When your employer has the holiday spirit, and the company is hosting a potluck party, there's only one rule: Under no circumstances should you go empty-handed.

While you may be given the option of paying for your meal instead of cooking, it's more fun for all if you bring a dish. Non-cooks can pool their money for a cooked ham or turkey, or buy ingredients for the cooks to prepare. Last resort: Buy ready-made cold cuts, breads or sodas for the party.Consider the location and the size of the crowd to determine what to bring if foods aren't assigned by the organizer. If you cook ethnic cuisines, show off your talents - but don't get too wild unless you know your fellow diners.

Unless you're told otherwise, bring a minimum of six or eight servings for a group that numbers more than 20. Label your containers with your name for easy claim after the meal.

When it's dining time, mind your manners and take only small portions so everyone gets a taste of most foods.

If you decide you must bring a gift for the host, here are some suggestions: a fresh fruit basket, chocolates or other candies, a variety of special breads, a fancy holiday cake, a pound or two of nuts or even kitchen towels or utensils for the cook.

Gourmet foods that a cook may like: specialty vinegars, oils, exotic mushrooms, exotic fruits, baskets of organic greens, wild rice, a selection of hot sauces or barbecue sauces, or a cookbook.

When you don't know your hosts that well, avoid foods that may be problematic: ham or meat products, chocolate, nuts, cheese, alcohol (Take care: Some baked goods may be soaked in brandy) and caffeinated beverages.