Dinner Parties

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Friends that never host, always have potlucks

Jan 2008

We entertain a lot and have a lot of fun getting everyone together. I don't expect our friends to host as often. My husband has a couple of friends that do not entertain often. Some never do. That's fine. It's the potluck parties that bother me.

When his 2 friends (both are couples - one with older children in college and another couple with no children) do have a get together, it's always potluck where we're told what to bring. Moreover, the couple without kids have ''no children'' parties so we only go to about half of them which ends up being once every other year or so. We have 2 young children.

I'm kind of tired of this. Do I just suck it up and deal with going to their potluck parties? Or do I stop going? Can I somehow stop inviting them to our parties?

In some ways, I feel like they're free loaders. I know it's wrong to feel this way but I do. Oh, btw, all our financial circumstances are similar... except for the couple with kids in college. They complain about money all the time but they always have... even when they bought a new car, go on luxury cruise trips and she goes to the nail salon weekly... need advice

It's great that you like to entertain and host dinners 100%. Some people, however, are more comfortable sharing the cooking, and some think it's fun to have everyone contribute. Sounds like money is not the issue here. If you like these couples and want to spend time with them, then keep on inviting them and keep attending their potlucks. anon

I think, you should stop entertaining all together, you can not be happy if you keep doing it, I often said to myself when I see my sister for example, so stress over X-Mas Party, she wanted to do it, no one forces her. And by the way we shouldn't be looking through over friends finances, who cares if they complain and still take cruises? Just do it for the fun of it, and more because is a scape for you who is with the kids all the time, I assume, is your outlet to be with grown ups, lets put it that way. When I invite people to our place I don't expect nothing from them, and that's it!!!!!!!!!!! Good Luck. zoepe

The title of your message ''Husband's Friends'' says it all. They are his friends and you don't like them very much. Maybe they aren't as into entertaining as you are, so they do potluck. Maybe they all started the potluck thing when they were younger and never changed. Your options are to suck it up or change to potluck parties yourself so you don't feel used. I understand that it doesn't feel good to be the one who gives and never receives. But if you truly enjoy entertaining, is it that big of deal? If you only do it because they are your husbands friends, just order take out or do the potluck thing and move on.

In a nutshell, keep things really simple. If you truly enjoy their company, keep at it, regardless. If not, fade away and do what brings you joy instead.

You said it's wrong to feel they're freeloaders? No way. It would be wrong to lie and pretend to yourself that they are more honorable or fair than they really are.

If you enjoy their company despite the imbalance, sure, it's fine to keep inviting them. If not, dump them. It's absolutely okay to stop inviting them! It's your home and your money, time and effort. You should be inviting people who you want to be there. Period.

As for the potlucks... same advice. Do you enjoy going, despite that you are expected to prepare a meal? If so, keep going (and husband has to prepare or buy the item, just in case he feels all this is ''no big deal''). If not, just say you can't make it and move on. anon

The pot luck people probably don't like to cook, or don't know how, but they like to entertain now and then. Pot lucks are often looked at as a ''bringing the community together'' type of thing although Miss Manners says the host should never invite people over for a pot luck. Of course they could have a dinner party catered, but I bet they think a pot luck is a warm and welcoming kind of get together....you get to eat interesting food, see what other people make, etc.

The no kid people probably don't have a kid safe house....maybe they have pets that are not kid friendly.

I love to cook and have dinner parties fairly regularly. My kids are now teens and my house is not so toddler safe. It's more work for my friends with young kids to bring them here, as much as we try to accomodate the younguns...and our friends don't have as good a time cause they constantly have to watch the babes. (We put our dogs in another room). I can see how this would bug you, but try to look a little deeper. Maybe there is more then meets the eye. anon mom

If you like the people, then welcome an opportunity to socialize with them under any circumstances. If you don't, then life is too short. Move on.

However, if you don't want to spend time with them because of the potluck thing or because of the ''inequity'' in the parties, then I think that's not right.

My husband and I love socializing and entertaining, but we frequently have gatherings/meals with others where there is a potluck. I usually provide all the main items and drinks and others might bring a salad, snacks or desserts. In fact, I expect that when I am invited to someone else's house and I feel weird if I am told to bring nothing. For some people, potluck type gatherings are normal. If you throw more elaborate parties, then that's also your option.

As for the couple who throws adult parties, that's their choice. They don't have to cater to you or your family. I understand your position, as I also have young kids, but I imagine that those who don't might prefer, at least at times, to see just other adults. Just my two cents

Just do what works for you! Stop going to their parties if you don't want to go, stop inviting them to yours if you don't want them. You'd probably have more fun w/ other couples w/ kids anyway. Or invite THEM to a potluck. Some shift in friends ends up happening inadvertently when you have kids anyway. So you try as best as you can to keep up with the child-free couples, and they try their best, and you get together less often than you used to. That's the way it goes. I certainly have experienced that from both sides, first as the child-free person, now as the person w/ kids whose child-free friends may not be as excited about getting together with me. And I distinctly remember how my parents' friends shifted over the years, and they stuck more closely to those they had more in common with.

Dinner Party Tips/Recipes- low stress

June 2007

I am looking for tips on how to host a low stress dinner party. We like to have people over, but often I find it stressful cooking, cleaning etc. I am an okay cook, but not great. I would love some advice from experienced cooks and party hosts. Any great recipes (vegetarian or meat) that can be made ahead of time (either a day before, or an hour before so I can focus on guests when they arrive)? Easy appetizers/desserts? How long between guest arrival and serving dinner. Buffet style versus serve everyone, sit at the table? We generally don't want formal gatherings - just 6-8 people including a few kids (ages 3+). Thanks. anon

Have you thought about giving a brunch, especially since you mentioned that young children will be in attendance, so you don't need to deal with bedtime issues? Brunches are SO much easier than dinner parties. You can buy high quality breads/pastries, cut up some ripe fruit (pineapple, cherries, strawberries, stonefruit, whatever is in season), make frittatas (crustless quiche, essentially), green salad, and breakfast meats if desired (can be purchased lox/smoked trout alongside bagels or pumpernickel bread or bacon/saussage). To get fancier, add cheeses. Serve juice/coffee/tea and you're done!!

But since you asked, here's an easy dinner party. Roast a chicken, buy a high quality chicken such as Rosie or Rocky. After removing inside packet and rinsing chicken, fill body cavity with the cut halves of 1 lemon and fresh rosemary. Put a bit of butter under the skin and black pepper and place in a preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn to 350 degrees until chicken is done. To fill out dinner, do a green salad, purchase a selection of cheeses, and roast some veggies (cut up in wedges potatoes, onions, and mushrooms in half and some baby carrots, then toss in extra virgin olive oil with salt and cracked pepper, put in oven at 400 degrees until done - veggies should be of similar size to be done at the same time - about 1 hour or so or can be roasted WITH chicken). Serve with good bread and wine. Or order a whole salmon ''butterflied'' and place on olived oiled baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil and place lemon slices on top (some cilantro/chives or parsley on top is good too). Put a second baking sheet in lower rack in a preheated 350 oven that has about 1/2 inch of water. Put salmon on baking sheet on a rack ABOVE the water filled pan after about 10 minutes. Bake about 20 minutes. Easy ''poached'' salmon. The ''sides'' can be the same as above but add fennel to the roast veggie selection. Deserts? That's what bakeries are for or do good ice cream and biscotti. Fresh fruit with home whipped cream is also good.

One last tip: To divide up the work for elaborate menus, I'll peel and cut up garlic, onions, or veggies the evening before I do the cooking (essentially acting as my own prep cook). I'll also make whatever I can the day before (cream cheese and/or egg spreads for hor d'ourves to be served with olives, green onions, smoked fish/lox, halved cherry tomatoes - all but the tomatoes can be done the day before), any braised dish and many pasta sauces(will take better the next day). Karen H.

Good for you! It's great that you want to face your fears and connect with your friends.

How about a taco bar? Everything can be done ahead, the guests make their own, and you can accomodate vegetarians, carnivores, and picky eaters all at once. I have also done pasta bars where I make a big pot of pasta, and offer a couple of different make ahead sauces, a salad and garlic bread. There is nothing wrong with a potluck, either.

In the bigger picture, don't get intimidated. Real friends come over for the company, not to critique the food! Have fun with it

Hi there, If you aren't into cooking, make it easy for yourself. Do a starter that requires no cooking, like buy a selection of good quality deli meats and cheeses (salami, ham, olives, brie, etc...) and put them out nicely on a tray with bread and crackers and let people help themselves. Buy a beautiful dessert from a bakery. Or do icecream sundaes. Or just buy some really lovely fruit, like a bowl of cherries, and put out some chocolates. An easy main course could be a pasta where you make the sauce in advance and just heat it up and cook the pasta when the guest are there. Or do a stew or braised dish which is made completely in advance. Lasagna is always a crowd pleaser and can be totally done in advance. Keep an eye out at the shops for pre-made items--try them on your family first so you can assess the quality. If you like it, your guests will too. Andronico's has some lovely pasta salads which would be great for a lunch. Don't feel like you have to cook to throw a dinner party. Guests will feel charmed at your efforts, regardless of whether you cook or not. Show them you care by putting out candles and flowers. Then spend your time at the party socializing! Good luck! Love to Entertain

I vote for buffet style. I don't like to be served at a party- especially by the hostess! One easy dish could be a large salad and french bread. Maybe, a ham could work. a mom

I read Amy Sedaris's book I LIKE YOU, Entertaining Under The Influence, cover to cover and got a lot of tips as well as laughs. The recipes are real and very easy...very whip it up fast in most cases.

