when office potlucks go wrong

As we’re getting closer to the season of office potlucks and other meals with coworkers, let’s discuss the many ways in which they can go wrong — from alarming cuisine to the person who takes way more than their share and never contributes.

To kick us off, some stories from years past:

♦ “I used to work with an awful guy who used to dig his hand into bowls of catered food at our work lunches. Like pasta salad. It’s one thing to grab a few chips with your hand, but he’d put his dirty ass hand into a BOWL OF MACARONI. He was a total pig and if there was an email that said ‘leftovers from whatever meeting in the kitchen now!’ people would run to make sure they got there before old filthy hands got there because once he was spotted in the kitchen, all food was officially considered contaminated.

One time I was carrying a stack of boxes that I had a huge bowl of fruit salad perched on top, and was struggling with a door. He ran to get in front of me and I thought he was going to open the door, but he stuffed his hand down into the bowl of fruit salad and grabbed himself a handful of dripping, juicy watermelon and pineapple and cantelope and walked away from me just munching on it.”

♦ “I had a coworker who thought any treats were just for him. If breakfast tacos were ordered for my department, we’d usually offer other departments nearby any leftovers. As soon as he heard that leftovers were being offered, he’d go through and get *all* of the ones he wanted (example, all the brisket) and hide them in his desk drawer before the other department could get any. He’d also get in line first or near-first (he volunteered to help with setup), and would take massive amounts of what was there. If some folks didn’t get firsts while he was loading up his second, he’d say folks should have gotten there faster. Management did talk to him, but his answer was that he didn’t care.”

♦ “I make a mean chocolate cake with cherry pie filling included …chocolatey, moist, great texture and a caramel frosting. At OldJob, I had to quit bringing it because Donna would talk about it, talk TO it, and make moaning NSFW adult noises while eating it. No one could look her in the eye for days after eating that cake.”

In the comment section, please share your own stories of potlucks, cooking competitions, and other office meals gone awry.

{ 1,218 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask An Event Manager*

    My fave is still the one about the person who evidently did their grocery shopping at office events and was called out when taking a whole bunch of bananas.

      1. Tina*

        When I first started at a company, they had a big company event where they had food catered. They over ordered the amount of food to ensure everyone got some, yet people were so greedy that they made two to three plates and took them back to their desks before other groups were even able to go for their firsts because some departments had timed lunches. They ended up having to order pizza for all the people that didn’t get any food. They since had to send a memo out every time there was an event to remind people to be courteous and only take one plate of food until everyone had a chance to get some. Helped a bit but still have those that don’t care.

        1. TardyTardis*

          We had a couple of people that would bring huge numbers of family members to company picnics; fortunately there was enough food for everyone, but it got talked about.

        2. Heather*

          I was a volunteer coordinator at a festival, and we had a sponsorship deal for free pizza for the volunteers, who were mostly high school students. Every day there would be volunteers who didn’t get to eat because the pizza would be gone. I found out that staff were helping themselves to it, and I had to tell them let the volunteers eat first. The staff got paid, they could afford to eat at the many food trucks and vendors at the festival. The volunteers were literally paid in pizza.

    1. lyonite*

      At Old Job they had to stop putting more than one jug of milk in the refrigerator at the time because someone/some people were taking them home.

    2. Sabina*

      My office hosted a meeting for allied departments and a nice bakery cake was placed on the table (purchased by me) for people to share with coffee. No one wanted any at that time (fine) and as the meeting ended I offered “take some cake to go if you like”. One woman from from another department picks up the whole, uncut cake and just walks out with it. I was too shocked to say anything, but I’m still mad about it…I wanted cake later!

      1. KateM*

        It IS a bit weird that you put an uncut cake on table to share with coffee. Guests may even be afraid to cut into it themselves. And the polite thing is to take one unit of cake… which in this case WAS the whole cake.

        1. Sabina*

          I offered to cut and serve cake and everyone declined during the meeting. It never occured to me that someone would walk off with the whole cake!

          1. Michaela T*

            There was a whole fascinating AAM about how people never want to take the first or the last piece, and all the things you have to do to get people to just take a damn piece (I think for cake it was not only cutting it but putting it on plates). Can’t explain this lady’s deal, though.

            1. thatjillgirl*

              That phenomenon is why I almost always get both the first and last piece of whatever when there is food at work. I have cheerfully accepted my role as the Shameless Eater. (Though I’ve never walked off with a whole cake! That’s a whole new level of shameless.)

              1. Zelda*

                If you are short-circuiting the whole performative-food-morality Oh I Really Shouldn’t dance, then well done you.

              2. BatManDan*

                I’m with you on that. I’ve chosen to make the “sacrifice” of being first in those situations, and in group-meal buffet lines, because I’m saving the rest of the attendees from starving to death because they are afraid to be first! It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! :)

              3. MBK*

                When I was an undergrad music major, most student recitals would be followed by a reception. There was always this hesitant little dance at the beginning where people would be too (shy? polite? what is it?) to be the first to get food, so my friend Rob and I started being the semi-official Buffet Breakers.

                Someone’s got to take one for the team.

                1. Janet*

                  Years ago our CEO started hosting catered lunches in his boardroom each week and inviting a different assortment of junior employees to join him so that he could get to know people throughout the organization. At the lunch I was invited to, I loaded up my plate from the buffet, and was sitting eating while he welcomed everyone and began speaking about the company. Then he suddenly stopped talking, and urged people to please eat something, and said that every week he found that everyone was too polite to actually eat. The whole table turned and looked at me, sitting there holding my fork. I suddenly realized I had been totally oblivious to the fact that I was the only one who had taken any food. I made a little comment about how everything was delicious, and sat there with glowing red cheeks. Food at work seems so strangely complicated.

            2. KateM*

              You can’t really expect an employee of *another* department cut into an *untouched* cake during a *meeting*. If it was an actual potluck that does center around eating, maybe, but if it is a meeting, then people are supposed to concentrate on that, not serving themselves food. So, yes, definitely plated slices if there absolutely has to be a bakery cake (which I imagine as something that is rather messier to deal with than coffee) during a meeting.

            3. WantonSeedStitch*

              Whenever I bring a home-baked something-or-other into the office, I always cut it and take the first piece so others will start having some too.

        2. CatW*

          I remember hearing a story from my grandmother that in the days of post war rationing in the UK a neighbour came round. She knew it was my grandmother’s baking day and asked if she could borrow the cake as she had unexpected guests. The cake was placed, uncut, in the middle of the tea table. The neighbour never offered to cut it and the guests were too polite to ask, so made do with the other offerings.
          Once they left the cake was returned.

      2. Deep thoughts*

        I do also find it slightly strange to not have already cut the cake before offering – feel like it might disrupt the meeting to then be cutting and handing around cake? Also weird for another person to walk off with the whole cake, but in the absence of cut slices, maybe that’s what she assumed you meant? LOL

        1. Sabina*

          I didn’t expect this deep analysis of “cakegate”, lol. Some facts not offered in my anecdote: it was a pretty small (7 or 8 people) and informal group of folks who all new each other. I doubt anyone really wanted cake but was too shy or embarrassed to accept an offered piece. But maybe I committed some meeting snack related faux pas and deserved to be cakeless for the rest of the day.

    3. JG*

      I had a coworker who would always invite their mother when there was going to be an office party. Anything left over, the coworker would have zip lock bags ready to swoop in and take any leftovers for herself and her mother. Sometimes she would ask if it was okay to take the rest if you had bought the dish. If it was a catered event, there was no asking. This also applied to the soda that we would buy, but only if she liked it. It was always so awkward – why would you bring your mother? We didn’t really know her and she wasn’t very social.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          I used to run a soup kitchen that had creative chefs doing great things with little money. We were the best free meal in town (closely followed by the soup kitchen I work with now, LOL).

          We witnessed a couple of what had to be dates OR visiting relatives.

          1. La Triviata*

            The place I used to work had a lot of in-office catered lunch meetings. One person would make sure they were the first at the leftovers … and took them all. Would take them home for dinner for themself and an adult child living with them.

            Once, they asked another person if they liked kale … and, after scooping up all the real food, brought the co-worker a big plastic bag of the kale that had been under the actual food (yes, kale is food … but not something most people will greet with cries of joy).

            1. La Triviata*

              Addendum (because I’d almost forgotten): Same person would “shop” for lunch in the office refrigerator – go through and check the contents of bags, plastic containers, etc., and if it looked appetizing, take it for lunch.

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                Ugh. My sympathies.

                Definite management fail if you weren’t in a “tenured” environment as apparently It Was Known.

      1. AntsOnMyTable*

        I usually snag food to take home once all is done but not when it is a dish someone actually brought. But waaaaay too often the food just gets tossed at the end and it is such a waste.

    4. Sibyl Rose*

      Reminds me of the time I brought a box of holiday sausage, cheese and crackers for the office. It was meant to be nibbled but one person made it her lunch for two days, taking about half of the food. Weird.

      1. Zephy*

        Sort of the inverse of that happened in my office in the last couple of weeks – we have an informal system of people bringing breakfast treats for our Friday morning team meetings, and the Friday before Halloween, someone brought donuts and someone else brought a sweet potato pie. Nobody went for the pie, so it’s been in our office fridge since then, with the coworker who brought it just having a slice with his lunch every day, and at this point it’s his pie so no one else has gone for any. I think he’s just about finished it now.

    5. Eighteen8*

      I wonder if that person was related to my former coworker who always volunteered to help set up these kinds of events so that she could fill up takeout containers with the food she wanted before the party opened to everyone else.

      1. BatManDan*

        BEFORE? That’s bold! I would have stayed on working at that place for as long as it took for me to figure out how to shame her badly, and finally find the right time to execute my plan. Super weird. (I always wonder what created the situation where people think this is okay, acceptable, or forgivable. How did they “learn” this, and from whom, and when?)

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I wonder the same! Where along the line was this kind of behavior acceptable!?

          It is true that some of my Mom’s coworkers knew we were broke and would bring in ‘extras’ for potluck and insist that she take it home for us. But she would never, ever, go in and load up go-plates before eating had started.

