My Friends Expect Leftovers When They Come Over for Dinner. Please, How Do I Make It Stop?

published Jun 13, 2019
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Dear Marge,

Among our friends, I am a pretty decent cook and entertain a lot. A few years ago, I started giving friends leftovers at the end of parties — and now they all expect it! Seriously, when our parties wind down, friends will say things like “Oh, I loved the ribs — do you have any left?” Sometimes they just kind of hover around me in the kitchen, watching as I put food or dirty dishes away. The truth is, though, sometimes I want to keep and freeze what I’ve made, or bring food to my dad.

I have an open kitchen, so it’s not like I can run off to a separate area and put things away and say, “Oh, there aren’t leftovers.” Also, I have been trying really hard to not overcook all the time (it gets expensive!) so I am hoping to have increasingly less at the end of the party. (I can’t say this has been going all that well. But that’s a whole different problem.)

My question is, how can I now not give them leftovers — without seeming petty?

Sincerely,

Take-Home Queen

Dear THQ,

It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to tell you to just make less food so you don’t have leftovers. So I won’t. Because if you are anything like me, you will.

You know, of course, you are not obligated to give your friends leftovers, and clearly you shouldn’t cook with their take-home in mind. But leftovers happen, and clearly your issue is how to gracefully manage friends’ expectations when they see all your delicious food on the counter at the end of the night.

Strategic ergonomics might be really useful here. If you are not physically positioned with all those leftovers laid out before you when your friends are saying goodbye (or getting ready to leave), they won’t be eyeballing the food, thinking you have more than you could possibly use.  

I realize in an open floor plan the platters may still be within sight, but when you stand right next to them, you trigger thoughts that you may be — as you have in the past —giving out leftovers. Step away from the counter! As people get ready to leave, position yourself with your back to the kitchen.

Some friends might offer to (ahem) help clean up. If someone says, “May I help you clean up or put some of this food away?” thank them and say you will take care of it when everyone leaves. It’s time to un-train your friends!

You can also help transition friends away from their multi-meal expectations even when you do have leftovers to share. As the party winds down and people get ready to leave, tell anyone who asks that you aren’t sure what you have, and will organize the food after they are all gone. Suggest they text you the next day and if there is food available, they can swing by to pick it up. If you do this a couple of times, they will no longer expect to go home with a goody bag.

— Marge

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