Anyway good advice is to keep it simple.

For kids, lemonade. Maybe put a bottle of Vodka next to it. (for the parents) Card tables are great. make food that won't get spread all over & maybe invest in some party plastic since you are probably going to have a lot of rowdies around now that you are a parent. Cherry tomatos, piate booty, etc in festive bowls...I usually make a big hot tufu/veg (peel a carrot, ginger, & garlic put it in a blender with soy, rice vinegar, & a splash of sesame oil, saute veg, mix that in & add chopped tofu) serve that with a big pot of rice. It's pretty PC for vegans & everyone likes it, plus it's cheap so you can do it....a big salad is good on the side. I alway put it out buffet style.

de-cafe & cupcakes will get rid of/signal the end.... Remember that the most fun is had in imperfect settings so just invite people over and enjoy them. You don't have to wow anybody. That said, it is fun to make goofy decorations with the kids! Just clear a space for the food & relax!

If you're not a great cook or don't enjoy cooking, then don't give ''dinner'' parties! Host a ''game night'' or ''movie night'' or some similar informal party. Put your energy into planning fun things to DO, and don't worry much about what everyone's going to EAT. (I personally enjoy those parties more anyway, as a guest.) Order pizza or some similar crowd-pleasing takeout, make it a potluck, have your party at a time that's between meals so you only have to serve snacks, or just serve something simple -- when the focus of the gathering isn't the food, you'll feel less stressed about cooking something wonderful. Or host a make-your-own omelets/tacos/waffles/sundaes type party -- you set out lots of yummy ingredients and the necessary equipment and let your guests play with the food themselves.

I happen to enjoy baking and I'm good at it, so for my parties I concentrate on the cake. :-) (Or cookies or pie or whatever.) You might likewise just focus your time and energy on whatever aspect of the food and drink you're best at -- or perhaps you'd have fun cooking just about anything as long as you can concentrate on ONE thing (whether appetizer, entree, dessert or drinks) and use store-bought for, or recruit guests to bring, everything else.

And have fun! Cheese and Crackers Host

Do it regularly! That may seem like odd advice, but it really helps to be in practice. You could set up a regular night to host a small group you know well, then move up to fancier groups/menus after you've had smaller ones regularly.

We're two working parents and two young kids and no extra help but we entertain 1-2 times a week - often just one or two guests, but monthly a larger group. Other tips for keeping it fun:
- keep it simple: chose a menu that looks nice then eliminate (or chose to buy) one thing. Scale back. - lower your cleaning standards: quickly pile clutter into a box and shove it into a closet, stand at your doorway and try to see your house as a guest will and only clean the things that are most glaring if you're out of time. - never apologize: if the soup is too salty or the bathroom a mess, just ignore it and never draw attention to it by commenting on it. Chances are half the time guests won't notice. Unless it's inedibly salty - then quietly don't serve it. - set the table/clear the worst clutter first so that if you run out of time when guests arrive, you're cooking instead of running around cleaning. - likewise, have appetizers/drinks basically ready to go - invite guests from more than one household so they might entertain each other while you finish the meal prep. Or, try to get the kids to entertain the guests and v.v. (we sometimes use video for the kids as a backup during the pre-meal rush) - Breathe! Try to relax and have fun, even if it was a hectic prep. Your guests will enjoy themselves more if you do - Pick menus that have elements that can be done ahead. Cooking magazines tend to tell you how far ahead something can be done, as do some cookbooks. - Try to follow the rule of never making a something the first time for guests. Especially at first, cook things that you are familiar with or that are very simple so being distracted by guests won't throw you off. - When I invite new guests I ask for any food restrictions in the family in advance. I don't tend to accomodate food preferences per se (''my kid only eats white food''), but I do set a menu that suits true restrictions. - Offer a range of beverages (alcohol and non)

Enjoy! There's a lot to be said for entertaining, especially in our situation with young kids where both eating out and being invited to someone else's house are very rare treats. - Loves entertaining...

Always entertaining, but rarely invited

March 2005

Often times my husband and I feel like we take on all the work of entertaining and having friends over to our home, but are rarely invited over to their home. We are very social people and love to cook, drink wine and mingle with friends and their children (we have two children). We have a couple of friends who reciprocate often, but the majority of our friends and even our family members (my own brother) do not.

Sometimes I wonder if we'd even see some of our friends (or family for that matter) if we didn't invite them over! These are friends with children the same age as ours, and our children all get along very well. Also, these are friends we have known for the past 5-10 years, and I can say they've had us over maybe 2-3 times at the most.

And while I love to get together, it tends to get very expensive to always be the one hosting. On average our dinner parties cost us between $30-50 not including the wine. I buy nice cuts of meat or fish, organic vegies and put together simple but gourmet type meals (these are not throw a hamburger on the grill kind of parties). We spend a lot of time cleaning the house, setting the table, cooking and then all the clean-up afterwards. We derive a lot of enjoyment from entertaining friends and family, and feel it's important for our children to experience the fun in having friends over and sharing a meal and good conversation around a table.

We are pretty easy going people, and our children are very polite and play well with others. We make and keep friends easily and have never had a falling out with any of them, so it can't be a personality thing or something with our children.

I've tried having friends over between meals, for a ''let the kids play'' kind of thing, but inevitably they stay for lunch or dinner. We've tried meeting friends in restaurants but it's either too expensive or its hard on the young children so that doesn't work too well. And on the rare occasion that we have been invited over our friends order take-out (and of course I pay our fair share)! Is it normal to invite people over to your house and make them pay for the take-out order?!

Do some people just never entertain or host dinners at their home? Is it right to have dinner at a friend or family member's house 15-20 times a year for the past 5+ years, but invite them over to your home maybe only 2-3 times in that time frame? Should I just not invite these friends over again and have my children be sad about not seeing their friends? How do I do that to family members? Or should I just realize (and accept) that some people do not/will never reciprocate or just don't entertain? would love to have someone cook us dinner for a change!

I agree with you that in a perfect world, everyone should contribute their fair share. But you're aware we don't live in such a world.

I see that you have four reasonable options: 1. Host potlucks from now on, so your food cost is minimal. This means accepting that the food will always be a wildcard. Also, it gently teaches your friends that there is effort involved in parties, and perhaps they will wise up.

2. Stop inviting people who never reciprocate (in other words, stop having parties).

3. Realize there is a cost involved with great entertainment, and understand that your enjoyment far outweighs the money you spend on it. Understand that in your circle of friends, your role is that of host, for better or worse. Accept that others cannot accomplish what you can. Accept that it will always cost you more than it does your friends.

4. Widen your circle of friends to include people who enjoy hosting as much as you.

My feeling is that your friends are not opposed to helping out - they just never thought about it. Or, hosting parties is not their forte. Maybe they aren't organized enough; maybe their house is too messy/small; maybe the idea of hosting overwhelms them. Maybe also, parties are not that important to them. Sure, they enjoy going to others' parties, but there isn't a large enough priority for them to do it themselves (enjoyment vs effort expended is not high enough). I know all these things are true for me. So... I should never go to another party again, because I will never ever host my own party. Yes, that might be the fair thing to do, even though it would mean the end of socializing. Instead, I see that some people are fantastic party hosts. So I leave it to them since they're good at it (and LIKE it), and I contribute, whether it is wine, flowers, dessert, snacks, whatever.

I think it's wonderful that you are able to host successful parties regularly. How nice that you enjoy hosting them and also are organized enough to get all the necessary food as well as guests. You said you derive a lot of enjoyment from it and spend .. was it, $30-50/month on it? As far as entertaining fees, that's not bad considering how much you enjoy it. I knew a gal who spent $300 per party, just on the food/drinks.

If all your friends started saying ''Gee, I don't think I should come and eat all your food. After all, I never have parties myself'', I'm sure you would still encourage them to come. Otherwise, you'd end up hosting a party in which only you and your spouse are present.

Good luck figuring this out for yourself. I think there is no perfect answer. Signed, Party goer

Yes, you need to accept that some people just don't like to entertain, and if you tire of entertaining, then take a break or don't do it. You don't want to find yourself resenting your friends and family because they don't share your passion for entertaining. I do agree that having to pay for takeout at someone else's house isn't very cool, especially in your situation of having provided meal after meal for them. But you've got to let your angst go about the lack of reciprocation. an occasional entertainer

I grew up in a home that was great for entertaining, and with parents able to be generous and warm people. My childhood was filled with good people having fun because my parents made it possible. The only reward or payback they got was years of fun, great friends and seeing that their kids grew up generous and warm people too.

There are two possible explanations for why others ''let'' you do all the entertaining -- either they are comfortable and happy in your home, or they see you as unwilling to give up control. If in fact its the first case, there's no harm in encouraging your guests to bring food or drink, or just in accepting what they offer... and accepting that your home is the center of activity. If its the second option ---- well you have to decide what to do.

My parents gave us the gift of a welcoming, warm, generous home. If they were keeping track of who owed what I never knew... If entertaining makes you happy, I'd encourage you to stop keeping track, and accept your role in your friends' lives.