        2. Eighteen8*

          Yup, before! She went out of her way to craft an office persona as being super friendly and helpful, a big ~team player~, but then would brag about her ulterior motives to her team members (she and I were on the same team). There was BIG passive-aggressive drama one year over a dish that everyone was anticipating at the annual Christmas party – I’m going to call it Kim’s Famous Potato Salad. Bold Coworker helped set up the party, then gloated to us about filling up a tupperware of potato salad for herself AND a tupperware to bring home for her boyfriend. Some of us hadn’t been able to get any potato salad. It was incredibly obnoxious, but nobody could say anything because she was “in” with a lot of the management (hence why she was able to do these things in the first place) and our direct manager was kind of openly intimidated by her.

          Needless to say, this place had a very dysfunctional culture.

    6. Anonymouse*

      I used to work at a doctor’s office back when drug reps catered lunches pretty much every day to get facetime with the physicians. We had one employee who would either a) have her husband and/or children show up right at lunchtime “coincidentally” and make themselves a plate; or b) box up ALL the leftovers and take them home. Sometimes both! When our office manager told her that was uncool, she got mad. “It’s not like *you* paid for it!’ Well, Karen, we told the rep there’d be 15 for lunch, not 15 plus your husband and kids.

      1. daffodil*

        I was just reminiscing about when i did clerical work at a mid-size family practice during that era, in the summers. I was a teenager and most of the staff were middle aged women on fad diets, so I often got to eat whatever desserts were available for the rest of the week because nobody else would. My favorite was the brownies from Boston Market. I was never bold enough to bring something home though! My 3 younger siblings probably would have enjoyed that.

  2. Ann O'Nemity*

    The first thing I thought of was the terrible story of the kid who infected an office with norovirus via potluck.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I haven’t either. Norovirus, shudder. (I have never felt as physically “I want to die” as when I had a severe case of noro.)

          1. Marketing Queen*

            Norovirus (we think that’s what it was) took out my whole office after a holiday party at a hotel. There was a whole insurance investigation and everything. It was awful.

          2. BooptheSnoot*

            There’s apparently a couple of strains of noro that can infect both dogs and humans. I’m not sure how we caught it to begin with but my service dog and I spent a period of time passing it back and forth between us. Absolute hell I tell you!

      1. boop the first*

        The indignation in the comment section of that story feels a little performative after experiencing the last two years, eh…

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      First thing I thought of was the cheap ass rolls! We had our potluck a couple of weeks after that was posted and I had to resist the temptation to write “cheap ass rolls” on the sign up sheet.

      1. Nea*

        Yes! We can’t have a potluck thread without discussing the merits of nice Hawaiian rolls vs cheap ass rolls!

        1. Anon4This*

          I personally don’t care for Hawaiian rolls, so I’d be happy that a coworker brought the alternative of cheap ass rolls.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              As far as I am concerned, they are sweet enough to be dessert, without being so sweet as to make it impossible for me to sleep that night. Kind of like Raisin Bran Crunch for dessert.

          1. quill*

            Oh no, the originator of cheap ass rolls doesn’t go here, you’re good! no one will be mad! It was a letter writer who was frankly looking for an office vendetta, and therefore created one over hawaiian rolls.

          2. Artemesia*

            I just came back from a couple months in France and the first thing that struck me is how much sugar there is in American bread — hawaiian rolls are even worse as the sugar is a feature — but even ordinary healthy looking whole wheat loaves are sweet here.

            1. Certaintroublemaker*

              I spent 10 minutes at the grocery store yesterday looking for the whole wheat bread with the most fiber and least added sugar. Finally found one brand that wasn’t overdoing it on sugar!

            2. The Prettiest Curse*

              Oh yeah, American bread is so incredibly sweet. (Bread in the UK can also be bad on that front, but bread that actually tastes like bread is easier to find here.) And Hawaiian rolls were fine once a year at Thanksgiving, but otherwise, nope, can’t eat something that sweet with dinner.

            3. allathian*

              I’m in Finland, and with the exception of a few types of bread that contain syrup or molasses and are intentionally sweet, and are mainly consumed around Christmas and Easter, and unhealthy wheat-based stuff like hamburger buns, you can’t call a baked product bread if it contains added sugar. Yeast doesn’t need any sugar to make the bread rise.

              1. La Triviata*

                In Ireland, there was a legal ruling that Subway can’t call its sandwich rolls bread – there’s too much sugar in them.

            4. Never Boring*

              This is one of the many reasons why I started baking my own bread! That, plus a) I am cheap; and b) there isn’t a decent bakery within a couple of miles of here, and there’s nothing quite like having warm crusty bread without having to get out of your pajamas on a Saturday morning.

          3. CountryLass*

            I’m in the UK, what is a Hawaiian roll? All I’m thinking now is a bread roll version of a Hawaiian pizza, so bread with ham and pineapple in it… which does not sound nice…

            1. Media Monkey*

              i think (also in the UK but remember the original thread) that’s it’s a sweetened bread, like a brioche that is also glazed with pineapple juice on top. so bread but pretty cakey?

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                It’s a briochey bread but definitely sweeter. No pineapple glaze, just a lot of sugar in the dough.

                (It was originally a Portuguese thing, but took hold in Hawaii. Back when I was a sprout, it wasn’t widely available on the mainland … my parents would bring some back from their trips.)

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              It’s a perfectly innocuous dinner roll that has the unpleasant surprise of being sweet when you bite into it. You think you’re getting bread with dinner, but it’s dessert-level sweet.

            3. Ev*

              It’s a mass-produced version of Portuguese pão doce, (which the Portuguese brought to Hawaii and which became popular there before becoming a type of role that gets sold throughout most of the US). It’s a moist sweet bread. There’s no pineapple involved, usually.

            4. Amaranth*

              It has sugar and vanilla according to the package in my pantry. I thought it would at least use pineapple juice…

      2. bluephone*

        Heh, I saw a display for Hawaiian rolls while grocery shopping last week and immediately thought of that letter. I wonder what that OP is up to.

      3. DrRat*

        One of these days, I will be in a position again to have a pet. Very tempted to name it Cheapassrolls, regardless of the type of animal it is, just so I can recognize fellow AAM fans instantly.

      4. CoveredinBees*

        That was my first thought too. I was kinda disappointed that it didn’t get included in the original list.

    2. CBB*

      It’s for reasons like this that I don’t eat homecooked potluck food unless I know and trust the cook.

      I’m especially wary food that could possibly have been improperly cooled and/or reheated. If a dish is cooked the evening before, then cooled overnight, then transported to the office in the morning, cooled again in the office fridge, then reheated at noon, that leaves a lot of time when it’s potentially in the 40 °F – 140 °F danger zone.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I’m wary of a lot of home cooked, potluck food for the same reason. (Cookies and other snack foods that keep at room temperature are fine, though.) The improper cooling and reheating scenario is really, really plausible, especially since it has to go through so many cools and reheats.

        I’m lucky in that I haven’t gotten sick off of a potluck recently, but you never know…

      2. A Genuine Scientician*

        So, maybe I’m weird, but if I’m in an environment in which I think people are going to be particular concerned about food safety, I make something in a crockpot and then bring the whole crockpot to the event, plug it in, and set to “Keep warm”, so the only time that it’s in the danger zone is part of the time of transporting it in the car.

        There are plenty of things that you don’t have to worry about drying out, like soups or stews. But for this season, my default potluck contribution is (non-alcoholic) spiced cider. It’s honestly just a gallon of apple cider and some cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger — which are the pumpkin spices, if you just want to buy a blend — set to heat, and with a ladle and some cups that can handle being warm.

        1. ggg*

          Intern’s parents owned a restaurant about an hour’s drive from the office and he brought us a curry. We reheated but people still got sick — one co-worker with a sensitive stomach was out for four days. We felt terrible for the intern so nobody told them.

          I had some mild symptoms but that curry was actually worth it. It was amazing. A+++ would go to that restaurant to eat it freshly cooked.

        2. Bongo Fury*

          I once brought a crockpot of homemade gluwein (hot red wine basically). It was probably $40 worth of wine and mix-ins. I set it up in the break room in the morning with a sign and some cups.
          But then Linda, a senior coworker who would be furiously jealous at any attention given to anyone else, saw my crockpot. She decided everyone was “done with that” at about 10AM and poured it out. Wiped out the crock pot and put it away in the office cupboards.

          1. allathian*

            Oh dear. You should’ve presented her with a bill for $40. I hate it that people like her can get away with pulling crap like this. Luckily my office wouldn’t put up with nonsense like this.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            I have a second cousin who starts cleaning up meals before everyone is done eating. It drives my husband absolutely crazy. She put started putting away and pitching our rehearsal dinner food before all of his relatives had arrived. I think it’s just a nervous habit and she feels she’s being useful, but we do use her name as a verb – “Hey, please don’t Linda the salad yet, I’m not done!”. (I am also Southern, so, if we’ve not fed you and given you a tin-foil-covered plate to take home, I don’t think we’ve done it right, and Linda putting food away before I’m sure everyone’s eaten their fill stresses me out.)

        3. calonkat*

          My sister found a recipe for cheesy potatoes that you could literally buy all the ingredients on the way to work, dump them in the crock pot, and by noonish you’d have cooked cheesy potatoes with no time in the danger zone (well, the frozen hash browns could have thawed a bit if you forgot a freezer pack, but we didn’t live in a big town. So that was always my go-t0. Now I have no crock pot and only bring baked goods that take no refrigeration. And I try REALLY HARD to not have cat hair (2 siberian kitties, that’s the work part!)

          1. Rufus Bumblesplat*

            Enquiring minds wish to know where to find said cheesy potato recipe as it sounds delicious.

      3. bluephone*

        Too many Hoarders episodes turned me off office potlucks unless it’s prepackaged food like chips, or there’s also catered stuff, etc. There were more than a few people on those episodes who had jobs outside the home and were still trying to cook in their hovel of a kitchen (no running water, 2 broken burners, etc). You have to assume they were contributing to the potlucks and I’m like, “oh hell no.”

        1. Denver Gutierrez*

          And they all always had majorly expired food in those houses too! That they actually thought was OK to eat, so you know they wouldn’t think twice about serving it to others.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Eh, I’m not a hoarder, but we definitely have food that’s past it’s best-by date in our house. If it’s still good, we’ll still eat it. (One of my kids remarked as they were swirling whipped cream onto their dessert that the date on it was four months ago – smelled/tasted fine, no food poisoning resulted.) HOWEVER, I will not serve it to others and would certainly never donate it to food drives because not everyone takes their best-by dates as suggestions like we do.

