Social Question

jca's avatar

At work, when having a pot-luck party, what's a polite way to request people don't come to take food if they have not contributed?

Asked by jca (36059points) October 29th, 2010

At my job, when we have a party (the parties are pot luck, we don’t pay money we just bring a dish), we always have people that show up like vultures but they have not brought anything. A pot luck party is only as good as the number of people that contribute. You obviously can’t have a lot of people eating if not a lot of people have brought food.

Flyers go out via email and are posted, sign up sheets are posted, plus everyone talks about it for days prior to the party, so nobody can say they did not know. Even on the day of the party, people go out and buy food to contribute, so where there’s a will there’s a way. Nobody is saying they have to spend a lot – a few bottles of soda or some napkins or anything is appreciated. Yet we always have people who are not ashamed to show up and eat and have not contributed something.

What is a polite way to tell people or ask people not to come if they have not brought a dish? These are coworkers who we all get along with, yet it’s the same every party.

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41 Answers

MissA's avatar

Have a bouncer. Either they contribute an entrance fee, a dish, SOMETHING. Otherwise, b’bye.

MissA's avatar

Oh, have the bouncer be a non-employee. With the cash, you can buy for the next party.

chyna's avatar

We always had this problem where I used to work. The same two guys who refused to bring anything ate the most. We just let it go.

JustmeAman's avatar

Give out tickets to those that contribute food or money and have them place their ticket before getting food from the table. They may still do it and go by and get food but it will be more obvious. Also make it very clear at the beginning if you don’t bring anything then money is requried or you don’t eat.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Hmm, what about having a notice on the party flyer saying “no dish, no entry”? Or even “bringing a dish is mandatory”?

MissA's avatar


That’s really a great answer.
Good for you.

MissA's avatar

Hmmmm. I was just thinking…

Would you even want to eat something, brought by someone, who doesn’t want to bring anything? Hmmmm.

Perhaps you could require them to “buy a ticket”!

Mat74UK's avatar

Don’t pussy foot about, just bloody tell them!!

JLeslie's avatar

If it is just a couple of people, I would let it go, and let them eat, especially if it is not a regular occurance. Most pot lucks have extra food, because each person cooks a dish for several people, but they eat for one. If it is the same offenders over and over, the next time a potluck is being done, I would specifically ask them what they are bringing, have ready ideas for them that are easy like bringing a dessert, soda, napkins (do not rely on that person solely for things like forks) put them on the spot and make a committment, or decline and figure out for themselves they cannot eat without partcipating in bringing something themselves.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Second time in two days I’ve said this“Borrow lucille’s gun and put a cap in their ass!”

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Or you could do what a lot of schools do for class parties- create a sign-up sheet and have everyone sign up for something.

JLeslie's avatar

The OP said there is a sign up sheet.

iamthemob's avatar

Try to be direct and then say something clever…like “Remember, if you don’t bring a dish, this might be a pot UNlucky dinner for you” ... only you know, actually clever. ;-)

I find the BEST way to do this is to include the DISH people will be bringing in the sign up. You can also have people bring categories of stuff (like, one person can bring dishes and stuff, and it’s first come, first serve). But if you have people commit to these dishes, you both (1) know who didn’t do their job because the dish won’t be there, (2) everyone knows how much of the thing they should bring because they’re responsible for all the “salad” for the entire list in the end, and (3) you don’t end up with fifty bags of chips, ten cakes, and one sad bowl of pasta salad – everyone knows not to bring something already listed.

JLeslie's avatar

Personally, I don’t like sarcastic, condescending remarks like what @iamthemob suggests, or at least that is how I would take a clever remark, I would find it obnoxious. I prefer to be straight forward and direct, and leave out the other stuff, if you choose to say something.

WestRiverrat's avatar

If they don’t bring a dish, put them in charge of cleanup, including washing all the dishes. We have a guy that can’t cook in our office, he will usually pay for the ingredients for someone else to make a double batch of something.

Mat74UK's avatar

@WestRiverrat – best I’ve heard yet (without doing the being direct bit).