I miss the social circus I grew up in... but married a shy person. Thanks for reminding me that we need to do more having people over -- for our sakes, for the sake of our kids, and because its fun! Soon to be graciously hosting...

I could have written your email. I have thought long and hard about it and have come to the following conclusions.

1. I love to entertain, so I do it often. The house is a little cleaner, and I love taking out the good tablecloth, dishes, glasses and setting a great table. I own dozens and dozens of cookbooks and love making new things, sometimes gourmet, sometimes cheaper but gourmet like. This is why we often have people over.

2. Many of my friends DO NOT like to entertain, and they will never invite me over. Some live in small, cramped apartments in SF. Some are not genetically disposed to appreciate all that ''having friends over for dinner'' represents. I have one friend who so shamelessly NEVER hosted a party, gathering, or dinner but was always there for yours that we started making fun of him regularly and this eased the tension. And he's started having us to dinner, but he just bought a beautiful house to entertain in. I think there are many reasons why people don't invite friends for dinner, most of them having nothing to do with stinginess or callousness. It often has more to do with messy houses and the perceived inability to cook.

3. People who come to your house for dinner and don't ask ''What can I bring?'' are RUDE. A good friend cooks something or brings a salad, maybe even a decent bottle of wine. An idiot can muster up a bad bottle of wine. Empty handed? For shame.

4. What's UP with the people who invite you over and ask for $$ towards the takeout? However, there's a difference between inviting people over for dinner and then ordering take out and expecting the guest to pay half and ''come on over and watch the game,'' which then turns into, ''Anyone want to chip in and order a pizza?''

In conclusion, my husband and I are the entertainers - so much so we joked about it in our wedding vows. Our friends are not quite as enthusiastic about it, and while I am disappointed, I have come to terms with it. You don't mention - do you work? Since having my son I've been working part time from home, so it's a lot easier to plan a Friday night meal and prep here and there Thursday and Friday day. Or plan to make a braised chicken or beef dish and marinade it overnight, get it in the oven for 5pm. I am also a big multi tasker and my son is very well tempered, so I can cook a dinner for friends without a toddler tantrum. When I worked a FT job my entertaining was way less aggressive. And I saw my friends less as a result. So I am in the same boat as you, and I used to think exactly what you think. and it got me nowhere but in a sadder state. The social strata is filled with all kinds, and I've decided that this is my role. Better this than on the periphery. anon

I grew up in a household like the one you describe--my parents were always having people to dinner and it was a source of great pleasure for them, and for we children--except when we were teenagers, of course. But I learned from my friend, whose parents were some of my parents' closest friends, that not every one is as comforatble hosting a party as my parents were. My friend described how her mother would have a panic attack any time she was preparing for guests, and it was hell on everyone in her family. Why not try what our circle of friends does--organizing potlucks/picnics/barbeques at local parks or other neutral places? This has worked really well for our group, which has a core of four families but is very elastic and accomodating of new friends, visting family members, etc. By having the get-together at a park, everyone is spared the heavy housecleaning involved in preparing for company, and the expense is spread around so that everyone can participate. And the kids have an absolute ball. The coordination, choice of theme (Mexican food with Margaritas, Red White and Blue food for 4th of July, whatever) and other detail planning can be shared or delegated to one family.

We've been doing this for years, beginning with a Mother's Day barbecue planned by the dads when our kids were in kindergarten; now the oldest are high school juniors and we have many happy years of memories, as well as surrogate family for us all. We have taken camping trips and vacations together, and shared rented ski cabins that accomodate skiers and non-skiers alike. And the potluck picnic idea has then evolved naturally into dinner parties where the hosts prepare the bulk of the meal but one family brings dessert, another a green salad, and the third an appetizer. You get the idea. Good Luck. Happy Hostess

You sound like a very friendly, welcoming and generous person, and I'm sorry that you are feeling used by your friends. I'm quite sure they are not trying to take advantage of you. I wanted to give you a perspective from the 'other side', as someone who rarely invites friends over for dinner. The reason I don't invite people over is that, for me, organizing a visit and cooking meals for strangers (i.e. non-family members) is very stressful, especially since I'm not a particularly good cook. I'm also sometimes a bit uncomfortable about the way the house looks (not always as neat or clean or cozy as I wish it could be) and I feel that I would have to get it all organized and scrubbed if I were to officially invite people over. However, if a friend were to call up and say 'hey, I'm going to be in your neighborhood this afternoon, should I stop by?' I would almost definitely say 'yes!'. I have a few suggestions for you. First, you can subtly invite yourself over to your friends' houses, as above. Some may be very happy to have you over. Second, if you do want to have friends over for dinner, make it a potluck! This way everyone can contribute, and it won't all be on your shoulders. Also, I think it's fair to ask for help cleaning up afterwards. Third, regarding take-out food, I do think it's fair to ask guests to share the bill. Fourth, now that the weather is warming up, maybe you can suggest to meet your friends at the park. This way no one has to host or pay for food for others. And finally, some of us, although we would love to keep in touch with our friends and see them often, simply find child-caring + work totally exhausting and encompassing (see other posts in the same advice wanted newsletter, for example) and just don't find the time to invite.

I'm in fact quite impressed that you find the time and energy to entertain so often. Hope this is helpful, and that you don't lose your friends. a non-entertainer

I am in a similar situation! it has been a pattern over the past 5 years... 1st because my husabnd & I were the first amongst our friends to get a house & it seemed so much easier than all trying to cram into an apartment, then we had a baby (2 1/2 years ago) & I think folks assumed we wanted them to come over here so we could still put her down for naps, etc. it wasn't an issue when we had more time & we had more $ to dedicate to hosting, ie. before baby. so now we do a few things: when we want to socialize, we say ''want to get together this weekend?'' and when they say yes we say ''great, we'll come over to your place at around 5:30- what can we bring?'' the other thing is we ABSOLUTELY will not clear the table or wash dishes. after dinner we make some excuse about needing to give the baby a bath, etc. luckily our friends fall for these cheap ploys :) we still do more entertaining than our friends, but it is a start! also making it a habit to ask folks to contribute to meals you host- salad, dessert, bread, wine. I used to be somewhat of a control freak about what was being served, but after looking at our grocery bills I mellowed out (plus I keep the 'big stuff'/main dishes to myself) good luck, virginia

You asked, ''Do some people just never entertain or host dinners at their home?'' and believe it or not, you hit the nail on the head right there. Some people just don't, and probably never will, and probably have no idea how you're feeling about it! No, it isn't fair, but there it is.

We happen to give big parties with some frequency, but almost never invite anyone over for dinner. When we do see friends for lunch or dinner, it is almost always a go out or take-out situation and everyone pays their own way. This is not abnormal, although usually it's a little more reciprocal in the sense that either family might be the one to suggest getting together and there is some tradeoff in terms of which family visits the other's home. And it's also a little more upfront -- we don't issue an invitation for dinner and then say, hey, we're calling for pizza! When the arrangements are being made we'll say ''we could hang out for a while and get some dinner'' or ''we could meet at Habitot and then go get some lunch''.

Perhaps you could ask your friends to bring the wine. And/or some other component of the meal. Or you could adopt the take- out solution yourself -- at least some of the time. Or suggest meeting at a nearby restaurant and returning to your home just for dessert. But don't expect people who don't ''do'' dinner parties to invite you to one -- and don't deprive yourself of their company, assuming you otherwise enjoy it, over this! anon

Have you considered inviting people over and doing potluck? If you entertain regularly, it might be a way to make it a bit easier on you. We have friends that do that, and I don't mind bring a dish of some sort to make it easier on the host. Sometimes we bring wine and a dish. Whenever we entertain, our friends ask us what they should bring. Initially, I had reservations about asking people to bring something. With a young child and limited time, I do ask guests to bring something. I usually provide the main course, side dish and will have drinks too. When there are a few families, there is plenty of food to go around and the pressure is off me. Bon Appetit

Sounds like you throw a great party - and perhaps you make it look too easy. So there may be a couple of things going on. Perhaps because it looks so easy for you to do, your friends don't see it as an imposition. Or perhaps you are inadvertantly setting a high standard and they are afraid that they won't measure up...will they bring a bad wine? Or the wrong one? If you eat at their house, will it be as good (this is the one I had to get over)(maybe that is why they order out)? Is your house very neat and tidy and their's isn't (they may be embarassed)?

