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Bringing food to parties/dinners

I've had an ongoing debate with someone about etiquette concerning bringing food to invited parties/dinners. I'm hoping you guys can help me out. The debate centers around etiquette on the part of the bringer and on the receiver.

Here's the situation: Receiver (host) invites bringer to a party/dinner. The host does not forcefully state or make it truly explicit that you should (e.g. potluck) or should not (catered event) bring food.

Think of the Seinfeld episode "The Dinner Party"

ELAINE: Oh listen we should stop off on the way and get a bottle of wine or something.

JERRY: Yeah. (pointing at Elaine as he goes into the bedroom)

GEORGE: What for?

ELAINE: These people invited us for dinner. We have to bring something.


ELAINE: Because it's rude, otherwise.

GEORGE: You mean just going there because I'm invited, that's rude?


GEORGE: So you're telling me instead of them being happy to see me, they're going to be upset because I didn't bring anything. Ttst --You see what I'm saying?

JERRY: The fabric of society is very complex George.

GEORGE: I don't even drink wine. I drink Pepsi.

ELAINE: Ya can't bring Pepsi. (Elaine starts putting on her coat and gloves)

GEORGE: Why not?

ELAINE: Because we're adults?

GEORGE: You telling me that wine is better than Pepsi? Huh (snort), no way wine is better than Pepsi.

JERRY: I tell you George, I don't think we want to walk in there and put a big plastic jug of Pepsi in the middle of the table.

GEORGE: I just don't like the idea that any time there’s a dinner invitation there's this annoying little chore that goes along with it.

JERRY: You know, you're getting to be an annoying little chore yourself.

Here are my questions:

1.) Bringer: When invited to a party, is the general norm to bring a food item?
2.) Receiver: When receiving a food item from a guest, should you always make it (at least seemingly) available to the rest of the party? You dont necessarily have to force the brought item down guests' throats...but at least make it appear that the item is available.
3.) When food is brought to the party, is it now in the ownership of the host? In other words, is it not appropriate for the bringer to take back the leftovers of the food he brought to the party? (imagine one scenario where you brought the item in a plate...half of the item has been eaten and you need to take the plate back. Who gets the half eaten item?)

If the answer to one or all of these questions is "it depends", can you detail when it is and is not appropriate? I

I grew up in a different cultural environment than in the U.S., so the answers to my questions above may be different...and i want to gauge what the chowhound universe feels about these issues.

thanks in advance

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  1. 1. House Gift is appropriate gesture....wine or food....but, not necessary

    2. I would make it available.....but, not necessary

    3. The host owns it and decides its final destination for the evening,,,,,,fridge, garbage can or other

    1. 1. Depends on the kind of party.
      2. I usually do, but I wouldn't say it's a must.
      3. I don't know who "owns" it, but if I am throwing a potluck party the guests should take back what they brought.

      1. 1. Only if it is a pot luck party. You will be told so in the inviation, or you can ask what you can bring and will be told whether or not it is pot luck. It is norm (for me) to bring a gift for a host. The gift can be food, such as something for breakfast the next morning or wine for the host to enjoy at a later time.
        2. Only if it is pot luck party. If the host has a planned menu then food brought is assumed the gift for the host. It is rude to try to plan your own menu in addition to the work the host has put out.
        3. Not if a pot luck party. However I usually take a plate and utensils which I can leave, in particular if I know I am going to have to leave early. I buy such items either at after Christmas sales or garage sales. This is opposed to putting the half eaten item on one of the plates used at the party and taking a dirty plate and utensil home.

        I never watched a full episode of Seinfeld. I still don't get it.

        1. I would say that the standard is to bring a hostess gift, which does not have to be food related. That acts as a token of appreciation for the invitation. Common items are a bottle of wine or other alcohol, flowers, or chocolates.

          What to do with the food dish is up to the recipient. If the host has already chosen wine, or if the one bottle you brought is not enough to go around, or it clashes with or duplicates what the host has cooked they are under no obligation to serve it. For that reason, I would say that it is rude to bring a food dish (ie, something where it is obvious that this is meant for immediate consumption) unless cleared with the host in advance. It puts too much pressure on the host to essentially change their dinner to accommodate random last minute additions.

