More Easter Holiday Hell – Potluck Greed

by admin on April 27, 2011

I hosted an Easter potluck for my family yesterday. And never will again. I am the youngest of five grown siblings. My parents usually host family parties since they have a large yard, swimming pool, and my moms loves to cook.  My dad has been in poor health lately though and has been having issues with one of my sisters. This sister has six adult children and four grandchildren, and is notorious for showing up empty handed to all or family gatherings. My parents said they are done hosting for a while so I offered to host an Easter potluck. Silly me.

I provided the main dishes: a very nice sized ham, steaks, and chicken. The aforementioned sister and her clan brought a fruit tray and pasta. So far so good. Another sibling also comes through. But the one in charge of soda is 2 hours late. We end up drinking Kool Aid.  Another was going to bring a side, and also 2 hours late. Turns out these two and their families were hanging out together somewhere. We don’t even eat their side as we are all done eating by that point (canned beans, they didn’t eat them either).

So what does my sister do that is so bad? She goes to the kitchen and starts making plates for her children of my leftover steak and ham. Leaves me with very little and didn’t even ask if it was ok first. My husband is miffed. Next year I am taking my parents out to dinner for Easter. The kicker is one of her grandchildren had a birthday and she told everyone to bring presents. We had a cake my parents brought. Basically I hosted her grandchild’s birthday party and her family got free food to take home. 0425-11

I really dislike potlucks because of the two problems mentioned, i.e. guests who don’t show up in time for the meal with their food offering (or they bring little to none at all) and guests who leave taking more food than they brought.  I rarely host potlucks any more because the aggravation of worrying whether all the components of the meal will arrive is not worth it to me.

First rule of potlucks:  Bring enough for you, your family and to share with another family.

Rule Two:  Arrive in time for that food to be served.

Rule Three:  Don’t leave with someone else’s leftover food.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Hal April 27, 2011 at 5:20 am

Even after the parents had thrown in the towel on hosting this Easter bunch the poster complains about the same problems the parents had. She has no gripe coming. Her family behaved as they had in the past. Why was she surprised? If she wants a party have one and provide for it. Do not expect supplies from guests. If no one offers to host next year it is because the family doesn’t like one another well enough to do so. Give it up. Forget family. Develop friends.

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karma April 27, 2011 at 5:26 am

1. Why would you put a guest in charge of drinks? Dang, that’s the host’s responsibility. Side dishes can stretch, and desserts can be skipped, but drinks are kind of important to have in advance.
2. It’s not really unreasonable for family to bring a birthday present along to an event. If they won’t see the child/person otherwise, it’s somewhat logical to bring it along.

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kelly April 27, 2011 at 5:41 am

From the same family of potluck pigs, is splitting the bill at restuarants. If everyone has had the same thing or thereabouts then fine. But when some people have had starter, puddings, liquor coffees, bottle after bottle of expensive wine I fail to see why someone who had one dish of pasta, a coke, and a filter coffee should cough up half. Yet more often than not the person who had the banquet manageds to make the person who did not feel as if they are th eones who are being tight, or cheating people. Does anyone have any tips for dealing with this without creating a problem?

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Alexis April 27, 2011 at 5:47 am

This reminds me of the saying, ‘no-one can take advantage of you without your permission.’ I would have put a stop to the theft of my food. And I would have told (2 hours?!?) late arrivees that they missed dinner and the kitchen was closed. I realize it’s difficult to stand up to older siblings, but sooner or later, you have to or they will walk all over you. At least these particular siblings will. If told to bring a birthday present for anyone, my response would be that I was ‘saving it to bring to the birthday party’. Not hosting one? Oh well, neither am I. I wouldn’t want to punish the kid and would probably send the child a gift later if there wasn’t a party. (But then, if the kid is a teenager and too big to automatically get a birthday party, s/he is too big to automatically get a birthday gift either. I would probably just send a birthday card. Come to think of it, who gets birthday gifts from their great aunts and uncles anyway?) But you do have a good solution for next year. Bring your parents out to Easter dinner. MAKE SURE you get a separate check for your’s and your parent’s meal alone. Spell that out to the waitstaff in advance! I wouldn’t trust the rest of this family not to freeload on a restaurant meal either.

