1. The cook-off
“We had a chili cook-off and the winner admitted she didn’t make the chili. She got it from Wendy’s.”
2. The sushi
“Before he retired, my spouse worked in a unit that LOOOOVED their potlucks. They’d happily leverage any excuse – or no excuse at all – to have a full-on potluck for the entire division to enjoy, and the bragging rights for whose dish got consumed fastest were hotly contested.
For one potluck, Trudy announced to everyone that she would be bringing in home-made sushi as her contribution. Sushi is a very popular item in our part of the country, and Trudy was happily and confidently expecting to take top honors as having brought the most popular potluck item.
The day of the potluck arrived, and everyone crowded around Trudy as she proudly revealed her carefully prepared delicacy. Because sushi!!
Well. There is sushi, and then there is ‘sushi.’
Trudy’s potluck contribution was string cheese and raw hotdogs wrapped in sushi rice and Nori (the dried seaweed used for sushi), and sliced into pretty little rolls.
Trudy was both baffled and deeply offended that her contribution went largely untouched throughout the potluck. She just could not understand why everyone preferred pulled pork sandwiches to her wonderful homemade ‘sushi.’ And she never forgave my spouse for taking top honors for his pulled pork, the most popular item at that potluck.”
3. The overthrow
“I worked at a company where the office manager took potlucks VERY SERIOUSLY. She had a system of releasing the items required for the potluck by email at 10 am a week before. You would reply as fast as possible ‘claiming’ one item. Available items would be, like, 2 bottles of white wine, 2 bottles of red wine, buns, 2 salads, 3 meat items, 3 desserts, etc. The idea was that we would have a ‘balanced’ potluck with just the right amounts of each kind of food. And she was pretty adamant that we not bring store-bought items.
Well, there were a good many young people, and many busy people, who had no interest in cooking/baking and wanted to bring buns or alcohol. And often we’d be the last to reply to the email and end up with a meat dish, which is more difficult.
Eventually complaints about the strictness of the system led to her having a temper tantrum and refusing to coordinate any longer. So the next potluck was a ‘free for all’ (or true) potluck. That potluck, she pouted and would not come out of her office and we FEASTED on cheeseburgers, fries, pizza, a rotisserie chicken, SO MANY BUNS and SO MUCH ALCOHOL. It was great. Everyone but the office manager found it highly entertaining (and literally intoxicating).
After that, someone else took over organizing, and had a similar but far more lenient system – if someone was passionate about bringing buns, but already 2 people had signed up, then they said, yeah, let’s have lots of buns. And there were plenty of people who were willing to cook entrees or bake desserts and still someone would bring a bag of cheeseburgers and we all enjoyed it. I have fond memories of those potlucks. It was a terribly dysfunctional company filled with wonderful people.”
4. The thief and the hero
“At a temp secretarial job back in the day, the owner had a buffet set up for the employees as an appreciation lunch for completing a particular project (which was why I was there to temp since it was an all-hands/emergency situation). One of the very well-paid senior employees took an entire tray of meatballs and an entire tray of pasta off of the buffet line, after the managers/seniors went, but before any of the other employees, who had to take a slightly later lunch that day. When called on it, he said that he needed it to feed his kids for the week – and the owner said if the only way he could feed his children was by stealing from his job and taking food from lower-paid employees, he was welcome to it. But the owner would be accompanying him to the food stamp office to apply or reporting him to CPS if he refused, because feeding his children should be his first priority and if his children could only be fed by stealing, that wasn’t something that could be ignored. It turned into a public argument about how the owner was shaming him for liking expensive things and needing a little help sometimes. Ended up as the employee’s last day.”
5. The potato salads
“I worked for a congregation for a while that refused to plan their potlucks, everybody just showed up with what they wanted to bring and ‘it all worked out in the end!’
Until the potluck that shall live in infamy, because that was the potluck with, I counted, 14 kinds of potato salad! About three main entrees, and a couple of jello salads for dessert, and other than that it was just all potato salad as far as the eye could see. After that one, they started planning their potlucks and having sign up sheets for bringing entrees versus side dishes versus dessert.”
