HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Unexpected (and unplanned for) 'guest' brought along to dinner -awkward situation - what do you do and how do you cope?

OH & I invited a neighbour around for dinner. Neighbour lives alone now her son has moved out to live with his girfriend and says that she doesn't much like cooking for herself. She has eaten with us several times, and we have also eaten takeout at her place over the years.

I had told her about a new recipe I wanted to try out - Rhone Valley beef (steak, anchovy, onion, parsley lots of red wine - my favourite food groups!), she loves french food, she used to live there, said that it sounded great and was really looking forward to trying it.

Two days before, I checked she was still OK to come along, mentioning I had to place an order for the 3 steaks with the local butcher, yes, she was looking forward to it.

Really enjoyed making that dish, it was going well, slowly cooked in a cast iron casserole dish, smelt delicious! I also made dauphinoise potatoes, green beans and garlic mushrooms as a side.

On the evening itself, she turns up.....with a bottle of wine and... her son's girlfriend!
Ahem...I wasn't expecting someone who I hadn't invited...

I'm normally pretty flexible and accommodating, but I've got 3 steaks and now 4 people.
OK, maybe I can cut up the steaks (not great on a presentational level) or I can forego mine for the additional 'guest'.

My neighbour then asks what we are having for dinner, which I found very strange given that we had discussed this specific dish in detail when I had invited her for dinner and reconfirmed, that it was Rhone Valley beef.

"but she gasps... Kath's a vegetarian!" (this I didn't know I didn't know! - I had only met Kath once before in passing and had no idea of her dietary preferences)

I didn't want to make Kath feel uncomfortable by raising the point about not knowing she was turning up as an unplanned guest in front of her as she clearly had no idea what was going on. It felt like a french farce!

In the end, Kath ended up eating dauphinoise potato and the vegetarian side dishes, supplemented with a french cheese plate and a lot of bread. I was mortified, I cook great vegetarian and vegan dishes but didn't have the heads up on this one.

I would say that normally my neighbour is pleasant company, fine and reasonable so this was totally unexpected behaviour coming from her. So I called her about it after later on that week, she states that she had mentioned to me she was bringing Kath along, we never spoke or got a call or text about that, plus why would we knowingly cook a specific meaty meal if a vegetarian was invited? My OH was really annoyed as he had heard me firming up the arrangements with her.

Have other Chowhounders had tricky situations similar to this, and if so, how did you deal with it?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Wow....that is overall a horrible guest experience.

    This year for Thanksgiving (being hosted on the Saturday after), I invited a wide range of expats who all had RSVPed, where I felt like I had a firm yes/no/maybe count. However, I live in Jerusalem, and given the war that happened the week before, all of my invitees (who largely work for international NGOs or are journalists) had no clue what their schedule would look like until the day/hours before dinner.

    I planned for a rough estimate, and ended up with way more people showing up than expected. I ransacking my fridge to find stuff to make more sides and ended up shredding the turkey to serve in a sauce to stretch the meet. Overall we ended up being able to serve everyone a generous plateful, but there were no leftovers. And had no vegetarians to worry about pleasing.

    While coming up with enough food was stressful, at least I knew that people just didn't know whether or not they could come until the last minute due to reasons beyond their control.

    1. first-why did you invite her to begin with? to show off your cooking prowess? to show her some love? if the 1st-bummer.for both of you.if the 2nd, they foods` not mportant, its the ineraction of one human to another. albeit rude, she might have had as yet unexplained reasons for bringing her. none the less, i would have welcomed them both, split the meat(altho she was a vegan, it would have demonstrated my willingness) and enjoyed the company-which should have been the priority.dont sweat the small stuff.well, you asked!

      1 Reply
      1. re: leigh58


        The OP laid out the type of relationship and how the invite had transpired quite clearly.
        The invitation was recipe based from the start with several conversations about the main.

      2. It sounds like you handled it well. No one left feeling offended, everyone left having had enough to eat. People can be forgetful so I'd let it go since this was unusual for her. She might just be distracted being by herself and all. That meal sounds delicious, btw.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chowser


          you handled it well and did all that could be expected. I'd put it up to "forgetfulness".

        2. I would have been thrown by this, especially when the guest understood the menu wasn't something which could be easily extended. You adjusted to the change quite nicely.

