Pot Luck

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October 31, 2013 by Tess

I find it interesting that the term “Pot Luck” has been turned into the laziest form of entertaining!

“Pot Luck” had warm and charming origins. It was an invitation to a guest to be treated like family. It meant that you would be served like family with the “Luck of the Pot”. This was about a friend so intimate that you could dispense with the formailty of menu planning and invite them to table as your family. Lovely isn’t it?

Today, the term “Pot Luck” has been flipped to treating guests like hired help! You get an invitation like this and how I read those is “We want you to come over and cook for us”. While I understand social obligations are called obligations for a reason, this seems an unreasonable request.

Now I understand parties at work or church being handled like this since no one really hosts those. It is an understanding amongst many people to do this, so it is appropriate that everyone pitch in. I’m not talking about events like this. I refer only to private entertaining.

This sort of lazy hostessing has even permeated my own entertaining. I often have to concede to a guest bringing something in order not to appear rude. This goes against the grain. If I invite someone into my home, I EXPECT to take care of all the details. I do not expect more than the pleasure of someone’s company. However, I get strong-armed into someone bringing the wine, or dessert, or some such.

Have we become such terrible hosts that people can not believe you really just want their company? I’ve struggled with this for a long time. I understand the need to contribute, but to my mind, my ‘contribution’ when answering a dinner invitation is reciprocating the invitation in a timely manner.

Our Dinner invitation Necessities:

  • Answer Invitation within 5 days of receipt (“Yes” is a given unless extreme circumstances prevent it, but that’s another article entirely)
  • Arrive on time
  • Bring a hostess gift (flowers if you don’t know them well enough to know what they would appreciate)
  • Find things to compliment about the meal (if I would cook or serve it differently, great! If I wanted my own table, I would have stayed home)
  • Leave in a timely manner. They invited me to dinner, not to move in.
  • Send a thank you note the NEXT DAY. You know their address, you’ve been to their home.  Not an email, or a text…a hand written note. They FED you, you can take 10 minutes to write and mail a note.

I am of the very strong opinion that asking your guests to feed you is not appropriate. If you want to entertain…then do so, without treating your guests like the hired help!

There are exceptions. For example: Wen and I (with our partners) often take meals together. Sometimes at their place, sometimes at ours. Depending on the time and energy available we may order in, cook, do leftovers, whatever. We trade off who buys/brings/cooks, and it likely all works out in the end. For fun, we do treat each other to spectacular entertaining on occasion (Thank you Wen for the Lobster!). However, these are VERY intimate friends. I would never consider such an arrangement with someone else! So, perhaps there are people in your life with which you have this sort of arrangement, that’s terrific!

So, please don’t misunderstand. If the only people you invite to your home, or who invite you are these sorts of close companions then by all means-stick to your arrangement! That is lovely and charming, and is completely in the spirit of “The Luck of the Pot”. Only when you cross the boundary into treating guests like hired help is it rude!


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