Is your house a great space for large groups and theirs isn't? Here are some potential solutions to ease portions of your burden - financially and otherwise...As they leave next time say, ''HEy lets have dinner at your place next time.'' Give gobbs of positive reinforcement when on that rare occaision you do plan to eat at their house (remeber why they might feel reluctant)...''a simple home cooked meal would be fine''..or if they might feel better cooking with you, as you have tons of experience, say ''I can come over at x pm and we can cook it together.''..Set examples when you go to their place and offer to bring the dessert or the wine or both - and say you'll bring these to their house this time, and they can bring wine and dessert next time. At the dinner and afterwards, praise their cooking. Also at the end of the meal say, ''you cooked, so we'll help with the dishes!''. Tell them how much fun you had at their house and how it would be nice to go back and forth with the dinning location (''it's so nice to get a change of scenery!'') Nesxt time the dinner is at your place, ask them to bring a major portion of it...or the wine and the dessert. After the dinner, get them to help you with the cleanup so that you don't have to do all of it and end up resenting them for it. And there is always the approach - although not as honest perhpas - of making the meals at your home less interesting (order pizza...and a boring pizza at that) and tell them you just didn't have it in you to get a big meal together that day. - Anonymous

Dear hosts with the mosts; that was a hilarious entry. You sound like great and generous friends we would all be lucky to have.. Maybe 1) some of your deadbeat friends will read your entry, cringe and start to anty up, 2) You'll be deluged with hungry, thirsty and ready for new friends kinda people who saw your entry and who would actually reciprocate in kind...but if neither 1 or 2 happen I'd suggest dumping the whole lot of them and cultivate a new friend garden. You're kind of being, well... had! Bon apetit and Salud!!!!! Anon

Some of us, who are parents of two young kids and who both work full time, are way, way too exhausted and overwhelmed to entertain the way you do! I could never find the time on a weekend to cook a gourmet dinner after doing all the weekly house-cleaning, shopping,errands etc (all while minding the kids). You are truly amazing to be able to manage that! Have some pity of those of us who are way less together than you are! I'd love to have friends over more often, but it would make my life unbearably stressful. I would say that if you enjoy entertaining, continue to do it, but it isn't fair to expect others to entertain you in the same fashion, or as often as you do. -maxed out

Boy can I relate. I've come to the conclusion that if I decide to entertain it is because I want to and want to see the people I invite, and I just don't expect reciprocation. I find that I do this very rarely now. It is a huge effort to make a nice evening for people, and if I and my family are not important enough for them to also make an effort for us, then they are telling me loud and clear where I stand on their priority and friendship list. It is up to me to hear the message. I don't expect complete or instant reciprocation, but if a couple or fmaily never bothers to reciprocate (and I mean not even a ''come over for coffee'') then, for me, this says something about how they value me and my friendship. I've been told that this behavior is typical for the bay area and to just accept it, but I have a hard time doing so. I think it is sad commentary that there are a lot of people that are more than happy to take advantage of other's hospitality without thinking that maybe part of being a good friend is acting in like spirit. As I mentined, even an invitation to coffee would count, it doens't have to be a full evening of entertainment and food. Anyway, I don't have an answer. I have pared down my husband's and my own list of ''friends'' quite dramatically in the last 3 years, and I can't say I am sorry about it. After several evenings of us providing food and entertainment, we were a bit hurt ourselves when no one bothered with a single invitation to us over the span of more than a year. Maybe people are too wrapped up in their own self-important lives. We all have busy lives and families, no excuses there. anon

We have some friends who often invite us over for very nice dinners, and we rarely invite them over even though we enjoy spending time with them. There are a number of reasons for this.

1. We hardly ever get the chance. Whenever we think we start thinking we should have them over, they invite us over first.

2. Distance. We live far away, and we've definitely gotten the impression they don't want to drive that far just to visit us. We on the other hand don't mind BARTing over to visit them.

3. Time. I'm the one that loves to cook and entertain, but I'm also the one working 50+ hours a week. My husband is a SAHD but doesn't cook. While I used to entertain quite a bit, I've had to reprioritize after our baby was born and unfortunately, spending time entertaining has been deprioritized quite a bit. Although entertaining is a high priority for you, you aren't in a position to decide how high a priority it should be for your friends.

4. Cost. We are living on less than half as much income as our friends who entertain us often, and I'm pretty sure that they don't know that. Entertaining them at the same level they entertain us would be a major financial hardship for us.

It's wonderful that you love laying out a lavish spread for your friends. But if you are starting to feel taken advantage of, then by all means tone it down a little. I'm sure your friends love spending time with you, and I'm sure they would reciprocate if they could. I suspect that the reason they aren't is because they, like us, just can't. At least not on the same level. Also, when our friends do order take out when we visit, not only do we not mind, but we always pay our fair share. anon

I'm so sorry that your friends' behavior feels unkind. What a nice gift you have given to so many, by offering these wonderful evenings. I don't want to excuse anyone's behavior here. But just a few thoughts: what about entertaining other families by just cooking one of your favorite 'weeknight' meals and deciding to spend, say, no more than 30 minutes picking up the house? Maybe that would make you feel a little less resentful about entertaining, and maybe it would make others feel a little less intimidated by serving their own rice-and-beans meals to you. I know that these days, if I have to pull together a party where I feel like the shelves need dusting and the sinks must be scrubbed and I must buy wine that costs more than $6 a bottle, I pretty much give it up the idea right there. Sure I'd like to host that kind of party, and I LOVE attending such events, but it would literally take me a week to assemble such an evening. So, hats off to you for your flair and competence! but maybe lowering your standards would help? Also, maybe joining a book club or some social circle where the hosting responsibilities rotate would allow you to feel your efforts reciprocated. Hang in there! Wanna be Martha Stewart, but.........

you can invite people and ask them to bring something - have a potluck or say, for example, we're providing salad and bread, you bring a pasta dish. as for playdates have them at a park that way you can leave when you're ready and avoid complications like guests that won't leave. anon

Boy, I could have written your post, although I'm not sure my house is quite as clean as yours. We have a few friends who reciprocate meals, and lots and lots who don't. I think that the preparation of food has become a lost art, even here in the foodie bay area. People seem amazed that we cook dinner 6-7 nights a week. I've finally just chalked it up to the way life is, and decided I'd rather see people than not, even if it means hosting most of the time. nelly

Have potlucks! It's a great way to entertain lots of folks without going bankrupt. I've done these for years and they are always fabulous. Call your friends and ask them to each bring one item and a beverage. No one feels the financial burden of feeding a crowd. And since each is responsible for only one dish, most folks usually make something special. In order to make sure things are somewhat balanced, you may want to assign a category to each guest (appetizer, dessert, entree, salad, etc.). As an interesting aside, it's a good way to measure if you are, in fact, being taken advantage of by some of your ''friends''. If someone shows up empty-handed, or with a bag of chips, you may decide to drop them from your guest list. ida36c

I think some people enjoy entertaining and some don't. My husband and I love to have dinner parties. We do this every couple of months...invite 14 or so people and make a wonderful dinner. Often we invite smaller groups over for Shabbat or a weekend dinner.Sometimes we invite the same friends over again adn sometimes invite newer friends or people we'd like to get to know better. Some of these people reciprocate and others don't. Even some of our better friends never invite us over. But they don't invite anyone over....so it's not that they're excluding us. Some people don't have space, don't feel comfortable with people over, don't have the know how to make a dinner for multiple folks. Many reasons. If it were up to my husband, I don''t think he'd do dinner parties on his own because he's not a very organized thinker. He could cook for 2 or 3 but not 14, even though he loves being part of our dinner parties.

It can be an expense. You can't really ask people to help with that but maybe you can have them bring something....wine, dessert, a dish? It's hard to go out with lots of kids, but you could try going out to dinner (not as cozy and intimate) rather than everyone at your house. You may just have to accept that this is the way it is and enjoy it for that. HOpe this helps. anon

Your situation does seem unfair. But, as you know, entertaining guests is a ton of work when there are little kids underfoot. I LOVE to entertain, but simply don't do so now that I have 2 small kids (1 and 3). It is just so stressful trying to get the house ready, cook, etc. So we do take out or potluck when people come over. If you are willing to entertain, your guests are lucky. But unless they've asked you to have them over, I don't think they should be expected to reciprocate. It would be cordial of them to do so, but serious entertaining is too much to ask of most people with small kids. I'm glad you enjoy it and continue to do it. I wish I still enjoyed it! I'd love to socialize more, but it is just too stressful for the whole family. Liz O.

Miss Manners would reprimand you for inviting people to your home with the expectation of reciprocation. That said, we have encountered the same problem. The solution ? Revise your friendship. They obviously do not share your philosophy on manners and entertaining. You could meet up in other ways, like at a park to play ---- forget having them over for dinner. Find other friends who share your culinary interests. Who knows ? Maybe your 'old' friends and family will notice they aren't getting a free meal and suddenly start inviting YOU over. - they can't take advantage without your consent

Some people just find entertaining stressful I think, and also have trouble making plans in advance. That said, we are in a similar boat, always having the family and friend dinner parties at our house, also always hosting playdates that stretch through meals. Schedules between families are hard, sometimes we only see certain friends every few months even when we make an effort to do so regularly, but our good friends who also entertain try to make sure we take turns at each other's houses. As far as hosting manners go, I think it is okay to order takeout if someone doesn't feel like cooking on a given day (who knows what chaos their day held?) and still wants to have people over, but I would never ask for my guests to pay the bill. The hostess/host is responsible for entertaining menu and costs in my opinion, unless of course people offer to bring a dish/wine or something. You can only choose your guests based on how you enjoy them and your children get along, and I would only entertain when you want to, maybe less frequently if you think you are beginning to feel resentful. You could also suggest meeting elsewhere, like a park for picnic where everyone brings own food, etc, now that the weather is getting nicer. It reminds me of the dilemma of younger days of going out with friends who don't earn as much money, so you either go on the cheap, or pick up the tab, but I always found it better to choose the quality of company over the financial ability to keep even. You are a generous soul and your friends probably appreciate your hospitality and feel bad they can't reciprocate or get it together enough to feel like they can. Another Entertainer.

this does not address the whole of your post but why not host potlucks sometimes where you provide the salad or just one simple thing. and I'd invite less often the ones who never reciprocate and more often the few who do. The ones who don't probably feel too intimidated to pull off such an event but definitely they are rude not to offer to bring something substantial to the dinner, or to help clean up after, and/ or to find some other way to help you out or reciprocate. anon.

