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A polite way to say "This isn't a potluck?"

My house (condo, actually) is 550 square feet. As you can imagine, everything is miniature; all furnishings have to do double-duty (the "coffee table" is an old steamer trunk that hides linens), closets hold more than just clothes, and all my bakeware is stored in the oven.

I do, though, enjoy having company and periodically have get-togethers for up to 20 people at which I provide the food and drink. Menus have to be planned carefully--finger food only, nothing that requires plates or cutlery. I try to be clear that these aren't potlucks--the start times aren't near "standard" meal times, and I say something like, "I'll provide the drinks and nibbles." Still, at least a couple people always bring dishes, and sometimes they bring things that are awkward--e.g., a salad that requires not only plates and folks, but also last-minute cooking of the hot dressing on the stove. Another time, someone brought appetizers that needed baking, and I had to empty the oven of cookie trays, muffin tins, lasagna pans, and cooking racks and then stash them under the bed (that already held several under-the-bed storage containers). These dishes are definitely to be served at the party--they aren't hostess gifts.

I feel badly about being dismayed that I have generous friends who won't take my "I'll supply the goodies" line seriously, but the space situation is pretty crucial. Any suggestions or advice on how to politely and effectively discourage people from bringing potluck offerings? And yes, all of these people have been to my house before and are familiar with the space constraints and not only continue to bring potluck offerings but continue to bring unwieldy things.

Or should I just give up and hope that my guests won't bring, say, a standing rib roast??

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  1. if the people are not asking if they can bring something I dont know how you could politely address it.

    When I have parties people ask if they can bring anything, and I tell them no, just bring themself, and their appetite. Seems to work.

    1. I'm not sure how you deal with the invites, but I'd put it in writing, using something like evite.com, writing something like, "Just bring yourself and your appetites."

      Hopefully people will get the hint.

      1. Occasionally I host casual one-dish dinners with neighbours; I too am in small quarters, so I don't like to fuss with additional plates, flatware, etc. If it's the same folks repeatedly bringing things over every time they visit, perhaps you can (i) ask them to bring something more specific (bevs, ice, cupcakes, etc) that wouldn't be as awkward and hopefully that curbs them from bringing anything else or (ii) be insistent and address the issue head-on (be honest and tell them you design your drinks & munchies so you don't have to deal w/extra utensils, dishes, etc.)?

        Otherwise, if they bring something even though you've done (i) or (ii) above, I'd say "Oh. This isn't a potluck, you know. Let's worry about this later" and just never get back to it. If they address their dish, brush them off best you can. Another option is to not invite the offenders in the future.

        1. Most of our friends and family usually ask us if they should bring anything and we usually tell them no. But some will always feel bad showing up empty handed. For those who ask, I always tell them to just bring some beverage if they like. I can always stock up on those.........and my wine inventory continues to grow....:D

          1 Reply
          1. re: roadfix

            well played.. the "bring a beverage" angle is a good one.

          2. I do the beverage thing as well. I tell people that they do not need to bring anything, but if they'd like to, to bring wine or another beverage.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sidwich

              I threepeat the beverage call. As a frequent hostess in a small condo, I feel your pain. But I'm also the person on the other side of the coin that doesn't feel comfortable going empty handed. I like to check in with the host to see if there's anything I could bring that would be helpful - in your case I might offer to bring homemade spiced nuts or something else snackable for later in the evening - but there is always wine.

            2. If the people who insist on bringing things are close enough friends, I'd just be honest with them when you invite them the next time. Tell them you loved the xyz that they brought last time, but that, in order for you to entertain, and enjoy entertaining the size of group that you do, you really need to not be dealing with food that needs to be reheated/cooked/eaten with utensils etc. Frankly, I'd say the same thing to those who offer to bring something next time.

              1. Many thanks for all your suggestions--I like the idea of encouraging beverages. In the past, some folks have brought beer and chips but I have a lot of friends who seem to feel that something home made is more appropriate. And I understand that, because I would never bring anything "boughten" to a potluck, and in fact generally don't serve store-bought things to guests. If I encourage my friends to bring beverages that they like and there's some left over, they're guaranteed to have something in the fridge that they like the next time they come over...

                1. Go with a shortened version of what you've just said here. Tell people or ad a line to your invitations (especially if they're emailed) that says "I appreciate that some folks want to bring something to a party, but please be aware of the space limitations." or something slightly less formal sounding. But, essentially, put the truth in the invitation. You appreciate the thought and the sentiment, but can't really make good use of it. Then follow the suggestions of others on the thread to lead people to things they can bring that would be really helpful.

                  1. go find the "ribs thread" :)

                    seriously though, I would also be in the bring what you like to drink camp. Surely you can also say, 'bring nothing but yourselves."

