Maybe you've never worked in an office, but I think it would be hard to find a person who has not attended a similar event. Everyone brings something. Everyone eats. That's how it's supposed to be, but more on that in a bit. The difference between an office pot luck and the pot luck you have with your extended family is that the office pot luck is known for hors d'oeuvres.
Save your elaborate dishes for someone who will appreciate it. Office potluck is all about the following things: Cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, creative dips, processed meats, and fattening sweet baked goods. This is why it tames the savage beasts called female office workers. I can't give you scientific data to back this up so just take it with a grain of salt (ooooh don't forget...salty snacks like chips), but I bet 90% of our pot lucks occurred when most of us had PMS. Suffice it to say this is usually a day to end all days.
The event usually begins at 10:30. This is a full hour before the earliest lunch. It doesn't matter and no one questions it. No one has to leave the office to go to lunch and the wise worker never plans a lunch hour appointment for pot luck day. The menu will probably look something like this:
1. Pickle rolls - small gherkin dill pickles wrapped in cream cheese and dried beef
2. Pin wheels - flour tortillas smeared with cream cheese, cheddar cheese, black olives, etc. then rolled and cut into 1/2 inch thick wheels
3. Taco dip - a layered dish consisting of taco meat, refried beans, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, salsa, etc. and eaten with tortilla chips
4. Queso - Rotel, taco meat, and Velveeta melted and kept hot then eaten with tortilla chips
5. Sloppy Joe - Around these parts they call them bar-b-q's. Some folks call them made-rites. You might see them and think Manwhich. Whatever you call it, it's ground beef and a tomato-ish sauce served on cheap enriched white bread hamburger buns.
6. Pasta salad - It's cold pasta. It probably has minor amounts of vegetables. It is bound together by mayo or possibly Italian dressing.
7. Fruit salad - A local favorite is something called Snickers Salad. It has chopped up Snickers bars, whipped topping, and apples. Apple salad can also be offered... it contains mayonnaise so it doesn't count as healthy.
8. Brownies - If you want to be very well liked your brownie should include either caramel or chocolate icing. Just sayin'.
9. Cookies - This covered a broad category. Do not bring cookies unless you're really good at making them. We talk about bad food. Don't be the topic of break time conversation. Perfect your art before showing it at the pot luck.
10. Relish tray - You were worried that this might be all junk food. You should be... this is a pot luck standard consisting of carrot sticks, celery sticks, various olives (stuffed with cheeses are good), radishes, peppers, etc. Bring some damn ranch dip. We aren't here for our health.
11. Meat and cheese tray - If your man killed it and had it made into Summer Sausage... bring it on. While you're at it bring a variety of sliced cheeses and crackers. Get the Ritz, don't be an ass with the Saltines.
This buffet of belly busting goodness will continue until about 2:30 PM, or until someone wises up and says, "Do you think we should put this refrigerated stuff away before it goes bad?" at which point everyone will load up one more time or die of a coronary incident.
If you don't contribute, you shouldn't eat until the rest of us have glutted ourselves and look glassy eyed. Everyone forgets something from time to time. You're usually given one free pass. You can offer to bring the paper plates ($1 for 50 for the love!). Bring some 2 liter bottles of soda. It doesn't have to be expensive if you're strapped for cash. Just participate!
These are just general guidelines. There will be other dishes obviously, but if you're ever stuck for what to bring, I don't think I've ever seen any of the above items going home with the person who brought them. If you are new to a department and you find yourself at a loss for a way to break the ice, try suggesting a pot luck. Gluttony brings people closer.