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Bad Hosts: Invites you and, after you accept, asks you to bring dessert for everyone.

Chowhounds, how do you respond when someone invites you to "a cookout" for dinner and, as soon as you say yes and ask, "Can I bring anything?" tells you to bring "the dessert"?

"For the everyone?" you ask. "Sure," he says, adding, "there will be about nineteen of us."

Yikes! "That's a lot of dessert!" you say, hoping he'll tell just to bring a pie or cake, regardless of the number it serves because he or other guests will be providing other desserts. But, no, you are stuck making dessert for the entire party. Hey, If I had wanted to make dessert for nineteen, I would have thrown my own party!

How do you handle this type of potluck by ambush? I'd love to get some ideas for next time it happens to me.

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  1. I have mixed emotions on this one. What is your relationship to the host? Often when someone asks what they bring, the answer depends on who the guest is. We have a lot of friends we often have over and others who only come about once a year. While I cannot see myself only having one dessert for 19 people (and at a cookout unless there are a lot of children my guess is that all 19 won't be having dessert but understand you want enough for everyone). And you opened the door when you asked if you could bring anything (I'm a believer in don't ask me a question if you don't want the answer).

    And as one who is the host 99% of the time, I would happily bring dessert for everyone for the right to be a guest, not a host.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      Yep, you opened the door when you asked if you could bring anything. When told to bring dessert for 19, I might have said "I can bring XX, which will be enough for 10, can someone else bring another dessert as well?" Expecting an invited guest to bring enough dessert for a party of 19 is off the mark. What are the other 17 bringing?

      1. re: PattiCakes

        If that is the way you feel about it it would be much less awkward not to offer. I never accept when a guest offers to bring something but if I did I would not expect my agreement (to accept a dish I do not want to begin with) to result in some sort of negotiation about who that guest will feed and who she will not.

        Would you be bothered if the hostess said, "Nevermind I've got it covered"

        1. re: Kater

          Would have LOVED it if the host had said, "Nevermind I've got it covered." That's what most people say.

          Please note that I did not offer to bring a dish. I also did not say or imply that I was dying to bring something! In my circles, "Can I bring anything?" means, "Is there anything you need help with? If not, great! See you Sunday!" And then the guest brings a little gift (not food or drink that he'd have to serve that evening).

          1. re: browniebaker

            if you meant "Is there anything you need help with? If not, great! See you Sunday!", then that is what you ought to have said. what you did ask was "Can I bring anything?", and that was the question answered

            1. re: thew

              That's the way the offer of help is made in my parts. I grew up in Nashville and now live in the D.C. area, and I have never heard of anyone else construing the question as an offer to cater!

      2. re: Janet from Richmond

        Janet, I do not believe the right to be a guest depends on bringing anything. The right certainly does not depend on bringing enough dessert or any dish to serve everyone. I am a guest if I accept an invitation. Period.

        On this and other threads you have often said that you would be grateful to be in the position of which the OP complains if it meant you could be a guest instead of the host that you are 99 % of the time. Why don't you simply host fewer parties? If you hosted less often, maybe you would not yearn so much to be a guest at all costs.

        1. re: browniebaker

          Where did I say the right to be a guest depends on bringing something? You asked if you could bring something.......YOU opened that door. And you regret it. But that don't blame the host or anyone else. She called your bluff.

          And we are hosting fewer parties....down to about one or two a month. But this year will be different as our daughter became engaged last week, so I'm sure there will be many functions...some we'll be hosting and others not. I was simply pointing out that hosting a function is often a tough (and thankless task).

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            "And as one who is the host 99% of the time, I would happily bring dessert for everyone for the right to be a guest, not a host."

            I'm quoting the part of your earlier post where you referred to "the right to be a guest" as arising out of bringing dessert for everyone. You said it; I didn't. And you seem to say that in other threads as well (e.g. the Entertaining Bad Guests thread).

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              Janet - congrats on your SD's engagement! I'm sure the parties you will be hosting will be wonderful! Make sure you enjoy them as well! :-)

              1. re: LindaWhit

                We definitely will!! We are in the weeds right now trying to find the right place on the right date.