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beckstar April 27, 2011 at 5:47 am

And you let her carry on plating up your food in your kitchen and just take it away? A polite spine needed there I think. Often at potlucks there is so much food left over that the host implores guests to take it away with them. Clearly this was not the case here and you should have asked her not to help herself.

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QueenofAllThings April 27, 2011 at 6:04 am

My family does potlucks all the time (my parents, with my 3 grown siblings, and all our kids). We have learned over the years to assign Chronically Late Sister the dessert.

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lkb April 27, 2011 at 6:23 am

I take it the late households didn’t call to say they would be late?
I take it no one called them to find out why they were late? (My kids were late for Easter this year at my MILs and we called to find out why. They had a valid reason and it was all good.)
I take it the dining time was clear? (Part of the problem with my kids was MIL never really stated what time she intended to serve dinner, we had an ‘-ish’ idea but not a firm time. Again, it was all good.)
I also take it the OP didn’t know about the birthday plan beforehand?

I kind of wonder if/why the OP allowed the latecomers to take all the food.

Not saying anyone is right or wrong on this one, but communication does help.

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Aje April 27, 2011 at 6:25 am

It must be a family thing because in ours it would not be rude at all to heat up another plate of food that evening. In fact, we are all encouraged to do so, because easter food is primarily for Easter. If there are leftovers, we try to give them to relatives, in particular to our college kids or the young 20s who live off romen noodles… a real treat for them, I know I appreciated it at the time!

Not to mention the fact that in our family everyone comes and goes at whatever time they please. Thankfully it’s mostly the younger generation who take a while to drive here after their church service, but I do understand the being late part. It’s annoying having to break out all the food again after we’ve just put it away.

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The Elf April 27, 2011 at 6:38 am

Caveat to #3: Unless the host offers. We’re a family of 2 and frequently entertain. I’m always fearful of running out of food so we always serve far too much. I don’t want all the leftovers; I’ll be eating them for weeks! But, if everyone who wants some takes some….. Since many of my friends are bachelors who rarely cook, this tends to work out well. We get to have a reasonable amount of leftovers and they get to have good home cooking for a while.

We’ve gotten away from potlucks for the reasons you state too. However, they are great when you have a group of people who want to get together and no one person can afford to entertain. It works best when it’s an informal occassion, not a holiday dinner.

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josieb April 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

Your sis comes across as a bit of a pain. Did the other 2 siblings show up and have a good time? If so, just plan Easter around the parents and other 2 siblings next year, let the tardy 2 siblings (soda and side) know the time, but don’t count on them. Just go ahead and enjoy who is there and then put the food away. No need to feed relatives that can’t be bothered to show up. Enjoy the family that does come. Or go out and eat, but do let the other 2 know what time and where. That’d just be the polite thing to do.

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Shannon April 27, 2011 at 7:46 am

I hate potlucks for the exact reason the admin describes: it’s just too aggravating to worry about who is bringing what, and whether they bring enough. I’ve had people say, “I’ll bring the soda!” and then show up with one two-liter of Coke for over a dozen people. Or, “I’ll bring the appetizer!” and then they show up “fashionably” late, by which I mean, after we’ve already sat down to the main course. If people don’t host often, they don’t really get why these things are a problem.

I usually let people bring stuff if they say, “What can I bring?” but I definitely make sure I have backup options – the emergency 12-pack of canned beer, the frozen appetizers, lemonade mix, etc.

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DGS April 27, 2011 at 7:58 am

I’m with admin; this is why I never host postlucks – tardiness, or people who leave with more food than they brought. Either we host a gathering and provide everything (and are grateful for those thougthful guests who come with a hostess gift of wine or dessert or flowers), or we take whoever out, or we are the ones bringing that thoughtful hostess gift. I agree with OP’s decision to just take her parents out for Easter dinner next year – save her the aggravation of catering to rude and thoughtless siblings!

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acr April 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

Things like this just floor me. What are these people thinking? I guess by the time the OP had realized what was happening, all the food was packed up?

I can’t decide who was ruder – the gimme pig sister or the folks who were 2 hours late!

