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Room for One More at Thanksgiving Dinner?

What is your view about invited guests who ask if they bring someone to a sit down dinner. The dinner is not potluck. We have a teeny tiny place but we always says "yes" and just deal with it. We've been invited in years past to the homes of our family members who, when we ask if we can bring someone who would otherwise be alone, we've been told no, there's no room at the table. What do you do in this situation?

Thanksgiving is bringing up another subject around our house. There is one family member and her husband who never bring even a bottle of wine to a dinner at our house. And, these are sit down dinners that we spend a lot of time, money and effort on to host - no gift is required of course - a gift is a gift - but it is noticeable that they repeatedly show up empty handed. They are in their late twenties. We just think it's poor manners. Thoughts?

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  1. What's wrong with being honest and telling them, "I really wish we could accommodate Jeff this time, but we simply don't have the space. I am sorry"? If the person wants to get offended or be upset, that says more about them than it does about you.

    As for the gift, I think everyone is so busy walking on eggshells that the answer seems to be based on who you talk to. There are a myriad of threads on CH that have Group A saying Bob was a total cad because he didn't bring a gift and then you have Group B who says, "We told Bob not to bring anything and he brought X. We didn't have room for it (or a vase for the flowers)." In the end, I don't care if anyone brings a gift or not. I have invited them to my home for dinner because I enjoy their company and would like to treat them to a home cooked meal.

    I noticed that you said a gift wasn't required but you felt it poor manners not to bring one. Why the game?

    1. If it were me and it was just one extra person I'd say yes. 1) The person you invited will feel more comfortable. 2) There's so much food at Thanksgiving it really doesn't add to the work. 3) Everybody understands that Thanksgiving strains our skills and our resources. If a placesetting doesn't match or if everyone is elbow to elbow that just fits the concept of pushing the limits.

      OTOH, if that concept doesn't work for you next year you can always make the invitation with a note and mention that you're planning a smaller and more relaxed event and won't be able to include anyone not specifically invited. Of course, you'll have to be ready for some to decline because there's just someone uninvited that they really want to be with.

      As for the gift that never shows up, if there's resentment in the sense that you don't feel these people show some kind of reciprocation at some time during the year, why are you inviting them and putting yourself through that? Just send another note well in advance saying you're having a smaller, more intimate celebration and you hope they'll understand that they should make other plans. You could deliver it with a box of brownies or something so they don't think it's a total rebuff.

      The key I think, is, if you've allowed yourself to be pressured into things that have made you unhappy in the past, that you set the limits early and then smile when it comes up at the last minute and say no, you've already explained why it's an inappropriate request.

      1. I agree with Seth Chadwick about just being honest and letting people know you cannot accommodate any more guests. I had the same issue last Thanksgiving. Someone asked to bring two extra friends hours before the meal. While my friends and I felt bad, we also resented the last minute request- there was no room at the table and not enough food for two more people. So we politely said no and there were no hard feelings...I can understand the difficulty in saying no, but it is your responsibility to hold boundaries- not just for your own sake, but also for the comfort of your other guests.

        Re your second issue- I personally would never go to someone's house empty handed. BUT, when I invite guests over I realize that they may not have similar philosophy as I do and thus do not take it personally if they do not bring anything.

        (Although one friend told me about someone who brought wine to a dinner party- when it didn't end up getting opened by the end of the night, she requested it back to take home with her- THAT was awful!)

        1. If it really is a matter of space and you absolutely can't squeeze another body and chair at the table, be honest and tell them that's the reason. Otherwise, remember what the spirit of Thanksgiving is and try to squeeze them in. That's my view.

          As for a gift. It's a gift. It's optional. Are they polite at the dinner? Do they thank the host? Maybe offer to help with the dishes? This is what constitutes good manners in my book, not bringing a bottle of wine.

          2 Replies
          1. re: taos

            I second this. I think it's poor manners for hosts to expect guests to bring gifts. It makes me question the motives behind having people over in the first place.

            1. re: gloriousfood

              I tend to agree. This reminds me of what seemed to happen over the years, as my children attended/gave birthday parties, as well: more and more of a "gimme gimme" attitude. No longer did kids bring gifts, and were happy to share in the Birthday Girl's happiness, watch her being gifted, and get cake, ice cream, and fun in exhange..Noooo! That was no longer enough. @@ Socially the pressure to provide bigger and better "goodie bags" for the poor little spoiled darlings, who simply could not BEAR to give and yet not receive, started tainting the entire tradition. Ugh.