        2. Bongo Fury*

          I had a coworker who would bring in homemade fudge every holiday. She’d get aggressive about *everyone* trying some. I hate chocolate and really hate fudge but I took a piece, trying to appease her.

          It had dog hair in it.

          Haven’t had fudge since.

      4. Je*

        We had a now retired employee (a RN!) who most of us all knew sanitary habits at her home (plus cats on counters… ) allowed most to stay clear if she bring anything to a potluck but usually she was too cheap. But mostly she hoarded others food, ate your labeled lunch’s etc. with no regard. But what got worse was her daughter started to work at Perkins as a manager and she said she was allowed to take all the leftover bakery items. Well as a nursing unit yeah! (We thought, knowing she didn’t bake them etc. ) but then found out she had cream pies in the trunk of her car for who knows how long!! A couple people got pretty sick.

      5. Denver Gutierrez*

        This is why I always bring something I didn’t cook. I am careful about hygiene and food safety practices but things can still happen. I don’t want to be the person who sends the whole workplace to the hospital.

        1. Quiet Liberal*

          I hate office potlucks because I’m kind of squeamish about eating coworkers’ offerings if it looks in any way unsafe and it’s awkward to not take any. There was a very sweet older coworker at my old job who was somewhat unkempt a lot of the time. Whenever we had a potluck, she would bring something in a crockpot that looked like it hadn’t ever been washed. One time, she was complaining of being up all night with diarrhea as she set down the crockpot full of chili. Word must’ve gotten around about the diarrhea chili because it was still all there at the end of the day. Someone kindly tossed it and cleaned out the pot and left it with the rest of the dishes for people to take home.

          1. AntsOnMyTable*

            I feel like I must have the stomach of a vulture because I have never been sick from food that I know of and I will eat super sketchy food. haha

    3. The Dogman*

      That happened (probably not intentionally though) at an office I worked at at the Christmas “party”. I was off work that day and so avoided having to attend but 2 days later and it was only my team and one other that were fit to work. So about 40 people out of an office of 200 were left to man the tech support phones.

      Right after a major (and majorly mismanaged) roll out of a new service.

      People got really sick, a couple went to hospital because they couldn’t stop throwing up.

      We were salaried so no bonus for overtime, just days off in lieu.

      Not a fun Christmas time from a work POV!

    4. quill*

      Oooh. My whole family got got by that one christmas some thirteen years ago… Kids picked it up at daycare the day before. We had to get the baby to the hospital on an IV before everyone under the age of 80 succumbed to the virus – my grandparents had apparently had it before.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Remembering the Christmas when my then three year old vomited all over me. I then spent the next day with my head in a toilet, burning up with fever. Turns out, it also was taking out all the kids in daycare. We were all sick that Christmas.

        1. Cera*

          Xmas morning my 4 year old started vomiting. We had a 4 hr drive back home to make. By the time we left the vomiting subsides only for the other end to pickup half way home. We spent a lot of time in gas stations that trip.

    5. Pdweasel*

      In 2017, I’d have wondered how on earth someone could be so ignorant and self-centered as to bring a kid with a highly contagious illness around other people.

      In 2021, alas, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

      1. Artemesia*

        The CEO’s AA brought her kid with active chicken pox into an office with an elderly woman and a young pregnant woman working. They couldn’t speak up and were in tears. I had no authority over the AA but intervened and told her she could not have a highly contagious kid in the office and she took her home. (The CEO was out of town). I cannot fathom inflicting that on other people.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same! Chocolate and cherry is one of my favorite food combos, and it sounds delicious.

        I will eat quietly but cannot make any guarantees of my husband. He does love a good, homebaked dessert.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        It is one box of chocolate cake mix, the requisite number of eggs that the mix calls for, and one big can of cherry pie filling, mixed together and baked per the cake mix instructions (I usually use the bundt version, though I have also done it as two 8″ rounds layered.)

        Other combinations I have tried: white cake with strawberry, spice cake with apple, lemon cake with blueberry. All were quite tasty, though the lemon/blueberry looked kinda gross (a not-very-appetizing green) and took twice as long to bake because it was more liquidy than the others. My mom LOVES the spice/apple combo, she puts walnuts in hers for crunch. I don’t, but I do top it with caramel cinnamon granola.

        1. Exhausted Trope*

          I’m drooling! Thanks for posting the recipe and link as I forgot it from last time.
          Gonna make it for partner’s birthday I think.

        2. Ginny Weasley*

          My mom does this with a spice cake mix, one egg, 1/2 c water, and one can of pumpkin puree. You can leave out the egg to make it a vegan dessert. My vegan cousins were floored by how good and easy it was.

          1. Berkeleyfarm*

            That sounds like a boss “stealth vegan” dessert and I am totally stealing the idea. (Might put 2 oz oil in for the egg.)

            Every baker needs a stealth vegan dessert. I have a peanut butter-peanut-choc chip cookie and a chocolate cake (“wacky cake”) in my recipe collection.

            1. nicole*

              I make peanut butter cookies that people don’t believe are vegan. They use a whole jar of peanut butter, mashed banana instead of eggs and coconut oil instead of butter. SO GOOD.

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                I haven’t checked if the “Just Egg” product is actually vegan (the people I know who use it are egg-allergic) but I am told that it works amazingly in baked goods.

                I may be misremembering on the cookies (it’s been a while) and they might be “gluten free” not vegan (eg. pb, sugar, egg). But it’s good to know some GF and some vegan tricks.

          2. Joielle*

            I do something similar with a box of “super moist” devils food cake mix and a can of pumpkin puree. So good!

        3. Caroline Bowman*

          that sounds amazing!! Any topping or is that simply not required with G-rated chocolate cherry cake?

          Sounds so divine.

          1. Arabella Flynn*

            I made this one a lot in college. It has never survived long enough to be frosted. It can be, and usually was, eaten straight out of the pan. It also involved zero dish washing, if you mixed the cake directly in a foil pan from the dollar store.

        4. WFH with Cat*

          Oh, marvellous! My mom used to make the chocolate/cherry cake in her beautiful old (very heavy) bundt pan — and the spice/apple pie filling cake in a sheet pan. I still have her bundt pan so I guess I know what cake I’ll be making for Christmas this year.

          Thanks for bringing back such happy memories. I kinda needed them today.

        5. Love WFH*

          Another good one:
          Buy Instant ClearJel powder.
          Bake two chocolate 9” layers, and cool.
          Set bag of frozen raspberries out to defrost.
          Make chocolate ganache. Pour over layers, cool the remainder.
          Pipe cooled ganache around edge of top of one layer to form a dam.
          Mix ClearJel into the raspberries, mashing them up, and spoon it into the dam.
          Assemble, and then frost with cream cheese frosting.

          The raspberries taste very fresh. There’s lots of intense chocolate going on. The slightly tangy creamy frosting gives a lovely contrast.

        6. Miss Betty*

          If you do the spice one, try the traditional German chocolate cake frosting on it (the one with pecans and coconut that’s almost like candy – not a buttercream). It’s fantastic on spice cake and I’m sure it can’t hurt apple spice (or pumpkin spice as mentioned below).

        7. Berkeleyfarm*

          I found a gluten-free spice cake mix at the hippie grocery so I’m kind of excited about this as a potluck possibility in future.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes they shared the recipe in the original post! (I saw someone agreed to post the link, I’ll let them share it.)

    2. Merci Dee*

      I took a screen shot of the recipe on my cell, and I still have it saved in my photos all these years later. Every time I see it when I’m scrolling through, I say something about trying that recipe soon . . . but I still haven’t tried it. Maybe this year, I’ll make it for the holidays.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Here it is, so you don’t have to go digging, you’re welcome.

      I have not made this, but it looks killer. I bet you could do the same thing with brownie mix…

      1 pillsbury chocolate cake- follow the box instructions EXCEPT, leave out any oil or water and substitute 1 can of cherry pie filling. If using an electric mixer, it’ll chop up the cherries, so I hand mix. Bake as the box says; it’s done when a knife poked in the middle comes out clean. For frosting, either use canned frosting or caramel ice cream topping mixed with vanilla frosting. Eat; but make sure your SO is in the mood for, um, ‘cake’

    4. a lawyer*

      Yes, I made it for Thanksgiving or Christmas the year it first came out and it was a hit! Although I couldn’t find caramel frosting which I felt would have been tastier. I should make it again this year…

    5. Random Biter*

      I did this cake using white cake mix and a sour cream dark chocolate frosting for a party. After about 1/2 of it was gone I quietly covered it and took the rest out to my car to take home. There are some things I just don’t share.

        1. Random Biter*

          I’d have to ask Betty Crocker or maybe it was Duncan Hines….could’ve even been the store brand :))

  3. The Original K.*

    There was a story on here about a woman who offered to bring dessert and it was like three cookies hung from her dog’s collar. Like, she brought in the dog and expected people to be excited to eat off her pet.

    1. LimeRoos*

      Hahaha I think that was a holiday potluck too! So her dog was dressed as Rudolph or something and kept licking the cookies he could reach.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall it as an entire harness.

      At the time we had a large fluffy dog who would have been ECSTATIC at this–People! Food!–but the cookies would have been furry and well licked.

      1. The Original K.*

        I think that was the main issue with that story. There were few cookies to begin with and the ones that were there were covered with dog hair and saliva. The person was really sad that no one wanted to eat off her dog.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      But wasn’t she the manager, too? And the three cookies were the only ones the dog hadn’t licked, even though they still bounced on his fur.
      Yeah, I have a freaking eidetic memory for potluck posts.

      1. Malarkey01*

        This is LITERALLY a running joke in my house when we do the grocery ordering. My kids will even yell “get rolls, but not cheap ass ones, the Hawaiian ones” at this point. I consider it appropriate cursing for them and AAM sanctioned.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have genuinely tried to see where this LW was coming from, and I just can’t. I cannot imagine taking personal offense to someone bringing the same thing I did. We had a bakery around the corner from the office, and we’d usually end up with a few items from there, which were eaten without incident or insult.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Huh, I do see where she was coming from, I just think her reaction was monstrously outsized. But I would be annoyed if I signed up to bring a particular item, and then someone else brought that item anyway.

        1. EPLawyer*

          but hawaiian rolls and cheap ass rolls are really different. It’s like someone bringing a greens salad and someone bringing pasta salad. Sure both are “salad” but they appeal to different people. If someone had ALSO brought hawaiian rolls that would be the same item. Still an outsized response because one bag might not be enough. But to bring a different type of rolls is not worth noting, let alone slamming out of the potluck and refusing to eat with the others.

