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When guests cancel at the last minute

Over the weekend, Hubby & I had planned a small dinner party with two other couples. At noon on Saturday, one couple canceled due to illness. I had already started cooking (multi-step cooking process with all ingredients already purchased), was not about to cancel our dinner and was very much looking forward to seeing the other couple.
Hubby and I picked up the phone and called around to some friends who are frequent guests at our home and started seeing if anyone had plans for the evening. We were able to find two singles who were happy to fill the empty seats.
It turned out to be a fun evening- I think even more so due to the two singles who were present (not that I don't like the original couple- they are just not as fun-loving and youthful-minded as the two singles). When we were phoning around to look for other guests, my hubby said it would be insulting to ask folks at the last minute. I thought it wouldn't be insulting given the circumstances of illness, the food already in the cooking process, etc.
What would you have done? Do you think it's insulting to invite guests at the last minute? Would you have just gone on with the evening with the one couple? I'm interested to hear other people's take on the situation.

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  1. I think it would be difficult to contact other people at the last minute and not have it sound insulting, like, oh, we were having this dinner party without you and you weren't good enough to get an invite originally, but now that we have a cancellation can you come and fill in? If the 2nd couple had also cancelled, sure, you could pitch it as an impromptu thing - we're cooking, do you guys want to come over? But it would be hard not to be seen as a last minute, replacement couple otherwise. I probably would have just gone with just the 1 couple.

    19 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      Insulting!! Not at all, especially given the circumstances. Whatever is wrong with calling someone and saying, "We were having a small dinner and a couple had to cancel due to illness"? Just because you have a friend doesn't mean you have to have them included in every single event you plan. Why not have different events for different groups. Being insulted by that is just immature!
      And, as a single, I would love a last minute invitation to a great dinner. How spontaneous.

      1. re: janetms383

        Everyone is free to have their own opinion, and that's mine. You don't have to agree with me, but if I were called up and told hey, we invited the people we really like first, and they just cancelled so we have this extra food, can you be the "b list" couple and show up and eat it, I would be insulted. You wouldn't, that's fine, good for you, we just disagree. Ranting at me for holding my opinion doesn't change it.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          I don't think it's a matter of picking people you "really like" first as much as picking a small group that gets along well. A person who is a-list this time may be b-list next time because you're having a work group over for dinner and the person is a college friend. Lots of people also have couples events, which I don't really care to be a part of if I am going to be the only single there.

          1. re: rockandroller1

            Do you really expect all of your friends to invite you to every dinner party they host?

            1. re: pikawicca

              Yes! and if they don't I steal their newspapers and order a dozen pizzas to their house.

            2. re: rockandroller1

              I think a lot of it falls into the "it depnds" area. Like Queencru, we host all sorts of events, and many are often work-themed. It has nothing to do with whom we would rather spend an evening with. It's about work. It's the same for many of our close friends. I do not think that many would have expected to be included in a dinner to discuss a new medical school. However, if there are empty chairs, they would be a good choice to fill them.

              If our circles only included close friends, then there might be an issue.

              I think that the particular society and the actual event might dictate different directions.


              1. re: janetms383

                Totally spot on Janetms383. To over-complicate the matter seems silly to me and I don't have patience for a friend who would get insulted by a last minute invite.

              2. re: rockandroller1

                >contact other people at the last minute and not have it sound insulting,
                >like, oh, we were having this dinner party without you and you weren't
                >good enough to get an invite originally, but now that we have a cancellation
                >can you come and fill in?

                just out of curiosity, would you be insulted if some friends said
                "i an having the Smith and Wessons over for dinner and was thinking
                about making BAKED ZITI ... do you think I can use PENNE instead?"

                would your reaction be:
                A. it's so rude to throw "Their Dinner without RRoller1" IN MY FACE?
                B. And to top it off, they are trying to EXPLOIT my culinary knowledge
                C. Well, here is what I think about your Pasta Dilemma ... have a good
                time and let me know how the dinner and off piste recipie goes ...
                BTW, let's try that Szechwan place next week.

                I have no doubt there are people who play headgames as in Option A,
                but if they are removed from your social milieu, this seems simple ...

