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Miserably Searching for an App to Organize a Potluck Dinner, and Failing Miserably

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There are potlucks and there are potlucks. At the institutional kind, you're breaking your fork on the lasagna and trying to keep it -- and the "Chinese" chicken salad and something crunchy suspended in Jell-O -- from sliding off your soggy paper plate.

Then there are the potlucks you have with friends. Face it: dinner parties are expensive, everybody's busy, and with good pals you're not worried about impressing anybody. You just want to hang out and relax. At this kind of potluck, you do actually try to make sure things are somewhat complementary... The dinners can be quite sophisticated. And there's usually somebody coordinating the whole thing.

The reason I was inspired to look for a potluck organizing app is that I'm going to what has turned into a potluck tonight and can't seem to get a straight answer from anybody about what to bring...

So I spent an hour and a half this morning looking for an app for organizing a potluck. I'll tell you up front, I found nada. I felt like Goldilocks testing beds and bowls of porridge. A search for "potluck" on the App Store got me lots of potluck recipe apps people want you to pay for (um, have you heard of Google?). Looked at a ton of party planning apps, which all had way more features than you need for a potluck (don't need to rent a tent, thanks). I even went looking for synonyms of "potluck" to see if some developer decided to get creative with the app name. No luck. By the end of my ordeal I was ready for a nap, but none of the beds were just right.

First up: PitchIn, an app for distributing generic tasks and costs. It looked simple and clean, and potlucks aren't complicated, right? Big problems with it: I couldn't (figure out how, in under 10 seconds, to) remove or change something in a list I'd created. I wanted to put three bottles of red wine and let more than one person accept the task (like one bottle per person, or two and one), but I couldn't. I wanted to add in a $100 birthday present and let people contribute whatever they wanted. Nope. The app was a fail.

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Next stop, Orchestra. Also a non-specific task assigning app. I found it confusing, probably because of the use of the word "list." I created a list of my American Paris friends (who are going tonight). But I should have called it "Potluck at Tom's." Which is not technically a list... Confusing interface, not easy to understand quickly what you're doing in the app, or what you're seeing. I want to be able to grasp the status of everything at a glance or with a couple of taps or swipes. There's also a web version, which is easier to understand, but I don't want to go on the web (that's just me). I gave up on Orchestra for potluck planning, though it might be worth a closer look for other purposes when I'm not so goal oriented. Apple liked it, after all.

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Next stop, Punchbowl. Also an app created for an existing website. So I bit the bullet and went to the site and created an account because you can't use the app unless you already have an account on the site and enter your event details on the site. Unfortunately, it appears that you can't add information or modify your event through the app at all! So what's the point? It's utterly useless to me, because there's no way I'm dealing with Punchbowl's overcrowded, TMI, in-your-face, pushy, more-is-more website.

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For all my troubles, I did, at least, discover one little treasure: Drink-u-lator. No good for potlucks, but it's a simple little tool that could come in handy if you're having friends over for drinks only, or even trying to calculate the liquor quantities for an event. You enter the number of guests, set the slider to specify what kinds of drinks your guests prefer, and the app tells you how much of what to buy. And it's pretty and pink (as I mentioned, I'm on a pink kick).

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So the winning app for organization of a potluck at this juncture is -- drumroll -- e-mail. My conclusions: there need to be more grownup women developing apps, and app discovery needs to be a less painful process (that's why Cowgirl App! is here!). My wish: an app that will let you gracefully and painlessly plan potlucks and progressive dinners. Please let me know when it's ready!

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