          The item and all leftovers belong to the recipients. So no, you don't get to take a bottle of wine and take the half bottle back. It's more considerate to the hosts to take gifts on a disposable platter, otherwise you can ask for the platter back after the item is finished and they've washed it.

          So to summarize, I would say that you should not assume an event is potluck unless explicitly told so. it *is* appropriate to take a small not-immediately-consumsble gift when you are invited for dinner, with the expectation that it will not necessarily be served then, and it is now the property of the hosts. Bringing a prepared dish of food for consumption during the meal is only appropriate if you have cleared it with the host in advance, but it is okay to ask if you should bring anything when you are invited.

          1. I'm in agreement with the gist of most of these replies: a host/hostess gift with optional usage is the norm for most dinner parties, formal or informal, and it's best in the form of a bottle of wine, a non-perishable, non-dinner food item (such as fudge or homemade cookies), or a non-centerpiece floral thing, rather than something that looks like you expect the host/hostess to serve right now.

            One episode we suffered through last year involved a couple of friends who came to a potluck party. They showed up fairly late in the evening, and brought what amounted to a multi-course dinner! We had two tables pretty much covered with dishes from everyone else, and though we were able to remove and/or consolidate enough of what had been all or partly consumed to make room, the sheer volume of food, offered to a crowd that had pretty much stuffed itself, meant that there were massive amounts of leftovers. These the contributors GENEROUSLY insisted on leaving behind! Now, wasting food is something I've been taught since childhood to regard as a sin against the Holy Ghost, and I spent a good part of the next day shovelling gallons of perishable food into garbage bags, hating these friends of ours for putting me into that position.

            So I think the applicable rule here is: you do NOT bring a feast to a feast, you bring a CONTRIBUTION. The man who did this is a compulsive overachiever, and a damn good cook, but I wish there were some nice way to learn the boy some manners.

            1. 1. I always bring a bottle of wine for the party...and another for the host. I never bring food unless I am asked, I hate it when I am the hostess and plan a menu -and someone brings something out of "theme". Awkward.
              2. I say "oh, that looks wonderful, is that for tonight...or......."? I let the bringer decide if it goes on to the party table or in my fridge.
              3. If you bring food to share for the evening, then it belongs to the host. If the host asks you to take it back home, then do it. I hate sweets left around the house (rather my waistline hates sweets left here). I almost always ask the bringer to take their half eaten item back home with them -if it's easy to do so.

              1. My local Trader Joe's always has lots of little pots of orchids. That's my usual hostess gift.

                1. 1- host gift, yes, ... don't bring food except things like chocolate (or other small fancy things) or if asked by the host when the invitation is done.
                  2- depends... but mostly no. if it's alcohol and fits the dinner, maybe (if not having enough booze) , if food not really (unless potluck).
                  3- it belongs to the host.

                  1. Bring it. Put it down. Start drinking.

                    1. If I am the guest and the host/hostess doesn't specify to bring anything, I contact them directly and ask them if they would like me to bring anything (while saying it won't be a problem and that if they need me to help out on any way, I'd be glad to). If they say no, then I won't bring food or drink, but I might bring some flowers or something I know they'll like or can use without imposing on them too much. I'll also make it a point to tell them when I give it to them that they're not obligated to set anything I give them out, but that I just wanted to give them something to show my appreciation.

                      As the hostess, if someone brings food, I'd set it out because I'm not the type to have some sort of rigid menu for a party, even a dinner party. Food is food, and someone might want to eat whatever a guest or guests bring to the party, so I'll find room to set it out. If no one ends up eating it at the end of the night, I'll ask the person who brought it if they'd want to take it home with them. If they insist I keep it, then I keep it. If I don't have room to keep it, I'll probably end up giving it to someone else. No big deal.

                      In the end, it depends on how well you know the people inviting you. If you don't know them that well, then just err on the side of caution.

                      1. Folks, our past experience with this topic and these types of threads is that the discussion almost always ends up getting heated when people start to discuss what they don't like to do (or have others do), often in response to another poster who has posted what they like to do. These threads usually get to a place where we have to lock them or remove them, and we'd hate to have to do that.