MissA's avatar


Your ideas feel like the best ones yet.

Kardamom's avatar

There is no polite way to say it, so just don’t. Just let them all in. We always had that “problem” where I used to work, but I figured that it’s just not nice to turn people away. Even if they’re boobs.

I would always bring extra stuff (bag of chips, box of cookies, block of cheese) for the people who I knew would forget or fail to bring something. Those of us who loved to cook would always bring something delicious and large, knowing full well that some people can’t/won’t cook and have no intention of spending any money to buy something. Everybody, knew exactly who these people were (it was always the same few culprits) but we let ‘em in anyway, knowing that we were all there to have a good time.

I also had a stash of cooking supplies (crock pot, bowls and serving utensils) that I kept in the cupboard in the kitchen where I worked. I left them there for other people to use. I’m pretty organized when it comes to potlucks, but I know a lot of people just aren’t. Some people are forgetful, some can’t figure out what to bring, even if you give them suggestions and some people are just plain lazy or cheap. But potlucks are always fun. If you cook it, they will come.

Joybird's avatar

While it is extremely rude to participate in a potluck without having made a contribution it is equally rude to exempt people from participating at the workplace and several other types of venues. You can reduce the number of people not contributing by personally visiting people and asking what they will be bringing stating that you are trying to reduce duplicate dishes. If they don’t know you can tell them that no one has volunteered to bring (name several dishes here) and then ask for their commitment to one of the dishes you mention. Pinning people down and writing down their contribution in front of them makes them feel obligated to follow through on bringing that particular dish to pass…..sending out a memo the morning before the event listing the people who are contributing and the dishes they committed to bringing also reduces free loading. If someone seems reticent…suggest that if finances are a difficulty they could contribute napkins, cups, etc…or even just something as simple as a jar of pickles.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

There is no polite way. You can try to make a note in the sign up memo that cash contributions are welcome for the people who aren’t able to cook or bring a dish on the day of meal but don’t count on it. Every job I’ve ever worked has had potlucks and also the people who either don’t contribute but still eat or worse, the people who eat the amount of several others’ portions.

If you’ve got a conference or separate room with a closing door available then set up in there with a a list posted on the outside door such and such POTLUCK going on. If non participants come in then let them stay but ask them to please wait and let the others take their plates first, leftovers being open to all.

BoBo1946's avatar

@chyna ditto… I was guilty of that occasionally, out of just forgetting….and at the last minute would run to Kroger and pick up something. Then tell everyone I cooked it ! loll

Kayak8's avatar

At one time in my life I probably would have been considered one of “those people.” The thing was, I didn’t cook. Once someone offered the choice of bringing paper products or beverages, I have always had a niche and felt like I was able to contribute—I just needed to know what was needed. Now (while I can cook a bit), I just offer to bring plastic forks etc or plates so the organizers know they can take it off their lists. Sometimes I am the bagged products (potato chips, pretzels) person, it just depends on what the organizers need.

iamthemob's avatar

@BoBo1946 – Kroger, you are from the south, aren’t you? ;-)

Jeruba's avatar

I wouldn’t try to tell any employee that they couldn’t come to an event held on company premises and on company time.

If there were just a couple of freeloaders, I would let it go.

If I were a regular organizer of such events and noticed the same few taking advantage every time, I think I might speak to them singly and privately and say something like “If you need help knowing what to bring to the next potluck, we can always use some <whatever>” or ”. . . you could just chip in $5 ahead of time to help out with the supplies.”

JLeslie's avatar

@iamthemob he is in the south, but Kroger is in Michigan also, maybe other midwest states? Not sure.

iamthemob's avatar

@JLeslie – I thought about including that – it’s really that my experience with it has been mostly when I lived in the south as well, and putting the ”/middle America” in there made the quip too cumbersome. ;-)

MissA's avatar

My initial response was totally silly. I would never be able to deny someone to join in, no matter what. I read the question as how to not allow someone access if they didn’t bring something. But, there’s no love there. So, I take it back. Sorry.