            2. re: browniebaker

              I do not believe the right to be a guest depends on bringing anything. The right certainly does not depend on bringing enough dessert or any dish to serve everyone. I am a guest if I accept an invitation. Period...............................browniebaker

              This idea gives me pause. "Right to be a guest?" A guest, by definition, is invited and is there at the discretion of the host. No "rights" involved.

              That said, I think it is really off-the-mark for a "host" to invite someone without clarifying BEFORE extending the invitation that it is a pot luck. If I arrived with dessert for 19 people only to find I'm the only one who has brought anything, I just might find myself pushed to the edge of rudeness. Maybe to the point of leaving. Maybe even to the point of leaving WITH my dessert. But that would mean I'd really been pushed out of shape by the "host."

              At this point in time, if bringing dessert for 19 people is uncomfortable for whatever reason, you might want to think about calling the host to say that an inescapable obligation elsewhere has come up and you won't be able to make it. Hey, if the host is rude enough to push you for a reason... Well, maybe there's a football game on TV you just can't miss. '-)

              1. re: Caroline1

                This time, I did go through with attending (see down-thread), but I was sorely tempted to call and plead an "inescapable obligation." That kind of plea really needs to be done right away, though, like the next day when one "suddenly" remembers that previous engagement. It's like the right of rescission, typically three days, that is often allowed with contracts of adhesion (sorry, a bit of analogy to contract law).

                In this case, another factor against my not going was that it was a family event. These weren't people I could just blow off. And my children really wanted to go. It all turned out well, I think.

                As I explain down-thread, though, at the party I saw that there was little point to the host's asking for three families to bring, in all, two sides and one dessert when (as it turned out) there was much too much food even without any guests' contributions and all the food that he provided besides the main course (grilled chicken) were bought from Safeway and Sam's Club. I mean, if he was simply buying the stuff, how difficult or expensive would it have been to buy two more sides and one more dessert and not put the burden on his guests?

                1. re: browniebaker

                  If only God had been smart enough to arrange things so that we could choose our friends AND our family! In my book, you've got a bunch of brownie points towards sainthood. '-)

          2. My first thought when I read the title to your post is 'Hey, they know my cousin, Judy!' I too have been hijacked into making dessert, apps, side dishes etc for my cousin. Since your Chowhound name is browniebaker I will assume you are known for your desserts which makes you a target for this type of behavior. If you are willing to bring a dessert but not all the desserts, simply say what you can bring and how many it will feed. I haven't found a way out of bringing something partially because of my love of cooking. Good luck.

            1. I do feel like it's potluck by ambush. With that many people coming, someone else should share dessert duty. But I wonder if it has anything to do with your user-name - are you famous for desserts and brownies? Even so, you shouldn't be punished for it!

              1. The host is my second cousin once removed, and I see him and his wife and daughter socially about twice a year. That I'm a generation above him in my family (his mom and I are second cousins), makes being told to cater the dessert for his party irk particularly.

                I agree that I have got to stop asking, "Can I bring anything?" I am just offering to help out with picking up ice, or drinks, or chips, or anything they might be out off. But desserts for the whole party of nineteen? I think that's a but much.

                Maybe I am known for my baking; people know I love to bake. Brownies are a specialty of mine. But I don't like to bake on demand, and on that scale (unless I am hosting the party). In fact, it's gotten so hot here that I had already shut down the oven for the summer before I got the invitation.

                I have sent an e-mail since, asking him to let me know when he has the final headcount (citing the time someone else -- whom I had known for only six months, and who ambushed me in the same way for what turned out to be a potluck after I accepted -- asked me to make 48 assorted brownies for 33 guests and only 8 people showed up!), so that I'll know how much to make. I also asked whether anyone else had volunteered to make dessert. He wrote back that he had talked to only one other guest and had asked him to bring a side.

                Well, I wouldn't mind bringing a side or anything else, so long as I am not being told to bring enough for the whole party of nineteen.

                Those of you who said I opened the door by asking the question: Believe me, I will never ask that question again.

                12 Replies
                1. re: browniebaker

                  You know what I'd do? Pick up a few supermarket cakes or pies or bring a couple of gallons of ice cream if they have freezer space. I would not go to the trouble of baking, based on the ambush. I think it's sad that you can't make that nice offer to bring or do something without being ambushed! (PS - I would go to trouble for dear friends or family that I'm close to and frequently enjoy meals with...)