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Gloria Shiner April 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

I like potlucks a lot, but it seems that we have some helpful traditions in this area: the host provides basic drinks (iced tea, water, coffee, soda or beer if the want to), table settings (usually sturdy paper plates, plastic cups, napkins and plastic flatware) and that is considered plenty. Everyone else brings a dish to share. Maybe we are just lucky, there is always plenty of food and no one goes hungry.

Several years ago I worked with a guy who showed up at all potlucks but never contributed anything. He was often left off invitation lists. At least he didn’t take anything with him when he left! Another woman used to sneak into the work kitchen after everyone else had left and pack up leftovers to take home with her. Those were the only two people who ever violated the unwritten potluck rules, and they both eventually retired.

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Enna April 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

And how about another rule four: invite people who are unlikely to break the above three rules. That was quite selfish thing to do – to hijack someone else’s party.

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AS April 27, 2011 at 8:53 am

I have sometimes taken food back that someone else brought for a potluck. But I ask first; or more often, the one who brought the food offers the leftovers for people to take. I do the same thing with stuffs I brought, especially when a person liked my dish a lot (that is quite flattering when someone likes what you cook!), because we usually end up cooking way more than what people can have. Given We often have pot lucks. Our head of the dept. has yearly pot luck at the beginning on every year. I have never seen someone take all the food that the host (or anyone else) provided for the party without asking them first! In fact, I had once left my dish behind because I had to leave before the party was over. The hostess returned me all the leftovers the next day and hadn’t tried to keep any for herself though the food was sitting in her refrigerator; and it was not because she didn’t like what I brought. I guess I am lucky with my friends in that way.

Taking your parents out next year sounds good.

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Another Laura April 27, 2011 at 9:11 am

Maybe you should find out how much local sites carge to host a child’s birthday party and send your sister a bill.

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springtime April 27, 2011 at 9:20 am

Ok, this one leaves me bewildered. First, I don’t understand all the dynamics –why do we need to know that mom and dad used to host, but don’t now, so OP is hosting, and dad is having health issues and issues with a sister…who seemed to have brought food okay to the dinner after all??

so, if I understand all this correctly, while the lateness of the potluckers is unfortunate, is the real issue with the sister here? It says she made plates for her children, but doesn’t say she took them home….is that what OP meant to say? In that case (I really hate having to dissect these stories to get to the real issue) that is irritating.

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Hemi Halliwell April 27, 2011 at 9:22 am

I have had similiar experiences as admin so I do not go to or host potlucks. Occasionally, I will contribute a dish to help out, but I very rarely attend. I general reply to an invitation with “Thank you but I have other plans”.

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Beth April 27, 2011 at 10:20 am

My husband’s family does the pitch in dinner thing but can never coordinate who is bringing what, so we end up with three green been casseroles but no drinks. Or the drinks provided are kool aid and you have to pretty much beg for a cup of water.

After about three of these “fun” events, my husband and I decided to spend holidays at home. Now we live far far away :)

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Wink-n-Smile April 27, 2011 at 10:23 am

Potlucks can work well, if you know your audience. That is – if you have chronically late people, assign them dessert. If you have someone who is on time, but can’t cook, assign them the cups/paper plates/napkins (if you’re doing picnic-ware), or chips and dip or sodas.

Our family spends so much time in greetings (Auntie! Come look at my art project! Grampa! Let me show you my latest app! Play with me!) that it generally takes an hour between arrival and even thinking about the meal.

Therefore, the host/ess usually preps the main course, but doesn’t start actually cooking it until the first people arrive. Then half the family gathers in the kitchen to chat during the cooking, stirring, mixing, checking stage of the preparation.

By the time everyone has calmed down enough to actually sit down to a meal, it’s ready, and everyone is there, with whatever they brought.

Granted, this is a very casual potluck, but it works for us. For other groups, I have found that the larger the group, the more likely it is that it will work out. With large groups, if the organizers handle the dishes and drinks, there’s usually plenty of food, and latecomers are greeted warmly by people who are looking for seconds, and are eager to see new offerings. Small groups, however, mean that any lateness is really felt by all.

So, my rule for potlucks – keep it in the family (where we know exactly how to plan for each person), or else make it a large group, and cover the basics yourself. When I say large, of course, I mean 30 or more adults, so you’ll have to have a large venue to go with it.

