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My guests are killing me with kindness

  • l

A while ago there was a post on this board by a host who was unhappy that guests did not volunteer to bring dishes to a dinner. I am having the opposite problem.

I am having a party on Saturday. It will be relatively large (for me), about 50-60 people. As indicated on the invitations, there will be a big spread of food, including various savory hors d'oeuvres, cheese and the like, and a lot of cookies etc. It's an annual event, but since this area is quite transient, the cast of characters changes a bit every year. Although I always get a certain amount of this, for some reason this year I am being deluged by gracious but very insistent offers to "bring something," often by people who have not been to this party before and don't realize just how much food there will be. I try to put off these offers in a jokey way--"no, just a big appetite!" or something like that--but some people keep pushing (in a nice way) and I'm afraid they aren't getting the message.

I love to cook and, especially, bake, and for me this party is the main event of the holiday season. I spend a lot of time planning the menu, and even more time executing it. I use every plate, platter and bowl I own to house the spread, and the oven and stovetop are full all night warming dishes. The table is heaving. There's no room for anything else, and it's difficult enough to manage the process without factoring in other, unexpected dishes, or unwieldy space-consuming things such as big bunches of flowers.

Above all else--it's a PARTY! I want to cook for, and entertain, my friends, not have them feel obligated to contribute.

I know people are just trying to be nice and helpful, and as there is hardly a surplus of niceness and helpfulness in the world today, I feel churlish complaining about it. But is there a way to gently but firmly get across the notion that we want our guests to be, simply, our guests?

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  1. good grief! just be grateful you have such generous friends for crying out loud. people love to contribute it makes them feel good. still do your cooking but let everyone bring what they want. i was at a neighbor's birthday party 2 weeks ago and people brought so much food it was impossible to put it all out. just make sure you have plenty of foil and plastic wraps and plates so evverybody can take a plate home with them. and you will have leftovers for a week. enjoy! abdul iin nyc :)

    3 Replies
    1. re: furryabdul

      I agree with the suggestions above, like letting them bring wine or other drinks. (If nothing else, you can store it for future occasions.) Or bringing cookies that could be redistributed to guests, in cute holiday bags or something.

      Also, if you REALLY don't want people to bring food, you might want to be a little more blunt about it, maybe in a nice, self-deprecating kind of way. For example, you could say "Call me a nut, but I actually WANT to cook everything myself. I like the challenge," or "You know, I get so carried away with cooking, there honestly won't be any room for more food!" or "This is my one chance to be Cooking Queen, so I really want to make everything myself!" If these people know you, they can probably understand your feeling about this, but only if you tell them fairly directly.

      Good luck.

      1. re: parkslopemama

        I agree that you need to explain the logistics to the people. It is a large party and while it is so very thoughtful of them to offer to bring something, it will make it more difficult for you to manage the party with unexpected items like food, beverages or even flowers.

        You wrote:

        I use every plate, platter and bowl I own to house the spread, and the oven and stovetop are full all night warming dishes. The table is heaving. There's no room for anything else, and it's difficult enough to manage the process without factoring in other, unexpected dishes, or unwieldy space-consuming things such as big bunches of flowers.

        That's what you should tell people.

        Most people like to help and with a reasonable expleantation that the best help is bringing nothing that in almost all cases should do it.

        Don't go into the business about how you love to cook, etc, etc.

        1. re: rworange

          That's a great idea - Personally I'd couple it with 'but you're welcome to bring wine' (or beer, or hard liquor, or whatever thing you're drinking).

    2. I know what you mean. I like to be in complete control...no orphan plates of 8 brownies or something on the table, or worse, something you are expected to find a serving piece for, etc.

      Can you think of ANYTHING that you could ask people to bring, just to give them that sense of accomplishement they are after? For example, I always tell insistent guests to my pool parties that I am short on seating and it would be wonderful if they can bring a beach chair. That one has worked like a charm for years. I doubt that is appropriate in your situation, but perhaps you can come up with something non-food that you could assign to the most insistent.