                Although I agree it can get tacky as the number of dinners gets large ...
                "Two spots opened up in my backyard BBQ ... I am delighted to inform
                you you are off the waitlist!"

                1. re: psb

                  My parents taught me not to mention any party we were giving, to anyone who was not invited to that party. There are other, better ways to decide whether to use ziti or penne.

                  1. re: browniebaker

                    I tend to agree, unless it's along the lines of a family dinner party such as "I'm having my parents over for dinner....."

                      1. re: browniebaker

                        i think with close friends who are sane and with whom you have a healthy
                        relationship, it's not unreasonable to mention a dinner event ...
                        "having people over" != "a party" ...

                        --"some friends from college are in town and we're having them over"
                        --"my wife invited her boss over for cocktails"
                        --"we're meeting the girlfriend's parents"
                        --"i'm throwing a brunch for my new neighbors"
                        --"we're hosting the bridge/book/knitting club"
                        --"you remember that couple i was telling you about we met on the
                        cruise to antarctica ... well they are coming over"

                        again, sane people can use their judgment and dont need to
                        resort to dogma ... whether it is in regards to social graces,
                        or ending sentences with prepositions, or splitting infinitives etc.

                        1. re: psb

                          There are undeniably rules in etiquette, and there are exceptions, too -- even for sane people!

                          1. re: browniebaker

                            I am not denying there are rules ... like "shake hands with your right hand" ...
                            but the point is there are also judgment calls. Part of being sane is dealing
                            with this stuff reasonably.

                            Here is an example:
                            say i am at somebody's house ... in some cases based on your relationship
                            "the right thing" is to ask for a glass of water ... helping myself would be
                            bizarre and presumptuous. in other cases ... with close friends ... it's not
                            only reasonably to help yourself, but probably the right thing, to put less
                            of a burden on the hosts. and if you were the host, in some cases if a
                            guest asks for some water, telling him to help himself would probably be

                            so sure, you can "publish" a norm of "dont go rooting around somebody
                            else's kitchen, fridge, liquor cabinet", but sane people know what is
                            appropriate under circumstances like this.

                            i think if you have a healthy relationship with somebody, there is no need
                            to walk on eggshells all the time, or constantly worry about delivering or
                            ferreting out insult.

                            of course some of the not-abut-food threads suggest healthy relationships
                            with sane people might be rarer than one would like.

                            1. re: psb

                              I think we can all agree that it's about making judgment calls.

                    1. re: browniebaker

                      I agree with browniebaker. That's why I object to it. If there were not another couple who had been previously invited and you were only being called to "fill in" as a last minute replacement, I don't see anything wrong with spur of the moment invitations. It's the fact that they weren't previously invited and are now only being contacted to "fill in" that I object to. Others don't, that's cool.

                2. I would not take offense if I were issued an invitation under these circumstances.

                  1. I disagree with the previous post as you can't always invite everyone you like for a dinner party at the same time! We are all adults and understand that we meet different people in different circumstances and I don't think anyone should take offence for that unless it's a very close group of friends and one or two are left out which is a completely different scenario. To me, dinner parties with friends are an informal affair and as much as I would never be insulted if someone asked me to join at the last minute, I would also expect them not to be insulted if I decline if I am not in the mood. It's clear your friends were not insulted as they gladly accepted and had a good time so, in my view, everyone's happy, well fed and entertained. What's to question?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Paula76

                      Agreed and well said. I don't do things socially with the same people all the time. If you are close enough friends then they will understand and hey, some of the best times happen at the last minute.

                      1. re: Paula76

                        Well-stated. We try to accommodate our friends, when things like this happen to them. Dinner parties often include people who are not on the A-list, but need to be there for some other reason.


                      2. There's no need to explain that they are being invited as a last minute replacement. Simply say you have a lot of food and you would like to share it with them. They may or may not figure it out, no big deal.
                        I have been a first alternate for dinners, golf tournaments, bridge games, sporting events, and pricey charity functions, and have had lots good times.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Veggo

                          Now, I do give the details, and so far, no one has ever complained. Matter of fact, they often "get me back," in a month, or so, when they are in the same boat.

