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Pot Luck Piracy

I love reading your site, and have learned a lot about mannerly behavior from it. So when a situation arose today that ended with my actions being labeled “rude”, I wanted to send the story in, and see if I was indeed at fault, and if so, what a better response would have been.

My family attended a potluck lunch today, and I brought a Mississippi mud cake, (one of my favorites), and was pleasantly surprised as the event was wrapping up to see that there were a couple pieces of cake left in my pan. I also noticed a certain lady, (C), sitting near the dessert table. Knowing that C makes a habit of taking things she didn’t bring home with her from potlucks, I decided to go ahead and pick up my leftovers.

As I lifted the pan off the table, C leaned in and said, “I’m taking some of that home.”

I replied, “Actually, it’s mine, so I’m taking it home. Sorry.”, and began to walk away.

As I did so, I heard C say, “Well, that was rude!” , but I didn’t know how to respond , so I just kept going.

I swear I didn’t say it meanly, or anything, but I did feel that since I paid for the ingredients and made the dessert, and because the luncheon was over, that if anybody was going to enjoy the remainder at home, it should be me and my family.

What do you think? Should I have phrased it better? Just let her have the cake? Or was I okay? I’m willing to hear whatever you have to say. 0223-15

There appears to be this presumption among certain people that once a food item appears on a potluck buffet, the owner/creator/chef loses all rights to it into perpetuity.   People like C believe they are entitled to doggie bags without any reference to a courteous request to have a few leftovers.   Upon seeing the cake being prepared for removal, C should have asked, “May I take a few pieces home with me? It was so good.”   Instead she staked her claim of ownership with a declarative statement that challenged the OP’s right to do with her dessert as she saw appropriate.   C then responds manipulatively and incorrectly with an accusation that the OP was rude–a common tactic of the clueless and entitled.

OP, you did nothing wrong.   Ignoring C is definitely the best option just as it would be if one were confronted with spoiled, bratty child who made tantrums to get their way.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mommawhopper February 23, 2015, 11:39 pm

    Are there really “potluck rules” :)? Where I’m from, if you are asked to bring potluck, the whole thing comes for the enjoyment of all, with out the idea that any leftovers will go home with you. in fact, when there are leftovers, most have an idea of a family that could use the leftovers, we box it up and a few of us take it there with our well wishes (usually someone who’s been sick, in the hospital etc) No one would think twice about picking up a partly full dish and taking your leftovers home, but if I were about to pick up a dish and someone indicated they wanted some, whether or NOT they asked correctly , they would get it, because my original intentions were that everything I brought was for the benefit of others, and true etiquette and graciousness is rising above the rudeness of others.

    • bloo February 25, 2015, 3:11 pm

      That’s nice that you feel that way but that doesn’t put people who feel that way in a position of moral superiority.

      It is fine to want to take your leftovers home.

      It’s also fine to say the word ‘no’. It’s not impolite to do so.

  • Marozia February 24, 2015, 3:30 am

    C is a rude, unprincipled, entitled, vulgar and crass human being!!
    You were perfectly entitled to take your remaining cake home!!
    The nerve of some people!! Put it right out of your mind, OP.

  • Jo Bleakley February 24, 2015, 5:48 am

    *Shrugs* I had a toddler and a puppy at the same time. The kid and the dog are still best friends seven, nearly eight, years later. It’s called parenting and supervision.

    • hakayama February 24, 2015, 10:22 am

      @Jo Bleakley: Congratulations on being an intelligent, thinking and responsible parent.
      However, the “parenting and supervision” you take for granted in yourself is sadly lacking in too many cases, right along with information and imagination (of the worst case scenario variety). You know, the deficits that make it into the news almost on a daily basis: “Oh, but I left them for just a moment when I went to the kitchen to wash a pot” or “Nothing like that happened before”…

  • DGS February 24, 2015, 11:51 am

    @Hakayama, what makes Jack and Jill nice people in my example, are not their possessions, it’s that they educated, well-read, cultured, supportive of their friends and funny. However, they are stingy, as described in the above example, which mars their niceness somewhat.

    • Anonymous February 25, 2015, 9:04 am

      Yeah, I can see that. I mean, I’d imagine that potlucks don’t happen often enough for Jack and Jill’s stinginess at potlucks to cast a significant cloud over your friendship; hence why you’re still friends with them.

  • CJ February 24, 2015, 12:01 pm

    In my neck of the woods the etiquette is we leave all leftovers with the host, you get your dish back at a later date or use a disposable one. The same applies to booze, what you bring you leave. Recently I was horrified when my new boyfriend went to take the half a case of beer that was unconsumed (that he brought) at a BBQ. Thank goodness it was his friends (They are Army so are from a dif part of the country) and I gently told him what the local rules are so he would not commit a faux pa when invited with my group of friends. You don’t bring your guns to a party and you leave any food and drink you bring with the hosts….good ole America Southwest.

    • Hollyhock February 24, 2015, 6:18 pm

      That’s how it works around here, too. I would not dream of taking back anything I had provided for a gathering. One uses disposable dishes or tapes one’s name and phone number to the bottom of the servingware if need be.

      • Anonymous February 24, 2015, 9:06 pm

        Well, you might dream of it if the host said, “Hey guys, I don’t have space in my fridge or freezer for all these leftovers, and I don’t want to deal with remembering which pots and pans and Tupperware containers belong to which people. So, it’d really help if everyone took their leftovers home.” After all, not everybody remembers to label their serving dishes, and what if someone brought, say, chili in a Crock-Pot? If that was me, I’d want my Crock-Pot back.

