Was It Rude for My Friend to Bring an Extra Guest to Dinner?

Dear Marge,

I’m planning my annual Friendsgiving, and I don’t want to repeat my hosting crisis from last year — but I’m not sure what I can do to prevent it.

I love to entertain, even in my small place. I plan my menu really carefully and try to make the table look beautiful. Last year, I invited as many friends as I could fit (12!), and scrounged to make the seating work around my regular table plus a borrowed folding table.

When one of my friends showed up at the door with her brand-new “boyfriend,” (I acknowledge the condescension implicit in the quotation marks but read on!) I sort of stammered hello as I scrambled to figure out how to squeeze another seat at the already-crowded table. Not only that, I didn’t have another whole place setting. So much for my carefully planned tablescape — I used an old chipped dinner plate and gave him a regular water glass for his wine. Also, I had made exactly 12 individual chocolate budinos, and spent half the meal trying to figure out how I would serve them to 13 people.

I think it was rude of my friend to just show up with her new guy. She has long since broken up with him (it turned out to be a three-week fling), but how do I prevent this from happening again? And if it does happen, what do I do? It seriously ruined a night that I was really looking forward to.

Unexpected Anxiety

Dear Unexpected Anxiety,

Okay, first, your love-struck friend’s behavior was audacious and selfish. Frankly, that describes the way many people in the throes of a massive crush behave — but that doesn’t make it right.

Like you, I love to entertain — and like you, I go to lengths to make my home and table warm, welcoming, and filled with all kinds of deliciousness. From years of party-throwing, I know that the one thing I can count on every time I host is that something will go awry. The something can be big (like the time my oven door fell off just as guests arrived) or small (soggy rice), but no matter what, stuff happens.

That stuff doesn’t have to ruin a party. You know what really makes a great gathering? People talking, relaxing, and laughing. Good food helps, and good (or plentiful) wine helps even more. But you’ve got a big role, too — as host, you create the environment and connections that make everyone feel comfortable and nurtured. If you’re stressed, your guests are going to pick up on it— and the party will definitely not be as much fun. So when your friend shows up with Mr. Wonderful and you don’t have the room or food for him, smile and remember Entertaining Rule Number One: Never let them see you stress.

When that inevitable thing goes wrong, approach it with lighthearted humor. As guests sit down to dinner, tell everyone to squeeze nice and close to make room. Make a joke about how intimate or cozy your dinner is if you like, and join the laughter as everyone squashes together to fit Mr. Wonderful in.

You didn’t say what you did about those individually portioned budinos. (I never forget about dessert.) While your instinct may be to serve everyone else and not have one yourself (because you are, of course, a kind and selfless host), it’s going to make guests feel awkward to see you not eat while they scarf down dessert.

Again, embrace the situation. Serve your friend and her boyfriend one portion with two spoons, and smile as you say to the lovebirds that you’re sure they won’t mind sharing.

Okay, so everyone had a great time at your party. The next day as you’re putting away that last serving piece, your infatuated friend texts to thank you. (She does have some manners, after all.) Tell her you were happy to meet Mr. Wonderful, although you hope that if something like this comes up again, she will ask you ahead of time whether you can accommodate a last-minute guest. (Word it carefully; you don’t want to suggest she “give you a heads up,” which would be tantamount to saying she can simply announce she is bringing someone.)

When you invite people this year, don’t just call or text: send an email and ask for an RSVP. Respond to each with a quick note to convey details about directions or dress and mention how much you look forward to catching up at this intimate gathering of 12.

Happy Friendsgiving!

– Marge

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