However, it’s absolutely vital that the dishes, flatware, and drinks be covered by the host/hostess, or else someone who is highly reliable and punctual. You can make a meal out of sides. Dinner does not require desserts. Meat is optional. If everyone brings appetizers, everyone will still have enough to eat. However, with nothing on which to serve the food, you’ll all go hungry.

Also, having some form of entertainment goes a long way to distract from a poor potluck. If everyone decides to bring chips and dips, well, at least you’ll be full while you enjoy the entertainment.

As for the leftover issue – clean up the food as soon as people are done eating. Leave out a few munchies, if the party is still going, but the main meal should be backed up and put away as soon as possible. This way, if anyone wants leftovers, they have to ask for it, rather than just help themselves from whatever is left on the counter.

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Lola April 27, 2011 at 10:28 am

@kelly: I’d recommend bringing enough cash to cover your portion of the bill + tax & tip (requires some planning on your part). When then check comes, simply put your cash in the check folder BEFORE anyone you know as a greedy pig has had the chance to do a calculation disproportionately benefitting them and hurting you. And say, “This should cover my portion.”

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Wink-n-Smile April 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

As a guest at a potluck, I tend to think that any food I brought becomes the property of the host/ess, once it comes in their door. At the end of the party, if there is any of the food I brought with me, then I will ASK the host/ess if I may bring home some of the food I brought. They usually say yes, and then follow up with offering more of other things, as well. Although sometimes, it’s just the food I brought. If there aren’t many leftovers, I don’t even bother with that, and leave them all there.

I figure the host/ess has enough to deal with, preparing the place, cleaning up afterwards, and all the fuss of having guests, that leftovers are their rightful payment.

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Allie April 27, 2011 at 10:46 am

I assume the plates the sister made up were for her kids to take home leftovers, and that’s not cool. The host provided all the meat, and it was up to her what she would do with her own leftovers. The sister was out of line on that, if you ask me. As to the rest, it definitely seems like there’s some serious family dynamics going on here, over and above the etiquette gaffes, and I would suggest that the family try to avoid ambitious get-togethers of any description if they are going to cause tension and make everyone unhappy. Meet at the park and everyone bring their own picnic lunch just for themselves. That should avoid any problems. Family dinners were always a bit of a nightmare when I was growing up (especially as a close family member was an alcoholic). The more you plan, the more ambitious you become, the less they work out. I’ve learned to go with the flow and, oh yeah, eat early, before they have time to drink too much. If you’re going out next year, I recommend that just your own family take your parents out. Otherwise, the bill is going to be a nightmare!

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Gena April 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

Something similar happened to me over Thanksgiving. I asked my mother to bring the dressing because I simply cannot make it as good as she does.

the day before she calls me and give me a list of ingredients I need to buy for this. Which I don’t mind as she’s on a fixed income. But it didn’t occur to me that this meant she intended to make it at MY house, rather than bring it already made. My kitchen was already full enough, I only have one oven and in addition to the turkey, rolls, etc. I now had to make room for the dressing.

the next year I told her to make it ahead of time and we would just warm it up.

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Raven April 27, 2011 at 10:51 am

While it’s nice to do pot luck, it’s important to remember that not everyone is organized, thoughtful, or has a lot of experience hosting parties. People come late, they forget what they’ve offered to bring, they don’t bring enough food, etc etc etc.

I host often, and I have a couple of “key” friends who always help me out. They arrive on time (or usually early to help out a little), they bring enough food (after checking with me), and are on top of things. If other people offer to bring something, I usually invite them to bring a mix or a bottle to share. (I’m gluten-free, so I don’t trust a lot of people to bring things into my home anyway!)

I would never, ever, rely on other people to bring the pop to my house. Why did OP have only Kool-Aid in the house? No juice, or water, or just pop they would normally keep in the house anyway? When you’re having people over, it’s always a good idea to have extras anyway, in case people are ill, or run late, or whatever. Keeping a spare case of pop and a few bags of munchies is always a good idea.

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Family Issues Suck April 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

I have my own family gaff that happened as well. Right now I’m working full time and going to Medical school full time on top of being a single parent. So I’ve been really bad at keeping up with life outside school and work and parenting.