      1. The answer for everything: Booze! You can never have enough beverages at a shindig like yours. People like variety, whether you are serving wine or hard liquor. Plus, generally alcohol can be saved and used in future occasions. Ask them to bring a nice beverage of their choice, either to be served or as a hostess gift.

        You can also ask people to bring ice. You can never have enough ice and any extra will just melt away.

        Or ask them to bring an unwrapped toy or canned goods or something like that, and then drive them over to your nearest Holiday charity.

        P.S. In my experience, it's just easier to give in gracefully. People want to contribute as a thank you, so it's better to request something you want or need or can use later than to just leave it to the guest. You will most likely get food that the guest spent time and effort making and will be wasted or thrown away.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Pupster

          Great Idea. This is typically what we OFFER to bring to such things and no one ever turns down a nice bottle of wine.

        2. Maybe tell everyone who insists on bringing food to bring cookies. You could then have little holiday bags, and make up to go cookie bags for all of your guests. Who doesn't like cookies- and that way you can plan your menu without hurtung anyone's feelings.

          1 Reply
          1. re: macca

            I think this is definitely a nice "problem" to have!! Great neighbors/friends are a blessing!

            That being said.... I *love* the suggestion of having your guests bring presents or food items to be donated to the many charities that so desperately need such items this time of year. It seems like a perfect way to enhance an already festive occasion during the holidays!



          2. Be insistent! I don't get why you are expected to bend over backwards to carefully explain your wishes to adults. Your party, your rules. If you aren't comfortable giving a firm "No, but thanks anyway" then consider explaining to people just what you make clear in your post here- That this is an event you work hard at, and have a clear plan for that is made more difficult when confronted with a hodgepodge of items you haven't planned for and whose style or appearance you don't have control over, that you can't coordinate all the serving plates and utensils etcetera and that mainly- You enjoy doing this yourself. People offer stuff out of a feeling that they're helping to alleviate a burden. If you make it clear that it's anything but a burden, they will be more likely to come expecting to be on the receiving end of a labor of love. Or, you can have them bring booze. I like that idea too. Feel free to invite me, also. I'll happily collect whatever people insist on bringing and redistribute it elsewhere as I see fit.

            1. I don't think you're being ungrateful at all. It takes an incredible amount of planning and work (even if you enjoy the heck out of it) to plan and pull off an enjoyable party. To have a guest expect to be welcomed as a defacto co-host is a bit presumptuous.

              If a guest feels uncomfortable coming empty-handed, rather than create more work for a busy host, a token gift that can be used at a later time would be a nice gesture. A preserved fancy-food item, a bottle of wine, a gift certificate at a favorite florist, etc., would say "Thank you for including me in your party, and here is something you may enjoy for yourself(later!)."

              I agree, don't be afraid to be outspoken about your wishes. The suggestion for a foodbank collection is a great one. Have a wonderful party--your friends are lucky!

              4 Replies
              1. re: toodie jane

                I once gave in to an unstoppably insistent guest and told her, against my better judgement, to bring some kind of dessert-type thing.

                She stopped to pick up another guest. They got into an argument on the way, and arrived 45 minutes late and still sniping at each other as they walked in the door.

                The dessert? Thoroughly-melted ice cream.

                1. re: toodie jane

                  I LOVE the food bank idea and wish I had the nerve to use it: "Thanks, we have everything we need, but I will have a barrel set up in the living room where you can dump your contribution then we'll take it all down to the Homeless Shelter." After many days and nights of planning, shopping, baking, cooking, and table-setting, trying to get everything just perfect, how I would love to do that with unsolicited offerings of food. Serves 'em right.

                  1. re: N Tocus

                    Uhhh, I'm sure there is a more graceful way to present it, like "Thank you for your offer. There will be more than enough food, please just bring your appetite. But if you insist upon bringing something, we would appreciate sharing our bounty with those less fortunate during this holiday season by ...."

                    It conveys that nothing is required, that any prepared food would be wasteful, and that they can contribute in an alternative way. Generally, if you are inviting people to your home for food, they are familiar enough to get what you are trying to say and not be offended by it.