          Your neighbors behavior seems odd and your surprise indicates this is not normal for her. Perhaps she is having issues which are causing some memory lapses? I have a friend who is on medication and he frequently gets plans confused. I have learned to be prepared for any plans we have to go haywire.

          At this point I would let it go. Future menus with her would be extendable stews, casseroles, etc. for a bit just in case!

          1. I agree with chowser - I admire your ability to adapt to the situation. Kudos to you! I suppose the only solution at this point is to never invite that guest again. Sad that it has to be that way, but it sounds like you were very much disrespected in this situation. At least for me, that would have been a "last".

            And yes, the meal sounds delicious. I'd love to know the recipe for the Rhone Valley Beef.

            1. Posters here are quick to blame the guest.

              A key to this story is that the facts are in dispute. When questioned about it, the invited guest stated to the host that the question of the additional guest already had been discussed with the host.

              The "OH is really annoyed as he had heard" - unless all conversations were three ways, he only heard one side.

              1 Reply
              1. re: FrankJBN

                and who knows what the dynamic is between the neighbor and son's girlfriend? perhaps she showed up unannounced and the neighbor still wanted to have dinner and didn't want to make the g/f feel awkward? maybe she couldn't wait to get the g/f out of her house? maybe the neighbor takes meds that cause short-term memory fail? i could devise a range of soap-opera-like scenarios here, lol. evil twinz and amnesia and such. heh.

                i think the op handled it nicely but i don't think the neighbor needs to be banished forever, sheesh people.

                last year, i planned a smallish dinner party for my b/f's birthday. 10 people, give or take. we entertain often and this time i planned menu items that would have been too spendy for a party of 20, ya know? well, 2 of the guests each showed up with 3-4 people who HAD NOT been invited. just as i was pulling dinner out of the oven, suddenly i had 7 extra people, ALL of whom had showed up empty-handed. all of them. not even a 6-pack. i was truly beside myself and as a hostess, had never been on the receiving end of something so tactless and selfish.

                my b/f ordered in delivery wings from around the corner (the smell of which makes me sick when i walk by the place, fwiw) and another day had private conversations with the 2 people who were so rude. we all remain friends, they have been back over since, but will never pull another similar stunt, of that i am sure.

                btw, everybody concerned was well over 35. we do not live in a frat house. :)

                the op can privately discuss the communication fail with the neighbor, in a neutral way and try to find out what the what. or just let it go and plan on a little extra food next time. just in case. :)

              2. oh how strange and frustrating! It seems when you confirmed the three steaks with her she could have mentioned that Kath was vegetarian.

                Sounds like you handled it very nicely! I would have been completely flummoxed.

                4 Replies
                1. re: jujuthomas

                  The thing is if the neighbor thought she'd mentioned the other guest and that she was a vegetarian, then the three steaks would be right. She probably thought it was planned perfectly.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Very true. I guess I'm one for double and triple checking - especially with dietary restrictions. I would have casually asked something like "... and what do you have planned for Kath?" :)

                    1. re: jujuthomas

                      It's touchy when you ask to bring a guest. I might say, "Oh, I'd be happy to bring something vegetarian since Kath doesn't eat meat so we don't put you out" or something to that effect. But, I'd also hope the host wouldn't be insulted by the offer and people do get insulted by things I wouldn't think about. And that would have given the host the chance, in this case, to ask, "Umm, Kath?"

                      1. re: chowser

                        people are funny, in all kindsa ways. :)

                2. I'd chalk it up to a "senior moment" that one of the two of you clearly had and just try to forget about it. People bringing uninvited guests to parties is a huge pet peeve of mine so I definitely feel for you. It sounds like you two have an otherwise nice friendship and it seems as if what happened was not typical of your neighbor. I'd just chalk it up to a mis communication and try to forget it ever happened. It sounds like your neighbor is also an otherwise great guest as she brings a bottle of wine and reciprocates having you over for a meal. Definitely not typical behavior for the type of person that likes to bring uninvited guests.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Rick

                    I'm with Rick on this one. Sounds like a one-off - maybe her life was specially hectic at the time.

                    But if it happens again, and given that she's been good company several times in the past, I'd start wondering if there isn't some issue with her memory/perception.

                    As for facts being in dispute, for the sake of reasonable discussion, and unless the OP has given us good reason not to, we can/should only assume that the OP's recollection and perception of the event are accurate and true.

                  2. I encourage everyone to Google "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Veal Prince Orloff." You will laugh.

