In the comments on my guest post on hosting a crowd at Habitza, I recalled a party I hosted for a newly married couple I hardly knew. Afterward, one of the single men who had been invited complained that guys get hungry, and we should have served more than a quarter of a chicken per person. He would have liked a second piece.
I still remember that exchange because it put me on the defensive. Hosts are sensitive. Here I helped plan and pay for this huge party, and that guy (who also didn’t know the young couple in question) should have been grateful to be invited.
Hosts have a responsibility to provide enough food and a pleasant atmosphere. But guests have an obligation as well–to be gracious and be satisfied (or to appear satisfied) with what is on offer. There are a lot of legitimate reasons that a host might be short on food: one of the dishes turned out to be inedible, extra guests showed up, poor estimation, or budgetary concerns. Most hosts do try to prevent running out of food, and don’t need a reminder that there wasn’t enough. I don’t remember the menu at that particular meal, except that we did estimate one quarter chicken per person as had been done in other communal meals I’d help organize. I still think that’s reasonable.
This raises an interesting issue about what hosts owe to guests. When we invite guests we go out of our way to serve a special meal. But how high a level is appropriate? I don’t feel that a host needs to anticipate a guest’s every need. If there is soup, mashed potatoes, bread and vegetables, along with a serving of meat or some other protein, hosts have done their duty. That’s how caterers and restaurants stay in business, and it’s okay for home cooks to do the same.
I’m *not* talking about serving tiny portions or counting out exact amounts. You don’t know whether you will have surprise guests, or someone will come extra hungry for some reason. Hosts can choose to be extra-generous, and Rachelle Isserow mentioned that she serves her male teenage guests red meat when they visit.The problem is when hosts feel obligated to live up to external standards.
I think it mainly depends on what you serve your own family. I only serve red meat a few times a year, so I’m not going to go out and buy it for male teenage guests. But if I am having guests for a holiday meal, I will serve the beef at that meal. Most family members eat less than a quarter chicken including the teenage boys, so estimating half a chicken for each guest is over the top to me. I do prepare extra courses and quantities for guests, but only up to a point.
Another reason not to go all out when you host is that it can place a burden on people in your community who want to reciprocate. You don’t want to host at standards lower than those of your friends and neighbors because it feels ungrateful, but you also don’t want to perpetuate an unrealistic, over-the-top style that makes you reluctant to host or for others to invite you back.
What do you think? How much is too much when it comes to guests?
Tips on Stretching Food for Company