Q. My friend and her family came over for brunch. They didn’t bring anything, yet they asked to take home some of the leftovers. I think asking to take home food is rude, but my friend says I’m in the wrong. Isn’t it impolite to ask for leftovers?
A. As a person who counts on leftovers to fill my kids’ lunch boxes, let me say: I hear you. I can be both flattered and horrified as those would-be Thermos contents disappear into people’s pieholes. But is your question about whether a person should ever ask to take food home? (To which the answer is: probably not, although you can drop hints about the coffee cake and see what happens.) Or are you wondering about how you should have behaved once someone did pose that question?
For one thing, it sounds as if you were peeved that your friend hadn’t contributed anything to the brunch. The next time, make your expectations clear. It would be delightful if Dotty brought something unbidden, of course, but if you want her to provide the melon balls, then tell her beforehand, so she doesn’t let you down.
And whether or not your guest shows up with a dish, bear in mind that hosting a meal in your home is a contract with graciousness. You are obliged to treat people with kindness and to remind yourself that their feelings are always more important than, say, food or a strict code of etiquette. This means that if someone asks for leftovers, you say, “I’m so glad that you enjoyed the meal,” and wrap up a wedge of quiche.
I should mention that this issue is especially likely to come up at Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, I’m usually desperate to off-load some of the leftovers: “I’ll give you $5 if you take a turkey leg. Please.”
— Catherine Newman