Normally my uncle hosts Easter and Christmas at his house, but had recently stated that he was going to scale back on his holidays. We have about 6-8 family groups who often rotate other holidays (myself included). Last year an Aunt of mine hosted Easter. Since we are a large family, we usually contact each other via email or phone… to which an informal phone tree is in place. About 2 weeks before Easter I realized I hadn’t heard from anyone about plans for the day. I kept remininding myself to send a group email to see if anyone was hosting this year. Since I don’t have internet at home, by the time I remebered I was at home late at night with no way to touch base with any one for a non-emergency.

But since I didn’t hear from anyone. I thought that everyone would be with their spouses familes, which was fine. I assumed that nothing was going on and decided to spend the day with my child doing Peep Jousting/Wars and doing some much needed laundry.

About 9 pm on Easter one of my relatives showed up at my door baring a few trinkets from the day asking why I wasn’t at my uncles house. I mentioned I hadn’t gotten a phone call or an email or text or anything so I was not aware that anything was going on. My cousin countered with the fact I have a phone and could call people as well. I explained I had no idea who was hosting this year and had in fact called my uncle ealier in the week… when she mentioned he happened to be out of town. So he wouldn’t have gotten my message until late Saturday night.

My cousin mentioned, “You knew it was going on, you should’ve stopped over! Everyone was asking about you!” Which just hurt even more. She didn’t understand why I was a little miffed about being left out of the family gathering to start with, but then didn’t even get a phone call when everyone noticed that my child and I weren’t there. Oh yeah, dinner started at 2 pm, so it was a good 7 hours of a family gathering that NOT one of the 25+ people there picked up a phone to call my child or I to see if planned on attending.

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Michelle P April 27, 2011 at 11:22 am

@Hal, I hope you’re joking. You don’t “forget” family. My sister is ten times worse than this, but guess what? They’re still family. You “give up” on family when they do far worse than show up late and take food.

@karma, I’ve often brought drinks to potlucks and work parties. Nothing wrong with that, especially if they agreed to it, which it sounds like they did. It was not polite, and is never ok, to tell people to bring gifts to anyone’s birthday. The main point, I believe, was the fact that others did the work.

@kelly, tough situation, but my tip is live and learn. Don’t go out again with people who did that. If it’s a new group/situation, make it clear whether the bill is to be split evenly or separate beforehand. Tell the waiter to bring you your own check with what you had. It may be awkward, but better than embarassed/angry afterward.

I’ve had the same scenario at family meals and work parties. Simple solution: don’t get together for food-centered activities, or have backup.

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Louise April 27, 2011 at 11:26 am

I think you have to think hard and honestly about the people you invite to your potlucks. If you know they are flaky or inclined to run late, don’t assign them anything important. Don’t hope that this time, they’ll change their ways, because they won’t.

We did a potluck for Easter for the first time this year, and it went really well. My family and my parents’ friends can be relied on to a) show up on time and b) bring enourmous quantities of very tasty food. Punctual people who love to cook are the best people to invite for potlucks!

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Ashley April 27, 2011 at 11:30 am

I always find it weird when potlucks don’t go well…my family is massive, we regularly have at least 40 people at every holiday. So maybe my family is just so used to it, but we always have potlucks and they always go seamlessly. We’re just that used to it. I don’t understand why OP would have assigned drinks to someone else. You can live without a side dish, but drinks should be done by the host/hostess, because they are pretty much essential. As for the sister making plates, perhaps it is the wording of the story, but I am not understanding quite why this is an issue? Were the children not in attendance and the plates went home? If that is the case, yeah, that is a bit rude, especially if she didn’t even ask OP if it was okay or if anyone else had asked for some leftovers already.

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ferretrick April 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

The key to successful potluck is assign what is essential to yourself and/or have backup-the plates and utensils, the main dish, and drinks. Let everybody else brings sides, salad, and desserts. You are the host, so actually even with potluck it is YOUR responsibility to have those things covered. Clear communication up front also helps-as in “ok, if you are going to bring buns, I’ll need X number. Can you get that many or should I get some also?” or “X 2 liters of soda would be great. Mr. Y likes Brand Z and Mrs. A likes Brand B,” etc.

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Clair Seulement April 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

COMPLETELY agree that it is unconscionably rude to show up late and to ransack your host’s kitchen uninvited, *however* the food that the late-comers helped themselves to consisted of what was cooked *for the guests*, so had they shown up on time as the OP expected they would, there would have been just as little in the way of leftovers. In other words the fact that no food was left isn’t a justified aspect of this complaint.

