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Chronically late/early guests (long rant)


For the past three years, I have cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at my brother's house for him, his kids, his fiance, her kids, and her PARENTS and sometimes one or two of her brothers and their kids. Average is 16 to 18 people each time (the kids are 16 - 24 and as pleasant as can be). We usually have one or two barbecues over the summer, low country boil in the spring, a few other dinners throughout the year. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE to cook for my extended family. Recipe searching, planning, menu making, shopping list generating, shopping for ingredients, prepping process, it's my favorite thing besides cooking it, and it's all a huge treat for me (I live alone and these are some of the few times I get to put on my chef's hat).

Consistently, her parents have either turned up a few hours late, or a few hours early. Every time. They always have an 'excuse' which is usually pretty lame (we thought the weather was going to be bad, we were waiting for a phone call from the cable company, the dog wouldn't poop - I didn't make that one up!, etc.). I would forgive a time or two, but every time? I have tried to be patient and gently tell them that it's very inconvenient for me, since I usually have the timing down to a T, but they've laughed it off - Oh, you're such a good cook, we trust you! URGH! To add insult to injury, when they're early they always show up starving and expect to sit right down and eat dinner. No matter that I've planned appetizers and a special cocktail. When they're late, they complain that things are too cold, too dry, too burnt, too limp. I'm not such a rigid cook that 5 or even 30 minutes would make a difference, but an hour or more?

I can't tell them off and alienate them, that would be unfair to my beloved brother. I admit, I'm pretty high strung, and get irritated at a lot of things, but sheesh, am I out of line here?

I used to have so much fun planning/cooking/hosting but lately, since I know they're going to screw up my timing, I sorta just don't want to do it anymore! My extended family are so appreciative of my cooking, always begging me to cook, and I enjoy the HECK out of it, but I get so upset when this happens.

Grrrrr. I think this isn't a topic so much as my need to get this out of my system. This past Thanksgiving was great, except for the cold turkey (they were late this time) the dry dressing, the limp salad, etc.

No need to respond, I've just booked my trip to Bermuda for Labor Day.

Thanks for letting me vent!

  1. You're a better person than I am because I would lay down the law on these people whether I enjoy cooking for them or not. I don't think it's right that you bite your tongue while they just disrespect you...but then, that's my opinion. If it were me, I'd let them know in no uncertain terms (and I mean, direct & to the point) what time the meal starts or what time you wish for them to be there. If they are not there within 10 minutes of that time, I'd start without them. If they came after that time, they would have to accept the meal as is, no heating it up for them, no going out of my way for them, no apologizing because the stuffing is cold...as is.

    I'd tell them that they may need to stop off for a snack if they plan to come earlier than 10 minutes before the time I gave them to be there. I would absolutely not change my plans for the time I set to begin serving my meal. If they don't like it, they could eat someplace else.

    It's one thing for something to happen and they were late, i.e, traffic was backed up, someone got sick, etc. But if they just mosey in whenever they feel like it, that would be nipped in the bud. I know you like to cook, but maybe you could just invite your brother, his girlfriend and their kids to your house and leave out the late comers...maybe when they realize they've been left out of the festivities, they'll get the message. People treat you the way you allow them to...Set the rules and hold your ground....

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cherylptw

      Agree, especially with the last 2 sentences. If your irritation is greater than the pleasure you get from cooking, then it's time to either have a talk with your brother and let him know or simply be unavailable for cooking. Inviting people to your place, as suggested b Cherylptw, is also a good solution. It may feel uncomfortable to discuss this, but these people are passive-aggressive and unlikely to listen to you. Your brother, OTOH, should step in say something to the fiancee's parents. Me? I'd simply not cook for them and invited friends to my place, friends I know own watches or cell phones with clocks.

      Of course, if the dog doesn't poop...

    2. Southernexpat, let me tell you.... I had a family member who CONSTANTLY came over an hour late for every Birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner that painstakingly and laboriously worked over. She was always late to a point that after the first few times, I decided I would serve the guests who had graciously arrived on time the sumptuous meal I had made, and the late comers could pick at what was left over. The first and last time the latecomer came and saw that the lamb was completely gone, and all she had to eat was leftover cold veggies and crackers she started to complain. I said "well if you had bothered to show up on time.... etc etc" I think she got the hint because this time she showed up 30 minutes before dinner, which is still half an hour late in my book, but at least she got the message.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gryphonskeeper

        Next party....state on the invitation or announcement.....DINNER SERVED PROMPTLY at X:XX..... and then make sure you do. If and when someone comes late and is annoyed, calmly reply, "I know you received the invitation/announcement, you didn't call and I'm not the *Chase Down ________ Police.* I have enough on my plate to serve the guests who arrived on time".....