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: Reston


                        Great episode. I believe that that unexpected guest was Henry Winkler in one of his first roles.

                      2. re: Bob W

                        unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available on line any more.

                      3. I suppose you could have sliced all the steaks before serving and portioned out the slices?

                        I don't know, I generally choose to make dishes where there are clearly more servings than guests when inviting people over. You never know what their appetite level will be and I try and avoid the stress of worrying about not having enough when I can.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rasputina

                          For the vegetarian?
                          I hear you on not micromanaging servings for a party. I always have way too much food for events. But this was having one friend over for something very specific which was even discussed in detail in advance. Very different scenario. If I were OP and felt I had to plan to feed extra people different dishes on command every time I made a casual invite, I would be inviting a lot less often.
                          I don't know what to say to the OP... it's all very odd, but given you've known this person for years, I would assume the best... a massive and odd misunderstanding. And for the near future, ask her if she is bringing anyone else and what their dietary restrictions are.

                        2. No need to be "mortified." For whatever reason, you had an extra guest who also had a nice meal. I would just leave it there.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: escondido123

                            Exactly. No harm no foul really. It's not worth writing off someone over a mistake (wherever it lies) where nothing bad happened.

                          2. Wow, how awkward and unfortunate. I do think that because the dinner was discussed in detail, your neighbor may have just had a memory lapse, been foggy with cold or allergy pills or any number of things. I think you handled the situation just fine given how odd it was.
                            It has happened to me before in the strangest of manners. I had another couple over for dinner, had the perfect amount for everyone, and my rv happy in-laws showed up a day early. With a "surprise, we're here!" Maybe it was not polite, but there was not enough to go around and we were due to sit down to dinner, so I asked them what they would like on their pizza, placed the order for them, and opened up the table to seat more people. I offerd them a few tastes of things, but explained that as it was a small Saturday evening gathering, I was just really caught off guard.

                            You show up unannounced, you take what you get.

                            1. Ugh, yes. A bachelor friend of my husband's was invited to dinner one night, and I had made a dessert in individual ramekins. 30 minutes before we were expecting him, he called to say he was bringing a date. ??????? I put together a makeshift 4th dessert (for myself) and reset the table. They showed up late, without so much as a bottle of wine or an apology for the short notice. That was the last time this friend was invited to dinner!

                              I had a guest bring along an uninvited person to Thanksgiving one year too, which would have been fine given the quantity of food I always make. However, that person was a vegetarian, and there was but ONE vegetarian dish that year - I had even made my pie crusts with lard. It was pure luck that the gratin was vegetarian, too, as I usually use bacon fat for sauteing but had used butter because I was too lazy to get the bacon grease out of the fridge. At least he was gracious and grateful to be invited at all.

                              Anyway, I think you handled it well and I would probably chalk this one up to the neighbor's confusion. I'd probably not be in any hurry to invite her again, though!

                              1. Shamed to admit it, but in my mid 20s I was guilty of bringing my BF's friend and his GF along to a NYE party my married friend was hosting in her lovely new home. None of my other friends were married yet, and I was still in the college-era "got keg got party" mindset, so it never occurred to me that this was rude. My friend was clearly upset about the two extra people and I felt bad, certainly learned my lesson that night. Luckily, the friend's GF was a model and ate nothing all night.

                                1. Thank you to everyone who contributed with their view, it was useful to see the range of responses, insights and coping tactics if this ever happens again.

                                  My learning point: Will definitely go for more stretchable shareable offerings rather than individual/discrete dishes for the future!

                                  Seasons Greetings from Nottingham, England

                                  1. Well, one Easter, some years ago, I was told that we were hosting 4 additional folk, and I prepared for that. Unfortunately, on the Saturday, before, I was told that two others would be joining us, so I made additional arrangements. On Sunday morning, my wife got some calls. Seems that everyone had at least two others, who needed to be included. Besides ourselves, we had an additional 13 people, who just had to attend. For a group of 20, I would have had the meal catered, but instead, due to late notice, did the grilling, the bartending and the sommelier duties. Let's just say that the lamb chops were seared, the martinis not filled on time, and the wines were late getting poured. That will NEVER happen again.

                                    Now, I insist on knowing exactly who will be attending, a week before the "event," and if more than about six, then I call up my caterer for it, and get a bartender and sommelier, along with a couple of servers. Once was more than enough.