I hope someone offers wonderful advice because I, too, have had this problem to the degree that I seldom entertain anymore. Here's my take. You sound like you do as I do and work towards providing a nice time for your guests. I've never had anyone turn down an invitation to my home! On the other hand, I think reciprocation can seem more involved than my guests want to handle i.e. provide a nice home cooked meal. I'd be happy with drinks, take out, etc, but this never seems to cross anyone's mind. Does this make sense? Not that it answers the question.. Been There, Seldom do That

I can relate to your situation. My husband and I are always the hosts of the dinner party, but rarely the guests. I too put out great effort (and often great expense) and have come to a peace about it. Namely, that I do these things (meal plan, shop, cook, serve, eat, talk, clean up...) because I enjoy it (like you!) - it is not conditional insuch that it must or should be reciprocal. The enjoyment is mine alone and no inhospitable guest can taint that. In an ideal world, it would be great to enjoy ''my kind of offerings'' at someone else's house but that is a seperate kind of enjoyment not related to feelings of being the hostess. If you only like to play the host if you can also play the hosted, then dinner parties may turn out to be more angst producing than a pleasure. Keep in mind that others may not enjoy hosting a dinner party (it can be quite stressful even if you know how to cook!) but I agree with the take-out - if you have people over for take-out you don't ask them to pay!

You might think of starting a gourmet club (like a book club for foodies). Perhaps it is a group of 3 or 4 couples who all like to cook...you meet once a month a someone's house (with or without kids). It can even be a potluck style with the host of the evening delagating the dishes that each couple needs to bring with them to the party. It can even be a themed event. My friend had a lemon tree and served a dinner party with each course centered around lemons! This could be a great way to explore new types of cusine too (one dinner party can be just indian food and another one Spanish tapas). But most importantly it is a great way to regularly meet with friends who share your passions. Keep cooking! Sincerely, italian mama

I have also encountered this situation with some of my frineds and similar feelings of resentment have surfaced. What may help is to remember you are making a choice to entertain and nobody is forcing you to have others over. If you choose to continue with entertaining in your home, you can also make a choice to set some boundaries. You can not make that choice based on what you expect back from others. Some people are not used to entertaining, some people may not feel comfortable with their home, some people get very stressed about having people over,etc... With that, if you like to have people over but feel that others are not ''pulling their share'' or taking advantage of you, be clear on your expectations. You can say something to the ''regulars'' such as, ''I want to have you guys over but I can not keep doing all of the work because Im starting to feel resentful. Since this is a regular occasion, I would like some help in chipping in for food, preparing, kids cleaning up after themselves, etc..'' Setting boundaries can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable, but it will feel a lot more uncomfortable when your anger spills over for something inappropriate because you left your feelings unchecked. -Been there

Well, I have to admit that I'm more in the ''don't reciprocate'' camp. Not because I don't want to, but because I'm not a very organized person and don't ever seem to get it together to throw that dinner party I'm always fantasizing about. Therefore, I really try to be a great guest by always offering to bring dessert, salad, wine, whatever the host/hostess needs (and if I do have people over and order take-out I don't let them pay for it.

Having said that, I don't think you should always feel like you have to do all the work yourself. Why not invite everyone over for a potluck -- maybe a regularly scheduled thing. You provide the wine and a main dish and have everyone else bring something. Or now that the days are getting longer, what about inviting everyone to meet up at a park for an evening picnic. Sometimes people just need someone to suggest or organize the event and then they'll step up to the plate and do their share.

I, like you, love getting together with friends and always mean to do it, just don't feel I'm as capable of entertaining as some of my other friends. And perhaps you are so good at it, you make it look easy and others don't realize what an imposition it is to always be heading to your house for dinner. anon

Have you tried potlucks? We also entertain at our house more often than we are invited elsewhere, and it does take a *lot* of effort. But I have come to appreciate the fact that our house is well set up for gatherings with kids, and not everyone has the space or inclination to entertain. We have a big recreation room downstairs and lots of fun stuff for kids to do (musical instruments, dress-up clothes, art/collage materials), a wild backyard with trails and a creek for exploration. So I just try to find ways to make it easier on me: ask people to bring food, enlist kids in the clean-up afterwards, occasionally hire a housecleaner before a big party so I can concentrate on food or other preparations. And if we didn't have people over so often, I might never be able to convince my own family that there was a good reason to clean the house. Lori

I don't have a solution, and think people should reciprocate, but would like to offer my view of why your friends and relatives may not be inviting you as much as you think they should.

I think that cooking makes some pepole nervous. I can cook, but have to plan for it, do it ahead of , and I'm never sure if its just going to be good. My husband, can prepare anything on the go, and if he prepares things, everybody says its delicious. Thus, I'm a lot more lazy about organizing things that involve food than he is... If people perceive you as a good cook and someone who enjoys having their company, then maybe they have little incentive to change things around?

What about suggesting dinner at your friend's and bringing some food? This would be a middle point from them taking care of everything at once...
bad cook

My husband and I also often feel that our entertaining efforts are not reciprocated. We have finally accepted and come to understand some of the reasons we may not be entertained as much as we like. I think these reasons may apply to you. First, the reality is that most people we know (particularly those with young children) don't have people over much. As you know, it takes a lot of time and effort to shop, cook and clean up the house, particularly when you are also caring for young ones.

Once the guests arrive, things tend to remain hectic as diapers still need to be changed, sippy cups need to be refilled, etc. all while graciously trying to host your friends. Second, from the lovely entertaining style you described, you may have friends who don't feel they can entertain as well as you do. Some of my friends are very intimidated by cooking and I suspect this an additional barrier to having us over. Third, some our friends don't like to have people over because they feel they lack space, etc. If you really want to keep seeing these people and a home and a meal need to be involved, perhaps you should try potluck so everyone shares the cooking and cost. Good luck and don't take it personally. Aeks

I know how you feel. My solution to this problem has been to continue inviting people over, but seriously change the amount of work involved. My husband and I never clean beforehand anymore, and usually buy some stuff to just throw on the grill. Similarly, if people stay for a meal, I just boil some pasta or something equally simple. I really do recommend this strategy-- it means we still get plenty of quality time with friends, but don't feel put upon. Many of our friends just can't seem to get it together to entertain. I accept this and am happy to have them at our place (in fact it's easier), as long as they don't mind the simple (read cheap) food and mess.

Goodness, your email resonated with me...for a lot of reasons. First, I have friends who sound like you (good gourmet cooks, very organized, lots of energy, more money to spend on entertaining) and they kinda stress me out...so I don't have them over to my house as much as I've been over to theirs. (Some of them have never been over, yet I've eaten at their houses a couple of times.) Do I feel guilty about it? Yes, but only to a point. I like to invite over the people who are easy, that I have fun with, who won't mind that I had a bad day and decided to order pizza (or throw a hamburger on the grill) instead of cooking. Or that I'm serving some crappy wine that I know nothing about.

I also have friends who have so much more energy than I do that they are ALWAYS initiating events. My husband and I can't keep up with them! We mean to (we really do) but they always sneak up on us and get that invite in before we have a chance to.

Another thing I'm thinking is that maybe other people don't reciprocate because you are not at the top of their list. I don't mean that they don't like you or appreciate what you have done for them. What I mean is, if they are the kind of people who like to have dinner guests only once a month, instead of say, every weekend, then maybe there are other, closer friends that they want to have over instead of you. This may not seem fair but it may be true. I have friends that I LOVE to see who never, ever have us over. They always come to our house, bring good wine, and help me cook. It is always fun. Why do we never go to their house? Who knows? I'm just glad to see them and would gladly have them over for the next 50 years even if I never ate at their place.

Finally, have you thought about telling your brother to have you over? Or that you would love to have someone cook for you for a change? That's what I did when I got tired of coordinating most of our family get-togethers, and it was really fun. My brother just assumed that I wanted to have everyone to my house all the time, but once he realized that wasn't the case, he took the lead.

If you are tired of taking on all the work of entertaining, you can always stop doing it, back off, and see what happens. You may find that others step up to fill the space you have created. There may be some folks that you don't see...but if it's bugging you that they don't reciprocate, maybe it's time for a little distance. If you think it is too expensive to have people over and fix all the food yourself, why not ask people to bring everything but the main course? As far as your kids being sad that they won't see their friends--I bet they'll deal with it, but it also sounds like you would be sad to have your level of socializing go down. Maybe there is a way to keep seeing your friends without the time, energy, and expense you described...you might just have to change your idea af what a good night having friends over is. No Longer Keeping Score

My husband and I also love to have people over. Some friends reciprocate, some do not. I generally dont take it personally. I think an awful lot of people are intimidated by entertaining. They think everything has to be perfect, and if they can't make it perfect, they shouldn't even try. It sounds like you do some really amazing, wonderful dinners, and they may feel like they just aren't up to snuff. I know there have been times when I have mentally sworn that I would NEVER have so-and-so over, I would just be too embarrassed to have her see my shabby house and eat my nt-so-fancy cooking, after being in her gorgeous home and eating her gourmet cooking! But I always get over it, and figure people are coming for the company anyway. Maybe your friends are feeling intimidated too.

