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Bringing home what is left over from a potluck?

This warranted its own thread, as I just read over 250 responses to the dilemma of a Chowhounder who was planning a baby back rib birthday dinner, only to have to deal with an rude guest who insisted on bringing his wife's version of the main course, in spite of being told "No."

A while ago, we hosted a luncheon that was intended to be a catered BBQ affair with some friends. We were new in town and most of the friends were my husband's. My husband, unbeknownst to me, was receiving e-mails from well-intentioned guests offering to bring dishes. He pretty much told them to bring desserts, chips and dips, etc., without my knowledge. Largely because he had never been placed in the position of social coordinator of our home, he thought he was helping, and I was horrified when I found out what he had done on the day of the party (This never happened again, BTW. The lack of communication about this could be blamed on too much business travel, so we got past it quickly). There was just too much food because I didn't expect any. Well, one woman showed up with a crock pot full of Bush's baked beans, straight out of the can. As I had extra catering trays to keep food warm, I politely put her beans in a warmer and let the guest help themselves. Some six hours later, during cleanup, I noticed that she had scooped the remaining beans out of the tray (about half of what she brought) and was carrying them back home in her newly washed crock pot. I was amazed, but didn't say a word. First, who would want old dry beans, and second - is this typical? It got me thinking -- what is the custom in this part of the country when it comes to leftover potluck food? I am a native New Yorker who has taken up residence in the South, so I'm still learning the ropes here :)

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  1. I think she was doing you a kindness- having seen the amount of excess food at your party, and your looming leftover problem, she thoughtfully spared you from having to dispose of her contribution.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Gin and It

      i hope you're being sarcastic. too hard to tell on the screen. it would never occur to me to take back food i brought. then again, i'm a northerner, living in the north, so what do i know? ;)

      1. re: hotoynoodle

        No, I'm serious. As a frequent hostess, party leftovers and no extra refrigerator space are a recurring problem. I try to foist doggie bags on departing guests. I wouldn't be offended if, on her own initiative, a guest cleaned her own potluck dish and took the leftovers home. Well, maybe if it was jumbo shrimp, but canned baked beans....?

        1. re: Gin and It

          i host frequently too, however i never do pot-lucks. i never want people bringing food because i'm too much of a control freak about the synchronicity of the menu. that being said, i always make too much and encourage people to take stuff home. that's different. taking back what you brought just seems cheap.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Maybe there is a different set of expectations and behaviors for potluck guests as opposed to party guests. The hostess threw a party, which the bean lady thought was a potluck (or bean lady was compelled by culture and upbringing to bring a dish. Some people are like that). Potlucks, as group efforts, require that
            participants are responsible for their food to the bitter end? And at parties, food items brought by guests, whether wanted or unwanted, are gifts to the hostess, and so become her responsibility and property? And where do the rights of hostesses bleed into potluck contributors' responsibilities? Does the venue (church basement or back yard) enter into it?

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Ironically, this wasn't intended as a potluck, as I had ordered from a caterer, but DH managed to turn it into a partial pot luck -- hence my question. I've never actually hosted a pot luck dinner because I too like to control the menu at my own house, as well as the temperature of the food so that we don't all go to the hospital with food poisoning. I have no experience with pot luck etiquette because I have never been to a pot luck dinner -- even as a guest.

            2. re: Gin and It

              Trying to foist it off (i.e., asking guests to take leftovers) is completely different from a guest taking it without asking, IMO.

              I was just at a friend's 40th b'day BBQ on Sunday and had brought potato salad and fruit salad. Someone else brought fruit salad as well, and as I left, the host asked if I wanted to take some of it home, as there was going to be too much. In that situation, I gladly took it. But I never would have taken it without asking. I made it to contribute to their party. If they wanted to keep it to eat it (or even end up throwing it out) that's their prerogative. It was a "gift" of food, so to speak.

        2. I would say don't worry about it. This was still technically a catered event, right? Even if the event was a potluck, there is some room for movement as far as taking home food goes. The woman in question brought the baked beans to be nice, or at least polite. If a dish isn't polished off by the end of the party, I would think it's fair game. Events like this aren't really about the food, they are about the people. As the host of the event it is your obligation to make sure guests are comfortable and attended to. If taking those baked beans home so they don't go to waste is important to that lady, then let them go. Those baked beans are a non-issue.

          1. At the potlucks we go to, a departing guest (who obviously wants their dish back) will offer leftovers to the party at large to take home. Anything left after that goes home with them.

            This is of course not feasible when there's a big guest list. In that case, I don't want to burden my host with figuring out what to do with the leftovers or the dish. I will offer the leftovers to the host and take what is not wanted.

            3 Replies
            1. re: lora

              Oh to be clear, I wasn't at all offended. Actually, she did me a service -- I was going to toss the dried out beans anyway. I had just never seen this before.

              1. re: lora

                That's how potluck works in this New England area too -- offer leftovers and take what's not wanted. The real etiquette point for me is not leaving the hostess to wash the dish(es) I brought.

                1. re: GretchenS

                  Have lived in CT, MD, an PA and this sums it up. Offer to host and anyone else and take leftovers in fish. The fact that the dish was refilled after cleaning is a bit odd but not unheard of.

              2. If it's leftover, sure the person who brought it is perfectly entitled to take it home with them when they leave, if they want to. Usually I wouldn't bother, because it's easier just to leave it behind but if it was something that I REALLY liked (or that the other guests didn't seem to enjoy particularly, and there was a lot left) I'd probably take it home with me.
                I went to a potluck just this weekend and I took a huge crockpot of chilli. We had to go home early and half of it was left, so I asked the hostess for a bowl to put it in so she could keep it. (and we got the best of both worlds... it didn't all quite fit into the bowl she handed me, so I left the bowlful and took home enough to enjoy myself later!) I also took the bag of cheese home because nobody had even opened it and the table was absolutely bulging with food so it seemed highly unlikely that anyone was going to miss it.
                The only reason I asked about leaving the chilli behind was because we were leaving three hours early (it was a six-hour event) and I thought that people might still want to eat it later. If it had been the end of the night I'd have just automatically taken the pot home, with whatever happened to be left in it.

                1. Personally, when I bring food to a potluck I leave it up to the host, as to how or if, the leftovers should be given out. The food you contribute to a gathering belongs to the host as far as I'm concerned.
                  At my bf's family parties the aunts frequently rip open tupperwares at the end of the meal to gather leftovers for themselves. While it's not considered rude within his family, I find the behaviour rude unless they ask first or the host asks them the take food. It's probably an unneccessary formality (should they ask the same ppl the same thing every time?) but I think it's wrong to make assumptions.