              The "gifts" I expect from my guests are an effort to be pleasant and entertaining, a healthy appetite, the ability to relax and enjoy themselves, an offer to help clean up (which I usually refuse), and--if they're so inclined and able--a return invitation at some later date.

              The "gift" of their company, and the chance to share my food and cooking, are reward enough.

          2. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that you can't fit additional guests, especially if the request is fairly last minute. I've lived in spaces where there really is only a limited amount of seating, so once you get past that point, no one else will fit. I think rainey's alternative approach is a good one- mentioning at the outset that you can't handle any more people because you want a small gathering.

            If you don't think a gift is required, why is it a big deal? This is family we're talking about, not a friend, so they may feel like a gift isn't necessary. If they help you set up/clean up or provide other assistance in some way, I think that's just as good as bringing a gift.

            1. I think the very fact that you're posting this means you want to say "No" but don't want to feel bad. Don't. If you're not gonna feel comfortable at your own dinner table, just say "Sorry."

              For me, I would have a hard time knowing I turned someone away who'd have to eat an important meal like TG alone. I remember being a little kid and seeing Ritchie going back to the garage to give Fonzie his Christmas present and realizing that The Fonz would be alone on Christmas. I always thought that was sad and have in the past offered to have people over on holidays who'd be otherwise alone.

              If you feel the need to say "Yes" but really don't have the space, make a second dinner table. Make it a "Sit where you want" deal. The bottom line is, it's your TG and you should feel comfortable.


              1 Reply
              1. re: Davwud

                After reading your post Davwud, I gotta say you're right... I'd rather have someone spend Thanksgiving with my group of friends, rather than them being alone. We denied a couple last year because they were Greek and had no sentimental tie to the holiday-they just wanted to tag along last minute.

                Also, regarding the accepting of gifts- It's not about the host having the party in order to receive gifts! It's just that for some, that is seen as a standard essential gesture. It doesn't mean it is awful if you don't...But I do agree with queencru, polite manners and offering to help are certainly grand gestures on their own.

              2. I would never turn someone away. I always cook enough that there are leftovers for any dinner party and if you can't squeeze one more at the big table then in my house we would either set up a small card table or even if a couple sat in the kitchen or den it would be fine. When having a larger party of guests I like to serve buffet anyway.

                1. Maybe it's just me, but while I think these are relevant questions for regular dinner parties, I feel these issues go against the spirit of Thanksgiving.

                  Also, if no gift is required, you wouldn't notice it. Reading the second part of your post tells me that you do think it's required.

                  1. Manners be damned. It is Thanksgiving, and there should always be room for one more. If at no other time, this is when we should be happy to accomodate. Think of it as one less turkey sandwich you have to endure later in the week.

                    As to the 'empty-handed' guest, if it angers you this much simply do not invite them. Or opt to dine out during the holidays.

                    I sniff a bit of holiday humbuggery.

                    1. I can see how you think it is poor manners, but my family has always wanted a house full. It just feels more festive that way, so to us...the more, the merrier. Also, i can't stand the thought of someone having to experience a lonely Thanksgiving.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: iluvtennis

                        Just make sure those people would really be lonely and not just be alone.

                        I know several people who have treasured their "alone" Thanksgivings but often feel pressured by well-meaning friends who can't fathom the idea that someone would want to be alone on Thanksgiving or other holidays.

                        1. re: Seth Chadwick

                          Yeah, good point. I can definitely understand that perspective of being pressured to do something by someone who just can't believe you truly don't want any part of it.

                          1. re: iluvtennis

                            Then simply say "I have plans."


                            1. re: iluvtennis

                              I've told people I'm not that into Thanksgiving food (or the experience generally) before and they all think I'm crazy. Some of them just think it's tragic. I think a lot of what makes people feel lonely is this idea that something is wrong with you if you spend Thanksgiving by yourself. These people get offended if you say you have plans to spend Thanksgiving by yourself.

                              1. re: queencru

                                I am sorry that you were made to feel that way, queen. Not everyone wants to do the Thanksgiving gathering and I know people who really dislike turkey. I also know that one of the best Thanksgivings I ever had was being alone in a beautiful house in the woods in Connecticut housesitting for a professor from where I was attending school. I couldn't afford to get back to Phoenix so I bought a bottle of wine, a few items to make a simple dinner and picked up a few movies at the local video store.

                                I missed my family greatly, but I loved sitting by the fire watching "An Affair to Remember" and a couple of other movies while nibbling on various cheeses and crackers.

                                It was a lovely Thanksgiving.

