acts like this around food.

No, I have my own kind of potluck paranoia. One that involves self-doubt and worry, not as the eater, but as the dish preparer.

It begins with receipt of the potluck invitation

“Why, yes,” I say. “I’d love to attend the potluck for the birthday/office/holiday party.” A small twinge of fear runs up my spine, but I can ignore it. After all, I have three weeks before the potluck.

Then, about three days before the event, things go haywire inside my brain:

What should I bring? Dip, yes dip is always good. No, everyone brings dip. What about a cheese or fruit platter? Ugh. Those rarely get eaten. I know – my homemade bouillabaisse that takes three hours to make. Perfect. Everyone loves bouillabaisse. Or do they? What if people are allergic to shellfish? Or onion? Or flour? Or food?

How about beer bread? That’s yummy. And easy to make. Is that good enough? Will they know I used Earth Balance and not real butter? Is one pan enough? Too much? What if someone spits out a cat hair? Can people get drunk from beer bread?

Perhaps I should just buy some potato salad and be done with it. I’m sure that will be fine. But what if the other potluck-goers look down on me because it’s store bought. They’ll sneer as they wonder if it has high-fructose corn syrup. They’ll be judging me. I’ll be voted off the island, deemed the weakest link.

What if I bring the same thing as three other people? Maybe I should diversify and bring a few different things: an appetizer, bread and dessert. They do say that diversification is good.

What if I just hide under a blanket and never leave the house again?

At the potluck

Where should I place my delicacies? Yes, the right location for my store bought pasta is paramount. I notice that someone else brought the exact same pasta salad. I nonchalantly place mine next its twin and look around to see if anyone has noticed. I drop off my dip, next to the other similar dips.

Now I watch as others drop off their dishes. I try not to judge them based on their offerings. I wonder if people know I brought the same pathetic salad as someone else. My eye twitches.

I load up my plate, taking a little bit of everything.

I watch my dishes out of the corner of my eye. Are people eating them? Has anyone even tried them? I better go take some of each. You know, to get the ball rolling. I better take a lot. Then people will think they’re good, because a lot is gone.

Now I start to feel bad for all the foods that no one is eating. I make another round and load up on more items.

I notice that the dip is almost gone. The pasta salad, however, is a flop. I make a mental note for next time.

After the potluck

I ponder what to bring next time. The crab dip was a success. I could just stick with that. But soon, they’ll come to expect it. I’ll be pigeonholed as the crab dip girl and that’s all I’ll ever be. I’ll never be able to show the world my range.

I look to my husband for support. He looks back at me like I’m nuts. He obviously doesn’t understand the social significance of selecting the proper potluck dish.

A week later and it’s time for another potluck. I decide to make something this time. Should I do an appetizer or main dish? Maybe something spicy. No, some people can’t handle spicy foods…

And cue the cycle again…

34 thoughts on “The Other Side of Potluck Paranoia: Potluck Performance Anxiety

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I feel your pain. I have both types of potluck paranoia. I stress over what to bring, and I stress over contaminated dishes. I usually end up bring homemade banana bread. It’s easy and most everybody loves it. As for my other type of potluck paranoia, I try not to think about what I’m eating…

  2. b00kreader says:

    I just had to deal with this, and where I work about 50% of people don’t eat meat 😦 Which way limits my options. Needless to say my leak/potato/Gorgonzola tart was not the hit I expected, go figure.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      I think it sounds delightful.

      I’m pretty much a non-meat eater, which is hard too, because most of the people at my potlucks are meat eaters, so I have to try to figure out what to make so that they don’t think ew, vegetarian food.

      • b00kreader says:

        Well I guess I’m glad that it works both ways :/

        I always throw a Halloween pot luck so when I plan what I’m taking I will think about this post, which was hilarious. Thanks for the laughs.

  3. lindsaycummingswrites says:

    I can definitely relate to this! I have these same anxieties, over dinner parties. I always worry I won’t have enough food or people won’t like it. I want to make it cute and decorative…same goes for the potluck. I need it to be served in a cute or clever way. I stress way to much-Then just make chili.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      Dinner parties don’t bother me as much, maybe because I know the people better and I know what they like to eat. Potlucks with thirty semi-strangers are weird.

      Yes, the pressure to have everything be cute. What has Pinterest done to us???

      Your chili is yummy by the way. A real crowd pleaser, except perhaps that time people thought it was too spicy…

  4. Alex says:

    I’m definitely not allergic to food. Typically if we did anything like that over here we’d probably end up with like 20 potato salads and a flan. (Posting under my other blog identity because, well quite frankly I couldn’t be arsed to log out of one and in as the other!)

  5. kahht says:

    This is so witty, and probably holds true for a lot of people (I’ve been known to get potluck paranoia from time to time), it is very very tricky… If no one compliments me on my dish I’ll be thinking about it for days: What could I do better next time? Was it too creamy? Too spicy? Not enough herbs? And then I’ll hit the kitchen with variation after variation until I get it right. *Sigh*

  6. julie says:

    If I had friends I would be in exactly this place. Or maybe I do and the anxiety really does put me under a blanket. Cat hair for everyone! I recently made magic wands with cat hair. My children were unimpressed. Until I made one disappear! HA! just kidding, he went back to school. They thought the cathair wands were gross though.

    • jennifer Windram says:

      I’m so sad I couldn’t make it. My husband has been sick for about a week and sure enough, Saturday morning I woke up feeling awful. I spent the whole weekend on the couch. I hope it went well!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s