                  1. re: bayoucook

                    I'm not figuring how she was ambushed. Was the host presumptuous? Yep. Life lesson learned. Absolutely. But I wouldn't be passive agressive and intentionally bring substandard stuff to get one over on the host.

                    And maybe I'm completely wrong, but are brownies for 19 people a big deal to make? (not being snarky) When you think about it, it's really not different from a Mom being asked to bring brownies for the class or something. I would think (again correct me if I'm wrong) that 36 brownies would get the job done.

                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      Janet - browniebaker is obviously aggravated about it, and about heating up her kitchen. Everyone loves ice cream, if she can take that. I don't think of it as sub-standard fare. I think of it as getting over it and moving on. If she bakes or does home made dessert this time, they will get her every time. I will gladly bake brownies for my child's class, because she can't do it herself. This is another whole situation that browniebaker obviously resents.

                    2. re: bayoucook

                      I agree. There are lots of solutions to this that don't involve further irking you. If I were in your shoes, I would feel annoyed at myself for asking (which it sounds like you do). I wouldn't further annoy myself for doing something I didn't want to do. In these situations, people aren't expecting much, anyway. I would bring 2 dozen cookes (baked from store-bought refrigerated dough or bought at a bakery if you want) and that's it. I would tell him my plan so he can get ice cream, cakes or anything else he wants to supplement. Don't take on any more than you want to - trust me, it will help you feel better! And in the future, as you said, you know to offer only what you want to bring. Good luck and sorry - families can really be something else, huh?!?!?

                      1. re: bayoucook

                        I agree, grab some stuff at the supermarket. Don't kill yourself here, if your heart is not in it.

                      2. re: browniebaker

                        If you don't want to start up your oven again, take a store-bought baked good and replate it. Don't tell the host what you're bringing, b/c you might be steered in another direction or asked to bring something else; you set yourself up for another "ambush". If it were me, I'd take Costco's bite-size brownies and leave it at that. No fuss, no muss.

                        1. re: browniebaker

                          Browniebaker, I ask that question, too: "Can I bring something?" I have never had anyone say anything more than, "Yes, you could bring a bottle of wine" (which, as a civilized guest, I would do anyway, without having to be TOLD). It is right for you to have offered -- and it would have been equally proper for him to reply, "No, but thank you for offering." It is a social nicety. Janet from Richmond is far off the mark to blame you for having offered. I would be seething, if I were you. If you hadn't already sent the email asking for the headcount, I would say call him and just say, "I'm sorry; it turns out I'm not going to be able to make it that night." But if you feel locked in now, and if you're more magnanimous than I am, and since it's a cookout, just bring a couple of gallons of ice cream. Maybe some cookies from a bakery.

                          1. re: victoriashe

                            You've said in one paragraph exactly how I feel. I have wished (and still wish) I could back out, but I agree it's too late. Plus, my kids really want to go to the cookout. I baked 32 brownies yesterday when it was not too hot outside to use the oven and I have frozen the brownies to keep until Sunday. I am feeling better about this situation because instead of putting myself out to cater dessert, I am doing it on my terms. Two pans of brownies? That's not nearly as elaborate as I could have gotten over dessert if I had wanted to.

                            Much thanks to you, Victoriashe, and to everyone else for supportive words, different perspectives, and practical suggestions. Chowhounds are the best!!!

                            1. re: victoriashe

                              That's exactly now I feel. It's a social nicety to ask if you can help but it's a little awkward to be told to bring a main segment of the meal for the entire party.

                              When ever we have people over we would never think to say anything more than bring yourself if asked that question. I'm not into pot luck dinner parties yet I have been invited to more than I care to where the host always ask each guest to bring something. When we have people over I don't expect them to bring anything. If they bring wine, that's a nice gesture and I thank them if they bring nothing but their appetite I don't take offense. All I want is for them to enjoy my hospitality and maybe one day reciprocate in kind. That's all. I don't keep score.

                              Janet may be right that browniebaker opened the door but the host should have acted like a host and closed that door.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Almost every time I have asked that question the host has said yes, bring dessert. To some, that's just the polite answer.

                              Why is dessert for 19 such a big problem? If you don't want to make brownies or cookies, buy two angel food cakes, serve with berries and whipped cream.