6. The shrimp and grits
“I used to work in an elementary school, and one of the teachers was proud of his shrimp-and-grits. Like, really REALLY proud. When I started working there (months before the potluck) he started telling me how it’s a tradition and everyone loves his grits. Then leading up to it, he was talking about making his grits. Then during it he was making sure everyone tried his grits. He appeared to be convinced that his grits were the entire raison d’etre for the potluck. And there’s no polite way to say, ‘Actually the grits are good but nobody cares that much,’ so of course I ended up playing into it with, ‘Mm-hmm, yes, very delicious!’”
7. Crockpot discrimination
“Years ago the floor manager banned crockpots from the work floor where teams would use an empty cubicle for team birthdays and celebrations due to ongoing issues. Fast forward a few months; a team brings in a crockpot for an event. An outraged employee approached me yelling that it wasn’t fair the other team could have crockpots and hers couldn’t. She looked me in the eye and completely seriously told me, ‘This is crockpot discrimination!’”
8. The cakes
“My office used to host a huge Octoberfest party for all of our clients and while they catered the actual food, dessert was a chance for the employees to bring a dish if they wanted. One of my coworkers took off two full days to bake cakes … multiple three-layer cakes … making our small department under-staffed. She would always make a big deal about the cakes and how delicious everyone thought they were. They were not. Inevitably, there were one or twice slices taken from each cake but 90% of the cakes were left uneaten, and I was (and clearly still am!) salty that I was left to cover her desk while she baked these *so delicious* cakes.”
9. The salsa
My coworker used to bring her ‘famous salsa’ to every potluck. It was just three different brands of store-bought salsa mixed together. She even made a (completely serious) production of preparing it in the kitchen, like she was Julia Child. Pro tip: The trick was to ‘fold’ the salsa to get the best flavor.”
10. The deviled eggs
“A few years back, my employer held a Thanksgiving potluck. It was my first year there, and my first potluck with this company. A coworker (an older lady nearing retirement) mentioned several times to several people that she’s be bringing her ‘famous’ deviled eggs, claiming they’re always in high demand. Seemed legit, right? Potluck day arrived and she made a point to tell me to grab a deviled egg before they ran out. I didn’t notice them at first because they did not look like traditional deviled eggs — they were … bright yellow? And flat on top?? I was very confused, but her enthusiasm sold me. I added one to my plate, and thankfully she left the room before I took a bite because as it turns out, her ‘famous deviled eggs’ were just hard-boiled eggs cut in half with mustard on top.”
11. Another hero
“There is a very famous deli/bakery in my town. Their goods are highly prized and it’s always special when an employer orders from them for staff.
Pre-pandemic, my larger division moved to new office space and the building management ordered trays of brownies from there to welcome us. My physical office was near the kitchen and I witnessed someone from another group walk by with the entire tray that had been put out for the whole floor and carry it back to his desk. There were probably at least 75 brownies on it. Soon I heard everyone being very confused that we were promised brownies and there were none to be had. This lead to people from our floor going to other floors to find brownies, which caused its own drama.
Finally, when I saw the same guy walk past my office again on his way to a meeting, I ran to his cube, grabbed the tray, and placed it back in the kitchen for everyone to enjoy as intended.”
12. The pie drama
“During our first annual Pi Day Pie Contest, people were asked to bring in a pie to share and the best would win a prize (an elaborately decorated pie tin that is still lurking in our office and gets passed around each year).
That was it. That was all the info and all the rules provided. Being an office full of apparently chaos loving maniacs, we had multiple normal pies, some homemade and some store-bought masquerading as homemade, at least one pizza, and a tray of meat pies (pasties).
The event organizers were not amused as store-bought pies, pizza, and non-dessert pies were OBVIOUSLY disqualified as not being in the spirit of the contest. Except at no point had the ‘rules’ said anything about pies being dessert and homemade only. And so started a showdown of truly epic proportions.
Eventually it was agreed for this, the first year, all pies would be considered. But detailed rules as to what constituted a pie were negotiated for all subsequent years culminating in them having to be dessert and in a pie tin. Store bought were still allowed – for reasons – but had to be labelled as such.
In year two we had at least one cheesecake as some people insisted on pushing the boundaries of what constitutes pie.”