There are a few ways to work around it. You might start making gatherings into semi-potlucks. You provide the main dish, and ask people to bring the side dishes. Everyone I know is fine with this, in fact people usually are more than happy to chip in. Another thing we sometimes do is to have a barbeque at a local park. Everyone brings stuff for the barbeque, and some side dishes. We usually provide the charcoal and some extra meat. But that way we don't have to clean the house, and the cost is spread around.

You can also suggest outings together, like all going to the zoo or the beach together.

Good luck! I am sure your friends are worth keeping, they are probably just feeling overwhelmed and disorganized! loves a party

In a sentence, ''Yes, there are people who never have other people over to their houses.'' My family is almost one of them. We do have friends & family over for big occasions (holidays and birthdays, mostly), but we are not much for party-throwing. In fact, my parents never had guests over for house parties, so it has taken me a bit of time to feel confident enough to have such parties myself...I really had no idea how to do them.

Now I do have rare parties, but I don't necessarily enjoy them, for all the reasons you mentioned: lots of work cleaning and cooking...expense...and time.

I would say that you should do it less if the non-reciprocation bothers you enough, or just do it anyway and know that some people will not reciprocate very much.

ps. I do think it is a bit much for people to expect you to chip- in for take out meals at their house...Just curious...did they ask you for $$ or did you offer? Asocialites

My friend could have written your letter! I'm on the receiving end, here's how I feel: I envy my friend's social grace and the comfort and warmth of her home. She makes entertaining seem effortless and is a whiz in the kitchen. I'm afraid I won't be able to perform to her standards. However, she does have some dietary restrictions and has stated a clear preference for HER cooking, despite our efforts to accomodate her. In addition, she doesn't drive well. Finally, her husband is online constantly, so I suspect she's reluctant to tear him away from his computer. She really seems to enjoy entertaining, but your letter made me realize that may not be the case, so thanks to you I will redouble my efforts to have them over (I do offer). Oh yes, our house is really really small, that definitely makes me uncomfortable about having many guests over. Anon

Dear Always entertaining, You sound like a lovely and generous hostess, but from reading your post, I'd say you are simply doing too much yourself, and maybe expecting too much of others. If you are really entertaining several families, each 15-20 times a year, you must never have a meal alone with your family! I, too, love to entertain, but I know my limits--there are one or two people I eat with a couple of times a month, but apart from very close friends, I'd say one or two dinner parties a year is reasonable for most people. Some people aren't even able to get it together that much--it can be intimidating to have a fabulous hostess come to your house for dinner! Certainly the guests should try to keep track, and not accept so many invitations if they aren't able to reciprocate--but if you are getting to feel resentful and overworked, the thing to do is just stop issuing invitations. If you invite someone over and they stay until meal time, as hard as it might be, you may simply have to say, ''gee, I can't ask you to stay to eat, perhaps we can get together another time...'' I would hate to know that a friend was asking me to stay for dinner, and secretly resenting it. Another way to give yourself a break could be to have a pot luck, either at your house or as a picnic; that can be alot of fun with the kids, and other people are much more likely to be able to get it together with an assignment to bring one thing. Entertaining is supposed to be fun for everyone, and when you are no longer having fun, it is time to make some changes. Good luck! Anon

It's entirely possible that your friends are intimidated by your ability to host dinners, have a clean house, cook gourmet food, etc. I know that I have some friends that I'm intimidated by, and I wouldn't consider having them over without cleaning up the house first, and sometimes things are so hectic that I can't get the house clean. They may also feel that their food is too boring for you, or that they can't afford to reciprocate. Or maybe they just aren't thinking about the effort it takes since you pull it off so effortlessly apparently. You can't really ask them to host dinners for you, but if it's wearing on you, I'd suggest that you not have them over so often, or tell them that you'd like to have a potluck. You could occasionally say that you want to get together with them but you've just been so busy that you can't find the time to cook, and restaurants don't seem to be the way to go. You could have playdates at a park or other neutral site, so that you don't get stuck hosting meals.

And since you seem to have many friends that don't reciprocate, it is possible that you won't see some friends as often if you don't host, but you probablyshould be willing to either let those ''friends'' go or focus on ways to get the kids together in neutral, meal-free zones. How about a picnic, and everybody brings their own food, or say that you'd like to meet someplace not associated with food (the zoo, Lawrence Hall of Science, Merry go round, etc), and either do it right after lunch or mention that you'll bring lunch for your family? Or tell the person that you're not going to worry about food since your kids will have just eaten, and that will make things easier. Or if you feel generous, you can continue to host, but not as often, or bring picnic food to share. Eventually, if you work within your own limits, you'll move on from people who aren't really compatible as friends, and you'll probably naturally spend more time with people who do reciprocate. (I'm with you, thinking that reciprocating should come naturally, but I also know that some people can't keep up with me and I can't keep up with others). I've now got friends that I can have over any old time, because they don't mind that I have to move things off the table before I feed them, and I don't mind that they've got clutter. anon

My husband and I also like to have big dinner parties with friends and family. We do not do it nearly as often as before we had kids, but we probably have a big dinner party about every 2 or 3 months or so. I spend in the range of $200 plus, and we usually have about 8-12 people. I say without modesty that I have cooked some fabulous meals. People love to come to our house. The wine flows freely. Other than family, we rarely get invited to other people's houses. And that is totally fine with me. We have friends over because we enjoy it; I do not expect reciprocation. In the past, I was on the other side of the equation. I had friends who would frequently invite me to dinner, and I could never reciprocate. I did not have enough dishes, chairs,space, or money to do so. Also, some people love to cook and entertain; for others, it is simply too overwhelming.

In fact, I find that there are very few people who can cook a nice meal for more than just family. If you are feeling put upon, stop having dinners. Otherwise, just enjoy the times you have at your house, and let go of all your negative feelings about it. Anon

Not everyone is as comfortable having people over as you. They might be insecure about their house, or their cooking, or just don't feel as adept as you at making a party come alive. If you don't feel comfortable in addressing the issue point blank, why don't you suggest having a roving potluck hosted at different houses at different times. Or, better yet, now that the days are longer, suggest a Friday evening dinner picnic at your local playground, potluck style. That way you and your husband can still enjoy cooking and socializing a little, but it wont be on you to organize everything, prepare, clean, etc. Anon

We had that problem several years ago. Our solution was to have our friends over regularly but make it pot luck. We do the entree and ''assign'' everything else. Also, a small group of women (4) meets regularly for Girls Night Out and plans activities for the larger ''group'' during the year. Each volunteers to coordinate 1 or 2 events, the invitees are agreed upon in advance and whether it is a kid friendly event. It's not perfect but it's allowed us to spend time with our friends without the burden and expense of doing everything ourselves. anonymous

I appreciated your posting because I often feel the same way you do. I think it's great that you don't take it personally. My concern isn't the money so much as that I feel unappreciated or wonder how much folks do care for us since they don't reciprocate. I've come to the conclusion that many people have a much harder time entertaining that we do and so I usually keep inviting and trying not to take it personally. However I would not offer to pay for take out at someone else's house when invited there unless it was planned that way ahead of time. For example sometimes we'll agree to meet in a park and split the cost of food. But if your friends/family invite you over and get take out, they're reciprocating and I don't think it's expected that you would contribute. Hang it there. Rarely a guest

If I am one of your friends or family members, I apologize for not inviting you over. I would love to entertain, but as a single mom, working full time, and living in a tiny, dark apartment, I just can't comprehend planning and carrying out a nice event. I can handle organizing a potluck in a park, but it seems hard to find other interested families. I am willing to help out with a dish, some cash, or set-up/clean-up next time you invite me over, just let me know. --grateful guest

Boy do I know this one! I am from the midwest, where getting together with friends is a centerpiece of life, and where it's good manners to invite over those who have invited you. But even there I learned that some people love to entertain, some people don't. That didn't stop us from getting together; we just ended up doing laundry together, going bar-hopping, out to hear music (much cheaper than here), or just hanging out on the porch or in the living room. In the Bay area, however, where I've now lived 11 years, I've found that friendships are definitely NOT the centerpiece of life. There are so many more options it's often very hard to connect, and when we do get together with friends, unless it's a kids' playdate, I've found it often has to revolve around some meal or ''event'' that involves my cooking. I love to cook and derive a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people enjoy what I serve, but in 11 years I can probably count the number of times any of our friends has reciprocated on my two hands. I've come to accept that the natural inclination of the majority of the population to love eating but not cooking, coupled with the disconnectedness of the Bay area in general is just going to mean that I do more than my fair share of entertaining and have to consider it a gift, and if I don't like it, I can just slack off for a while. I tried organizing a weekly meal with a few friends, the idea being to take turns at each other's houses, but it didn't go very far. No one wanted to commit in advance, and it's not the sort of thing that works if people feel pressured into it... But maybe all of us kindred dinner-makers should start our own group! Good Friends + Good Food = the Good Life