                    1. re: Pupster

                      I think it comes off as a bit passive-aggressive and sanctimonious to suggest that the person should give their dish to charity! Then again, it's also passive-aggressive to insist on 'helping' when no help is required.

                      Why not just stop the madness and tell them that you've got it under control and don't need anything and if they still bring something, don't put it out and tell them your saving it all for yourself, since there is already too much food. Or ask them to bring a bottle of hard alcohol or wine (assuming your not a recovering alcoholic).

                      This whole thing reminds me of the episode in the last season of Six Feet Under when Ruth insists on bringing a tray of her potato salad to a friend's fancy schmancy dinner party (after being told not to). Totally humilliating!

                2. "This time I want to be a big showoff and dazzle everybody with my creations start to finish, but when I collapse for the entire following week you can bring over a casserole, how about that?"

                  1. One of the first Thanksgiving dinners I had was for my husband's family. I was a newlywed and we had just moved into our house which was barely furnished. I had to work the day before Thanksgiving and now, I was expecting 20+ guests for Thanksgiving dinner.

                    No problem, they're all a low-key bunch and all vounteered to bring food. right....

                    One brought veggies and dip which meant she stopped at the supermarket on the way to my house where she bought French Onion Soup mix, sour cream, a head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, a bunch of carrots, etc. Arrived late and took over my kitchen to prepare her appetizer. Not only was the dip "crunchy" because it didn't have the time for the soup mix to rehydrate, but everything else I was doing in the kitchen had to stop and wait for her to finish her preparations of her packaged vegetables. Oh, and of course, I had to find serving bowls and platters for her food.

                    Another brought a bowl of Jello.

                    Someone else brought a piece of cellophane-wrapped cheese and a box of crackers.

                    Two others brought bunches of flowers - for which I had to find vases.

                    I learned my lesson.

                    I now have Thanksgiving at my home every year but I make sure I can take off the day before and I plan the entire menu myself.

                    Many guests are well-intentioned but not very helpful.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Jane M

                      So what had you made? Were you relying on the guests for side dishes?

                      I once went to a potluck party given by a friend of my husband and the guy's wife I did not know. All I heard was "we're supposed to bring something". I like to cook, so I whipped up a pasta salad, and then at the last minute, I also got a bunch of brownies out of the freezer (it was nearing x-mas and I had already started the baking and freezing festivities) I was worried that I would look like a show off bringing two things, but hell, I AM a show off.

                      Anyhow, the hostess made kabobs. That was it. Only one other person at the party brought ANYTHING (and that was a bachelor who brought the famous melted Velveeta and jarred salsa combo-dip). Thus, I provided 50% of the dishes at the party.

                      Was the husband unclear in his instructions when he invited people? Was she just the most laissez faire hostess in the world? I've always been curious.

                      1. re: danna

                        I had made the turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots - so there was plenty of food.

                        I also had several desserts.

                        Even as a novice cook, I would never count on my guests to supply the majority of the meal.

                        With this particular meal, the family members who brought food had volunteered to bring appetizers and desserts.

                        The one with the veggie and dip detail is the one that will remain forever embedded in my memory of "how not to do it."

                    2. l
                      La Dolce Vita

                      Here’s my 2 cents.

                      One reason people might insist on bringing something is that they’re worried about what you’ll actually be serving, especially if they don’t know what kind of a hostess you are. Many people have dietary requirements, or picky children, and they want to be sure there will be something they can eat.

                      Here’s how I handle this. When I get the phone call asking “What can I bring?” I give a run-down of the whole menu, pointing out that there is a vegetarian alternative, as well as kid-friendly food. If people really want to bring something, I ask for wine or some other kind of beverage. I don’t drink soda or fruit juice, so I don’t keep it in my pantry. Having somebody bring a container of apple juice or diet soda makes it easier for me, and gives my guests a variety of beverages. If people bring flowers, I give them a vase and kindly ask them to arrange them. Then, I stick the flowers somewhere out of the way, such as on a side table where there is no food.