                          Maybe I should not, but I cannot help but explain the situation. This gives them an "out," should they choose to use it.


                        2. We are notorious for inviting people at the last minute, and nobody seems to mind. It's kind of our MO. It's a Saturday, for example, and we've just gotten involved in some interesting recipe, and my husband will say, "Why don't you see if you can whistle up some company for dinner." In my experience, no one is insulted, and we usually find someone who has no plans and is delighted to join us. I would never be insulted to be asked at the last minute. If I am free, I'm glad for the invitation. If not, no harm no foul.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: roxlet

                            I love doing this! I love a spontaneous dinner party. I'll often cook something that I've been dying to try and then run it over to the neighbors who will then inevitably pour me a glass of a wine they just opened. Good times.

                          2. It wouldn't bother me at all, I know hosts can't seat all their friends at one time. I'd be delighted to have the invitation if I didn't have other plans.

                            1. I would not take offense under these circumstances. The only way this would be insulting to me is if this were the only time I ever got invited to the house in question. But the OP mentioned that they called people who were frequent guests, and so there is no reason for anyone to feel 'second string'. You can't invite everybody every time, right?

                              1. I often call on 'the day' with no thoughts of them being a B list. If I have the capacity for whatever reason, I'll offer the invite and fill some souls with goodness!

                                1. Even the strictest, most formal kind of etiquette allows for this. In the old days, a high society hostess would keep various invitation lists, and one of them would be people she was close to who would, if asked, be willing to "fill a place".

                                  Unless it was an absolute last second thing, the hostess was expected to extend the invitation herself by phone, rather than staff it out, and the guests invited should be close friends who didn't mind doing the favor, and regularly dined with the hostess anyway, rather than more distant friends who might feel more like they were only good enough to be a last minute invitee. Like much traditional etiquette, the specifics are a little out of date -- who has a butler or social secretary to send invitations? -- but the basic premises -- call, let them know that they'd be doing you a great favor by joining you rather than you doing a great favor by inviting them, and invite only people who are close enough friends that they won't mind -- stand the test of time.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                                    We never have the staff make the call. It is always my wife, or me, who call. To date, no invitation has been declined. As stated elsewhere, we do the same for these various folk, and all are frequent guests at our home, and we, at their's.

                                    It happens, and we all must make the best of it.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      You have staff??? I'm sooooo jealous. I often whine that I need minions :)

                                      1. re: c oliver


                                        We ALL need minions! Life is so much simpler with them, and almost unbarable without them. Bring on the minions!


                                    2. There's no problem with it at all. If it is a small dinner in someone's home, I certainly don't expect to be invited to every event that person hosts. I don't get along with all my friend's friends and they don't get along with all my friends. I keep that in mind when inviting people to my house in order to ensure that the people invited will probably have a good time with each other. If I get invited the last minute, it's not going to affect how much fun I have at the event. I have one group of friends who always seem to invite me places at the last minute (like an hour beforehand) and I don't feel offended at all. I enjoy myself just as much as I would had I been invited weeks in advance.

                                      1. Close friends that you see and entertain regularly should not be insulted by a last minute invitation, I wouldn't think. But, I have learned on this board that people are offended by all kinds of things that don't bother me in the slightest.

                                        1. this may be a generational thing. The younger, singles dont mind because its more than likely the way they and others their age conduct their social lives. An older couple could feel put out and almost imposed upon, feeling pressure to come to an event last-minute. So I guess I wouldnt extend such an invite to my grandparents, but a couple of my chums.....sure.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: nkeane

                                            What if they were "older singles"? What's age got to do with this? Or for that matter, what does gender or marital status have to do with this? The guests accepted the invite presumably because they were flattered and available. End of query.

                                            1. re: tuttebene

                                              thank you! I'm an older single and I love dinner invitations, last minute or not!

                                            2. re: nkeane

                                              yeah, it really hard for us older generation to coordinate the geritol and wheel chairs.

                                              And with age comes vast maturity that we are more comfortable in our skins, feel NO pressure to be part of the "in" crowd and are not into puerile gamesmanship. (Insert jfood's palm slapping forehead).