            1. Clisby*

              That’s the part that baffled me. Since when are Hawaiian rolls some fancy, upscale food? You can get a 24-pack for less than $7.

              Who knows? The bringer of cheap-ass rolls might have looked at the list, realized that nobody was bringing ordinary rolls (not everyone likes Hawaiian rolls – I don’t) and decided to fill a gap.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I read it that the letter writer had made Hawaiian rolls from scratch, and someone else had bought a bag of them at the store.

          1. KateM*

            If the letter writer made them from scratch, she didn’t mention it anywhere in her letter. “I thought okay, I will keep it simple and get Hawaiian rolls.”

        3. JB*


          I genuinely cannot imagine caring about this. And I spend a lot of time and energy when I make food for potlucks.

        4. Tyche*

          I think she way overreacted for sure. I was upset once because something similar happened to me. I signed up to make apple pie, made the whole thing from scratch and someone brought a store bought apple pie. I wasn’t raging but it was annoying.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It felt like the kind of letter where the update comes a year or more later and the buried lede is that the LW had something else significant going on in their life (abusive family of origin, undiagnosed brain tumour, bees) and wasn’t able to get any sensible perspective on it. It was such a wild overreaction that there must surely be *something* else going on.

      3. Berkeleyfarm*

        Hypercompetition or something else is wrong and that is how it got expressed.

        I (innocently) made cheese grits for an Easter Vigil breakfast (cook grits overnight in crockpot, dump cheese in to serve … great stuff when you have 3 hours of church starting at 5 am before breakfast) and unleashed a flurry of passive-aggression from a church member whose “specialty” was grits. She would not let go of it. She needled everyone who was within range. She would.not.shut.up. Next year that dish had “REAL Southern grits” on the label (we labeled stuff).

        I don’t think she knew it was me, but she actually did take offense to the idea that other people liked my brownies better than hers. She didn’t have much going on in her life so that was big stakes for her.

        1. BatManDan*

          I would have brought grits and brownies to church at every opportunity for years after that, just to give her a chance to get comfortable being uncomfortable. (I’m also the guy, when I was discussing with my Dad about the possibility of joining his church, that said “If I do, I’m going to sit in a different pew every week just to see what happens.” Keep in mind, the church was only ever half-full, so even if I sat, solo, in a place that someone else thought was “their seat,” the most they’d have to relocate would be a few feet. My Dad was ambivalent; his wife thought that meant I was an evil person. I settled on “I’ll ask the pastor if he approves; if he doesn’t like the idea, I won’t do it.” Dad was certain the pastor WOULD approve. This is a denomination known for congregants that can’t stand change, for perspective.)

          1. Berkeleyfarm*

            Hahahaha I am an Episcopalian and I am amused by this idea.

            She was totally the type of person who would take it out very passively-aggressively on people. She interrupted our sacristan prep between the two Easter services to TELL ME THERE WAS BREAKFAST UPSTAIRS (like I didn’t know because I usually planned the frackin thing when I wasn’t “live” on Altar Guild, and she’d been a part of those events), would not go away when we politely said we would get to it, and told us all about her contribution. And again when we got upstairs to eat. (Fortunately enough people brought enough stuff that there was a selection left for us – not everything, but enough for a meal.)

            (For a “cradle Episcopalian” who had been to seminary she did not understand the “do not annoy the Altar Guild” assignment very well. But any time anyone pushed back even mildly, there was a flood of tears.)

            My brownies did appear almost every time I did coffee hour because they were simple to make, even when I had what turned out to be Epstein-Barr and was running mostly on fumes. The grits reappeared until we shifted Vigil to Saturday night.

      4. Another Lawyer*

        At my current job we had an office manager for a long time who I did not know basically defined her self-worth by her baking. The first time we had an office potluck, I’m a reasonably good baker, so I made a cake I like. She was in charge of setting up and she placed it in a corner and stood where she was physically between all of the attendees and my cake offering them the cupcakes or whatever it was that she made. And everyone was oooh and ahhh-ing over what she made and I took home an entire carrot cake, homemade frosting and all. I was deeply confused. I said something to a coworker eventually about the cake-blocking, trying to feel out if I was being crazy and paranoid. It was then explained to me that she was like in the Highlander of baked goods for office events and I probably had offended her. After that it was pretty much chips and dip from me! This is a very long answer to say cheap ass rolls lady is not the only person to be offended by someone else bringing their dish!

    2. ostentia*

      I’m so sad that we never got an update or a response from OP on that letter. It’s just…wild. I can’t wrap my head around how anyone could possibly write “I’m upset that someone disrespected me by bringing rolls to the potluck” and not realize that they’re being unreasonable…

    3. marvin the paranoid android*

      I genuinely believe that the Cheap-Ass Rolls Author is a poetic genius and this is at least partly responsible for the legend that they have become. Possibly my favourite part of the letter was the closer, “They can take Santa and stick it up their ass!” I hope they find more productive venues for their talents in future.

      1. Mannequin*

        Eh, I disagree about company President sat in my chair. Yes, OPs reaction was immature and passive aggressive, but company president was rude AF here and their status as President really does not give them the right to treat a Junior employee without basic human respect.

    4. PeanutButter*

      Pretty much anyone trying to potluck “at” other people or are convinced convinced other people are purposefully potlucking “at” them are my *favorites*.

    1. fposte*

      Yup. I have not done the horrible things in these examples but have definitely felt the desperate impulse.

  4. English Rose*

    One lovely lunchtime we had all brought in and eaten various potluck offerings and a colleague and I were washing up the serving dishes afterwards.
    It was raining outside. Our colleague ‘Jed’ came in soaking wet, grabbed the tea-towel (dish-towel/drying-up cloth) from my hands, rubbed his hair dry with it and handed it back to me. “Jed!” I said in disgust, “that’s the tea-towel!” . His response: “Oh that’s OK, I don’t mind, carry on.”

    1. Female Engineer*

      Good god. I have a coworker who cares about “cleanliness”. She uses tissues and windex to wipe down surfaces if they have smudges leaving streaks and dust in her way. I thought she was gross. Nope. He can wash it.

  5. ScruffyInternHerder*

    (I feel it should be noted that this is all “Before Covid Times” because it sounds even worse today than it did at the time)

    How about the gentleman who proudly never washed his hands after using the facilities, ever, “because we didn’t have sinks in (military campaign from his youth) and that’s what is wrong with today’s kids” and poked and prodded his way through the morning breakfast spread every single Friday morning?

    Lessons taught to the interns: get to the kitchen before he does on Continental Breakfast Days. Use tongs and/or a napkin for the health and safety of others. And no, its not going to go well if you ask him “WTF is wrong with you, dude?!?!” so just don’t. Also, highly preferable to not touch a door handle immediately after him, hand washing in general is not a bad thing.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I would have started telling the story about the scabies outbreak in my dorm when I was an undergrad. Wash your hands people! And don’t touch the rolls after using the bathroom if you don’t…

    1. Catalin*

      Does he also not use urinals or toilet paper or a proper toilet seat or ceramic dishes or beds with mattresses or air conditioning or central heat or…..? Not a lot of those in military campaigns.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Or the company breakfest for that matter. He can have dried bread and heavily conserved porridge or something. The good food is for us weak-willed whippersnappers.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          I would LOVE to see his face if someone brought in a single MRE to the next potluck and made a big deal of presenting it to him.

    2. Liz*

      I had a director, who, rumor had it, didn’t wash his hands after using the men’s room. How much truth to that, I don’t know, but one memorable lunch out, there was bread. Now I will either take ONE roll, or if its a partially cut piece, or one that needs to be cut, I’ll try and hold it with the napkin in the basket, and ONLY touch what I take.

      this guy? Picked up an entire small baguette, ripped it in half with his bare hands, put half back, looked at the one in his hand, put that back, and picked up the other one. so he touched it ALL wiht his bare hands. I decided that I wouldn’t be having any bread that day. I also made sure to take some BEFORE it got to him whenver possible, at future outings.

      1. Artemesia*

        The day I finally stopped going to restaurant buffets was when I saw a middle aged guy literally go through an entire huge basket of maybe 50 or 60 rolls — pretty much identical — pawing all of them looking for the one he wanted — I think he literally handled every roll in the basket. Shudder. I would assume people who do this sort of thing are precisely the ones that also. don’t wash their hands.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          There is a supermarket next door but one to my office building, so they have a range of takeaway lunch food (instore sushi, salad bar, and a pizza oven which opened a week or so back).

          The sandwich section has pre-packages wraps, but also fresh filled baguettes which are made each day, packed in brown paper bag and labelled. I really detest the people who have to poke each sandwich before deciding which one to buy.

          1. Dennis Feinstein*

            (This is all pre COVID)
            I don’t like hard, crusty rolls.
            Went to a local bakery one day. Asked if the rolls were hard or soft. Bakery cashier held out roll to me and said, “Here touch it and see if it’s too hard.”
            It was a bit hard, but I felt obligated to buy it because I’d touched it.
            But I never shopped there again because I wondered if she let EVERYBODY touch the rolls…

      2. Siege*

        I have made it my mission in life to explain (when the opportunity comes up, which has only been three times) to people in my city that a prominent businesswoman doesn’t wash her hands. I’m petty af and I hate her, so at least I got that from the year I spent working in an org colocated with hers.

    1. Dasein9*

      I’d like to see an update to #1 at that link, actually. The law firm where staff are invited to the party but expected to decline.

    2. Michelle*

      this was the absolute best alison response ever: “You are wildly overreacting, and it’s very likely that you are going to get yourself fired from this job.”

    1. Rainy*

      My husband and I were on a road trip a few years ago, on the highway in between towns and he said something about being ready for dinner but the next town was almost an hour away. I dove my hand into my handbag and said “Oh, do you want my purse taco?” (I’d had a leftover taco from the day before in the fridge, and dropped it in my bag before we left, because, you know, purse taco.)

      Ever since, he has regarded my handbag with fear and awe.

    2. 'Zakath*

      @ Former Usher – The tears of your coworker when you steal his stolen brisket? I’ve always had a slight prejudice against food thieves for some reason, and I don’t think anyone will sympathise with a crook when they get out-crooked.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      Once again, I wish I could get away with sending an all-office email thanking my coworkers for not being sociopaths. Our potlucks have always been blissfully uneventful.

