Miss Manners: The more, the merrier — but not when it comes to food

January 24, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one politely get guests to not bring food to a party?

My husband and I give a Super Bowl party every year that is attended by perhaps 30 people. We provide plenty of food, including an array of cold and hot appetizers, a buffet dinner and desserts. I am generally acknowledged to be a good cook.

But many (even most) guests insist on bringing food, even though I’ve asked them not to. It started with a couple of people bringing an appetizer or dessert, and then others saw them and felt bad that they hadn’t brought something, and so brought something the next year. It just mushroomed.

When I’m asked what food a guest should bring, I always say to please not bring any food, but then I’m told that since others will bring food, of course this guest wants to, too.

Several years ago, I included a statement on the invitations that read, “Please do not bring food to the party. We are happy to provide plenty of snacks and a buffet dinner.” I knew etiquette said I shouldn’t make the statement, but I didn’t know what else to do.

This mostly worked, except for a couple of people who ignored my request, stating that they had to bring something, that was how they were raised — they couldn’t come to a party empty-handed. Then, of course, others saw that some had brought food and brought food themselves the next year — and back it grew.

I have heard that the proper way to handle this is to take the plate of food, thank the giver, and then simply not serve it at the party. This has proved impossible to do — by the nature of the party everyone pretty much arrives at the same time. While my husband and I are busy greeting new arrivals and taking their coats and getting them drinks, some earlier arrivals are digging the food they brought out of their carryalls and helpfully placing it on the buffet table.

It hardly seems polite to remove food from the buffet table after it’s been put there and some guests have helped themselves to it, and I don’t feel I can allow the food from some guests to be served and not that brought by others.

My husband says I should go with the flow and just plan that guests will bring food. I really don’t want to do this — planning and preparing the menu for the party is something I enjoy very much.

Do I need to gracefully accept the food brought by others and just put up with it, or is there something I can do to put an end to this? I know this makes me seem really ungrateful, but I do resent that I’m not allowed to plan and execute the party the way I’d like it to be.

GENTLE READER: This has become a major problem for good hosts, with the encouragement of bad hosts who demand that their guests bring food.

Miss Manners can offer only a small ploy to help you. That is to use a smaller buffet table, on which there is no room for visiting platters, and to leave an empty space for them in the kitchen. Then you can direct your stubborn guests there, saying, “Thank you — that will come in handy if people are still hungry after dinner.”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

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