Boy, do I share your frustration. As I was reading your posting, I kept thinking that our experience matches exactly yours. Our 'friends' never invite us over to their homes. My husband suspects that perhaps people are just rude or people may just be busy. But we are busy as well and still manage to provide a nice meal. Just like you, I also share the same fear; that my kids won't have memories of family and friends' gatherings and the pleasure that comes with the sharing a wonderful meal. We contemplated asking people why they don't reciprocate our invitations, but decided that it was better to leave it as is. Now we no longer invite them and have concentrated on inviting only those friends who have at least invited us a couple of times to their homes. We do tell them how appreciative we feel that they invite us and tell them that we appreciate the reciprocity. Now, we have less people to invite, fewer friends for our children, but we save money and all the time in prepping and cleaning. We are now thinking of forming an eating club with the understanding that we will be rotating homes. If people want to join in, then they have to share the cleaning and all the duties that come with such privilege. We no longer invite parents to stay for lunch when they pick -up their children. We tell them that we have an engagement and off they go. My advice is to take care of yourself and your budget and cultivate only those friends who understand the deep meaning of the word reciprocity and most important, surround yourself with people who appreciate your kindness. Thanks for bringing such an important issue to the attention of the readers. I hope we all think about our actions when we get invited somewhere and reciprocate kindness with kindness. anon

Yep. I know what you're talking about. We historically have tended to be the ''entertainers,'' too, although I find that my energy for it has waned with kids, job and age. I think that many people grow up in homes where their parents rarely entertained, and they likewise rarely do. Doesn't mean they don't like social events, and hey, when invited over by their highly social, gourmet cook friends, they're thrilled to go. I don't blame you for feeling resentful, since you've been doing all the work, but you've also kind of set it up that way. Maybe you've set the entertaining bar so high that they feel overwhelmed when they think of having to reciprocate. Maybe they feel like they see you enough, given that they're already eating at your house twice a month. Maybe they are just not in the entertaining mindset. I think I'd entertain a bit less at my house and/or entertain more casually (throw a hotdog on the BBQ now and then, for heaven's sake) and STOP paying for the takeout at their houses, unless specifically requested to chip in. Emily Post

Hi, I know exactly how you feel. I am the biggest host in my family... I do everything with my mom when it comes to giving parties, etc. I used to get mad and resentful at my 3 sisters. (They would never participate in setting up cooking, decorating and cleaning, etc.) Finally, I gave up on feeling mad at them because I realized that I get complete joy when I entertain. I love setting up, I love the whole process of entertaining and told myself not to have parties if I am feeing angry/mad.

Since I have had my son (3 years ago). I now need some help and can't do it all. So, I delegate! I call the sisters up and ask them if they can bring a dish, come early to help set up and help me with my son. They don't seem to mind helping now.

I would ask your friends and family that you need some extra help with cooking. Let them participate with the cooking...Have a cooking party! Have everyone pitch in...bring a special dish. That might be fun for everyone and will make you feel better about them coming over.

I can't believe that your friends would charge you $$$ for takeout! Wow, what kind of freinds would do that? Especially, after all your nice dinner parties. That would piss me off.

I would cut back on the invites and start making new friends that are also givers and not takers. Balance is key and we all need it in our lives. When you have friends that don't appreciate you it's time for them to go.

I hope you can work it out. Just know who your real friends are. And before you plan a dinner party...prepare yourself to have a good time ...you invited them - right? And remind yourself that you love to entertain. If you're not having fun - Stop entertaining.

Good Luck! anon

Hmm, What I tell my girlfriends about ungrateful boyfriends sounds like it would be good advice for you: If they don't appreciate it, don't do it - or, Do it because you want to, not because you want/need appreciation/reciprocation.

Soo - don't host so many dinners if you are feeling unappreciated or unreciprocated. In your situation, people certainly aren't going to change and start hosting/having folks over. Especially with kids - just because you can somehow swing the shin-digs, many folks find it impossible to more than the holiday/birthday once or twice a year thing.

Also, you sound like you are more in the formal camp - if your friends order take-out and you chip in - would it kill you to loosen up and do the same? Or have a pot luck. Some houses have a better set up for gatherings, my house sucks for having people over. but i love to bring a dish over a friend's house. Perhaps people feel like they can't match your standards and don't invite you because it's too hard to do it your way...

if it's really the friendships that matter, then be friends. don't build up resentment - and whatever you do, don't continue to have people over if you will begin to feel resentment towards them (which it sounds like has already set in)... A wise friend of mine says, ''sometimes the only thing you can change is how you think about something''... good luck relax and enjoy your company

We also like to entertain and have people over on a pretty regular basis. What I have learned and come to accept is, not all people enjoy entertaining, having people in their homes, and dealing with all the work that comes with it. For me, I have people over for the pleasure of it. Not because I want them to reciprocate (even though it would be nice!).

Entertaining is expensive, time consuming, and can be stressful. I also think it takes some talent to entertain. That is why so many people don't do it. When I have people over, I enjoy it so much that it is worth all of the work. I always ask my guests to bring something (usually wine/beer) . We also recently had a potluck with about 4 other families. I made one thing and everyone brought something to share. It was a great way to get a group of people over and not burden ourselves with all the work. My advice, just enjoy yourselves. I assume youe friends love and appreciate that you open your home, cooking, and time to them. But don't keep a track record.....

Another Entertainer

Don't take it personally. We are in a different age. Your family and friends like you and the fact they invite you back two or three times is very very good. AlI think you are doing a great job. I also like to entertain.

You are doing a tremendous job keeping your budget to around 50 dollars. Mine goes way over the top (over 150 or more).Entertaining is a task that some people can't imagine and I don't blame them. Cleaning the house, buying the food and preparing cooking and cleaning up. that's a full time job. Try hiring people and you will see what it costs. We are in an age of no time. It's beyond the means of many, extra time and money in the same week.

It's not like the old days when a wife was at home and that was her duty. IThere are no extended families to come and help at the drop of a hat or to take care of the children. What most people do is have pot lucks. I hate pot lucks myself since the meal is so unpredictable and usually lob sided no matter what you do.

I feel that when you get past 40, unless it's a family tradition. and you have two working people in the family you should seriously consider upgrading your entertaining and stop asking people to pot lucks. It feels cheap. It send the message that you don't have enough to share. Many people in the arts do this I wonder if they don't realize they are a grown up now. I went to one where they hired someone to serve rather than provide the food. Seemed backwards to me. I am with you I say provide for your guests. But I am not the majority.

Hear my beef. Entertaining gives rise to resentment. Given the fact I hate pot lucks I can't get one family member in on it. I do not want anyone to bring anything.

She insist she bring a special dish at the last minute when I have already planned the entire meal. For instance I plan an entire Japanese meal and she had to bring Apple Betty) On my Mexican motif I spent two days making tamales and she called to say that her children wouldn't eat them so she was bringing QUESADILLAS. It hurts my feelings (I planned special kids cheese tamales). One guest wanted to bring her left overs and was upset that she couldn't bring them. So count your blessings.

My family resents the tension in the house when I give these parties that my guests love. On Easter my husband made us go to a Picantes because he couldn't stand the time involved. It wasn't very good but I have to say I saw his point. Everyone was happy because they had two days free (rather than preparing and cleaning up)

What you are asking for is a set of family and friends that happen to be into entertaining. You don't have them. Entertaining like parenting is a one way street. If you love it it it helps, if you don't' farm as much of it out as you can. Give up the expectations that you will get anything back. That's hard.

If you really want to cut down on the costs order pizza barbeque and get your friends to pick it up and offer to pay when it arrives. They probably wont take your money. That's the standard now- Dutch. order pizza and more for the baby

Wow, I have a sneaking suspicion that our friends could have written this post!

I have one set of friends who always host their friends, and I never reciprocate. Why? It's overwhelming for me. I know it's not overwhelming for them, and I'm awestruck and appreciative about that, but it's something I just cannot do. This is a particular talent that you have, and that not everyone shares. I feel bad about rarely having groups over - I grew up in a party household, and miss it. But with working and childcare I just can't muster it. Plus, another aspect that may or may not be a factor for you is that for us, I feel really overwhelmed by a larger family in my house. I'm a single mom with one child, and a family of four just feels like a huge group in the house, especially with active kids. My house is smaller (MUCH smaller) than my entertaining friends' house. Plus, as a single parent, it's a lot of work to have people over - you're the ONLY host, with lots of responsibility for food prep, child direction (what's OK/not OK in your house for kids, etc.), greeting, meeting, making sure everyone's taken care of. It's too much for me, and I envy people who pull it off easily.

Anyway, bottom line, I think you're gifted at this, and your friends appreciate it but are not able to reciprocate for one or many reasons. If you enjoy it, keep doing it, but realize that not everyone can. Think of it as playing the piano beautifully for everyone's enjoyment - you wouldn't expect everyone to be able to do that as well, and it may help to understand that it feels analogous to those who don't have your particular talent.

But I do think your friends should certainly buy your take-out! I get take-out a lot when friends are over, because that's the only way I can manage to have them, and we do want to see them. Something's got to give. And with friends who are on similar footing, we do often split the cost. But if I invite people over more formally, and certainly if I''m reciprocating for entertainment they've provided, I pay for the takeout, and brook no arguments. I don't know whether you can mention this to your friends - I can see how you'd feel resentful. Maybe next time, don't offer to pay ''your share'' and see what happens? overwhelmed and impressed

Just a thought from the other side of the fence: I used to have people over for dinner often, before my son was born. Now I rarely do. My husband and I both work full time. On any given weekday, I'm picking up my son from preschool and racing home, with about 30 minutes to throw dinner together before he has a hunger- based meltdown. My husband usually doesn't get home until 7:00 or so. By 9:00, I'm so exhausted I just fall into bed. On the weekends, I spend most of my time scrambling to get the bills paid, the grocery shopping and laundry done. My house is progressively messier and messier. There are piles of stuff everywhere, and they are not getting put away. I am hopelessly behind on a dozen tasks, and I don't see how I'm ever going to catch up. Not a great place, or frame of mind, for a dinner party. The best we do is inviting a couple of close friends over for takeout or the quick ''throw something on the grill'' type of party you were implicitly looking down on. And these have to be friends we can trust to forgive us for an utterly unattractive atmosphere, and food that's not great.