    2. Lab Boss*

      It’s so far beyond the pale! Something like dipping a finger into a sauce to taste it is wrong at work but OK at home. Never in my born days, in any situation, have I eaten fruit salad by the handful!

    3. irene adler*

      I know!
      A co-worker brought in a brand-new, very large jar of peanut butter as her jar in the lunch room was almost empty.
      The following week she opened this new jar to discover a large hand had pushed deep into the contents and removed a sizeable amount. Jar tossed. Co-worker pissed.

      1. Olivia Mansfield*

        Why would anyone even want to dip their hand into a jar of peanut butter or fruit salad, etc.? They don’t care that they’re then walking around with their hand a sticky, nasty mess?

        1. Mannequin*

          Seriously this. I can’t stand if my hands/utensils I’m using get even a little gross or sticky from food. I’ll get up in the middle of eating to wash them because it feels so nasty.

      2. Lady Rhyall*

        We had an employee who used to grab the community peanut butter jar on his lunch break, go sit in a cubicle to read the Bible, and dip his apple slices directly into the jar. Bite, dip, bite, dip. I discovered him doing this and our Director of HR had a small chat with him afterward. *gags*

    4. Carlie*

      I still don’t understand how the whole room didn’t shout “NO” at him the first time and then ban him altogether.

    5. Rainy*

      I had a coworker in the before times who never signed up for a shift doing the shared dishes because they claimed they never used any of them…but I once caught them stirring their coffee with a spoon, licking it off, and dropping it back in the drawer.

      That would be when I stopped using the shared silverware.

      1. Olivia Mansfield*

        I always wash the shared silver- and dinnerware before I use any of it. People do weird, lazy things to take shortcuts and avoid work and I don’t trust that anything is clean no matter how clean it might look.

        1. Rainy*

          Yeah, we abolished the silverware rota when covid happened.

          I always washed them in the dishwasher down the hall on my turn, but apparently some people didn’t. :/

    6. Use your words*

      It’s mine. Love it when that pops up, I posted it so long ago.

      I haven’t worked there in 8 years so I won’t be easily identified. I’ll tell you it was a publishing company in greater Boston, his name was Darren, and he was a total tool. Haha!

      1. Use your words*

        Just for funsies, I was friends with a man who worked with us who told me Darren never washed his hands in the bathroom either. And he was pretty high up in our office hierarchy and talked down to anyone he didn’t consider relevant. He introduced himself to me probably over 100 times in the 9 years I work there. “Hi I’m Darren, nice to meet you.” “F you Darren I’ve sat in a cubicle 40 feet from your office for almost a decade, you literal piece of crap.”

      2. AJoftheInternet*

        I choose to imagine (although I know you were never so unprofessional) that you took the whole fruit salad up to his desk, dumped it on him, and when he screamed, said, “What? I thought you liked having food on you.”

    7. Eighteen8*

      I had almost the exact same experience with a coworker, down to most of the office knowing that they shouldn’t take food if she’d been there AND the macaroni hands (watching her pick up MAC AND CHEESE with her bare hands was pretty gross). I remember telling a colleague once that I was going to check out the food that had been put out in the café, and a random passerby stopping to whisper, “Don’t, Denise has been there already.”

  6. NoOneSpecial*

    The most awkward company meeting I ever sat through was when the Branch Manager had to address our entire staff over the people who would blatantly pack up plates and plates of food for their families before anyone else got any food at any event. One staff member stood up and shouted, “So I can’t feed my kids??!!” and the meeting devolved into arguments between food packers and party planners from there.

      1. James*

        I consider office meals like this to be one of those perks where I CAN’T share with the family. So I have zero guilt about enjoying it without bringing anything home for the kids. I work 70 hours a week, I can get a smoothy or some pizza for myself! There have been some occasions where the person who made the food said “You have kids, take these home with you”, but I always at least make a polite protest against it.

        That said, if your workers really do need this food to feed their kids, that doesn’t say great things about the company.

        1. Enginerd*

          I’ve worked where people do this, and they make PLENTY to feed their kids. They’re just a toxic combo of lazy, greedy, and entitled.

    1. Essentially Cheesy*

      In the Before Covid Times, we would occaisionally have catered meetings and I would try to order appropriate amounts. Like a tray of lasagna and meatless alfredo or some such yummy italian-type of hot baked goodness. If there were 20 people at the meeting, I would order two trays that would feed 8-10 people, for example. People always liked the food but there was always extra. Always. They don’t eat as much as a “serving” is according to the catering standards.

      So when I would send out the email about “come get the extra and enjoy”, other coworkers would complain about there not being leftover containers provided by the company. My response was, if you’re so worried about leftovers, you can always keep a container or two at your desk. The person was shocked that I would suggest such a thing. I’m trying to not order that much food so no I’m not going to stock to-go containers! I never even cared if people took stuff home if they were going to use it.

    2. EPLawyer*

      No no you can’t. this is not free meals for you kids. Honestly, rather than having it devolve into an argument the Branch Manager should have just said “one plate per person or we will stop the food all together.”

      1. NoOneSpecial*

        Yeah, the whole thing was a mess. This was nearly two decades ago at a large retail store. I was in college and I can’t say I miss it.

    3. Kittymommy*

      We have someone who invites his wife to our Christmas potluck/catered lunch. It’s in the middle of the day while meetings and stuff are happening (sometimes he is in meetings when she arrives). She is the only mom employee who comes. Last year she brought the kids and her mom. No one really knows her and he’s not a higher up. He’s a nice guy and a little socially awkward so no one really knows what to do. It’s happened for a few years now so we’re kind of stuck with it.

      1. TechWriter*

        I mean… the email invite could specify “for employees only” somewhere, but he might not get the hint.

        1. T Next*

          I had a friend/coworker who brought her husband to our holiday party one year even though it has always been strictly employee-only (and made very clear). Definitely awkward, especially since she had worked there/gone to this party for several years and definitely knew it was employee-only. He had worked for the company as a contract worker in the past, but it had been several years since he had and was certainly not a current employee by any stretch of the definition.

          Made more awkward because it tends to be a slightly boozy event (champagne toast, fancy lunch with wine, etc) and he was newly sober. So it was weird to us who knew him because a) it seems like a less-than-great environment for him and b) he wasn’t supposed to be there anyway. As far as I know, no one said anything, but it was weird.

      2. Grace Poole*

        Our holiday party invitations had the addendum of allowed guests being “your spouse or significant other, and your own dependent children” or something to that effect after a few people showed up with parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, etc. My workplace is generous, but not that generous.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          Not a work story, but I’m close friends with my next-door neighbor. I’ve known her and her extended family for 23 years. Pre-COVID, we had regular Friday night get-togethers in her house or on her patio gathered around the fire pit. We’d take turns bringing snacks or full meals if it was a special occasion like a birthday.

          I make more money than her or any of her family so I always tried to bring (or have delivered) food that was one or two levels above KFC / Pizza Hut.

          Neighbor’s sister has three boys. Back in the early days of our friendship, the boys were in high school and not interested in hanging out at their aunt’s house on Fridays. Then two of them joined the military and one went to work in another state. So it was still just the core group of us “adults”, regularly rotating food duties.

          Then the military boys came home. The out-of-state son moved back. The military boys got married and had kids. They all started enjoying hanging out with the “adults” on Fridays, but not every Friday.

          Just the Fridays when I bought the food.

          I’d go pick up $200 worth of pizza from a place where they’re called “pies”, cooked in a wood-fired oven, and made with hand-crushed tomatoes and homemade mozzarella, and while I was putting my car in my garage, Sister’s family would descend on the boxes of pizza and eat everything. No lie, I’d be gone 5-10 minutes and come back to find I had nothing to eat.

          Weeks would pass where the other regulars took their turns providing snacks (literally Velveeta and Ro-Tel in a crock pot with Frito Scoops), then there I’d be with brisket tacos. Again, Sister’s family hoovered up all the food.

          I finally started bringing hot dogs (no buns) and a bag of plain potato chips. Sister’s family quit coming over on Fridays.

          The part that always got me about this is that Sister would have had to notify her sons and their families when it was my turn to provide the Friday Feast. And while, yes, I make more money than they do, I do *not* make “Regularly pay for a family of 16 to eat at a high-price restaurant” money.

          What is it with people and food that makes them lose their minds and their manners??

        2. Siege*

          I’m really struggling to wrap my head around the idea of bringing extended family to a work party. Like … why? I usually don’t even bring my partner. We’re just going to talk about work and be incredibly boring.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            “But there’s FOOD!” is, I assume, the response of the kind of people who bring all their relatives to the event and hoover up all the goodies.

          2. JB*

            I am related (by marriage) to a family unit who does this. The answer is that they are EXTREMELY strange people, they do not care at all about how others view them (ex. they show up to weddings and funerals in cargo shorts and t-shirts, when they do in fact own nicer clothing), and their biggest thrill in life seems to be identifying every possible way that they can get something for nothing.

            And collecting toys. The patriarch of the family collects every single ‘collectible’ toy ever released – annual barbies, special hot wheels releases, transformers action figures, anything – and keeps them locked in his basement, (in his mind) accruing value.

      3. Roy G. Biv*

        Ugh – my former coworker, Frankie, would never contribute to our department potluck, and then when it was time to eat, they would summon their grown up child from a different department to come and partake. If someone should happen ask Frankie what they brought to the potluck, the answer was always, “Nothing,” and snort of laughter, as if the rest of us must be such chumps for contributing. One time Frankie’s office mate said, “Yep, you’ll never meet a bigger freeloader than Frankie,” and Frankie just laughed. There are a few things I not miss about being in the office. This is one of them.

        1. Female Engineer*

          I have been trying to host code reviews during lunch. I always order more food than I think I meed, because I would rather people be full, and not hungry. My toxic coworker who is “just here for the party” (her words, not mine) will show up and add nothing of value. She will just disrupt the meeting with nonsense about her.

          When we had a potluck, I specifically said “no food. No eat”. It was a Halloween potluck. I suggested spooky food. She ordered a single medium pizza… I mean, she brought something, which was something. It was just a head scratcher. Especially since she is the VP and makes the most money.