                                            3. Giving or receiving an invitation to a friend's house for dinner should never be viewed as an imposition. And if jfood was preparing for a group of 6 or 8 and 2 came down ill, he would be extremely grateful that they had the good manners to cancel versus possibly infecting others. Likewise they should take care of themselves to get better.

                                              And the idea that only the younger crowd can be nimble is silly. If jfood had a group and 2 could not make it, he or mrs jfood would have absolutely no issue calling another couple, explaining the situation and asking them to join. If they had other plans, no biggie. Just Friday night there was a last minute "what do we do" event and some could join and others could not. That's why they are friends. If someone gets upset that you might have others to dinner and not invite them every time, sorta silly as well.

                                              And if the jfoods were not busy, received a call mid-afternoon and were invited for that evening and they could, they would. Great last minute plans with friends are sometimes the best.

                                              BTW - happens on weekends all the time with people unable to play golf on sunday mornings after saying yes on wednesdays.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: jfood

                                                Good points. All too often we have the opposite. We'll (well, my wife will inform me) plan an intimate dinner for 4. Next thing we know, there will be additional people, who were not originally on the list, but are close friends of guests and are just in town for that evening. One Easter, we went from the 2 of us, plus 2 guests, and ended up with 13! It happens, and you just throw more lamb on the grill, plus dig out more wine from the cellar. You learn to roll with the punches.


                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                  I like the roll with the punches idea. Sometimes, you want to invite everyone! Yes it is chaos, but as long as all parties are game to go along with it, it is fine. And it can be very memorable as well, some of these last minute chaos parties are the most fun!

                                                  I have found that most of my close friends are also willing to roll with the punches. I have a few who are not, and because I care about them, I try my best to behave in a way that makes them more comfortable. Not always successful, but a handful of homemade treats and a big happy yet contrite grin can go a long way when I have fallen short. Who says you can't get by on charm? But the attempts to win them over are always accompanied by true contrition, I can't always be perfect, and most of the times I am not. But I can be sorry.

                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                    Yes, we went from 4 to 10 a while back. Can't remember exactly how that happened but it was great fun.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      In my particular case, it was a bit less so, but it did turn out OK, so I should not complain too much. My wife was trying to do the best thing, so her motives were in the right place. I just hate when things quadruplicate at the last minute - like when the lamb is on the grill, and all of a sudden, I have to find six more chops, with no time to marinate. Still, worked out OK, with a few bits of improvization.


                                                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      All too often it's my dear husband who mentions having so-and-so over...and *I* am left with the impression that I need to plan dinner for say 4, and the night/morning/hours before come to find out he also invited x, y, z and now it's not 4 it's 12. I'm learning to roll with the punches rather than throw them ;) j/k but also trying to make him aware I need to know hard numbers up front NOT last minute. Good to know I'm not the only one who's sigificant other does this type of thing. :)

                                                      1. re: maplesugar

                                                        My Dh does this also and to make matters worse he never tells them what time to be here (oh come anytime you like). And he's worse when he's been drinking....he loves to invite people over for dinner the next night. Fortunately most of our friends know this and sometimes will call to see if they really are invited to dinner or if it was the wine talking.

                                                  2. We do similar. We have friends, who could possibly be ready at a few hours' notice. We reciprocate for them. Sometimes, it's a dinner party at the house, and sometimes it's a few chairs for a $50K table at a black-tie event.

                                                    Had a special dinner catered by a James Beard Award winning chef, for a couple traveling through AZ, and the "guests of honor" were stranded in Tucson. We called and filled their chairs.

                                                    Now, if this happens more than once, the A-list is likely to get modified.


                                                    1. I would find the last-minute invitation insulting, whatever the circumstances. The insult is not in my not having been invited originally. I do not expect to be invited to every dinner every time. No. The insult is in the presumption that my social calendar is so empty that I would be available at the last minute.

                                                      The last time I received a same-day invitation was just this past Saturday, and I simply told the inviter that I was sorry but I had already planned to have dinner at home that evening.

                                                      9 Replies
                                                      1. re: browniebaker

                                                        Really? I guess I just don't care what other people think of my 'social calendar.' I long ago got over looking at my social life as a popularity contest. If I didn't already have plans, I would usually be a happy to get the phone call.

