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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.