      4. Mimi Me*

        OMG I had a friend who does this. I stopped inviting her to my parties after the last time where she brought her mother-in-law, her sister-in-law, and a neighbor to my annual family/friends Christmas party. She came an hour early, stayed just long enough to say hello to a shared friend of ours, then packed up a giant plate of food for her husband (separate from the giant plates she and her uninvited guests ate) while telling my how little fun her mother-in-law had at my party. When I pointed out that her mother-in-law and other guests hadn’t even been invited she got offended, told me her religion and upbringing said it was okay to bring guests, and left in a huff. I haven’t seen her since, but I did hear from a mutual friend that she did it again…but to a wedding. It didn’t end pretty.

          1. Berkeleyfarm*

            Heh. Sounds like my old church, even to the critiquing the free food.

            I go to a friend’s annual shindig where we are encouraged to bring guests because the foodies always overproduce, and I know that I am welcome even if I can’t bring something, but that’s for that friend group ONLY.

            1. PeanutButter*

              A previous workplace had enough (very good!) amateur chefs that our manager finally bought a stash of takeout containers from a restaurant supply wholesaler to keep on hand so people could take leftovers home more easily and reduce the food waste. The end result was that now that the cooks didn’t have to worry about schlepping leftovers back home they made even more. XD

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                “That friend group” did actually take to providing some take-out containers at events. I have been known to travel with my own.

                At the church we had ziploc baggies and paper plates, and a youth clinic that was usually happy to consume our leftovers.

    4. T. Boone Pickens*

      This sounds so much like a letter from a couple years ago about ‘fair share’ guy. I don’t remember the particular details but this person come hell or high water was going to make sure he got the amount of food that he felt he ‘owed’. It was bizarro.

      1. Olivia Mansfield*

        That is so strange. I feel so lucky to work with people where every0ne seems to naturally gauge their fair share by noticing how much food there is compared to how many people there are. People will take smaller portions if the room looks crowded versus if there seems to be a lot of food and few people.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Ice cream bars. It was chocolates covered ice cream bars. He would eat till he threw up. Cuz that was his “fair” share.

    5. Cold Fish*

      There used to be a guy here who would rush to be first in line, take 2-3 plates of food, or an entire pizza, and go sit down to eat, get back in line and take 2nds before everyone had been thru for firsts. But he was the Big Boss’s son so people felt they couldn’t say anything about it :(

    6. lizzay*

      A guy in my office years ago would make a second pass with a big (and I mean BIG) plate of food to stick in the fridge & eat for dinners & lunch the next couple of days. I guess at least he let everyone have a first pass at the food. This is the same guy who would eat all the leftovers. Once we had a chili-making contest & the leftovers went in the fridge. He went in for lunch early the next day and made a HUGE bowl of the remaining chili for himself. Everyone was pissed, especially when he didn’t even finish it!

    7. TeaDrinker3000*

      Their answer should have been “Do you struggle to feed your kids? Do we need to connect you with some assistance programs??”

      Like, for real, do we need to be concerned?

    8. Ex-Teacher*

      >One staff member stood up and shouted, “So I can’t feed my kids??!!”

      The response should be “You can’t take office food to feed your kids and family, that’s correct.”

  7. Albeira Dawn*

    My department in undergrad would host a “holiday party” where the professors ordered nice food for the students and staff. It’s worth noting that although this was a tiny school, the faculty in my department were very hands-off and didn’t really interact with students until late junior year.

    One year a bunch of undergrads, myself included, were waiting outside the room where the holiday party would be held, which had a glass door. They were very insistent that no one could come in until the advertised time, noon. At noon we watched all of the professors and staff, some of whom weren’t even in our department, line up and serve themselves food while a TA guarded the door to make sure we didn’t come in until they were all settled.

    There was enough food for everyone, and by this point in my schooling I had learned to just laugh at how weird and rude my professors were, but there’s a certain poeticism in standing outside a door, making eye contact with your department chair/mortal enemy while he takes a bite of a pork and vegetable dumpling.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I’m imagining all the undergrads staring hungrily through the glass like little Dickens orphans lol

    2. Funfetti*

      I used to work in higher ed and in the (slight) defense of the faculty, undergrad students are like locusts. The minute any FREE food is put out, they descend and ravage. So I can see why they went with a bouncer as tacky as it may be – we just accepted fate and it was every man for themselves when food was served at events.

      1. Albeira Dawn*

        Oh, I get it. I planned events for clubs that offered free food and we had a whole protocol down to avoid a free for all. It was mostly the faculty turning to look at us with their full plates that rankled me.

      2. nanscatsmama*

        Years ago, I worked on the admin side of a local fire department. I was a “civilian” along with a few others but most of the people working in the building were assistant fire chiefs and command staff. The Thanksgiving potluck was awesome- deep fried turkeys, ham loads of side dishes, desserts galore. Enough food to feed us all 5 times over. It was held in one of the large conference rooms. Across the hall that day, new recruits were in an all day training class . We (the civilians) wanted to invite the recruits to join us, even offered to let them come over after every one else had been served. Fire Chief said no way-this lunch was for admin staff only,recruits weren’t allowed. Would send the wrong message. I Never understood that.

      3. Olivia Mansfield*

        ha, I’ve spent many hours guarding food from undergrads until it’s time for everyone to eat. Most of the students are nice and polite and would never take anything without an announcement that it was time. But just like all these potluck examples of bad behavior, there’s always one or two who would ravage the table if no one was there to stop them. We never opened the line to professor and staff first, though. When the buffet was opened, it was opened for everyone at the same time.

        1. PeanutButter*

          My graduate institution had a text alert service you could sign up for to be notified of leftover food from college functions. So like if there was a fancy event for donors after the people the catering was actually FOR left the area the University had food services keep everything open for half an hour so students could come and grab stuff. Most people kept a tupperware container or two in their bags when on campus because the text alerts happened 2-4x a week. It worked pretty well.

    3. The Starsong Princess*

      When I was in grad school, the Dean was marvellous. At the end of an event, she would whip out a roll of baggies from her purse and pack up all the leftovers. She would then give one of us grad students a portion. However, professors and salaried staff got nothing except an earful from her if they tried to move in on the leftovers.

    4. Wendy*

      I worked at a public library in the Bible Belt. This is the story of how I met a new best friend:

      The main library had a potluck Thanksgiving meal each year, but this was my first and only time going because I worked at one of the far-flung branches. So I’m in a long line full of people I only vaguely know. The line kept getting pushed backward because the director of the library had invited a bunch of community leaders – the Board and their friends, mostly – and kept bringing them up to the front. I strike up a conversation with the lady in front of me, who turns out to be new and – in a really weird coincidence – has the same (rare) last name I do! We try to figure out if we’re related, discover we’re both huge nerds, etc. Keep in mind the longer everyone is waiting, the hungrier we are and the longer the rest of the library is manned by a skeleton crew who may or may not actually get leftovers.

      So FINALLY the director welcomes everyone, gives a little speech, and invites her pastor – one of the bigwig guests – to say a blessing. (Public library… but Bible Belt.) This old dude steps up and begins a long prayer. Usually in this situation the “prayer” is a very general “bless this food and bring us together” thing, but not with this guy. He got VERY specific about who exactly God should be blessing and why various groups were to be excluded. My new best friend (whom I later learned is not Christian) and I were exchanging looks the whole time. He finally ended with a “and bless this food” afterthought and the line started moving.

      We were about in the middle – not counting the people who drew the short straws and had to man the public desks in our absence – but the food was mostly gone by the time we got to it. That’s what happens when you ask an extra 50 people to show up but not bring anything, I guess. The meal itself was rushed, with people having to duck out and relieve colleagues.

      Oh, the icing on the cake: our director had just accepted a position at another, larger library system in crisis following a major natural disaster in the area. She spent the whole meal loudly trying to recruit her cronies to quit their jobs and come join her and telling everyone how much more money she’d be making (which was many, many times more than the average librarian’s salary).

      My new friend and I got to be pretty close. We weren’t sad to see she got fired from her new job within the year. We also never went to a library Thanksgiving potluck again.

  8. Lab Boss*

    Our company used to do a big annual picnic- catered Barbecue, free Sno-Cones from a food truck, and free keg beer for employees 21+. There were always a few embarrassing incidents with people having one too many, but one year it was uncovered that a group of employees were circulating at the picnic and selling homemade Jello shots. The entire group ended up rounded up and terminated immediately.

    We no longer do the picnic- a new CEO and a shuffle of the C-suite led to changes including killing all events where alcohol was theoretically available (including the annual trip to a ballgame, because people could buy beers there). We don’t know the picnic bootleggers contributed to that decision directly, but I doubt that went un-discussed.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      I worked somewhere that back in the 80s and 90s started a tradition of hosting a big Christmas Gala (and it was referred to as a “Christmas Gala”) complete with open bar. Staff would even reserve hotel rooms so they could get trashed without having to drive home.

      By the early 2000s, new leadership came on board and was concerned about the excessive spending for the event, plus the company’s lawyers pointed out the excessive drinking was a liability.

      Event gets toned down to a luncheon (which actually featured quality food) and referred to as a “Holiday Lunch.”

      Of course, for almost a decade leadership didn’t explain why they toned it down and rumors spread that non-Christian staff had complained (we had a large number of Jewish and Muslim employees) and there was a lot of fingerpointing at specific individuals. Eventually, senior leadership explained why the gala had become a luncheon. Of course, by then many of the non-Christian staff had left.

      And that’s why these things need to be communicated…

      1. Lab Boss*

        Our new leadership came up with really transparent excuses to cancel a lot of the events, when it was pretty clearly cutting spending and/or booze was the real motivation. We, too, had a huge gala holiday party (although ours was usually a cash bar after a free drink ticket or two) that got trimmed down to a quick catered lunch. The explanation was “This is even better because you get to take a 2 hour lunch break! The gala was bad because it was after hours, so it was wasting your time.” *exaggerated eye roll*

        1. Your local password resetter*

          I would also prefer the lunch break, but at least do a poll or something if you pretend to cut spending for my benefit.

        2. Lab Boss*

          The problem was the “long lunch break” was really a “long working lunch that you will spend in a big room full of coworkers eating semi-decent catered food and listening to company rah-rah speeches.” Now, that’s definitely more fun than working, but not really the “break” they made it out to be…

          1. Counting Hours*

            It’s not a lunch break if I don’t decide what, where, and with whom I eat. If the boss has made those decisions for me, I expect to be paid for that time.

            1. Jillian*

              Our company stopped having these after hourly office workers filled out overtime forms for missing their lunch breaks.

