Enjoying food with friends is one of the great joys of life, but can also be one of the most baffling with the ever-changing rules of social etiquette.

Table Matters


Enjoying food with friends is one of the great joys of life, but can also be one of the most baffling with the ever-changing rules of social etiquette.

Enjoying food with friends is one of the great joys of life, but can also be one of the most baffling with the ever-changing rules of social etiquette. 123RF Photo

Cheers, my dear Singularians: I recently dined with a pristine pal who was to the manor born … and that includes table manners. “Heavens!” she gasped as she watched me shovel her oh-so-tasty repast into my gaping maw. Now, it’s not like I was brought up in the proverbial barn (I do close my mouth when I chew), but it is true that I’m not fish-fork compliant. So, after being thoroughly trounced, I wondered if you too have ever had issues with “Table Matters.” Let’s look in my mailbag.


Dear MARNIE: What’s your take on leftovers when bringing a dish to a potluck dinner? I’ve been to other potluck dinners where guests expect to take their food home if it’s uneaten, and then at still others where the contributions are considered a gift to the hostess. I’m hosting a pot luck dinner for 10 neighbors in my new condo. I don’t know these people very well as I’ve recently moved in and this is the first party I’ve thrown. How do you think I should handle leftovers? – Clueless in California

MARNIE SAYS: Sweetie, if I bought and baked a ham (OK, ordered from a deli), I’d be watching over my potluck potable as though I’d birthed the silly thing. True, it would cause an internal conflict: “Eat! Enjoy! Have another piece” vs. “Psst … help me shove the rest of this into my bag,” nevertheless, we must use common sense. 

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* Ask the guest you know best if your condo already has a potluck policy then follow.

* No policy? You’ve no doubt guessed mine. (I want my brisket back, plus the silverware). Nevertheless, a potluck dish isn’t a “gift” like a Godiva 36 piece Signature Chocolate Truffles Gift Box with Classic Ribbon (and a free compact mirror). It’s a contribution for immediate use — not something you store in the pantry like a bag of flour.

* The Plan: Announce your potluck policy before the festivities so there’s no awkward casserole moment or tinfoil shortage. Each potlucker may, of course, take their own leftover home should they desire.

* If they protest, “Don’t be silly! We wouldn’t think of it! After all, you’re supplying the napkins!” Good. Fine. Keep it. (Or send it to me.) 

Finally, when in doubt in matters of etiquette, the wisest course is “Guests first.” If you don’t offer to let them take their leftovers, there’s bound to be one shrieker who’ll peg you as a selfish sow. But, if you do, you’ll not only be the soul of sensitivity, you’ll probably wind up with the spoils, as most of your stuffed guests will not be thrilled to shlep home their leaky clam dip and soggy Ritz. 


Dear MARNIE: I throw a lot of cocktail parties (do they still call them that?) which I state in my invite are from 6 to 8 p.m. The problem is how do you tactfully deal with guests who don’t leave when the party is supposed to be over? – PRLADY.

MARNIE SAYS: Well my “tactful” is to let out my usual, “GO HOME, ALREADY!” One hostess I know goes to sleep. Yes, really. She says, “I’ve had it. G’night,” leaving her guests to either leave or tuck her into bed.  Regular humans may wish to soften “the hint.” Of course your dilemma suggests you’re a perfectly brilliant party-giver who delights her guests with a sumptuous repast and inviting surroundings. But when it’s enough…      

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* Think garbage. It’s ugly, but effective. Take out a trash bag the size of California and start cleaning up, noisily. Add a lot of “excuse me,” as you toss in their half eaten hors d oeuvres.

* Close the bar. Your guests may leave in search of the next watering hole.

* If you’re older than the stuff in my fridge, start humming the theme from the old TV Western Rawhide and “Move em’ on… Head em’ up… Head em’ up… Move em’ on… Move em’ on… Head em’ OUT.” Start turning off lights in anterior rooms (kitchen, dining room), bring out the coats and walk toward the door collecting people as you go. Between the lack of goodies, the blackened hallways, the coats and the group by the open door, even Bart Simpson would get the message.

* Since you give these fetes often, consider a party favor to end the event – for example, a plastic flummadiddle keyring that displays the time and date of your next event while whistling, “The Party’s Over.”


 Dear MARNIE: I am a 35-year-old woman who’s decided to become a vegetarian and stop eating what was once a living, breathing critter). I’ve wanted to do this for quite some time now, for spiritual and health reasons. My problem: explaining this to my foodie friends. They’re meat eaters and very set in their beliefs of what’s “normal.” If I turn down desserts, their response is, “What are you? Afraid of gaining an ounce?” (I’m 5’4” and 125 lbs.)  As for my bestie, she’s overweight and is an amazing cook which of course means a massive hunk of at least two animals when she hosts our group dinners. I’m afraid she’ll feel I’m cutting her off by not eating what she cooks. Asking her to cook vegetarian is not viable as: A) I would never expect her to accommodate my dietary choices, B) my friends see meat as the normal and right way to eat. I realize I need to make my own life choices but dealing with them is still going to be a HUGE issue. Any ideas? – Friend Wants to Keep the Peace

MARNIE SAYS: I’m so glad you wrote to me, one who considers a normal lunch to be a moose carcass on rye. Now that I’ve made you ill, congrats on your new decision. I adore a commitment to any worthy pursuit that moves you forward and challenges the metaphoric “meatloaf” life. Now for the friends.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

* Prepare! You’re obviously a woman of superior insight who, fueled by mortal dread, has meticulously rehearsed your friends’ objections in your head. Decide you’ll prepare to deal with their a) health concerns; b) she’s-an-alien-concerns; c) if-she-loved-us-she’d-rejoin-our- home-planet concerns.

* Call them. Tell them you have an announcement and need their support.  Don’t be scary – nothing dreadful – but it’s important. Invite them to lunch at your place. (You’ll only talk in person.) 

* They arrive. They’re curious and maybe a little concerned. Have a veg-feast prepared. (Think chickpea and couscous combo, spinach and potato pie, and eggplant Parmesan. Yes I know your friends could use an all-broccoli buffet, but first things first.)

* Before they notice you’re meatless, here’s the dialogue. “You all mean the world to me. (They’re on pins here …)  And that’s why your understanding means so much. (They’re quaking). I’ll explain all the details, answer all your questions. (“What …! She’s getting a sex change?”) I’m becoming a … a vegetarian.” Boom! They’ll be so relieved, they’ll give up foie gras for you.

* Point out the buffet they’ve been gobbling is pure veggie. Surprise! surprise!

* Don’t preach but have the factoids ready regarding protein and nutrients.

* The clincher. Their feelings. Can you and your BFF cook up a foodie bonding experience? You’d love to see how a pro can challenge a hunk of tofu (so would I) … and learn from her … and share ideas, recipes … and most important, moments. More moments together to create a joint veggie masterpiece that all can enjoy.

And just maybe they’ll learn a little and eat a little smarter. All this because you’ve reassured and shown your foodie friends you adore them, can enjoy meals with them – and still be you.  

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2018 Singular Communications, LLC.

Marnie Winston-MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on Liveperson.com or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

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