                        We're going to ask everyone to please try to stay focused on the original question, and to try not to criticize or make negative statements about what other posters have suggested.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: The Chowhound Team

                          I hope this wasn't in response to my post, because I honestly didn't read all the replies before replying. It's just me covering the scenarios that are important to me, personally. If I were to respond to someone's opinion, I would do so by clicking on the "reply" directly under their post, as I would hope most CHers would. Am hoping not everyone is reading some passive-aggressive nothingness in my posts. If I have something to say to someone, I will make sure it's to that someone and not just add a new reply at the end of a post to antagonize.

                          1. re: yfunk3

                            I seriously doubt this was in response to you, yfunk3. And I for one do not read passive-aggressive nothingness in your responses.

                            1. re: yfunk3

                              Looks like a preemptive mod to me. :-)

                          2. Thinkin' out loud here, folks: If I was invited to a party and the hostess did not specifically mention potluck or ask me to bring something, I would only bring a bottle of decent wine for them to enjoy either now or later to their preference, as a host/ess gift. If a guest brought a spare dish that I wasn't expecting and it fit in with the schema of dinner, yes, I'd serve it. If it didn't fit in, I'd hopefully have the presence of mind to say, when receiving it, "Oh, this will make a fantastic side dish/whatever tomorrow night for us; thank you so much for going to the trouble", thereby resolving any question of whether or not it will be served that very night. If it was a close friend, I wouldn't sugarcoat; if just an acquaintance I'd just receive it gracefully and let them know the dish will be returned. Which I would do, clean and with a thank-you note.

                            1. Honestly, nobody has ever showed up at a dinner party of mine with food. Ever. Does this really happen?

                              I think if they did, I'd serve it regardless because that just gets it over with. Otherwise, I have to (1) eat it and (2) return the dish some other time, thereby dragging out the whole faux pas of the whole thing.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Raids

                                I'm with you on paragraph one. As the mods say, these issues come up regularly here but I've never had it happen in MY real world.

                                And it's unlikely I would serve it unless it was some little snacky thing that I could include with what I'd already planned. And in this hypothetical event :) I'd definitely send the person home with their serving ware if it was nondisposable.

                                I also think the less said in that hypothetical event the better. Just say "thank you so much" and set it aside. Do that whether you're going to serve it or not. We tend to want to apologize and wind up blethering on and on :)

                                1. re: Raids

                                  Among some people it's considered rude to show up to party empty-handed. It seems to vary from region to region, and is not necessarily limited to one economic or cultural group specifically. It is never wrong to ask the host/hostess what if anything you can bring, and you should always do what they ask, especially if you don't know them very well. A small host/hostess gift is generally qelcome

                                2. 1.) Nope, unless you speak with the host first
                                  2.) Alway? nope. It is nice but not necessary
                                  3.) Ownership belongs to host. If a plate or cannister is required to return. Host should replate in their own stuff.

                                  1. Uninvited food at a dinner party is a problem where I live. There are many people who won't take "no, thanks" for an answer. I had to smile at the poster who wrote about guests bring a feast to a feast. That recently happened to me, it was most definately not a potluck event. I put their food in the laundry room and asked them to take it with them when they left. (I ruffled feathers that evening)

                                    Anyway, to answer the questions -

                                    1.) I always ask if I can contribute something. If the answer is no, I will take a bottle or two of wine for the host to enjoy later (if I know they are winos) or a small vase of flowers or a small flowering plant - temporary enjoyment, not huge houseplants.

                                    2.) If I asked a guest to bring something, naturally I would put it out. Unrequested food? It depends on the dish.

                                    I am going come off sounding like a jerk but here goes - I put time into planning my menus and I do not welcome random dishes showing up.

                                    3.) Ownership? In my opinion, stuff brought to the party belongs to the host. Unless the host is a jerk like me and tells people to take their two coolers full of home with them.

                                    I do know many groups where people expect that they are taking any of their leftover dish back home with them.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cleobeach

                                      Stuff brought unsolicited I figure is mine to keep or refuse. If it's something we will not eat or drink, and we don't know someone else who might appreciate it, we'll ask them nicely to take it, but thank you SO much.

                                      If it's a potluck, of course they can take it all home. If it's wonderful (like some tetrazzini and some Jansson's Festrelse I'm remembering) and they offer to leave some, that's good, but it is theirs to dispose of.