                                                        The only awkwardness for me would be that sometimes if I don't have other plans, I make plans around being lazy on the sofa with the TV and snacks. Once I am in that state of mind, it's hard to summon up the energy to go out. Hard to say to someone, I'd rather stay home, but then, my friends understand and have turned down invites for the same reason.

                                                        1. re: Sooeygun

                                                          To me the rudeness is not in any negative assessment of my social calendar (others are free to think whatever they like about my popularity) but in the presumptiousness that I will change my plans at the last minute for them. A bit self-referential, I think. By the night before I have planned the next day and will not be persuaded by a last-minute invitation, even if my only plans for the evening are for dinner at home. The older I get, the bolder I get, and I am now comfortable telling people who call the morning of, that I had already planned to stay home that evening. I cherish my evenings at home!

                                                          1. re: browniebaker

                                                            Who is asking you to change your plans? If I call someone up at the last minute, it is to see if they are interested in coming over or doing something. If they are not particularly interested, even if they want to stay at home and lounge around, I am not offended. Some of my friends tend to be last minute people who have trouble planning far in advance and if I adopted that attitude, I would lose a lot of friends I find very dear.

                                                            1. re: queencru

                                                              Who is asking me to change my plans? The inviter; that's who.

                                                              Clearly some are last-minute people, and some are not.

                                                              1. re: browniebaker

                                                                There's a big difference between calling and seeing if you are available last minute and asking you to change your plans. Most people who call at the last minute are fully aware that a person might have other things in mind for the evening, from relaxing at home to going for a night out. To me a call just indicates that a person is thinking of me and if I have something else planned or just want to sit at home and watch a DVD, I have no problem thanking the person for the offer and saying I have other plans or am not up for it.

                                                                1. re: queencru

                                                                  Any invitation is a request. I'm not saying it's a demand; nor is it any imposition. It is a request nevertheless.

                                                                  1. re: browniebaker

                                                                    You wrote that it was "insulting." I guess that's the part I don't get. I've been called the day of (and when I do it myself I ALWAYS say "I know this is short notice but...) and sometimes, you're right, I'm just not interested in going out. I just say 'that's so nice of you but I think I'm just hunkering down tonight. Please think of me next time." So not a big deal for me.

                                                          2. re: Sooeygun

                                                            Those "planned" free evenings DO count too. After a few hectic weeks, we'll "schedule" time on our pool deck, with a few bottles of wine and some cheeses. Even calls from close friends have to be a real panic, to get us to change those. We even write them into the big book, just so the other does not schedule something. Heck, just for a long-weekend "getaway," I have to call one of my wife's assistants, and get it on the calender. I find nothing wrong with wanting to just spend a quiet evening with one's spouse, or SO.


                                                          3. re: browniebaker

                                                            I have a very busy social life, especially as it is "The Season," in AZ. From time to time, we receive these call, and also make them. If we are available, we try to attend, as most of our friends practice reciprocity with us.Maybe it's our age, or what we have encountered over the years, but we have not problem, so long as we do not already have plans.

                                                            It could be a call, stating that Dr. X's plane is snowed in in Chicago, or some board member could not make the charity event. I keep at least one tux and a half-dozen shirts ready, for these unscheduled events. Wife usually holds back one gown, just in case. It happens, and I've been on both ends. I usually find the impromptu black-tie events actually a bit more relaxing, as I am not hosting a table. I get to exhale and let our host/hostess do the "heavy-lifting."

                                                            Sorry that you are not as open to the last-minute invitation, but you know your schedule.


                                                          4. I've been half of the couple that had to cancel. We felt really guilty but we both woke up with nasty colds and wouldn't have been any fun. It almost always seems to happen in late september or early october here in Penna. Our hosts had made a special effort too. I wish they had gotten emergency replacements because it did cause bad feelings for a month or two, and if they had been able to find two other guests it might have healed the awkwardness quicker. Our friendship survived. Luckily all four of us Loved to play pinochle. :) But if someone called me saturday afternoon to invite me to a lovely dinner with the chance of making friends with another single person (platonic or otherwise), I'd feel as if I just found a fifty dollar bill lying on the sidewalk. I'd grin and scoop it up happily!

