Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

“I was so embarrassed!” the young woman said. “Before I went to Camela’s for dinner last night, I called her and asked if I could bring anything, and she told me to just bring myself. When I got there, it was obvious that everyone else had brought part of the dinner. I felt like a freeloader!”

Perhaps her hostess, Camela, truly did not want her to have the responsibility of contributing to the meal, and it is also possible that Camela gave the same instruction to other guests and they chose to ignore it. However, I sympathized with the young woman and I have the following suggestions to guard against such situations.

Hostesses: Always be honest. If you don’t desire additional food or drink, “just bring yourself” is a perfect response. However, if you would like guests to fill in the menu, it helps to be specific; “I could use a dessert,” or “a salad would be nice.” If you are asking only one or two others to bring dishes, let that be known to other guests who might ask what they might bring: “Thank you, but I have asked Jake and Susan to help and I think that will be all we need.”

Guests: If told not to bring food, don’t bring anything that you expect to be served immediately. Baked goods, preserved foods, or something fresh from the garden that can be eaten later are fine but chances are good that your hostess doesn’t need or want her menu changed. Often even better are small gifts of gratitude such as a plant, candles, tea towel, whimsical cocktail napkins, wine, boxed candy, and the list goes on.

Skipping to the subject of where there’s a will there’s a way in the world of social entertaining, I had a friend who wanted to host a dinner party but was so unsure of her cooking skills that, without making her intentions known to the guests, she asked each one to bring a different part of the meal. She furnished only the table setting and the beverages. No one was the wiser and a delicious time was had by all!

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at