                      As the hostess, you have a right to set limits in your own house. Several years ago, my husband’s elderly aunt asked me to bring pie to Thanksgiving. I baked six different pies from scratch. She was horrified when I showed up with all these pies, and would not let me serve them all. It was too much food, she said. I was very unhappy at the time, but I had no choice but to respect her decision to leave half of them in the kitchen. It was her house, and she set the rules. Since then, I have been careful not to overdo it when I make Thanksgiving dessert for her house.

                      And then there are the people who want to compete with you, and prove that they are just as good a cook as you are. I have a relative who is like this. Whenever I have a party, she asks what she can bring. I’m fairly relaxed, so I usually agree to let her bring whatever she suggests. When she shows up, she usually brings one or two additional items. Last year, we invited this same relative to stay with us overnight at our summer cottage. She commandeered the kitchen for her entire visit, and brought several shopping bags of food, without checking with me first. It was clear to me that her real motivation wasn’t about being helpful, it was about competing with me and trying to prove her worth in the kitchen. That kind of behavior is fine if you’re a short-order cook trying to get a promotion, but it is not acceptable when you’re a guest in somebody else’s house.

                      So, you have to know what your limits are and stick with them. If people think you are being a snob or a show-off, well, too bad. You can’t control what they think. And they don’t have to accept your invitation if they find your house rules too burdensome. Personally, I love attending parties like yours. I truly appreciate it when a host or a hostess prepares an ample amount of food from scratch, and wants to cater to my appetite.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: La Dolce Vita

                        I ususally just tell them when they ask if they can bring something, " No, just bring your cute little self, ....This is your brake day party!"
                        or...." thanks but this party is totally my treat and I so enjoy it, your presence will top it off!"

                        1. re: La Dolce Vita

                          ""One reason people might insist on bringing something is that they’re worried about what you’ll actually be serving, especially if they don’t know what kind of a hostess you are. Many people have dietary requirements, or picky children, and they want to be sure there will be something they can eat.""

                          Funny when we have a dinner party this is exactly the reason I don't want people to bring anything. I trust how my food will taste and in my mind I have a certain expectation of how I want everything to look and taste. Just bring me booze!

                        2. when i do a party i do everything from scratch...cheese will be pretty much the only thing coming out of a package. ....I don't want anyone assuming that some well intentioned minute rice casserole on the table was made by me !! lol. . Plus i have a very bad habit of making too much food to begin with, so extras end up leaving the party looking like a wedding banquet or something. Unless it's casual like a BBQ or something that'll have some casseroles etc, then it's ok.

                          Personally though, i wouldn't turn down flowers, although i do see how it could get in the way of the hostess. People trying to get into the kitchen to do up their own fixings like the poster with the veggies and dip, definitly in the way ! Bringing dishes because you or your children are picky eaters, is a big no-no as far as i'm concerned. Unless you're heading to the wilderness for a weekend , i'm pretty sure no one has starved to death for lack of eating at one dinner party.

                          That being said, i guess i don't really fault people with good intentions, and alot of people (myself included at times), have a hard time showing up anywhere empty handed.

                          1. If I'm sending invites I usually list the beverages I'm serving and then suggest that if my guests prefer to drink something else they bring that with them. That always seems to be where I have my problem with parties- everybody has their favorite soda, bottled water, beer, whatever. When I get the how can I help/what can I bring phone calls I tell them that they should just bring themselves that this is our chance to pamper our friends and we are just rewarded by having the pleasure of their company. This works great by making them feel special and relieving them of the obligatory feeling.

                            1. tell them this is not a pot luck party but thank you. Alcohol is always welcome.

                              1. I would make it known that you actively do NOT want them to bring any food. It would be in bad form to complain after they show up with a dish... but if you let them know in no uncertain terms that bringing a dish would be a bigger pain in the butt for you, that should solve the problem.

                                Ask them to bring wine, beer, flowers, or something like that. I hate showing up empty handed... so if you want to delegate some food you can assign someone to bring cheese and crackers. Or olives. Or some other antipasto along those lines.