      2. Let me preface this by saying that I am in no way defending the very inconsiderate behavior of your guests. But I have a friend who absolutely insists that people should show up 30-60 minutes after the stated invitation time, because that's what the host expects. If you're asked to come at 7, you should arrive between 7:30 and 8; otherwise you'll catch your host mid-prep, and possibly in her bathrobe. Is this a standard anywhere, or is my friend simply misinformed? (For the record, when she invites me over, I do make it a point to come a little late, and there are always plenty of people already there. Eating the shrimp. I resent this, because there's a limited amount of shrimp, and I want my fair share.)

        4 Replies
        1. re: small h

          I've never heard that theory..all the people I know mean what they say so if an invitation says 7 p.m that's not 7:30..if the host can't get their meal ready in that time then the invitation should state a later time...seriously. in my opinion, a host who says one time but means another is not respective of the guests time regardless if they are the one's coming for a meal. As I said, 10 minutes is one thing but 30 minutes + is just inconsiderate...

          1. re: Cherylptw

            It's definitely a cultural/regional thing. I know plenty of people who tell you to arrive at a certain time and are happy for you to come then, but you can bet that the food isn't going to be ready for an hour. I have one family friend who has people over for dinner and right before people are set to arrive, her husband decides to go shopping for home improvement supplies. He's absolutely never on time and everyone's used to it. With some people you just have to lie about the time you want them to be there. I have no qualms about doing that if I know someone is predisposed to arriving 30-60 minutes late.

            1. re: Cherylptw

              if dinner is at 6, do you want your guests coming just as you are serving, or do you want them there at least a few minutes early to have appetizers you put out, and to greet each other? I hate it when people show up just as I am plating the main course. Maybe its just me. But just as a side note, this is just for family gatherings, not dinner parties.

              1. re: gryphonskeeper

                for family when I say 7 I mean 7. I like to be completely ready to serve drinks and apps in the living room then I can go back and forth to the kitchen and get the mains ready for dinner around 7.20-7.30.

                For a dinner party I would expect people to be a little later - maybe 15 minutes from the invite time. Earlier is annoying for a formal dinner party.

                My mother in law invites us for a time and is not ready for hours afterwards. She gets things together for dinner on the fly. I am learning to eat earlier if I don't want to starve to death.

                We went to my husband's niece for Tgiving and were invited for 2. I think we ate at 5.30. I just don't get that.

          2. People have weird stuff. They do things for reasons you have nothing to do with, especially at holiday time. You can't control other people, you can only control your response.
            Put yourself first. If you love to cook, and relish this opportunity to shine and nourish, then do it! There will certainly be an appreciative group of recipients.
            You might consider choosing dishes which are temperature flexible, i.e, can be eaten hot or at room temp. Or, just do what you like and let the late comers (or early-arrivers) deal with the consequences.
            You are doing a wonderful thing for your brother and his guests. Please yourself and the considerate guests, and those who miss out, well, tough luck on them.

            1. "I can't tell them off and alienate them, that would be unfair to my beloved brother".

              You make no mention of anyone saying anything to her parents other than your 'patiently and gently' saying it's inconvenient for you. It seems everyone has left, not only the cooking, but the teaching of proper manners to you, I had a friend who normally would show up at least an hour late to any meal at my home or otherwise. It wasn't until everyone confronted him that he began to change his extremely rude habit. All your extended family is doing is enabling these people by not saying anything in defense of you, the cook who's doing all the work. The behavior of these people is rude and inconsiderate and they're doing it for a reason. For some reason the members of your family are allowing it.
              Bermuda sounds lovely and it's always good to get away. The problem at home with your family is still there when you return unless you choose to change it.