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      That's the second time I've heard someone reference "the amazing ribs thread." Can you point me to it? Thanks!

                      1. re: BobB

                        I "favorited" this one to keep as it is just an incredible read. Sit back, grab a drink, and enjoy. ;-)


                        1. re: BobB

                          Here's the famous thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/411218 --Guest insists on bringing a dish... rude??

                          1. re: BobB

                            Make sure you have a lot of time - it is a very long, but very worthwhile read!

                            1. re: meatn3

                              Wow, I see now why it's so famous! I must admit to being a little disappointed at the end though, after all that buildup I was kind of hoping for some fireworks.

                        2. My friends have always asked if they could bring something and I always say to just bring themselves. If they continue to insist on bringing something, then I tell them a bottle of wine is fine.

                          I do have one friend though that kept bringing her "signature" dish - a tricolore pasta salad. The first time she brought it, I honestly did enjoy it but I made the fatal mistake of saying so. Bad! For the next several parties, she would always bring her pasta dish even when I told her not to bring anything. It's appeared at 3 of my BBQs and 2 sit down dinners. She even brought it to a potluck where the theme was Asian foods! :-) I finally got her to stop by hosting a wine+food dinner party. I told my guests I was making each course and matching it to a specific wine so "please, DO NOT bring anything" She finally got the message and thankfully I haven't seen that pasta dish in months! whew!

                          1. When I have a party, dinner or otherwise, I provide all the food. If a guest asks what to bring, I tell them to bring a smile and an empty tummy. I used to host a parties from a group that were usually pot luck. Growing up, my family never hosted pot luck events so I don't. When it was my turn, I planned my menu and when the prospective guest asked what their food assignment was, I told them to simply bring a six pack of regular Coca-Cola. They were always grateful that I made it so simple for them.

                            1. I frequently talk about what it is I am cooking, in very excited tones. "I am making the most fabulous new shrimp dish I found in xyz magazine, blah blah blah" The guest will invariably ask if he/she can bring anything and then I say no, or bring wine, or int he case of my friend who lives buy the most fabulous chocolatier in Chicago, I ask if she would mind picking up a box for me, and offer to pay for them, which she never accepts.

                              1. "Nibbles" suggests a small unsubstantial amount of food and sounds very casual - at least to me. This may be conveying to your friends that if they want something more than a "nibble" that they have to bring it. Or, maybe they just want to eat what they want to eat. Can't tell. But, why not say something like: "I have plenty of food planned, and because my kitchen is too small to accomodate anything I have not planned out, I really prefer that if you feel the need to bring anything, which is totally not required, that you bring the wine that you like to drink."

                                My MIL is having a dinner party on Saturday and I asked what I could bring. She said nothing and said bring the wine that you like, if you want to, which was fine. I have another issue though. I have nut allergies and I'm a picky eater so even though she said not to bring anything for HER group, I'll probably make my own chopped salad and take it. I know some people who think that's a rude thing to do, and most people I know think it's fine. Maybe I'll start a separate thread on this issue and ask what the CH folks think!

                                1. Most people I know wish to bring something so, I usually say bring a beverage to share, everything else will be provided.

                                  1. I didn't do a good job of writing what I was thinking in my first post.

                                    Most people who wish to bring something think that its the right thing to do. They're bringing things because they want to be helpful, generous, polite and so on. Often times, as we've all noted, they will bring things even if you specify they don't need to in general terms. "Bring yourself and your appetite" the invitation may read; but, they feel that bringing along some dip can only help and take some of the load off of you.

                                    The direct approach is the only way to keep that from happening. Happily, you don't need to worry about offending someone because you can honestly thank them for the things they've brought in the past and you can tell them that you look forward to things they might bring in the future (if that's true, anyway) but that in this instance you don't have the room.

                                    If the food they bring is actually good....maybe you could hold an actual potluck some night, just lay down some rules about how large and what you can do with the food in your kitchen.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      I know what you mean. I too will tell people just to bring themselves and invariably will bring something, but fortunately it's not usually a supplement to the food I've already planned. It's usually a bottle of wine, flowers or a hostess gift. My pet peeve, however, is when people bring a bundle of flowers and I have to figure out where I've hidden the vase (I also live in a NYC apartment), get it out, wash it, and find a place to put the flowers. Also, if people bring a dish, whether asked or not, and you then have to find the right serving bowl and utensils for it, when you've already used up most of your "good stuff."

                                      1. re: susan1353

                                        I do find it rather odd that someone would bring food to be served at a party without asking first if were ok. For a casual dinner at a very close friend's apartment, I'll offer to bring something, or say - oh, I just made some marinated olives, or I have some nice cheeses sitting around if you want me to bring them, etc.

