"May I Take These Home?" The Etiquette of Leftovers
Put down the tin foil.
There’s no excuse for bad manners. Good manners are free of charge, easy to employ, and bona fide evidence that your mama and daddy raised you right. But sometimes, matters of etiquette prove trickier than you might expect, so we’re here to set the record straight. Consider it your Southern Living guide to modern manners. Be polite, or die trying, y’all.
First up: Leftovers.
Is it appropriate to take home leftovers from a party?
In a word, no.
When you show up to an acquaintance’s dinner party or a friend’s holiday potluck or a church luncheon, it’s generally assumed that your contribution is offered with no expectations of getting whatever is in that dish back. Once given to your host or placed on the buffet line, your appetizer/wine/dessert/chicken piccata is no longer yours to lord over. Of course, you, like the other guests, can enjoy a glass of the sangria you brought or a serving of your chocolate-almond torte. But you do not have ownership over the remains of your poppy seed chicken or the half-drunk bottle of Cabernet. Leftovers should be left behind.
Let’s discuss some of the particularly tricky scenarios involving leftovers.
Potlucks (Particularly of the Church Variety)
You’re not going to leave your dish behind, as that just creates further mess for whichever church members volunteered for clean-up, but when you clean out that dish, be sure to place the leftovers in a dated, airtight container that you can leave in the kitchen. Perhaps there is a member of the congregation who’s been stuck at home with an injury or who’s recently lost a loved one; your (fresh, neatly packed) leftovers may be the mood-booster they’ve needed. Just be sure to let the right people know where you stored your leftovers, so they aren’t left to rot. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and moldy casseroles.
It’s especially tempting to take home an unopened bottle of wine or a tin of cheese straws that was left untouched, but it’s absolutely imperative that these remain with your host, as they in themselves are hostess gifts of sorts. You’d never consider taking back a hostess gift, would you? No. Leave the unopened items alone. They belong to your host now.
But, as with all tricky matters of etiquette, there are exceptions to this nearly universal “no.” Here we go.
Your Host Asks You To Take Them
At the heart of this whole never-take-home-leftovers rule is consideration for your host or hostess. So, if your host asks you to please take your leftovers with you, oblige him, pack up your leftovers, and enjoy them for the next 3-5 days or until you never want to see that pasta salad again. Also, do not be offended if your host asks you take your leftovers home; this request is most assuredly coming from a place of the host’s own politeness and not because he hates your artichoke dip. (But maybe next time you should actually bring something he likes.)
In Family and Close Friends’ Homes
In a family member or close friend’s home, the leftovers rule may not apply. Heck, if your friend says, “Please take this pie, or I’ll eat it and won’t fit in my bridesmaid’s dress next week,” it basically becomes your civic duty to take said pie. But on the other hand, maybe your sister’s got a crazy busy week, and your baked ziti leftovers will be an easy dinner for her kids tomorrow night. Basically, in these situations with close friends and family, read the room. Will taking your leftovers make their lives easier or more difficult? We’ll trust your judgment here.
The Worst Leftovers Faux Pas You Could Possibly Ever Make(And This Is Not Hyperbole or Exaggeration)
You should never, ever take other people’s leftovers home without the express encouragement of both your host and the contributor. Shoveling scoops of other guests’ leftover dishes onto your own to-go plate is a no-go. You are not a raccoon.
Bottom line: When in doubt, leave your leftovers behind. At the very least, you’ll never be accused of gluttony.