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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.

GEORGE: Why?

ELAINE: Because it's rude, otherwise.

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

ELAINE: Yes.

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.