                                        And, I'm with you on the flowers for the same reason.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Me too but I think it's a cultural thing. Here in the UK you would never bring food to a party unless asked to by the host. But it's considered a bit rude to turn up without a bottle of wine (and everyone knows how we Brits like to drink). In France, the people I knew would usually bring either dessert (from a patisserie) or another gift, usually flowers or a plant. Never wine, for some reason.

                                    2. First, consider yourself fortunate to have friends who are so willing to pitch in and help out. Turn this into an advantage for your next get-together. Suggest for those who are inclined to bring something that they bring a favorite bottle of wine. But if you find that people still insist on bringing food, just include a provision specifying that it must be finger food.

                                      Another alternative is to identify the people who have proven themselves most apt to bring additional dishes, and "suggest" a dish to them ahead of time.

                                      1. I wish I had your friends. I know so many people who never bring anything at all when they are asked to our home. Others never have any cash or a handy credit card when dining out with us ("Oh, we'll get it next time....Sorry...."), or rely on us to bring good food when they ask us over to their home

                                        Just this week, friends asked us for dinner. I said, What can we bring? I was told to bring a bottle of wine and a main dish. When I got there, we were shown a lovely plate of six - six- oysters for three people. I ate one. Our nice bottle of wine was opened and enjoyed and when it was all consumed, there was not any suggestion that our hosts would open one of their own bottles which were right there in front of us. And they loved the meal I brought, diving in for seconds. I wonder if this is how some people manage to eat good meals and save money on food. Is this some notion that I am very naive about?

                                        I wouldn't worry too much about it. Obviously, if your friends bring a bottle of wine or something you can save for later, great, but if they need to do a little creative magic in your kitchen, just smile and be grateful for their desire to be generous and thoughtful.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: mvi

                                          mvi, this was NOT a friend. This was a moocher.

                                          I cannot conceive of actually asking a friend to "bring" the main dish. There's a group of friends of mine who get together about 3-4 times a year, and there's one person who does the cooking, even though it's always at another friend's house. The person hosting the party usually ponies up money to help the person doing the cooking on the monetary side, and I'm usually his sous chef, as I love doing the prep/cooking with him.

                                          But this is a situation in which the entire group knows he's doing the cooking - it's kind of like a general Email goes out saying "it's fall in New England - time for a warming, comfort-food type meal - X is cooking - who's in?"

                                          Your situation was completely different. They took advantage of you, plain and simple. WIthout any further info, I'd say it's time to cut bait on that friendship.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            Fully agree. Entertaining is like dining out. If you can't afford to do it properly, don't. Unless it's specifically designated as a potluck, when you invite others into your home, you assume the responsibility of providing the food and the drinks. Either cut these people out, or don't offer to bring ANYTHING next time they invite you over.

                                          2. re: mvi

                                            OMG! These are absolutely not friends. The OP is right, they are moochers. Do yourself a favor and get rid of them. I mean, who asks someone to bring the main course???? If you insist on keeping these losers as friends, and they ask you over, at least show up empty handed. I would never ask again what I could bring because you know what the response will be. As far as your other 'friends' who show up at dinner without cash or credit cards, get rid of them as well. Sounds like useless people have identified you as a soft touch and are taking great advantage of you. If you have to go out again with these losers, tell the waiter 'my husband and I will be paying for our meals on a separate check, thank you'. If anyone questions you, you can say that you are on a tight budget, saving for a vacation or new appliances, etc. Let everyone else worry about the losers.

                                            1. re: mschow

                                              Thanks for the advice about dumping the hungry moochers in my life who like my cooking and appreciate the fact that I bring money when we go out as they often forget theirs. Really interesting comments and much appreciated. It's usually the same few people and not typical, yet it does happen. I DO have friends who are overly generous, but in addressing the original post about people coming with things that are awkward in the small place or need baking, I was a bit envious of the generousity of the guests, even if it proves a bit awkward when moving pots and pans around. Here's an interesting side note. My friends who typically forget their credit card or ask me to bring more than they provide themselves have the most income. I think we'll boot these tight wad moochers onto the sidewalk for someone else to cope with.

                                            2. re: mvi

                                              This reminds me of the "friend" who invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. When I asked what I could bring she said "the turkey" you make such a delicious one! Well, we found a reason not to eat dinner there on Thanksgiving.