You are right. We should invite people over. I just don't see how I can ever do it. And I don't know how you manage, either. I would guess that at least some of your friends and family are in the same boat. Perhaps they are intimidated by your clean house and excellent food, and don't dare reciprocate because they simply can't manage to do such a great job.

It would seem to me that you have 3 choices: Continue as you are, if you enjoy it. Scale back on the parties you give, if it's costing too much, and do something smaller to at least enjoy the company. Or give up on those of your friends and family who are as hopeless as we are. But at least accept that they're probably not doing it to be ungracious. Karen

It's funny. I just had a very similar conversation with my husband this past weekend (as we were preparing for yet another get-together at our house). Some of our friends don't reciprocate equally, either. But we have come to realize that they each have their reasons. In particular, some still have small kids at home and we figure that it's hard for them to get it together enough to host very often. Or some have very small houses, or have so many other commitments...The upshot? You can't force people to behave how you want. Decide how important it is for you to see these friends. For us, it's very important. So to make it easier for us, we often make it potluck or we'll order take out and share the expense. But try to figure out what will make it worthwhile for you. You shouldn't feel put-upon but don't let yourself be taken advantage of either. Good Luck

Inviting friends over for an evening in your home is a lovely gift, and it should be treated as such-- by you and your guests. In other words, you should not feel the need to give, give, give to the point of resentment, but your friends should reciprocate too. I can completely understand how imbalanced it may seem to always do the inviting. However, as someone who, until recently, felt completely unable to have people over, I thought I'd give a perspective from the other side: your friends may feel they can't reciprocate with the same standard of entertaining that you offer, and default to doing nothing. It could be that you manage to pull it together more easily (or seemingly so--I know it's a ton of effort) than your friends. After having children, it has taken years for me to get to the point where I am not so overwhelmed or embarassed to have people over. I think one of the things that helped us is having friends who were willing to make some ''we really want to see you- -let's get together on this night'' plans, without specifically inviting us over. When the date got closer, they might say ''could we get together at your house? We'd love to have an evening out.'' We also did more ''meet us at the park, we'll pack a picnic for everyone'' playdates, because we truly could not deal with having people over. I slowly came to realize I couldn't entertain the way my mother, the consummate hostess, did. And that my true friends didn't really care how crazy my house was, but really wanted to maintain our friendship. I have friends over more, and worry less about presenting the picture- perfect evening. And it helped having friends who made it clear they didn't care. i could be one of your friends!

I am one of those who don't invite people over to my house. Why? Oh honey, where should I start? One is because I am clueless when it comes to hosting - my mother never entertained so I didn't learn how. Secondly, I have a very small house, a pack-rat husband, and a rambunctious toddler with toys and books everywhere - where would I put everything so guests have a place to sit? Thirdly, I am one seriously challenged cook. Just thinking about cooking for guests will give me hives! And lastly, the introverted part of me simple doesn't want to be the hostess.

I have a feeling that you make it look super easy and your friends don't realize it's a lot of work for you. And/or, you may simply be a hard act to follow since you don't do hamburgers on the grill. If you and your family enjoy having people over and enjoy watching your children play with other children, and you value the time spent around the dining table with friends, then continue hosting. But I don't think you should keep a tally.

I'll Entertain in my Next Life

I'm totally with you on this....it amazes me that some couples never invite us over after they have eaten repeatedly at our house. And these couples are not ''too busy''!

I fume about it for a while and vow to never invite them over again....but then I can't carry a grudge for long and I attempt to feel pity for their social ineptness!

Since I want to have other families to come over because it's fun for us and for our kids...I just make it as easy as possible for US. We may staighten up a bit but we never clean. We often pick up take and bake pizzas (cheap!) and throw together a salad. I find it easy to ask my guests to bring wine, dessert, or something else. If pizza doesn't work for someoone I have no problem asking them to contribute towards take out...as long as they are warned ahead of time and they get to help order the food I think that's an ok option. Yes, there is clean up involved but we can handle that and every once in a while we get surprised by a return invitation. I think people are hesitant to invite families over because they get overwhlemed about the idea of preparing for it, etc. (I'm trying to think the best of people) We just don't attempt to be the supreme hosts and no one seems to mind. anon

I didn't see this reason mentioned for non-reciprocating friends: When I am going through difficult times, I do not like to entertain. We often don't know when others are having personal difficulties or troubles - maybe they have stress you are unaware of. How miserable it would be to put on an act or think of entertaining when in that situation. Anonymous

I am guilty of being one of those people that gets invited out more often than I entertain, and I've been known to order takeout when having friends over. The real reason is that I am entertainphobic. When I have people over I find it VERY stressful. On some level I feel like my home is never clean/big/equipped enough, my food will never be delicious/prepared ontime/abundant enough, etc. I love and appreciate when friends invite me over and make it all seem effortless. I suspect for some it is, for others it's a good cover. I also just recently bought my first house and find it easier to entertain there for some reason (our last two rentals were nice houses).

My recommendation if you find yourself entertaining more than you'd like, is to sometimes take it easy and order takeout. I am more than happy to chip in (or treat), especially when I'm at the home of a friend who entertains more than their share (this of course requires that you be willing to accept money when offered). I am not sure why you don't approve of your friends ordering out when you are over, unless that's just a monetary thing (you say you pay your way). I think many people are just not capable/willing to buy/cook/clean a ''real'' meal. Don't take it personally and be glad you don't suffer over each get-together like many of us do. More Relaxed as a Guest

I've been a bit mystified lately at the spate of recent questions on this theme: ''I always do xyz (arrive on time, call and confirm, invite people over, control my children, etc.) and my friends never do xyz and it's really upsetting me.'' It seems to me there are only a couple of options in this situation. My experience is that when a friend behaves in a way I don't approve of or appreciate, the only thing I can do is set limits so that the behavior no longer affects me. Alternatively, I can accept the behavior. In practice, this means having a conversation with the person and giving them an opportunity to do things differently or tell me that they don't want to do things differently. For example, I could say, ''You know, it seems to me that I am the person who usually [fill in the blank -

- plans outings, arrives on time, whatever] in this friendship and it bothers me. Can we change this?'' (Note this is different than having a conversation in which you say, ''You always do xyz and I think it really stinks.'') Sometimes the person will say yes, sometimes the person will say no, and sometimes the person says yes and does the same thing all over again. Then it is up to me to decide if I want to maintain the relationship or not. For example, I have several friendships that would end if I did not make the effort to maintain them.

I've made a conscious decision in each case that it's worth it to me. I guess what I struggle with is the need to make the other person's behavior ''wrong.'' Maybe people have different values, different commitments or different priorities? Maybe people don't feel comfortable having people in their homes, for whatever reason? It's not really up to me to change other people; it's up to me to set limits around what I will accept.

If other people can't respect those limits, then I have to accept them the way they are, or end the relationship. Yes, it is really frustrating and painful sometimes. But I have appreciated it so much when a friend has told me when something I do is troubling or irritating, and gives me a chance to change my behavior or explain why I'm not going to change. It is honest and respectful. What I did notice about your post is that you don't say that you've ever actually spoken with any of your friends about your resentment. It's not about what's right or wrong. It's about what works or doesn't work for you and whether your friends are interested in reciprocating the way you'd like them to. It also sounds like you're giving and giving what you'd really like to get, and it's making you mad. On the other hand, it sounds like you have a lovely social life. Maybe they contribute in other ways? Good luck with this issue; it's a hard one! Been there

I just want to thank all of you who gave really insightful advice about this subject for me. In many ways I really came to peace with our situation and realized (from the many pieces written) that it is my destiny in life to entertain and have people I love/want to be with over to my house. I accept that there are people who don't entertain, and that is okay. For example, I have a sister who is really great at remembering everyone's birthday and mailing a lovely wrapped gift every year. I think wow, she really has it together, and I wish I could remember everyone's birthdays and special events that consistently. I appreciate that she does it and thank her profusely, but have come to realize that I cannot do that(as much as I would like to).

Interestingly enough, many people made the wrong assumptions about me from my post. So I thought I would clear up some misconceptions of one who entertains a lot...my house is very small, and my yard smaller; my house is not clean(I wish it was), and although I do ''clean'' it really means pushing things under the bed, wiping down the bathroom and putting toys away; my dishes don't match and my napkins are folded paper towels; my house smells like the dog; I love to throw hot dogs on the grill as much as I love to make a nice dish; I generously accept if people want to ''bring something''; and for some who mentioned the price of entertaining you were right - it really costs me between $80-150 when I started to watch the dollars.

Thank you again for your generous and open comments/advice, I really took all of them to heart and feel really good about entertaining without further hang-ups! Will continue to entertain

NOTE FROM MODERATOR: This topic is now officially closed -- thanks to all!