What to Do About the Guest Who Brings His Own Meal to Your Dinner Party

(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

Spoiler Alert: I don’t think you should do much of anything about that guest, even if you feel like they are spoiling your party. People have all kinds of reasons for bringing special food, including allergies (which I hope everyone acknowledges as legit!), medical conditions (often invisible to the host’s naked eye!), religious requirements (don’t even mess with that, y’all!) and just plain pickiness (okay, yeah, but you still shouldn’t be mean about it).

Most of us (I hope!) will make sure to have enough food for a vegetarian guest, and we can all eliminate an ingredient or two in the case of allergies. But if someone wants to bring their own and still enjoy your company, who cares?

I love a good etiquette column, and look forward to “Social Q’s” each week in The New York Times. This week, there was a letter from “Anonymous in Maryland,” which I read with interest.

It was our turn to host Thanksgiving this year. My brother asked if he could bring chili for one of his children, who is a picky eater (and 20 years old). My sister-in-law routinely brings bananas and pizza for her 11-year-old son. Is this crazy, or am I wrong?”

→ Read more: Social Q’s in the New York TimesOff the Menu

And I loved the answer, because if your answer begins with “Play this one like Missy Elliott: ‘Put [your] thing down, flip it and reverse it,’ ” I’m pretty much going to love whatever you say next. Word, Missy, word. Etiquette pro Philip Galanes’ suggestion was to let it go, though he did urge the parents of the 20-year-old not to bring food for him. Why spend your day worrying about other people’s parenting?

In the grand scheme of things, getting upset about a bag of chicken nuggets isn’t worth it, because that energy could be used elsewhere, like for smiling at the compliments you receive from guests who are there to enjoy your company and your lovingly prepared food. Besides, with one less diner, you’ll have delicious leftovers for yourself the next day, or seconds for a guest who really loves the way you season your pork loin.

Pour a sip (or a big slug) of the delightful wine your guest brought with the picky eater’s meal, and take a minute to plate the pizza and bananas on the same dinnerware you’re using for the rest of your guests. Then forget about it. Easier said than done, especially when it comes to longstanding family resentment, so you won’t get the side eye from me if you seat the picky eater out of your own sight line. (No, you may not seat her in the laundry room, no matter how tempting and no matter how big your laundry room is.)

Oh, and you don’t have to be perfect. Without guests like Whiny Bobby and his over-indulgent parents, what ever will you and your co-host talk about as you clean up the dishes after everyone has gone? Feel free to mock at will during the debriefing, just control the eye rolling in front of your guests.

How do you feel when a guest brings a special meal? Can you let it go easily or does it throw you off your game?

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