The following rules apply no matter what kind of party (potluck, New Year's Eve, birthday, tailgating) or crowd (young, old, football freaks, opera fans). If you can't cook at all, bring good cheese and crackers. That's the universal crowd-pleaser.
It seems like such a no-brainer -- who doesn't like dip at parties? But this one has a fatal flaw: garlic. All it takes is one big scoop to render your breath intolerable. Great for family get-togethers, not for swinging singles mixers. How about salsa instead?
Savvy daters know to avoid ordering spinach on a date; green flecks never pretty up a smile. So why bring spinach salad or any spinach dish to a party? Creamed spinach, though less likely to lodge itself at gum level, just looks kinda poopy and travels poorly anyway. If you want to bring something green, consider asparagus or artichoke.
Dishes like calamari, fried artichoke and French fries can be miraculously light, salty and crunchy -- but only if they're served fresh outta the fryer and still hot. Wrap them up for a trip, even a short 15-minute hike, and you have soggy, oily, cold dreck. Fried also screams "bad for you" to many folks. Bring grilled seafood or vegetables instead.
Learn how to skinny up fried fare with healthy chef Devin Alexander.
Don't even think about this four-letter word. Why? Let us count the reasons: It needs to be kept warm. It requires bowls and spoons for every eater, and that means someone later has to wash these items or, worse, you're using environmentally insensitive disposable dishware. Plus, there's no easy way to taste just a little. And folks will inevitably ask, "What kind of soup is it?" Are you going to label the pot or stand there and explain it to passersby?
Cab Sauv is phenomenally popular and delicious, but it's also typically full-bodied and loaded with tannins -- the stuff that makes you pucker. You will almost certainly overwhelm party goers' taste buds with this wine, and thus miss out on the true flavors of many of the dishes served. Don't gamble unless you know that there will be bold meaty foods (like steak or lamb) that can stand up to the wine. Pinot Noir is a better red bet.
James Oliver Cury is the former executive editor of Epicurious.com.