RedPowerLady's avatar

In my experience the only polite way to get around this is for the host to bring extra food expecting a little of this will happen. You never know someone’s circumstances and the reason they aren’t bringing food. It is your responsibility as host to make sure there is enough and not blame people for enjoying the party, food or no food.

BoBo1946's avatar

@iamthemob loll yes, the deep South my friend!

jca's avatar

where i work, the building has about 400 people and our two sections (the two sections that participated in the party) have about 60 people. Only about 15 brought anything. Of those 15, about 6 were food items and 6 were desserts, plus one gave money (10) i put toward utensils and plates. @RedPowerLady: obviously it would be very hard for 6 food items to feed 60 people. We did feed about 30. I don’t see how that would have been my responsibility as host to make sure there is enough for 60 people. As I stated, i put out signs, a sign up sheet and the manager emailed everyone (all 60) the flyer also, so there was no misunderstanding. As far as people’s economic circumstance, which I could understand, a few bottles of soda was an acceptable contribution and something several people did. We also did the party the day after payday so everyone usually has money on payday to buy something.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca after hearing those numbers, I would say pot luck does not work in your company. Along with what @RedPowerLady was saying, when my husband’s company does a potluck, or when our civic club here in town does one, there are some main dishes provided by the host or the company to ensure there will be enough food. No one is turned away if they don’t bring something.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: Yesterday, so many people did not bring, and they did not come (and they may have been insulted, but yet they will then go and spend $10 on lunch from a deli, go figure). I am having trouble understanding people that don’t bring and yet expect to eat. Everyone once in a while may have a problem (like one girl did not bring but she said her kitchen was getting re-done, she was one who went out pre-party and picked up some soda, which was great). It’s just having 45 people who don’t bring and yet expect to go eat is beyond me.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca beyond me also.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@jca It’s beyond me as well. Unfortunately with that high of a number not bringing food, I don’t think charging them money would help either unless someone was going to order food with that money to make up the difference. It sounds like pot lucks aren’t going to work in your office unless you specifically say only the people that bring food will be able to participate.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca if they didn’t come then I would not assume they are insulted, I would assume they just didn’t want to participate. Did someone say something that you feel they were annoyed?

jca's avatar

@JLeslie : One of the participants was saying that the people that contributed should eat first (which I agree with, but would not say out loud, and which people usually abide by anyway) and someone said at the end of the day that the non-givers were insulted. I imagine they were insulted because in the past, nobody said anything and they all just came and ate. A few just coming and eating is ok, or if more contributed, then more could just come and free load and no big deal, but this time it would not have worked if the 60 came and ate the food of 20.

Yes, not everyone wants to participate in a party, so maybe not everyone was insulted, but a group of them were standing at a distance staring, and I know they were looking to come. This is in addition to the ones that came regardless.

It worked out, I’m just wondering how to do things differently in future so it’s fair to the ones that participate and yet drop a subtle hint to those who do not.

In a big office, you can’t please all the people all the time, because if you order food instead, the controversy will then be where it comes from, how much it costs, how people could do it better with home cooked, etc.

Just FYI my contribution was string beans, organic, frozen from Costco. 6 lb bag about $6 and change. Boiled, put in a tin tray, easy, cheap, healthy.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@jca I think the only thing you can really do is put on the flyer and emails “If you want to participate and eat at the pot luck please bring a dish. Due to the number of people in this office, we will only have enough food for the people that actually bring a dish. Participation is optional, but bringing a dish is required if you want to participate.”

JLeslie's avatar

The situation kind of sucks. I just can’t imagine people feeling entitled when they did not paticipate in the first place, but I certainly believe you. I’m thinking that maybe they were offended someone actually said it out loud. Said they have to wait until the people who brought food took theirs. You mentioned most of the freeloaders wait until the end anyway, so maybe they took it as condescending, something I mentioned above, because to them it is speaking the obvious and they felt singled out, scolded in public, when they minimally did abide by this unspoken rule on their own, without being told what to do. Just a guess. I think your feelings about it are probably correct, since you were there. And, true, impossible to please everyone. It is starting to feel like you are in one of those situations where the phrase no good deed goes unpunished fits. You spend time organizing and planning, and worrying about people enjoying themselves, and in the end you get little appreciation, and have to deal with criticism.