              1. sometimeswhy*

                I scandalized my previous grandboss when I told him that, on my instruction, my group always took lunch in addition to every brown-bag, catered lunch, teambuilding, retirement luncheon, etc.

        3. Editor*

          I worked for a company with 60-80 employees that held holiday potlucks. The “Christmas” party was always in January.

          One or two kinds of meat, bottles of water, and cans of soda were provided by the owners. All other dishes were potluck, but there were sign-up sheets so we had a good idea of whether salads or veggies were oversubscribed.

          It was pretty amazing. Two or three times a year at lunchtime there would be these events, and everyone was well-behaved as far as I could tell. Leftover meat dishes and beverages went into the refrigerators in the break rooms and people helped themselves.

          It was a huge contrast to my previous workplaces where (at different times and in different locations) lunches were stolen from the fridge, people did their shopping and stuffed the freezer full for a week or two until their home kitchen had room for the goods, popcorn and fish got microwaved regularly, and no one voluntarily cleaned up. At one branch office, the only worker who drank coffee started buying it, leaving the coffee machine on its lonesome. Weeks afterward, we discovered the coffee filter full of moldy grounds, because coffee buyer did not feel the need to clean out a machine he was no longer using.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes, exactly. It’s honestly better for the higher-ups to come off as Scrooges when that is what they are doing, than have some hapless non-holiday-celebrating employees pointed at and blamed: “YOU are why we can’t have nice things!”

      3. ecnaseener*

        Did it never occur to anyone that if the Christmas part was the only problem, they’d have just changed the name to Holiday Gala and not needed to downgrade it to a lunch?

        1. Wendy*

          My partner’s work has an annual Awards Banquet That Just Happens To Be Red And Green And Always Falls In December. But it’s not a party, for tax purposes :-)

    2. Momma Bear*

      We had a very fancy hotel office party/dinner event for years at Old Job. Then one year a bunch of people took “open bar” to mean “do all the shots”. We were limited by drink tickets the year after that and then it became lunch during the work day, beer only.

      1. Cold Fish*

        Yikes, I’m getting flashes of Christmas Party past.

        The venue required we provide employees with drink tickets; it was how they kept track of drinks so we could pay them at the end of the night. OMG, there was a huge uproar because Christmas Parties before were always open bar and now we were limiting drinks. Everyone started with 6 tickets, about a third of the staff don’t/barely drink and were just passing out their extra, if you ran out of tickets you could find the nearest manager and they would give you more. We weren’t limiting or tracking tickets at all. The next year people were arguing again that you couldn’t have an “open bar” and require tickets. It was a fudging lunch event at the local bowling alley! Dude, How many drinks do you need in 2 hours?

    3. Helen J*

      I started my current position Nov. 2. I was of course invited to the annual Christmas party. It was supposed to be at our new sister facility, but the HVAC system installation was delayed so we had it at the corporate office in a room that used to be a call center. Well, someone brought moonshine- as in made in the backwoods mason jar moonshine- and passed it around. It was mostly fine except for 3 incidents:
      1. One of the collections ladies had a few too many sips and keep yelling “bingo” during the games. She never had bingo, she was just too tipsy to correctly keep track. Bingo was a big deal at these parties do to the cash prize.
      2. Someone who had some moonshine backed into a coworkers car when leaving and the police had to be called for an accident report. They didn’t want the colleague to get arrested, so they hid him in the building and his wife “took the rap” for the accident.
      3. Collection lady from #1 lived next door to a coworker from another location. Collection lady parked her car in the bushes that separated their properties and several had to be replaced. There were pictures that got circulated via email.

  9. JustMyImagination*

    We had a few people taking full advantage of potlucks at my last job. To the point that HR (they planned the events) started ordering pizzas so that everyone could eat. Cost was getting out of hand so all the people who brought food were warned that there would be no pizza at the next one. So we all arrived early to get our share. All the moochers walked in at party start time with a disgusted “this is it?” expression on their face. They all brought food to the next one.

    1. OtterB*

      I admit that a couple of times when life was more complicated than usual I have showed up to a potluck to eat without bringing anything or bringing something basic and store bought like nuts, but that’s because I have never been to a potluck that ran short of food. I wouldn’t make it my regular mode of operation.

      1. Zennish*

        As a picky eater, I always silently thank the people who bring store-bought stuff. More than once I’ve been saved from starvation, or the equally unappetizing prospect of yet another green bean casserole, by the kind souls who bring nuts, bread, cheese, chips and so on.

        1. UKDancer*

          I refuse to cook for work picnics so I always offer to bring the cold drinks as nobody ever does usually. So I get 2 bottles of soda, orange juice and some sparkling water and plastic glasses. This is surprisingly popular.

          1. squirreltooth*

            I don’t drink soda, so I always volunteer to bring drinks in order to guarantee I have something interesting to drink. I bring plenty of soda too, but the lemonade/fruit punch/iced tea/etc. ALWAYS runs out.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              I do exactly the same thing for the same reason. I’m happy to provide soda for everybody who drinks it. But I want to make sure that I and the other carbonation-avoidant folks have something too!

      2. Female Engineer*

        We have a lot of low paid contractors who make peanuts. When I hosted a potluck, I sent them private notes that they didn’t have to bring anything and could still eat. If they felt guilty, they could claim one of the 5 separate food items I had brought (cookies, caramel apples, chocolate covered pretzel sticks, chips with bean dip, fruit and dip) and no one had to know. I also had cheap items like napkins and cups and told one guy to bring in a couple of decorations. The owner even didn’t bring anything, but I had planned that.

        What really irks me though is when the person who makes my life a living hell for implying I am thinking about asking for a raise (and am therefore selfish) and makes the most money out of all employees refuses to put in her fair share. She just sits there and complains how she has a gluten allergy, but is suffering for all of us, or how x item is her favorite dessert!

        Point is, don’t be ashamed. People are understanding as long as you aren’t really a greedy, selfish jerk at other times.

      3. Mannequin*

        I don’t cook, so anyone expecting me to bring something to a potluck is 100% getting something store bought

    2. Emilia Bedelia*

      This is why my job has switched over to catered meals only. A few too many potlucks with 12 2 liters, 5 bags of chips, 3 packs of napkins, and 1 lovingly made, delicious homemade dish have made it clear that people are not going to participate and it’s easier and better for morale if the department just provides the food.

      1. TiffIf*

        Every team potluck I have been to had a sign up sheet for specifics. Like we did burgers one time, so there was a line for meat, one for buns, toppings, condiments, chips, dessert etc.

        There was one coworker who declined to participate but then showed up to eat anyway. It annoyed me but I didn’t say anything. My manager though–he had A Talk with coworker.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        And that’s a very sensible response.

        If you’re organizing potlucks, and you’re not getting good participation, that’s a sign that people aren’t actually interested in doing potlucks. You’ve either got freeloaders, who are happy to attend and eat but not to contribute, or people who feel they have to attend, but don’t have the time/money/energy/skill to bring a home-cooked dish or suitable purchased item.

        I quite like a good potluck, but work potlucks are a pain. For a home cooked item, I need to stay up later or get up earlier to actually make it, and then figure out something I can cart to work on public transit with a reasonable amount of walking. If I’m buying something, I need to find somewhere I can buy a suitable item that’s on my way to work, and open first thing in the morning (all the lunch restaurants near work open at around 11 am).

        An evening weekend potluck with friends, or a Sunday church potluck, is much more enjoyable – I can cook something on the weekend, or if I want to buy something, there’s a ton of places to pick up cheap, fast, tasty stuff in the late afternoon or early evening.

  10. NeutralJanet*

    A coworker of mine got sabotaged (not by me!) in our annual chili cook off. This coworker, who was the returning champion, tended to like things on the hotter side, but I was shocked when I tried her chili—I also like quite spicy food, but I almost got sick from two bites. Someone had snuck a bunch of hot peppers into her chili so as to make it basically inedible. We never found out who.

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      One of the VP’s at my old company spend the entire morning before the chili cookoff standing next to his chili (which was supposed to be anonymous) telling everyone who came into the lunchroom to come over and try it. In a ‘I’m not saying who’s chili this is, but you should totally vote for this chili’ kinda way. Then during the eating portion walked around the room poking at people’s voting forms and saying ‘hey did you like #16???’. It might have been only eye-rolly if he hadn’t been the boss or grandboss of 25% of the people in the room, and overall just came across as really inappropriate badgering.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      To add further context: we didn’t know she had been sabotaged until the next day, we just all thought, “We know Lucinda likes hot food, but this is WAY too hot, she loses.” She brought home her leftovers, I assume while grumbling that everyone else in the office had suddenly become spice wimps in the past year, and then had some for dinner and realized that something had happened! And then apparently fished out some habaneros, which she did not add herself, so someone else must have added them in. The chili cook off winner would normally be the first suspect, but he was an absolute sweetheart who would never do such a thing, so the mystery persisted, and persists to this day!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I like that it was probably someone who had no hope of winning the contest, but was convinced only a handful of habaneros stood between themselves and Total Chili Dominance.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      Somewhat related – my aunt, who used to be a high school teacher, once told me a story about brownies. The special needs classes would have somewhat regular cooking days where they’d make some sort of brownie or cookie or something and send it out to a lot of the other teachers.

      Well, that day was brownie day, and some students (from outside the class) brought in weed and managed to get it mixed in. Many of the teachers were unwittingly given pot brownies. The students ended up expelled.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        My lower school had a similar activity, where the younger grades cooked desserts for spirit week and they’d be served on the last day. Something similar happened, but with a laxative instead of weed. Our incident could have been so much worse, but fortunately one of the admin staff had been sneaking food from the fridge and was the only one impacted- but she ended up in the hospital over it.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch. That’s unfortunate, but I can’t say I have much sympathy for her. I guess the silver lining here was that at least no kids were affected.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            You know, as a third grader, I can’t say that I exactly felt sympathetic to her either. But I was a bad kid, so it’s always anyone’s guess as to if my emotions were understandable or me being evil again.

  11. Imapirate15*

    I work at a relative small company (less than 150 employees) but our campus contains several buildings and floors.
    I know every woman in my building that doesn’t wash their hands after using the facilities. The worse perp being someone from our IT department.
    While I don’t name them, I have told members of my team to not eat anything certain individuals bring in. If you aren’t willing to wash your hands after going number 1 or number 2 KNOWING their are other people in the stalls, I sure as heck don’t want to imagine what your do in your own home.
    This is the only time I am grateful for the large gap in American bathroom stalls.