                                                            1. maddogg280 i would happily give you my number so that in the event this situation arises, you can call me! I'd be delighted to attend, not at all offended and am sure that I will leave not only with great memories and a full belly, but with new friends. Sounds like a great night out to me!

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: aussiewonder

                                                                Now that is a great attitude. Maybe you can bottle and sell it!


                                                                1. re: aussiewonder

                                                                  That is a really fantastic thing to say! I wish you would come by the next time you are in Baltimore and I'd be thrilled to introduce you to my friends, family and pet. My dinner parties are getting fewer these days due to some changes in my employment status, but I always try to serve up a fun evening!

                                                                2. I don't think it is that big of a deal at all. I would be happy to be invited, and I really can't seeing people that are single getting offended if it was originally a couples night. Plus you fed em, us singles are just happy to have someone feed us. :-)

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: MattInNJ

                                                                    Free food? What time do you need me?
                                                                    Plus, the other "single" might be hot.

                                                                  2. Apparently there are two schools of thought about this. So hopefully you will know your friends best and know how to appropriately deal with the situation. I haven't read the "Rules" book but one of my friends has. She told me one of the rules is to never accept a Saturday night date before Tuesday or Wednesday because the thinking is that you want the guy to think your social calender is really full (hence being more desirable), and it would be rude to assume that she would be free on a Saturday night on such short notice. As strange as that logic sounds, some people subscribe to it. So I guess I can see some people being offended that somebody thought that he or she was free on a Saturday night on the day of.

                                                                    1. I’m sorry if this seems off topic, but as I read through this thread, I was reminded of this incident--

                                                                      I recall a situation one Saturday night when I had nothing to do and called up a couple of friends to see what they were doing, would they like to watch a movie, etc. They told me they were just finishing up dinner and that a movie sounds great, come on over!

                                                                      When I get there, besides my friends, there were three other couples all sitting around the dining room table. The dishes had not been cleared and they were getting ready for dessert! In walk I, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt with a 6-pack under my arm. Man was I embarrassed! Why didn’t you tell me you were having a dinner party!? And now you offer me dessert with the other guests? I excused myself and made to leave, but they insisted I stay, “We’re just finishing up...they’re not staying, then we’ll watch the movie...”

                                                                      I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I wanted to leave, but figured an abrupt exit would make the situation worse. I knew all the people there, but still...my imagination (I hope it was only that) told me they were all looking at me thinking “What a jerk for breaking up this party!”

                                                                      BTW, here is a thread on the reverse of this topic...


                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: cuccubear

                                                                        cbear, that's a classic "Zugzwang", a position that arises such that any next move you make is a disaster. Sympathies offered; we've all had a few for no fault of our own.

                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                          Zugzwang, eh? Sounds about right.

                                                                          I think that when I called my friends that night, they didn’t want to tell me that they were having a dinner party (to which I was not invited). I wouldn’t have cared. I’d been invited many times before, so they’re having a different crowd this time. No big deal. I’m not jealous enough (nor conceited) that I have to be invited for everything.

                                                                      2. Everything depends on how you present things. I once invited a couple for dinner. Hadn't met the wife but knew the husband because we were members of an organization, and he kept saying I should meet his wife. Okay, come to dinner. He said they would be there. Dinner was in a week. when they were an hour late, I called. Car break down? Stuck at the side of a road? No. They were home in their pajamas reading the paper because he had spent the day trying to figure out why my name was on his calendar for that day.... Duh.... But it was late and they didn't want to make the drive. I had a ton of food because he was a hearty eater and I'd been cooking for two days. The table was set. So I called a couple of single friends, asked if they had had dinner yet, fortunately they had not, so we dined together! And had a blast. No one was upset but me. I didn't let those who shared the meal with me know, but I never spoke to the idiot who never bothered picking up the phone to call me to ask why my name was written on his calendar for that day. Sometimes it is so satisfying to snub someone. Well, at least when you've been snubbed first.

                                                                        Food should not be wasted. Opportunity sometimes knocks when least expected. If you can open the door and turn it into a party, why not?