I think it will be difficult to resolve. Probably the best is to have the rules on the initial email and sign up sheet, and have an option of contributing $5 in lieu of bringing something, if someone is willing to gather the money and purchase food or cook more. $5 is way less than eating lunch out. Is it mostly men not bringing food? They usually pony up money much quicker than women in my experience.

I gotta say a 60 person potluck is a very big potluck. I’m accustomed to smaller groups doing it. Will people feel left out if you narrow it to a smaller group?

Actually, at my husband’s company they sometimes do it for large groups, but when it is an entire division the company pays for the main thing, like they do it for Thanksgiving, the company buys the turkeys, and the managers and senior levels bring side dishes and the rest of it, and the staff is not required to bring anything. So, that is not a true potluck I guess. They do this sort of think on Cinco de Mayo and some other holidays. How often do you do the potlucks?

Kardamom's avatar

@jca with regards to @JLeslie ‘s comment, I wonder if the people coming to the “potluck” party didn’t actually know what “potluck” meant. The reason I’m suggesting this possibility is the fact that @JLeslie ‘s party, people were invited to a luncheon/dinner and the bosses paid for it.

A lot of people are not savvy enought these days, and there are sometimes cultural differences with some employees, so some people (even a lot of people) may not really understand what a potluck party is. Some people are just boobs, but let’s not assume that about most folks.

So the flyer should say something about the definition like: We’re having a potluck party. Definition of potluck: EVERYBODY brings a dish to share. Please use the sign-up sheet with your name to write down the dish that you will be bringing. If you don’t plan to cook, please donate$5 into the fish bowl on the reception desk and write “donation” next to your name on the sign up sheet. The donations will go toward plates, napkins and cutlery.

This should also be on the flyer—Suggestions for items: casseroles, sandwiches, chili, salads, vegetable or cheese platters, chips and dip, cakes, pies and cookies, fried chicken, cold cuts, potato or macaroni or pasta salad, enchiladas, stew, pizza, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, scalloped or sweet potatoes, tuna or egg salad, deviled eggs, bread and cheese platter, chow mein, spring rolls, chicken wings, nuts, iced tea, punch, soda, napkins, plates, cutlery. These are just suggestions, BE CREATIVE.

Also add this to the flyer—Note: Everyone is welcome to attend, but last year a lot of people came to the party, but only a few people brought food, so there wasn’t enough for everyone. Please be considerate and bring a dish or donate $5 so that everyone can enjoy the party.

The host should definitely supply a few extra items anyway, like big bags of chips from Costco and a big cheese pizza and possibly the napkins, plates and cutlery. You can use some of the donations for extra food, you just don’t need to write that on the flyer (so you don’t have the problem of people asking about where you are ordering it from or how much it cost).

The flyer should be posted in the breakroom, on the inside of the bathroom stall doors, at the reception desk (next to the fishbowl and the sign up sheet) on the kitchen fridge, and sent out to employees about a month in advance, then two days before the party and once more the day before the party. If NONE of this works, you can assume that most of the non-participants at your job are sourpusses or selfish boobs.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh, hey, I did not even think of that. They might not know what potluck means, they may not know the expectation is everyone brings a dish. They might think potluck is hopefully you get some food, and hopefully you like some of it. At my husbands work the managers really plan it, they know ahead what each of them are bringing, and if something specific is missing, someone picks up the slack. Many times I am told what to make, rather than me saying what I want to bring, I am kind of one of the wives that will do whatever they want, and allow the others to sign up first. It is more the managers doing it for the staff, but some staff members want to bring a special dish or dessert, which of coure they are welcome to do.

Now, at my civil club here in town, it really is a potluck, not organized nearly as much. The president and social director makes sure there is napkins, plates, and drinks,and they purchase or make a few dishes, everyone else brings whatever, no sign up, and if the food runs out tough tooties.

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