                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      More than six, a caterer, bartender, sommelier and a couple of servers? Along with more than six people, I couldn't fit that crew into my house. Have a great holiday, I know you will.

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        A practical solution for the OP's dilemma :)

                                      2. I don't have a problem with someone bringing an unexpected guest per se (okay, I do, but that's not my biggest hangup here. I do have a problem with someone stamping their feet and requesting why I would serve a particular dish. If it should be about food and friends for me, why do they get a pass on not focusing on the company--especially when I'm the one who went all out?! When people act so thankless and so demanding, I do not want to have them back over--and why should I?

                                        There are many explanations for why she would have brought someone. In general I think it is terribly rude to invite a guest to someone else's dinner, but there may have been extenuating circumstances. However, that is a situation where, if memory failed or whatever, I would say that did she mind me bringing (xx--fill in with some vegetarian friendly side) because my uninvited guest is vegetarian. This way I do not put an imposition on my host, but she has clearly gotten the message that the uninvited guest is vegetarian and has the opportunity to say "yeah that's great" or "in that case I'll whip up xx."

                                        In your situation I would've sliced up the beef and served it that way.

                                        1. Several years ago my (now) husband's close friend "surprised" us by bringing a woman he'd been seeing to our cottage for the weekend. I had carefully planned meals according to the number of guests we were expecting. It also happened that the weekend's guests were there to have a casual business meeting. Needless to say, the additional stranger threw us for a loop. I can't remember what I was making for the first dinner, but it was definitely a discreet portions type of meal, meaning a chicken breast per person or something along those lines. I did not have an extra for her and felt very nervous about the quantities of side dishes that were already prepared. We were very surprised to have a new person about whom we knew nothing thrown into our business meeting/social weekend. How awkward for her and for us. I was flustered at the last minute conundrum and the business meeting wound up being shortened, to avoid more awkwardness. The friend took it all in stride, shrugging off our formalness with invitations. I was very irritated. Sure, she'd share his bedroom, so no extra beds would need to be organized, but the first dinner and breakfast (until we could run out to the grocery store for reinforcements) were embarrassing for us as hosts. The friend thought we shouldn't sweat it. "Just throw a couple of burgers on the barbecue". He said. I think we did just that, in the end, but not without a few grumbles. It's not that she wasn't absolutely welcome, it was the friend's fault for not tipping us off at least a day in advance, so we could make adjustments to the menu and portions. Luckily, she wasn't vegan or allergy-addled. To this day, we still laugh about this first encounter with the girlfriend. She felt so uncomfortable that first night that she wound up drinking too much and made a bit of a fool of herself (who could blame her?). We apologized for a long time after that for making her feel anything less than welcome. It wasn't her fault. The boyfriend never admitted fault or wrongdoing/selfishness in any way. I can forgive him for his boorishness, but I will never forget that he's capable of this and may do it again in the future, with the next girlfriend. FWIW, the ex-girlfriend is still a close friend of ours, despite the rocky introduction.

                                          1. Well in spite of a lot of speculation, the point isn't how the additional guest ended up at dinner. The permutations run the gamut from total responsibility on one side to total responsibility on the other. Glitches are not unknown in human interaction and planning.

                                            The question is has it happened to you and what did you do about it. It has happened to many of us, and we do what the OP did. Squeeze an extra place setting onto the table, figure out how to redivide and augment the meal at the last minute, and do our best to make the additional guest feel welcome. Fallout with the person who invited the extra can be dealt with later.

                                            Sounds exactly like what the OP did, except for finding out what went wrong. Maybe it's not worth the trouble.

                                            Often it goes better if the host apologizes for their part in the miscommunication, no matter how obvious it is that they did nothing wrong. But it gives room for the other side to unbend a little as well. If it happens a second time with the same neighbor, then its time for a more in depth approach. For now mend fences and move forward. But don't completely leave out the mending fences portion. Boundaries are important.

                                            1. First of all you are so gracious and your enthusiasm for preparing delicious food is evident.Your menu sounded so scrumptious.I think you handled things in a very pleasant manner.If she had not been a vegetarian I would have just taken a small portion of my OH's meat serving and served the whole portions to the guests and I would have filled up on other things.Again you are very gracious.If you invite her again maybe put things in written form such as the menu.....number of guests because it sounds as if your dining guest is forgetful.

                                              1. I always stock Top Ramen for tender moments like this.

                                                1 Reply