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Clair Seulement April 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

…oh and nowhere does it say that they left with the food.

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The Elf April 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Kelly, I have two solutions that have worked for me in those cases: 1) Not dining with people like that and 2) Getting a separate check if I do. I used to not drink at all, and alcohol can really bulk up a bill. So that kind of bill splitting would drive me crazy!

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Kat April 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Wait, why are potluck leftovers off limits? Is there a certain point in the festivities at which a door closes and the food that’s been for everyone becomes only for the person who brought it?

I wouldn’t bring anything to a potluck that I didn’t intend on letting all the other guests have their way with.

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The Elf April 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Michelle P, I get what you are saying but I understand Hal as well. Sometimes holidays go so much easier when you spend it with friends, not family. That doesn’t mean writing off family entirely. It just means summer bbq instead of Easter dinner, or invididual visits with family members instead of huge get-togethers, or something along those lines.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson April 27, 2011 at 1:21 pm

In my spiritual community, _everything_ is potluck, even most wedding feasts. We feel that is adds to the sense of community to have us all sharing food all of us prepared — or at least put some thought into buying. And our potlucks are usually pretty nice. Now and then there’s a glitch, however, like the wedding (unfortunately mine) to which every0ne brought home-made bread because it symbolizes a wish that you never go hungry. (Could that be why I’m now fat and allergic to wheat? Naaaah…) A few years ago people started being cheap and lazy and bringing only a big bag of chips and just enough soda for themselves. After a few of those the organizers, as other posters have noted, started making some rules: _they_ bring the chips and soft drinks; everyone else is required to bring enough actual food to serve at least eight.

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Alice April 27, 2011 at 1:41 pm

My family once traveled to a family reunion. I have an extremely large family and my mom is one of the younger kids. When we arrived it was clear that they expected my family to handle it. The reason? My brother and I have worked as a line cooks and we’re younger (although now both of us are college grads and hold professional jobs). My family ended up basically running the whole thing. And no one offered to help pay afterward. My dad does have a good job, but my aunt is married to a millionaire and spent a good portion of the reunion bragging about how much money she was spending on her house remodel.

I (and my brother) don’t like being treated that way because we once worked in food service. I know some of them are older, but they have children who are certainly of appropriate age and spent the whole time not helping. It felt like we were being treated as caterers, except ones who didn’t get paid. Between that and digs about my sister’s sexual orientation I announced that I had done my good deed for them and I was never attending another family reunion again. I don’t care how old my aunts and uncles are.

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Mike Johnson April 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Wow, I guess I just have a pretty well trained family and church group (the only ones that have potlucks in my social circle) because we don’t have any of these issues. Everybody is almost OCD about showing up on time to the point that I have found both of my brothers waiting around the corner in their cars so that they would be exactly on time. No one takes food home unless specifically offered other than what is left of their own contribution and that is after asking if the host/hostess wants what is left. I guess that I am really fortunate in this respect, don’t get me wrong my family has issues that annoy me but this sure isn’t one of them.

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spyglass April 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

There must be some interesting family dynamics going on, if the two sibling families which were late had spent 2 hours hanging out just the two of them. It makes me wonder why they didn’t just RSVP no thanks, or have their get-together earlier? Maybe the “family” gathering is always at the same time and they’d already made plans? Regardless, it all seems to point to more than just a failed potluck.

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SoCalVal April 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Fortunately, in my family and cultural background, it is the norm to pack up plates to go, no asking necessary (it’s okay to even pack up food for those not present). In fact, at one of our last family parties, my aunt had purchased large packs of to-go containers for all of us (family members usually bring empty containers to pack up food). Our culture is known for having lots and LOTS of food at our gatherings. Not only that, but the parties last all day so there usually isn’t a must-arrive-by time. New dishes will appear, and people will often eat at the beginning of the party, rest a spell and get up at eat more (especially if new dishes arrive). I am culturally American, but this part of my heritage I picked up so I, too, tend to provide an abundance of food and then encourage everyone to take leftovers with them. I guess it’s all in your family dynamic. However, I don’t believe there’s anyone in my family that a) brings nothing and b) takes all the good stuff and leaves nothing for anyone else. We know better, for one, and, secondly, I have a huge extended family so you learn to share and be generous. It’s a shame the OP’s sister doesn’t do the same. I could never imagine anyone in my family feeling the need to rule out potlucks; we love them!