                                    2. I am going to a friend of a friend's house for a casual dinner this saturday. I happen to know that the hostess is making lasagna/salad/garlic bread. My friend who is taking me to her friend's for this dinner is bringing a MEATLOAF as a surprise food gift. When I questioned her saying I'm not sure how meatloaf is going to go with the lasagna dinner her response was 'that's ok--everyone likes my meatloaf'. This friend always brings random things without regard to what the host is serving. I have had her show up at my house when I have told her to only bring wine with all the leftovers from her fridge to make a salad. Of course, I usually already have a nice salad made so sometimes I have sent her home with what she brought. She thinks nothing of it.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: sparkareno

                                        I love it. She reminds me of the guy with his ribs (an old, long thread).

                                      2. I grew up in a different cultural environment in the Midwest then in FL, or it's the community[y that I live in FL. I would be delighted to be invited to dinner without being asked what would I like to bring. Doesn't seem to be happening. I have always believed that when I invite someone to dinner that it is an invitation to dine at my house not to supply me with food or drink. If I state that it is a potluck, that is a whole different ballgame. The latest invitation I received was to a party which asked me to bring my own bottle and an appetizer. So, this couple is now hosting ? a party for their friends, many who I do not know, and we are all supplying the food and our own drinks. Some party! I declined the invitation. We are not poor, nor are we young, we can all afford to host a party or dinner.
                                        I prefer guests do not bring me a hostess gift as I really do not need more stuff, particularly stuff that I don't want. If someone makes some cookies or maybe nuts and leaves them for another time that's fine, the same with a bottle of wine ... none of which is necessary.

                                        1. There are places (or groups) where it is assumed that people will show up with something - Hawaii being one of those places. Here, if the host/hostess says "please don't bring anything" that translates to "the main dishes are taken care of" so showing up with a dessert, or an appetizer, or a bottle or two of wine (or - yes - even soft drinks) is a social norm. If it is a small sit-down-at-the-table meal for only a few people, the host is expected to be explicit about that, specifyign that extra food - and extra guests, are discouraged, but sometimes show up anyhow. At an informal party, extra food and extra guests are to be expected, welcomed, and served. You just have to take into account what the norm is for a given event, and plan accordingly. But I've never had anyone get offended if I show up with a bottle of wine or a box of chocolate. I would not assume or expect that to be served at that particular party, that is the host's choice.

                                          1. You don't take food for immediate consumption to a dinner party - unless it's a box of chocolates, petit fours or other small delicacy for after-dinner nibbling, and which the host/ess has the perfect right to keep for their own consumption if they don't feel like sharing it. Or unless the host/ess has asked you to contribute. If you want to take a hostess gift, take something for them, not for the party.
                                            And if you offer to bring something and the host/ess says 'please bring X' you do it, and you expect it to be used at the event. It would be very rude for the asked-for dish to disappear into the kitchen and never be seen again.

                                            Of course it's all cultural... the first time my mother was invited to a party and the invitation said 'bring a plate', she thought the host didn't have a big enough tableservice! So she took a plate as asked... but it was empty. I'm sure it was all very embarassing to her as a newly-immigrated teenager, but it's a funny story today.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. The oddest one of these events happened to me a few years ago. I was invited to attend a going away party for a friend who was moving. The host asked each of the attendees to prepare a specific dish that the guest of honor had enjoyed previously at each guests home. So, we all came with our dishes in hand. When it was time to leave there were a LOT of leftovers from this potluck brunch. We started to clean up and the host asked us all to please leave the food there because she was hosting another party later that day and wanted to serve these same dishes. Essentially we catered her other party!!! To her credit, she did wash all of the dishes and deliver them to our houses the next day. Pretty bizarre!!!

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: rjlebed

                                                Just when you think you've heard it all. That's amazing.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  It did give me an AMAZING story to tell! It is really hard to believe that someone would have the chutzpah (nerve) to do something like that!

                                                2. re: rjlebed

                                                  What about when people steal the host's food?

