Potluck Pest

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

A mutual friend invited my friend and I (and several other ladies) to her cabin for the weekend.  The cabin owner thought the theme of the dinner should be Mexican and my friend offered to make chicken enchiladas.  I offered to make chile rellenos and the cabin owner stated she would make tacos.  The other attendees were bringing a salad, dips, etc.  My friend had a separate conversation with the cabin owner and told her not to make the tacos (she didn’t think it was necessary and belonged with her enchiladas). She later told me she will also make beans and rice which is the proper thing to serve with her enchiladas.

Issue:  My friend makes it very plain she thinks potlucks should be organized by the hostess and the menu should be very strict and match.  She hinted she didn’t think my rellenos belonged either.  I told her it wasn’t her party and she shouldn’t be telling the hostess how to handle.  I also told her one of the other guests was helping with the tacos and now what would they be bringing?  I don’t normally like beans and rice – never eat them in a Mexican restaurant (although my friend is a great cook and everything is usually good) and i personally enjoy eating potluck cooking from other individual’s kitchens.  I think my friend is showing poor etiquette by telling the hostess what to make/not make and would like your opinion.  She believes she knows the proper etiquette for all dinner parties because her sister owns a high end store in the San Francisco bay area.
Should I care?  Does it really matter who is right?

Sincerely,

Mexican Food Muddle

 

Our Take:

Jaya: Wow, this is more thought than I’ve ever put into a potluck.

Victoria: Hahahaha. Yeah, I mean, there are definitely two theories on potlucks.

One is that the host/ess guides the attendees on what to bring and that can even be like, assigning dessert vs side vs apps or whatever. Down to being very specific about theme and whatever each person should bring.

And then the other is that it is a free for all.

Jaya: Right

Victoria: And like… it doesn’t really matter, it’s kind of up to the hostess. And so for a guest to try to steer it is supremely rude.

Jaya: It honestly seems like the hostess had a handle on doing the first type? There was a theme, everyone else divied up the entrees/apps evenly

Victoria: Exactly. And um tacos and enchiladas go to together fine, this person is a loon.

Jaya: Yeah the whole point of potlucks is you have options!

Victoria: Also your sister owning a high end store in San Francisco doesn’t make you an arbiter of what potlucks should be like. Or etiquette. Declaring yourself an etiquette expert on the internet makes you the arbiter of what dinner parties should be like, obviously.

Jaya: So yeah, she’s clearly wrong here. However, does that matter? Would it be worse to confront her about this? Personally, I probably would say something. Even along the lines of like “hey chill out we just want a fun dinner at the cabin.”

Victoria: Yeah, or something like….”Jane the hostess, seems to have a handle on things and you should probably just let it go.” I mean part of the thing about group trips is it’s not always going to go your way and you have to compromise about mealtime (and everything, basically) and if the rest of the group is going one way…you just need to go along with it.

Jaya: Yeah, especially if it’s enchiladas v. tacos. This isn’t someone insisting on steak when half the cabin is vegan. Like I seriously can’t imagine a scenario in which someone has made enchiladas and another person puts tacos on the table and I’m like “well this is just not done.”

Victoria: Hahahah right?!?! It’s extremely nutty. And the question writer should care about this because clearly she is headed for a weekend away with an obnoxious control freak and should prepare herself for it. And yes, say something to your friend. And if you feel like it would help, say something supportive to the hostess

because it’s super annoying to be being really generous about inviting people to your cabin and then having them try to micromanage all your plans when they were fine plans to begin with.

Jaya: This is hard because the friend in question seems to be having a lot of independent conversations with people trying to orchestrate things, which is a sly move to keep everyone else from ganging up against her.

But, if this is a situation where everyone is on an email chain, an email in support of the original menu, or something generally positive with phrases like “let’s not overthink it” could be useful.

Victoria: Oooh yes, good call!

 

 

ED: Thanks to our question writer for this great question! If you have an etiquette question, please write to us at info@uncommon-courtesy.com!

Advertisements

Potluck Etiquette

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

Church ladies know how to potluck! [Via Wikimedia Commons

If you are throwing a potluck, you are not “hosting,” you are “organizing” as hosting implies that you are providing everything for a party.

Potlucks are not appropriate for wedding receptions as wedding receptions are supposed to serve as a thank you to the guests for doing the important duty of attending the wedding. However, you can get away with it in certain circumstances: having a VERY small wedding of mostly locals who are enthusiastic about the idea. It’s also a lovely idea to throw a potluck FOR a couple who otherwise wouldn’t have a reception.

For less formal gatherings, a potluck can be a great way for a bunch of people to get together without it being a significant cost for one person/family.

However, if you want to plan a potluck, make it clear when issuing the invitation. Do not pull a bait and switch:

“Hey, do you want to come over for dinner on Saturday?”

“Sure! That sounds so fun!”

“Great! Come at seven and bring a salad to feed 8!”

That is not okay. You must say something like, “Hey everyone, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other and it would be really fun to hang out and play board games and have dinner on Saturday. We can have it at my place if everyone will bring a dish. I will grill burgers and hot dogs, so bring some sides, desserts, and drinks that go with them!”

And if you are the one with the great idea to host a potluck, please actually make some effort towards planning. In addition to food, you will need serving utensils, plates, cups, silverware, etc. You want to also help guide the party so you don’t all end up bringing potato salad. Making a party potluck doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any work. That being said, don’t be a potluck dictator! Letting people know what categories of items are needed is great, telling people that they must bring a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is not. Also make sure you have a convenient area to set up the food in a central location so everyone has a chance to access it.

For the potluck attendee, of course it goes without saying that it is beyond rude to show up at a potluck empty-handed. It is also rude to bring significantly less than anyone else. Don’t show up with one $2 2-liter of soda when everyone else is bringing their famous lasagnas and layer cakes! It’s fine if you can’t cook, just say that you will bring all the paper goods or 5 2-liters of soda- something comparable!

Another good rule is to bring at least enough to feed the number of people you are bringing with you plus a few more (ie a couple with two kids should bring way more food than a single person!)

If you have significant and difficult dietary needs, make sure you bring something substantial that you know you will be able to eat, or just decide that potlucks are not your bag and decline the invitation. Don’t get there and complain there is nothing you can eat.

Never criticize a dish someone else brings. If you don’t like it, simply don’t eat it.

Your dish should be ready to serve when you arrive- you won’t be able to guarantee that there will be fridge or oven space (unless you clear it with the host in advance.)

When serving yourself, be sure to take small enough amounts that there will be plenty of food for the people behind you. It sucks to be last in line and have nothing left to eat besides some melting jello salad.

Don’t go back for seconds until everyone has gotten firsts.