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Original Poster April 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

It’s me the original poster. I apologize, I realize my story wasn’t quite clear. My sister brought a fruit tray and pasta to the potluck. Her adult children, who each have their own households, brought nothing to contribute to the potluck. She then made plates with leftover ham and steak for her and those adult children to take home after the party. I don’t mind sharing food at a potluck, that is the point, after all. But after the work of cleaning my house, shopping, preparing, etc., I was really looking forward to some yummy ham and steak leftovers. All she left me were some bits of ham. None of the other siblings got a chance to even ask about leftovers. Also, the brother in charge of the sodas volunteered to bring them. At parties my parents have hosted, he has even brought over the drinks the night before. The brother who was on time said from now on, we should just assign the late comers to clean up duty. The time was quite clear, and to me it is rude to be that late. After all, isn’t the fun just eating and talking? You’re not doing that if everyone is done eating and has moved on to other activites (i.e. basketball outside, board games, etc.). Being Easter, we were ready to move on to the egg hunt, etc. At any rate, you all are correct, I DO need to grow a spine (not always easy being the youngest!)

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--Lia April 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Kelly– As others have said, your best bet is not to eat out with people who trick you into treating for their expensive meal. If you can’t get out of it, announce when you sit down that you’re only eating a little and are therefore asking for a separate check.

On the potluck issue, I see so many mitigating factors. Part of me wants to point out that this is family, people you pretty much have to, by definition, put up with. You don’t have to put up with alcoholism or abuse, but you do have to put up with run of the mill cheapness and lateness once a year.

I don’t like family potlucks either but for a different reason. Potlucks put people who aren’t good at something in the hard spot of having to do it. I love to cook, and if you invite me to your home, I’ll bring a terrific and appropriate dish and enjoy doing it. But I’m fully aware that not everyone shares my talent. If you invite someone to a potluck who doesn’t have the cooking gene, they’re kind of stuck. Even picking up appropriate take-out involves a kind of thoughtfulness, organization, and planning that a lot of people lack. Just doing the math problem of figuring out how much one ought to bring for how many people is something that I find easy but that others can’t seem to do.

It would be like inviting me to a party where all I had to do was speak in front of a crowd. Easy to say that all I have to do is tell one joke or give one toast, but that’s torture for me. I’d be stuck, both wanting to join the fun and attend while trying to figure out how to get out of the speaking or how to do the minimum or how to get by. If I tried, I’d probably do it badly. The problem with potlucks is that they foist the host’s job on the guests. When the guests screw up, they get blamed for not doing well at something they shouldn’t have had to do in the first place.

Having said all that, walking into someone else’s kitchen and stealing the food sounds like something that deserves a good out-an-out argument with one’s sister. Or you stop her in the act. This is FAMILY. Not only are we expected to put up with them, we have leave to argue with them and expect that they’ll forgive us after a time.

As far as I can see, the real issue is that the 2 latecomers were hanging out together while blowing off the family meal. That’s a real insult, a way of saying that they not only don’t value your hospitality, they don’t value your company. This brings me full circle to Kelly’s question. Many years ago I was in a situation where I’d be invited to dinner with a group of women. I’d go expecting to pay my own way, a splurge in those days of a limited budget. I’d always end up paying more. It would be someone’s birthday, or there would be some other reason I’d pay more than my share. It was never my turn to be treated. Once I even got tricked into giving a whole dinner for this other woman’s friends in my home. I stewed about it for the longest time before something obvious dawned on me. I wouldn’t have minded if I’d liked these people otherwise! If I felt like a valued member of the group, if I thought they listened to me, were nice to me, sympathized with me, or otherwise cared about me, I wouldn’t have cared. I have a friend now who never cooks but who is terrific to be with. We have a great time together, and I’m glad to do all the cooking because she appreciates it, and I’m better at it. That’s what’s at work here. If you adored being with your sisters, would you really care about doing all the cooking for Easter? I guess not. You’d give a great family dinner once a year and would look forward to doing it the next.