              1. I don't know if I agree, holiday dinners with extended family has always been a drawn-out evening and if I said 5pm it wasn't because dinner was going to be served at 5pm, more likely 7 or 7:30, the time before is for socializing, drinks, cocktail apps. Even non-holiday dinner parties there's always at least an hour (usually more) before dinner is actually served. Although coming a couple of hours early and expecting to sit right down and have dinner before anyone else has arrived is just weird - I'd expect them to be happy with a few of the cocktail apps while waiting for dinner.

                1. Thanks y'all, so much. It felt so good to get this off my chest. There are a lot of subtle relationship issues involved, that I won't go into, but the words of encouragement here have meant the world, and I have learned a few more tools to make these holiday dinners more enjoyable for ME.

                  And, I have time to plan strategy - Easter is a long time away!

                  1. Here is not a popular position...Grow Up...IT'S FOOD

                    If you know they may show up early have some snacks for them. If they show up late it is up to your brother and SIL to have a discussion with them If there is anyone you might have a discussion with, it is them, DO NOT under ANY circumstances discuss this with the parents.

                    It's T'Giving...it's Xmas. As many people have posted on this site, please get over yourself.

                    Sorry for the harshness, but c'mon, it's family and given all the data points you have, work around it. If you are as great as you say, it's a challenge.

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      WOW, that was kinda harsh! Gotta say, though, I needed the thrashing. I do have a hard time sticking up for myself, but goshdarnit, it's my holiday, too, and it's NOT selfish of me if I do things my way and damn the torpedoes!

                      Ain't it funny how anonymous strangers can make you feel better about yourself?

                      1. re: southernexpat

                        While I get the gist of jfood's advice, the tone is almost like someone hacked into his account.

                        Serve on time, or at most 15 minutes late, to show respect to your brother, his fiance, her brothers and all their kids, who've shown you and each other respect by being on time. Always have simple snacks available if the parents (or anyone else) arrive really early. If the parents still complain they're starving and want to eat dinner NOW, just smile and do nothing. If they arrive late and complain the food's cold, just smile and do nothing. If they arrive really late, assume they weren't able to call you to announce an urgent change of plans, and clean up at a reasonable time. If they arrive after that, offer reheated leftovers, just smile and do nothing else.

                        Don't let them pull you and all your guests into their drama. Treat them like any other unrelated guest. After all, if they were any other guest, there's no way they'd arrive an hour late, and then expect everybody to have waited until they showed up before dinner was served.

                        1. re: dump123456789

                          'just smile and do nothing else'

                          Isn't there enough covert behavior going on already without adding to the existing problem?

                          1. re: latindancer

                            How does "offer reheated leftovers, just smile and do nothing else" add to the problem ? It's an intractable problem. No sense in OP wasting energy on it.

                      2. re: jfood

                        Sorry, jfood, you're wrong.

                        It isn't about food, it's about control. We're not talking about somebody who is unavoidably detained; we're talking about people who are deliberately making things as difficult as possible for the rest of the group. I'm not sure why some people feel the need to do it, but they're out there. There are some on my wife's side of my family.

                        You're absolutely correct that discussing the issue is counterproductive. Seriously, does anybody believe these folks don't realize how much they're disrupting the holiday? THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT. Confront them and they'll start either yelling or sobbing, further ruining the festivities for everybody else.

                        I use "everybody else" advisedly. This type doesn't show up early or late just to make things difficult for the cook. They want to screw up the holiday for the whole family. It isn't a question of the OP getting over herself, it's a matter of the whole family being held hostage by a couple of malfeasors.

                        The only way to deal with these types is to take away their power to disrupt the event. Just ignore them. Serve dinner at the appointed time. Those who are 2 hours late will whine about eating leftovers, to which the best response is an expression of sincere sympathy that they weren't able to make it on time. Guaranteed, they won't be late for the next holiday meal.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          I agree it's about control. It's also about plain old rudeness. Heck with serving the leftovers, I put them up. Let go eat fast food. If they don't care enough to show up on time then I don't care if they go hungry.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              I assume this is "for the win" and not the older FTW meaning :)

                              1. re: nofunlatte

                                Indeed. Don't even know the old one (?).

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  F*ck the world. Probably pre-internet.

                                  1. re: nofunlatte

                                    Ah, thanks for that. Had no clue.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                I think it's pretty rude to be consistently off-time for a dinner party (late or early) ...I'd be tempted to just go ahead and serve next time they were late. I'd definitely leave them sitting on the sofa with a cocktail while I finished the meal prep if they turned up early. Try to keep a smile on your face, OP!