                                              1. re: emilief

                                                Isn't it interesting? Generous, creative cooks who are also inclined to have their credit cards handy when out on the town are mighty popular, it seems. Pot lucks and meals that encourage people to bring a dish are real eye openers when it comes to generosity and friendship, I guess. One Thanksgiving I had certain guests come for a potluck family meal entirely empty handed and left with more left overs than anyone else. They were so grateful...so happy....and they never gave back the containers they departed with....never thanked us....I actually liked them but they are never having Thanksgiving with me and mine again, despite their hints that reoccur every year since and should be apparent at any time now that the pumpkins are out and about.

                                            3. I have a totally different suggestion. I say. "Thanks but my menu is all set." But, I ask if I may give them a call if I find I need something at the last moment. I've been grateful for these calls. From time to time I've had to ask someone to pick up something-- or bring a bit of this or that from their home.

                                              It's also something I do when heading out for a food event at a friend's place. I call and say that I'll be leaving in a little while and ask if there is anything they need picked up along the way, or if I can bring anything from my place before I leave. I've been asked to bring ice, an extra platter, butter and in the case of one neighbor in our building - two dining chairs.

                                              1. Have you thought about "Please don't bring anything. My space is so limited," instead of "I'll supply..."? For me the "I'll supply..." line leaves room for people to think, "Oh gee, I'll help you!"

                                                With that, if people STILL bring things, I would stick them in the refrigerator and not serve them. If someone brings a salad or something that requires dishes and utensils for everyone that won't store in the fridge very long, then "Would you mind running over to the supermarket and picking up some paper plates and plastic forks? I only have service for four." When people are rude (and it IS rude to bring things without specifically coordinating it ahead of time) then the only way to handle it is to push back. Not rudely, but a gentle, "Thanks. I'll enjoy this later," then storing it in a neighbor's fridge if you have to is a reasonable thing to do.

                                                Some condos have party rooms. Depending on the condo and the home owners association, some times you only have to make reservations and clean up after, other places there may be a fee. When I lived in a condo, the clubhouse was such a blessing for large gatherings! Or can you plan your get-togethers in a park where picnic tables provide lots of room for pot luck, if that's the way your friends want to do things.

                                                Good luck with it. It's a problem all of us face from time to time, but one that just bugs the hell out of me!

                                                1. Many thanks for all your suggestions and stories. I hadn't seen the thread about the ribs--now, *that* OP has a sticky situation that I thankfully don't have!

                                                  1. I often host large family/friend dinners and, at the beginning, didn't know how to prevent well-meaning invitees from bringing contributions, even though I would always answer the question, "What can I bring?" with, "Absolutely nothing except a good appetite!" Because I would spend so much time in planning and preparation of what I thought to be a perfectly balanced meal, I found myself feeling resentful when guests would nevertheless arrive with their special whatever-it-was. I would always put it out because I didn't want to offend anyone.

                                                    In the past couple of years, when we've had a casual get-together for these large groups, I've stopped trying to stop the contributions. I mean, what are you going to do? I've got the table space, it makes them happy and takes a little load off me because I pretty much know what to expect.

                                                    However, when I'm planning something smaller or really special and absolutely don't want any outside dishes finding their way onto my dinner table, I'll answer that question with, "Nothing, please. I'm making a complete theme meal, soup to nuts." When asked what the theme is, my response is that I'd like to keep it a surprise. If pressed further, I'll go the beverage route. That *usually* works.

                                                    As though this was the worst possible problem - having all these friends and family who actually want to help!

                                                    1. I think some people feel bad that they just come to eat (while others will ask each other, "when we invite them over, shouldn't they offer to bring something"?), so they just do it. You can just tell them. "Having a party, supplying the nibbles and drinks, I would prefer that you don't bring other food."

                                                      If someone asked ME, I will always tell them to bring something (fruit, drinks, ice cream). Don't ask if you don't mean it. :-)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: boltnut55

                                                        Part of the problem is that people have lost the sense of the roles of host and guest. Except for potlucks, which are only partly hosted,t he host in our culture has traditionally provided the hospitality (that is, all the food and service if at home; paying for the check and tip if dining out) and the guests are supposed to being a sociable attitude and write a Lovely Thank You Note (any number of mediums suffice, making this even easier than it used to be) afterwards and reciprocate the hospitality according to their means within a reasonable amount of time (a year max, I would say). Some people think that, by bringing food, they get out of the last of these obligations. They don't. But many people have not been brought up socially in a way that they learned these things; others have, but are just self-centered.

                                                      2. Give them a specific task. I just successfully held my first big party in which NO ONE brought any food. It was a pool party, and whenever anyone asked what they could bring, I replied "my outdoor seating is limited. if you have a comfy camp chair, please bring it with you." worked like a charm.

                                                        I realize that doesn't translate to a tiny apartment, but perhaps you could think of some small utilitarian thing.