                            2. re: Seth Chadwick

                              Was there any indication from the OP that the extra guest(s) were invited just so they wouldn't be alone? If so that's an entirely different issue. As I read it, the issue was what to do if a guest wanted to bring a guest but you don't have room for them.

                              1. re: taos

                                I think he was just responding to something i said.

                                1. re: iluvtennis

                                  Correct. It was a reply to you, tennis, not to the OP.

                          2. Here's something to remember--
                            if you invite someone to a holiday gathering because you don't want them to be lonely, be extra sure they are included. Being in a festive crowd can make a person *more* lonely. Asking them to bring something (anything) is a simple way to let them feel they are not a "pity" guest.

                            1. I agree with nomad. If at all possible, you should open your home to an extra person on Thanksgiving. I remember I felt really bad when I was in my 20s and had just broken up with my live-in boyfriend when my brother did not invite me for Thanksgiving. I was very grateful to be included at my friend's home with her family. Whenever I have hosted, I tried to invite friends and friends of friends as well as family.

                              Having said that, I think it is acceptable to refuse an extra if you are having a formal dinner party.

                              I cannot go empty handed when I am invited to someone's home. If I were a better person, I might not notice when someone comes empty handed to mine, but, if it makes you feel any better, Bite Me, I notice as well. I never realized all the pitfalls of hostess gifts until I started reading CH, though. If the empty handed family member was leaving at the same time as other guests, I might make sure I say thank you for the wine, dessert, etc. to each guest. I wish I were a better person.

                              1. IMO there's always room for one more at Thanksgiving. Isn't that the spirit of it, after all?

                                I think it's poor manners to noticed that an unrequired gift has'nt been received.

                                1. 1. There is *not* necessarily always room for one more at Thanksgiving. I don't know what people are smoking, but I can tell you squeezing in that extra person into an already crammed table is going to make no one happy. Been there, done it, learned the lessons well. If your place is ample enough to accommodate, fine, but otherwise, it's perfectly acceptable to say no.

                                  2. Your head seems to say gifts are not required, but your heart seems to believe otherwise. Gifts are not required, but hospitality does oblige guests: (1) show up on time with a smile and a sociable attitude (and this is where honesty is *not* the proper thing; fake it if you must), (2) write a lovely thank you note (need not be complex or formal), and (3) reciprocate hospitality according to their means and ability within roughly a year. Bringing a gift, btw, is not a substitute for these (though I think some of the energy around the hospitality gift issue arises from people mistakingly thinking it does).

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    I agree completely with #1. I lived in one apartment that could seat 7 people total, with two of them on my bed. Beyond that there was no floor space for any other seating. I lived in another place that was so small that I couldn't have more than 2 people over at once.

                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      Karl, I have never expected or received or sent a written thank you note for a party or dinner party. Thanks at the door is sufficient for me and I usually try to call the next day to say thank you and good job when I go to a friend's home. I don't care about reciprocation, either. I realize that some people do not have the interest and/or the facilities to host. I have had friends take me out for dinner as reciprocation, and that has been nice, but I do not expect it. I am not saying you are wrong, but what I have found being on CH is that there is not necessarily one set of rules, and it is easier than I thought to run afoul.

                                    2. If you indeed have a "teeny tiny" place, and seating is limited/restricted, I think it's okay to say "no", if only because if you say "yes" for one additional guest and then have to say "no" to another, feelings will get hurt, relationships will get strained, etc.
                                      My mother-in-law hosts a Thanksgiving dinner where it's just generally known lunch hits the table around 1, we put out what we have, and everyone eats until they're full. Half the people don't announce they're showing up beforehand, and only about half the people bring dishes, and yet we've never run out of food. People brings friends, ex-spouses show up, and everyone shares a meal of thanksgiving together... which I think was the original idea, not "but I only have 8 place-settings, and Thanksgiving is RUINED!"
                                      And regarding those who don't come bearing gifts to dinner parties -- don't invite them, or understand that some people are uncouth and clueless and will never get the hint even if you clip out a "Dear Abby" column and send it to them anonymously. I've been inviting my family to dinners for years, and I've never received a gift or token for providing a meal. Sometimes, they offer to bring a side or dessert, but I don't invite people to dinner expecting a gift. I invite them because I love them, and I want to make them happy by feeding them.

                                      1. there are so many possible subtexts here.