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SaltNVinegar April 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm

@Kat That also confuses me! My family does potluck for every holiday, and at the end of the evening, it’s standard for people to make up ‘plates’ of leftovers to take home, and not considered rude at all. It’s considered a bit less nice not to take anything, as then you’re forcing the host/the person who brought the food to try to finish the leftovers before they go bad – and since we’ve always got tons of food at holidays, it could take weeks!

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Redneck Gravy April 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Same reason I quit hosting potlucks also. Tardiness, missing side dishes or drinks, misbehaving children…

This year I invited a few family members to dinner at a restaurant, my dime, funny how so many managed to show up ON TIME.

I still got out cheaper than a good ham and having to clean up the mess.

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Shalamar April 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I remember hosting a potluck and asking a friend what he was planning to bring. He said “I’ll bring home-made chicken wings.” Great, I thought. He showed up right on time – empty-handed. I said “Um, where are the chicken wings?” He said airily “Oh, I got too busy playing ‘Halo’ and didn’t feel like it.” Lest you think that this was a teenager, he was a married man in his thirties. (At least his wife had the grace to look embarrassed.)

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chechina April 27, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I think OP’s final statement pretty much sums it up: “Basically I hosted her grandchild’s birthday party and her family got free food to take home.” If she’s this upset about hosting a birthday celebration for her niece or nephew’s child and she thinks her nieces or nephews shouldn’t get free(!) food, this is a tense family situation. The siblings behaviour was rude, but the fact that they would rather hang out with each other than the rest of the family also speaks volumes about how tense everything must be.

I agree with OP that she should just take her parents out for dinner, and let this forced situation go.

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kudeenee April 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm

@Kelly—Ask for a separate check when the waiter takes your order. If that is not possible, keep track of the cost of your meal(s) then add tax and tip. It is possible that you can go online and see the menu and get an idea of the costs ahead of time.
Then take cash–smaller bills, 10′s, 5′s, 1′s–so you can pay for your share. Announce as you put it in the folder or on the table that “this will cover my(our) portion.” Do not be guilted into paying more. Keep stating “I have covered my portion. Bean dip.” Also–keep your money on your lap or in your purse as you count it out, so other party can’t see how much you have and say that you can throw more in.

to the OP:
If you knew the dynamics of this group, you shouldn’t have given the late arrivals something like drinks–give them dessert or a non-essential side. You could have stopped your sister from making the plates. A firm “Excuse me, but I am planning on that food for my lunches this week. Let me make you a plate with a few leftovers to take with you.” Then take the plates back and make one for her.

Next year, don’t host. Or, collect a set amount of money from each family ahead of time–give a deadline and state that if all the money isn’t in by the deadline, the get together is cancelled–and prepare the food yourself. Not all money turned in? Call and cancel the event.

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kingshearte April 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I like potlucks, but not for any sort of formal meal, unless you’re 100% confident that everyone will come through. I think they work out better for grazing-type situations. Everyone brings some sort of appetizer, finger-food, type thing. As long as the host provides drinks and one or two reasonably substantial offerings, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else brings.

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Another Beth April 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Instead of seeing this as a time the relatives took advantage of her, the OP should use this as a lesson for how things should and could be in the future.

We’ve had misunderstandings with our relatives in the past. I remember one year our aunts wanted our immediate family to contribute dishes to pass and extra cash toward the Christmas ham, normally the hostess’ responsibility. Our family lives on a farm and raises the Thanksgiving turkey. When we pointed out that we don’t ask for cash contributions, they said the turkey is “free” since it’s not from a store. Well, that’s simply not true.

Despite those past disagreements, our family is organized and gets things done. Each household contributes at least one dish. My aunt actually made a spreadsheet for Easter dinner responsibilities and emailed it out to everyone to make sure the expectations were clear. Beverages are always “bring your own” but our family members typically bring enough to share. If nothing else, water is always on tap at the hostess’ house. :) Leftovers are shared, but by mutual agreement.

@Lia–I also come from a family of women who like to cook, but it’s not hard to buy cheese or make a fruit salad. Those are projects for people who might feel intimidated by cooking.

My main point is that if you take charge of the gathering, the guests aren’t in control.

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