        • bloo February 25, 2015, 3:15 pm

          Yeah, I’ve never lived anywhere where there were hard-and-fast rules for how it must be done. I’ve had potlucks where I’ve asked to keep stuff or accepted it when offered. Once a year we host a 225+ guest fish fry and must people contribute dudes, drinks, dessert. No way do I want the leftovers. Some ask me if I want them, some take the initiative to offer it to others, some take their stuff home. I don’t care as long as everyone is polite about how they do it.

          • bloo February 25, 2015, 3:17 pm

            I meant:
            *most people contribute sides, drinks, dessert…

          • Fred May 23, 2015, 2:09 am

            Soooooo…….no dudes? I think I might be busy that night…..:-)

    • Saitaina June 3, 2015, 3:56 am

      Yeah, that is NOT the way it’s done here in the Northwest. Nor in California or Arizona, so I think you’re a bit more over than our west. You bring it, you take it home and don’t leave your host with a bother.

  • Enna February 24, 2015, 4:36 pm

    OP, you did nothing wrong, you didn’t let the comment bother you at the time. But if you had said something like “you are rude one for taking leftovers of a dish which you didn’t bring”, wouldn’t be far amiss either. If she got the hump “anyone with manners would ask the person who brought the dish before taking”.

  • OP February 25, 2015, 8:49 am

    Hi, OP here,
    Thank you all for your input! It definitely helped me think through the situation,and encouraged me to continue working on my tact. Here are a few extra facts for clarification.

    1. It was a large church potluck, so no real hosts, and everyone was very much encouraged to take home their stuff.

    2. There were 2 and 1/2 pieces of cake left, and I would have gladly shared if she had asked.

    3. Yes, C is becoming rather notorious for being a moocher at group food events. We had a cookie exchange last month to which she brought only an empty tupperware. The way we run our exchange is everyone brings 2 dozen cookies, we lay them out along a table on trays, then you line up and refill your plate/pan with 2 dozen assorted cookies. So when the ladies started to line up, C jumped right in, and had to be asked to please wait until the actual exchange was over, then if there were extra cookies,(there usually are, as many recipes make more than 24) she could take some. She stepped out of line looking like someone had kicked her puppy.

    4. The Mississippi Mud cake was the flat,brownie type, with marshmallows and chocolate frosting, recipe by Southern Living. Google it, is is incredibly awesome.

    Thank you all again, for your time and wise advice!

    • Anonymous February 25, 2015, 5:16 pm

      Why was C even allowed to participate in the cookie EXCHANGE when she didn’t bring any cookies to exchange? “Exchanging” is mutual, but what C did was just taking, which is one-sided, and, within the context of a cookie exchange (or any kind of exchange) where others were giving something and getting something else in return, it’s rude. Did C provide anything else for the exchange, like say, beverages? You said she “brought an empty Tupperware container” to the cookie exchange, so “brought” implies that it wasn’t held at her house, so she wasn’t providing the venue, so……nothing in this seems fair. It sounds as if people just went along with it to keep the peace, and it sounds like this is a recurring pattern.

      • NostalgicGal February 27, 2015, 6:22 pm

        What it did was highlight C’s behavior. Kicked puppy or not, she didn’t bring any so she could wait. And those that did bring and participate, AFTER and IF there were any left they could let her have some. Could. Didn’t mean they had to either.

        I don’t think she was allowed to participate-she didn’t bring anything, she just showed up and got in line and was going to brazen it out. With everyone else knowing she didn’t bring anything…

        • Anonymous February 28, 2015, 8:40 am

          Oh, I get it. So, C was invited to the cookie exchange, said she was coming, but showed up without any cookies, and nobody felt like they could kick her out. Is that about right? I don’t know how I would have handled that–probably the same way your group did, but sheesh. I mean, at a potluck, it’s at least easier to disguise the fact that you didn’t bring anything, but at a cookie exchange, it’s pretty obvious.

  • MPW1971 February 27, 2015, 12:40 pm

    The OP did nothing wrong – let me be clear about my agreement.
    The thing about pot lucks is that there may be slightly different etiquette for a pot luck with friends, vs. one with strangers or only casual acquaintances. When you don’t know the people – the common rules make sense. Bring a serving utensil, don’t take food home unless it is specifically offered, and take home your leftovers (or dispose of them without making work for anyone else). Makes sense.
    We had two or three pot-luck lunches at work – these had been going on for at least 10 years before I got there. Sure we had the usual things – people bringing too little food, bringing a small quantity to selectively impress a superior, being cheap with their contribution, bringing in the same crap and expecting others to fawn over it (one guy and his homemade wine that hadn’t even fermented properly and reeked of raw yeast), and so on. But the rest of the culture was pretty clear – bring food, bring a serving utensil, and put away the leftovers in the fridge for the next day. We always had the pot lucks m id-week and there were always leftovers eaten the next day, sometimes supplemented by a takeout pizza when there wasn’t enough. Nobody took potluck food home for themselves, and nobody took the leftovers home when we were eating again the next day. New people weren’t aware of it immediately but it was easy for someone to quietly mention to them how “we” were all doing things. Fortunately for any new person, these rules were universal – it wasn’t that someone would say “leave your leftovers for tomorrow” while taking their own home. No hypocrisy. My point is that whatever the “rules” of etiquette are for any event, we should remember that they apply to everyone equally.

  • Angel March 1, 2015, 1:15 pm

    Nothing wrong with what the OP did. She didn’t engage the moocher and took her own leftovers home as the pot luck organizers encouraged. If the moocher is not bringing anything she shouldn’t be allowed to take stuff home. End of story.

  • Cheryl March 25, 2015, 1:53 pm

    You are not wrong, she was rude, you bought the ingredients, if your family was going to enjoy the leftovers then that is your deal. Just keep a close eye on your pan next time, because I am sure she will get her paws on it early.