                                        First question: How well do you know the people who asked to bring a tag-along? How well do you know the tag-along? Is this likely to become a tradition or a habit for either? How honest can you be with the people in the middle? Kind honesty is always the best. Also give them an out. If it would really mess things up to have an extra person, more than not having the original guests, the best answer would be. "Oh, I am so sorry, but there is no way we/I can work your friend in. I understand you don't want him to be alone. Would it be best for all if the three/four/twelve of you did something on your own? Maybe you could stop by later in the evening for a while and visit." You do have to make it clear you are not uninviting your original guests, but giving them an option. it is so much easier than having them apologize for not coming after they already accepted an invitation from you. The fact that they may have already told him/her/them that they would be welcome is NOT your problem.

                                        As far as the second question. It seems that this is repetitive behavior. Some people believe it when someone tells them don't bring anything, and take it literally. Others understand that means don't bring anything for this meal. A gift for the host or hostess should always be received with gratitude, if there really isn't room anywhere for the huge vase of tropical flowers someone showed up with, then you haven't thought of the tub or shower. They would look great in there during the party. But yes, it means you should have scrubbed the mildew out before anyone arrived. Has this couple noticed that everyone else brings some kind of gift at least occasionally? Can you stage a conversation with one of your other guests? "Madge.. you always bring something, and it's lovely. You know it isn't necessary, and certainly not every time we see you. You are always so thoughtful."

                                        1. I just suck it up for Thanksgiving, and all the holidays, in fact. On the extra people, the guests who bring nothing, the annoying people you wish didn't come, I just let it all go.

                                          1. Let us know how your Thanksgiving works out Bite Me. Hope it is a happy one. As far as the extra guest, you have to do what makes you happy. Your house, your life, your meal. For the couple who always come with one arm as long as the other, I was going to say it must be the way they were raised, but I see that they are family members, and old enough to be considered adults. I'm surprised at how many of my fellow hounds are bashing you for actually noticing that this couple never contributes anything. Back in the day some things were simpler. My grandfather always said never show up with one arm as long as the other. End of story. I guess his words got hard-wired into me. But then again, back then being called a cheapskate was quite the insult. Those two are oblivious, cheap or lazy I guess. I hope they see the light eventually.

                                            1. I hate to sound mean, but I think it depends on who the extra gues(s) is and what is the reason. One year my niece wanted to bring a casual acquaintance whose family lived in the neighborhood. This kid makes Mickey Rourke look like the all-American kid, not sure he bathed regularly. Nor was he an upstanding citizen, I think he moolighted for Tony Soprano. I said we were full up. On other occasions, I have not had a problem when someone requested an in law be accommodated or out of town guest who suddenly materialized.

                                              As to gifts, it seems there are a LOT of poorly mannered folks these days. No gift is required for admission to my house, but even a small box of candy or cheap bottle of wine seems oblivious to some people. Where did they grow up - under a rock?

                                              1. Thanksgiving is an open house at my home for anyone who wants to come.....whether for the formal dinner, the hors doeuvre & cocktails before or just for coffee & dessert. Just grab a plate and find yourself a spot.....no one is ever turned away.....even if it means I have to sit at the kid's table.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  Same here fourunder... everyone is always welcome, but I let them know they may have to sit on the floor. Or the fire escape. Haven't had anyone in the hallway yet but who knows this year.
                                                  If someone I know is truly going to be alone on the holiday he or she will be welcomed to my home whether they bring something or not. As long as they don't start a fire or drink the last diet Coke, I'm OK.

                                                  1. re: iluvcookies

                                                    What's your address iluvcookies?

                                                    (will bring my own diet coke)

                                                    1. re: taos

                                                      Just follow the trail of turkey scent to the 4th floor and don't bump into my best friend's ex-roommate on the way up. Only 6 people this year (2 are here, 2 more stuck in traffic). The 2 that are here just went down to the bakery for another pie, and DH bought an extra 12 pack of diet Coke which I hid in the closet.

                                                2. Maybe they are so comfortable with you and your family that they don't feel the typical dinner party etiquette applies.

                                                  I've given up a few friendships because their manners were so poor I couldn't tolerate being around them any longer. But, there is a difference between someone being kinda inconsiderate once a year and constantly being inconsiderate. If it's the former, I'd try to be less irked.

                                                  1. Our formal dining table seats 8. We used to invite two other couples (2 kids for one, 1 for the other, 2 for us), and that allowed us to set up a separate "kids" table, which I suspect they enjoyed more because they controlled the conversation. If someone called a few days before, and we felt they were looking for somewhere to go, this gave us a nice cushion to include another couple. But, occasionally, a relative would visit from overseas, we'd invite our priest, and the "big" table would be full. If someone called and asked to include another at that point, we'd have to say "No" - what were we to do, put them at the "kids" table? I think that type of ostracism is worse than having nowhere to go.