                                                  When my grandmother was still alive, I often hosted lunches at my home for her, all her sisters and other female members in the family. I planned the menus around preparing to go boxes for the elderly ladies so they had a nice meal to reheat at home later on. Most of them long since stopped cooking and they loved the take-home meals, to them it was a real treat.

                                                  At one lunch, my mom made a huge fuss about how I shouldn't make so much food, I shouldn't take the time to make them take-home meals, etc. I thought it was strange but whatever.

                                                  After everyone was done eating, I went into the kitchen to fix their take-homes and I noticed my Mom carrying my food out the back door! I called for her to come back but she ignored me, first claiming she didn't hear me, then that she didn't understand that I was fixing take-home meals for the elderly aunts and then claiming she wanted to "make things easier for me"

                                                  A couple of days later she tells me how so and so came to visit them and she reheated "all that extra food you made" and they had a lovely meal. Nice, real nice, mom. You are too lazy to cook so you steal my leftovers that you knew full well were intended for your aunts.

                                                3. 1. Whenever I'm invited to a party, I always ask if they'd like me to bring anything. If the answer is no, I always bring a bottle of nice wine as a host/ess gift. Never food, at least not anything perishable that would need to be consumed right away.
                                                  2. If guests bring unsolicited food I guess it depends on how it fits. I'd say it's up to the host/ess whether to serve it or not. I've quite often had my bottle of wine set aside and the preselected wines served, it doesn't bother me at all.
                                                  3. Yes, the gift now belongs to the host/ess. unless it was a potluck (i.e. not a gift), in which case the bringer should be able to take the leftovers home.

                                                  1. The pepsi..if its out doors.. i guess. But taking the leftovers back. . That is just tacky. The food stays with the host. If the food was shared in your Mikasa be sure to pick it up...on another date. But packing up your contribution before anyone else can take any home... why did the person even bring it ?

                                                    1. 1) No. If you feel generous with your time, you can directly contact the host and ask if there's anything they want you to bring.

                                                      A separate tradition is a gift for the host/hostess. This is usually a 'token' thing that can be reserved for another time: alcohol/flowers/chocolates are the most common.

                                                      2) Here's the thing - if a guest brings an actual food dish, they expect you to serve it right then (what really is the alternative?). You can try to be confused (oh this will be great for lunch tomorrow!) but that's awkward.

                                                      3) If they do bring food, they hopefully brought it in a disposable container and so you are meant to have both. If they brought food, in a non-disposable container, and it doesn't all get eaten the following dance tends to happen:

                                                      Receiver: Here is your dish with the leftovers in it. Thanks for bringing it! It was delicious!
                                                      Bringer: Oh! Do you want the leftovers? We won't be able to eat all this at home.
                                                      Receiver: Oh no, no, it was great but you should just take the whole thing.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                                        Regarding point #1 - I do think it's helpful for it to be clear whether a brought item is a gift or strongly intended to be consumed during the meal. Items like a dessert that doesn't keep for very long or a pricy bottle of wine/alcohol with a direct expectation of being shared, should definitely be coordinated with the host. Something to the effect of saying "I just returned from overseas with an interesting bottle for all of us to try" at least gives the host to politely decline or understand that the whatever is intended to be consumed. Otherwise it's entirely fair for the host to presume it's a gift if there was no conversation about bringing anything.

                                                        1. re: goldangl95

                                                          Regarding Point #2: If I were hosting a dinner and one of my guests brought an actual food dish, I would feel ZERO obligation to serve it at that time. If it was a small appetizer or a small dessert I might consider serving it. But if it was an entree-type dish, or even a side dish, I'd thank them, tell them it looks delicious and ask if it freezes well so I can enjoy it at another time. NO apologies for not serving it that night, no embarrassment, no confusion, no guilt. It's really no different than a guest bringing a bottle of wine when I've already paired wines with dinner. Thank them for the gift and put it away to uncork another day.

                                                          1. re: CindyJ

                                                            "I would feel ZERO obligation to serve it at that time"

                                                            So, do you normally tell guests beforehand not to bring food?

                                                        2. We went to a small dinner party last night (3 couples). We brought couple bottles of wine. As I gave them the wine I said "I thoight of bringing Pepsi, but I was told I couldn't. I got the 'look' and then I had to explain the Seinfeld reference. It didn't land. (Seneity now!)