                              1. re: bibi rose

                                I have to keep harping on this. If we had co-planned the meal, then of course bringing dessert (or anything) for 19 would be fine - would've been agreed on from the get-go. I must be very lucky, because none of my many friends have ever, in over 32 years, done that to me or to anyone else that I know of, nor would I ever dream of dropping that on someone who was letting me know they were coming to the party.
                                When friends or family plan an outing, we plan it TOGETHER and we know what each is going to do in advance. I'm gonna stick with these friends!!

                                1. re: bayoucook

                                  Yeah, you are caught between a rock & a hard place on this one, and you already know it's your own darned fault. Lesson learned. I like the idea of the Costco mini brownies -- plate 'em up nicely & do a little powdered sugar on top. Bring an ice cream (or two) to go with. Another option is those frozen cream-puffs/eclairs from Costco or Sam's. If anyone questions, or if you feel the need, just say "You know, it was just too damned hot to crank up my oven...." The host seems clueless, so don't get your knickers in a knot. Another option would be to call your host back, tell him that your oven is on the fritz & explain that you will be picking something up -- is that OK?

                                  It is my culinary "culture" to always ask if I can bring something. I can't recall every being asked to supply a particular course for the entire party (of more than 10) unless it was with close friends/relatives with whom I have an established pot-luck routine. It could also be that your host has you higher up on his family/familiarity scale than you have him?

                                  Don't let it irk you. It's not worth it. Small annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

                                    1. re: PattiCakes

                                      In my culinary culture, it goes like this:

                                      A: Can I bring anything?

                                      B: Just bring yourself.

                                      A then brings a few host/ess gifts (wine, champagne, sweets) which are protested but then accepted. (You shouldn't have. Oh it was nothing, please. etc.)

                                      from what I'm reading here, there are all kinds of culinary cultures.

                                      1. re: Lizard

                                        There are two other couple we regularly have over for dinner....about twice a month on average. Over the years tradition has been that we supply the entree, bread, sides and most of the wine but then they will bring a salad and dessert and more wine. I have NO qualms about letting them do this as we always host.

                                        But if it's someone who comes less frequently I will ask them to just bring themselves or ice if they really want to bring something. Most come with a bottle of wine or beer or something for the party.

                                        1. re: Lizard

                                          I've read about many different culinary cultures here and though our is the best, of course (I share your approach) I can understand most of them.

                                          But asking a hostess what you can bring and then being angry when she tells you is a brand new one.

                                          I'm still trying to work out how you accept a social invite from a second cousin twice removed and wind up shocked that the headcount is greater than fifteen.

                                          1. re: Lizard

                                            That's pretty much mine, too. I keep a shelf full of hostess gifts. Wine or sweets, yes, but also fat candles, really nice cocktail napkins, etc.

                                          2. re: PattiCakes

                                            If you bring ice cream or other frozen treat, it might be best to call the host in advance to see if they have freezer space. I would hate to see someone bring a frozen dessert & see it melt for lack of freezer space....

                                          3. re: bayoucook

                                            I'm with you. It’s certainly a lot more fun to make a generous contribution or offer a favor, than give into an unreasonable demand. (Food for thought if any of us ever wind up being the one desperately needing someone to bring dessert for 19...)

                                            1. re: bayoucook

                                              I agree. Dessert for 19 when the invite isn't advertised as a potluck is co-hosting. Sure, it's not hard to make a few pans of brownies, but it's the stress on the GUEST of making sure they've got all 19 heads covered. It's not the OP's responsibility to wonder if she needs to avoid nuts or take into consideration how the brownies will be plated for NINETEEN freakin' people. Does that seem hospitable?

                                              I know it's about the friendship and the company, but geesh.

                                              1. re: bayoucook

                                                Bayoucook, if this has not happened to you, you've got good friends. Stick with them!

                                                1. re: browniebaker

                                                  For sure. All of us host parties and dinners on a pretty even level, all of us understand how wonderful it is NOT to be required to bring a dish unless, like I said, we all planned to host the event together. All of us bring hostess gifts and happies. I think it's all probably the result of very long friendships of 25-32 years! Lots of talking and being together, lots of respect for each other.
                                                  I am very lucky.