                                eta: My annoyance level would go up the more things I changed to accomodate them, so by serving the food (and saving them the leftovers) or by smiling and popping them in the sitting room while I finished getting ready, I'd be able to be a happier and more cheery host!

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  Amen. Good sensible advice. Of course, I'm not surprised at that coming from someone who cooks wearing Doc Martens!

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    jfood agrees with the "control" comment wholeheartedly. And if these were people of the same age, then he would agree that a "family meeting" is in order. But it's the parents and one needs to give a very long leash with parents. They will not be around long and confronting, embarassing or anything else is not the answer, nor proper.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      These people aren't OP's parents, so there's no reason why she should give them a longer leash beyond what she would normally give any other guests.

                                      1. re: dump123456789


                                        OK they are the OP's brother's, fiancee's parents and they too deserve the SAME r-e-s-p-e-c-t as if they were the OP's parents.


                                2. As the cook, you can't control when people show up. The only thing you can control is when dinner is served. So if you said that dinner's going to be at 6:00, serve dinner at 6:00 (or shortly thereafter). If some people show up at 4:30 and want to eat, offer 'em a bowl of cold cereal to tide them over until dinner is served. At 6:00. And for those can't arrive until 8:00, you can always offer to hold plates of leftovers in the oven from the meal you served. At 6:00.

                                  There's no need to get upset about it. And confrontation is almost always counterproductive, especially with people who are as insensitive to others as these folks seem to be. If you do confront them they'll be offended, but unlikely to change their behavior. Let them know how sorry you are that they missed dinner because their dog was irregular. But don't let it ruin the holiday mood or everybody else's dinner.

                                  1. My husband's family is chronically late for everything. My father-in-law was even late for my mother-in-law's funeral. Anyway I used to try to have Sunday lunch at 2:00 p.m. They didn't show up till 3:00 p.m. So I tried reverse psychology, I told them 1:00 and hoped they would show up at 2:00 p.m. They caught on to that. So whatever time I told them we were eating, my husband and I would set down and eat. It only took them two times of coming in late to no food and the dishes washed to realize to be on time. If I'm going to take the time to cook it, you can show up on time!

                                    1. i have a very close relative who is habitually late - whether it is for a meal, a wedding (she missed being a bridesmaid at a cousin's wedding because she was so late), or going to school. many years ago, we were both attending the same university and she asked me to pick her up - no problem. but she would never be ready and we were both late for classes a couple of times. so i told her that i would be at her home at 8:15, and would leave at 8:20. after 2 or 3 of these attempts without her being ready i simply stopped coming by.

                                      over thirty years have gone by since then. she still persists in being late. we always invite her for family functions, but she and her husband understand that we will be starting dinner at the scheduled time. they are probably late 3/4's of the time, but no one cares. if the food is cold or gone, too bad.

                                      i think that you are making a much bigger deal out of this than necessary. just smile, whenever they show up, and go on as if nothing matters. it will make your functions much more enjoyable for you.

                                      ps: we also plan elaborate meals, and the people that do show up on time are very happy and grateful.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: justanotherpenguin

                                        I AM too uptight about timing of holiday dinners, and I thank you all for your advise. Isn't the global internet wonderful for bringing us all together? Thanks for the support, world people. Spread the love.

                                        1. re: southernexpat

                                          I agree with others who said to just serve dinner on time and latecomers can eat what's left. I stopped inviting a habitual latecomer and no longer go to restaurants with her because she cannot be anywhere on time (often was 45 min - 1 hr late for restaurant reservation).

                                      2. Since you're cooking, but your brother's hosting, and they're his in-laws, pass the responsibility of managing their behaviour over to him. So next time, if you've invited people for 1pm, and told them that's when food will be served, if they're not there by 1pm, say to your brother "Do you want to give X & Y a call to see if they're on the way?" He can then find out if they're ten minutes away, or remind them that you'll be serving now, and you won't be holding on for them. If they arrive early, suggest your brother entertains them, finds them some crackers/nuts or whatever. You're just the cook - *he's the host* - so it's up to him to deal with this - don't take it all on yourself!

                                        1. Folks, the replies here have gotten increasingly unfriendly, so we're locking the thread.