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Dinner with friends - should they show up empty handed?

My SO and I like to cook and we really look forward to having friends over for an informal dinner on Fridays. We make a pasta dish, or roast a chicken, or grill steak. Our friends would show up with a bottle to share or tasty hunk of cheese to start. It was about enjoying the start of the weekend with friends.

Since moving to a new city a few years ago, we have made new friends and tried to carry on this tradition (every two or three weeks). But this group of friends show up empty handed and do not contribute to the gathering at all. Mind you, they will go through bottles of wine, beer, or cocktails. Finish their plates. We open our house to them and we enjoy their company, but we are beginning to feel taken for granted.

I have been open about it being an informal opportunity for us all to get together, contribute to the evening, and relax. They thought it would be fun. For a more formal gathering, I do not expect a thing. But for Friday dinner, we gather regularly. They participate in all the fun but do not even bring a six pack of beer. Do not clear their plate. They rarely reciprocate the offer to meet at their house. I'm OK if they do not like hosting or don't feel like they have the experience, but if that's the case, couldn't they make more of an effort when they are at our house?

What are your thoughts? Is it OK to always show up empty handed to our informal dinner gathering? Would you be OK with drinking your friends' liquor and eating dinner at their house for months and not contribute or reciprocate at your house? Am I old fashioned? Stingy? Or are they pretending to not know any better? It's hard to believe they're in the dark about this.

Thanks for your input and perspective.

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  1. I would never show up empty-handed, and would always try and reciprocate.

    That said, different people have different social values and standards. Your "friends" may think it is entirely appropriate to arrive sans gift.

    This is why when I decide to entertain it is NEVER with the expectation that my guests will bring anything except themselves, and I do it without any expectation that the guests will reciprocate in the future.

    At the end of the day, entertaining should be about enjoying other people's company, not as a quid pro quo exercise.

    Just my 0.02.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Thank you for the input ipsedixit. I guess my disappointment with all this is when we first met, we told them about the gatherings we had with friends back in CA and they thought it sounded fun to do it here. They said it would be refreshing to not always go out for dinner and instead have dinner in.

      Months later, the type of gathering we discussed is not really happening. Maybe I should suggest potlucks instead.

      1. re: Tidbits

        My friends almost always ask what they can bring, and I usually say wine (as large, frequent gatherings can get expensive to serve wine). But if folks were routinely not asking, I would make a gentle suggestion like, "Do you think you could bring a bottle of ___ on Friday?". I generally don't want folks to bring food, but it's nice to help defray the costs of large, frequent gatherings. Especially if those gatherings are almost always at your house.

        Edited to add: We also do a large tapas party a few times a year, and some of our friends have offered to contribute money as they're aware of how much it costs to cook a large number of dishes. That said, if folks aren't aware, just ask them to bring something. There's nothing wrong with, "Would you like to come over for dinner on Friday? I'll make the food, and you can bring the wine."

      2. re: ipsedixit

        Well said. Guests are guests, and nothing more.

        Now, there are many threads on CH regarding the guests, who show up with a wine, that they expect to be served. In my case, the wines have been planned for days, or even weeks.

        I usually ask our host/hostess if we can bring anything, and make offers. If the answer is "no," then a floral arrangement, or something special from my cellar will accompany us, but that is us. I never expect any wine gift to be served, as that is not my intention, unless I have been given the full menu and a request has been placed.

        Hunt

      3. Tidbits they may be just ignorant. How you are raised really has an impact. I'm stunned at some of the things my friends don't know. For example my one friend did not know that the bar would get mad if he bought a six pack and then sat there at the bar and drank one of the beers. Well the bartender educated him right quick but he really did not know any better. At one time another couple, Donna and George and my other friend and I had a saturday night arrangement. We would take turns having a card party for four at each others' homes and the way my friend Donna wanted it was that the host provided all the munchies and a good bit of the beer, but back up beer or beer runs were appreciated. It worked fairly well for a long time. Since these new friends come over so regularly it really isn't right that you should foot the bill for everything every time.
        My grandfather taught my mom never to show up as a guest with one arm as long as the other. And she taught me. Let us know how this turns out for you. Moocher and freeloader and sponge were quite the insults back in the day. :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: givemecarbs

          "a guest with one arm as long as the other"

          consider that one swiped (with due credit to your Grandfather of course)

        2. "What should I bring?" is the first question I'll ask if I'm invited over for dinner somewhere. Of course they should be contributing.

          But like the others say, they might just be ignorant or have different standards. I can just about believe that.

          The worst thing to do is say nothing and end up resentful. Why don't you just casually ask them to bring something next time. I'll often ask a friend to bring a bottle of wine. You'll be able to gauge from their response whether they were being ignorant, willfully ignorant or just rude.

          1. It's polite to offer to bring something, but I don't think a host should expect it. They may be the types who normally go out to dinner and rarely have the opportunity to eat dinner at someone's house. I don't think there's anything wrong with asking your friends if they can bring beer or cheese if you think that would help you out. If they refuse at that point, I'm inclined to say that they are just really rude, but now I think they are just ignorant.

            1 Reply
            1. re: queencru

              Good points. We host and attend events that allow for guests to contribute, and also ones, where the entire menu is set in stone. For the former, we discuss the dishes and suggest offerings. For the latter, it is ONLY their company, that we require. It just depends.

              I also ask, when receiving an invitation. If it is our company only, then we bring a "little something" just for the host/hostess, and let it go at that.

              Hunt

            2. I agree they're probably just ignorant. If they're young, they probably think this is a great way for them to save money and have fun and think you guys are so well off that you can afford to pay for everyone's food every week. The fact that they indicated it would be "refreshing" not to have to go out to dinner means to me they're glad they don't have to pay.

              I would make the next several dinners potluck around a "theme" (makes it easier for them to figure out what to bring) and see what they show up with. If they show up empty handed or with feeble offerings not even in keeping with the theme (say, the theme is thai food and they show up with a container of store bought chocolate chip cookies), you'll know they're just using you for free dinners. And however "nice" it is for them, it's not fair for you and your SO. The potlucks should allow you to weed out who you should keep inviting and who you shouldn't, and will get people in the habit of bringing something when they come, so then after a few weeks you can say, there's no theme this week, we're having X, and if you'd like to bring something to compliment that, that would be great.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rockandroller1

                I have to say I am not a fan of themes. Someone may not be familiar with that type of food and have no clue how to cook it or what to bring for that event. Not everyone has great cooking ability. Just asking someone to bring drinks or something basic is easier to do for people who don't cook. If these people go out a lot normally, it may be that they really don't do that much cooking for themselves.

                1. re: queencru

                  Your theme doesn't have to be a specific cuisine... My friends have a pot luck once a month and the themes have been as open as: Comfort Food. Childhood Favorites. Crunchy. You can get very creative with themes.

                  And you don't have to cook. This is a big pot luck and many people buy things to bring.