      1. Imapirate15*

        There are two ladies here that go to the sink turn it on, let the water run, and grab a paper towel. We have automatic soap dispensers that make a loud noise when used. They skip the soap. Go through the fake routine, stand at the sink, and still refuse to actually wash their hands.

        1. Cold Fish*

          I can’t use most commercial soaps. They are either too harsh or I can’t handle the perfume. I will “rinse” my hands with water then use a hand sanitizer when in public. Your little “fake routine” gotcha may not be as fool-proof as you think…

          1. JSPA*

            Hand sanitizer is not particularly effective on norovirus or hepatitis A. If you can’t handle the scented soap, a personal mini bottle of unscented soap might be worth having at your desk. You can wash the outside of the bottle as you wash your hands, so there’s no contamination returning to your desk, on the bottle.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, I’m allergic to perfume, so I’ve got some liquid soap in a hand sanitizer bottle that I use instead of commercial soaps. But it doesn’t sound like Imapirate’s coworkers are actually rinsing their hands either, just standing there.

            1. Imapirate15*

              They are not rinsing their hands. They are faking it. They also ignore the wall mounted hand sanitizers that are in there.

          3. Enginerd*

            Places like TJ Maxx and sometimes Sephora/Ulta often have soap leaves or dissolvable soap paper that you may be able to carry with you and use….

    1. Anon for this*

      Hmm. Sometimes I go into a stall just to pass gas. Or to grab some tissue if I get a lash in my eye, since I don’t have facial tissue at my desk. While it’s good practice to wash your hands afterwards anyway — you almost certainly touched the doors that other people had to touch before they got to the sink — there are going to be people who do handle hygiene appropriately with food who you may have seen leave a stall without washing their hands at certain points.

    2. Forrest Gumption*

      Just something to think about – I don’t wash my hands after using public toilets either, and I get side-eyed sometimes, but I carry disinfecting wipes in my purse and I use those after I have left the bathroom. So just because your colleague didn’t wash her hands after using the toilet, doesn’t mean necessarily mean they’re dirty.

      1. Imapirate15*

        Putting hands on door handles that may have urine or fecal manner on them is dirty and the reason I don’t touch any door handles without a tissue (this was prepandemic behavior).

      2. JB*

        I think what you’re not quite grasping is that most people would, in fact, consider your habits to be insufficiently clean and inconsiderate to those around you.

        Sanitizer is not an appropriate substitute for washing your hands.

      3. Frauke*

        I’m sorry, but I’m side-eyeing you anyway. Desinfecting wipes are not very effective against a whole bunch of viruses, including Corona. Also, your hands may now be 99% desinfected (maybe), but they aren’t clean. There’s other stuff besides live bacteria that I don’t want in my food (don’t particularly want dead bacteria either, for example).

        Also also, if you touched the door handle when leaving the bathroom before you used those wipes, the next person now has it on their hands…

        Why don’t you wash your hands *and* use your desinfecting wipes?

  12. RabidChild*

    Can anything truly top Cheap Ass Rolls?

    I worked at a tech startup in the 90s and they’d hold a quarterly get-together at a local hotel to report earnings to staff and celebrate the company’s growth. One member of staff would literally bring a Tupperware that she kept in her purse and take as many hors d’oeuvres as would fit before anyone had a chance to get any.

  13. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have had office coworkers that were either Excessive Touchers (with icky or questionable grooming habits, even for their hands – like openly non-hand washers after bathroom visits) or Food Obsessed to the point of hoarding or proudly/openly eating excessive amounts of food.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one that has witnessed a lot of toxic relationships with food and counseling level food issues! It’s not too bad at my current employer, but the leftovers do always make a way of disappearing – I haven’t noticed any hoarding level stuff though.

    As I say that as someone that has food issues but I’ve worked a lot on them and I’m much better than I used to be! I’m the office admin and if I “hoard” anything – it’s genuinely for future meetings. (Leftover little bags of potato chips or cans of soda, non-perishable stuff.)

    1. fposte*

      I’d almost cut people a psychological pass for weird food behavior at mass work feedings–it’s so reflective of the situation rather than of life overall.

    2. Female Engineer*

      I am the one who’s coworker kept swiping massive Costco sized bags of popcorn from another coworker’s desk and bragged about eating it for breakfast. People are so weird on what they will and will not share that did not belong to them to begin with.

  14. Mimitimi*

    Not really a pot luck, but years ago we were remodeling our staff break room, which meant all of the vending machines were unavailable. We (HR team) went to Costco and stocked up on snacks and sodas – enough to last for weeks – and let staff know that in light of the inconvenience, we were making free snacks and sodas available in a conference room. We stacked boxes of supplies in a corner and set up what we assumed would last about a week or more.

    One day. They all disappeared in one day.

    1. Imapirate15*

      Our marketing department demanded a Nespresso coffee maker because drip coffee was beneath them and the clients they had come in for meetings. Fine, we’ll get machine and an approval for a 25% spending increase on monthly coffee expenses.
      Somehow the month’s worth of pods disappeared in one week. It came out to every employee drinking 8 cups a day.
      We had to send an email saying we were only providing “X” amount per month which comes out to 2 per employee per day and 10 per week for guests (the average based visitor records for 10 years). Once they are gone employees can use their own personal pods.
      Surprisingly there was no pushback but I’m still convinced someone hoarded the month supply of their favorite flavor.

      1. Emily Spinach*

        My aunt doesn’t drink coffee, but explained that it was not fair to her that her work provided k-cups to staff and she wasn’t getting her fair share of that work perk, so for over a year she would take two per day, which she figured was a normal amount for most people to drink, and save them in a bag to give to me (a person who owns a Keurig). Yes, I tried saying she shouldn’t do that; it ended up not being worth the argument.

    2. NoOneSpecial*

      I worked at a distribution warehouse that had a tradition of providing a chest freezer full of ice cream, Popsicles, and other frozen treats every summer. That first day there were always people leaving with boxes of ice cream. I watched one coworker eat four ice cream bars for lunch while proudly bragging that he would make himself sick to make sure he got his “fair share”. It was madness. That chest freezer usually lasted about two days.

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      My office spends a ridiculous amount of snacks. Between 3 locations, we have 50 employees. For a single office, we were spending $1k plus on snacks a month at point (different kinds of sodas, teas, coffees [both k-cups and nespressos], bottled water, chips, nuts, cookies, snack bars, cereal, etc.)

      We were going thru things so quickly that we got to the point that I was basically hiding stuff away, as out of people’s reach as possible. So they’d eat what was put out and not go hunting for their preferred snack. (Heaven forbid the only kind bar available be Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt and you want the peanut butter one.)

      It was ridiculous.

      1. Zelda*

        At OldJob, I always said that if any of our competitors wanted to do corporate espionage, all they’d have to do is anonymously leave brownies laced with sedative in our break room. We would have all unquestioningly stuffed our faces and given them free access to our records…

    4. Santa's Helper*

      I used to work in the management office of a shopping center, and during the holidays, everyone’s big priority was the Santa Set. We would typically purchase snacks for the Santa Set staff and our concierge staff. I can’t tell you the number of times we had to tell executives to stop taking snacks that were set aside for employees that were making minimum wage. Some of them would take 3 and 4 granola bars or bags of chips at a time! It was bizarre. We ended up having to lock up the snacks and the people they were intended for had to ask for permission to get one. Because of a few people that were making well over six figures that couldn’t be bothered to go purchase their own snack from the food court. Madness!

    5. Jessica Fletcher*

      I used to work at outreach events, and we found that if you put a ton of freebies (pens, etc) on the display, they disappear very quickly. But if you put out only a few at a time, they disappear more slowly.

      I guess people figure that you have a reserve, so if they see a ton of stuff out, they assume you have more. But when it appears you only have a few, they leave some for others. Of course, this was pre-Covid and pre-grocery hoarding.

  15. Late to the Party*

    I do not do potlucks! When I was a child, you never knew what my mother’s hillbilly relatives would put on the buffet. I learned to eat before I got there.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        Work potlucks make me nervous, too. There’s nothing like taking a bite of something that looks pretty and tastes disgusting, and having the really nice front-desk admin who’s sitting across the table and smiling at you, say, “That was my mother’s recipe.”

        You’re stuck. You have to eat the whole thing, and you have to praise it. Because you can’t possibly hurt her feelings.

      2. CBB*

        You don’t even have to guess. If you eat food prepared in 10 different home kitchens, it’s almost inevitable at least one of them has cats walking on the counters, or something like that.

        1. Aarti*

          Yes. I was already dubious about work potlucks but since Covid I absolutely refuse to eat in them. I have taken to bringing in fresh fruit and putting that out, and then I just eat some of my own fresh fruit. Maybe I will take something that is clearly store-bought but I refuse to eat anything out of anyone’s kitchen anymore.
          Pout lucks should go away anyway – easy way for a company to throw a party at little cost to themselves and put all of the time and labor onto employees.

          1. LibraryLady*

            Since Covid my mom absolutely will not eat any type of potluck, or buffet. My sister loves charcuterie boards but she won’t even have one of those with immediate family!

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        lol it wasn’t chili, but yes. I linked that story below as well. Happy someone else remembered me!

    1. nonegiven*

      Venison roast salad, deep fried armadillo, grilled bacon-wrapped breast of dove with jalapeno halves, roasted peacock.

  16. Hills to Die On*

    1. Most Important department (/s) would always have potlucks and team lunches even though no other department was allowed to do anything like this because we needed coverage. Even though Most Important Department was….Most Important.
    Joe would always crash their potlucks, walk up and make comments about how happy he was to get free food, and how good everything looked, and then walk away with a plate piled high…before anyone in MID even started. They got super territorial over their potlucks and would take turns guarding the food in the breakroom. Nobody could ever have leftovers.

    2. Not entirely potluck, but close…Big Project would have lunch meetings every day and since it was a working lunch, lunch was catered and paid for. never mind that it went 18 months and 35MM over budget – free lunch for dozens of people every day was a project cost that the PM was happy to absorb and pay for.
    So, seeing all that great food – Salads! Appetizers! Entrees! Drinks! Sides! Desserts! every single day, people would walk by and start taking all of it while it was sitting outside of the conference room and the meeting attendees didn’t have any. Sneaking ensued. Emails went out. There was an office-wide dustup when execs attended the meeting and only half of the food was there when the Big Project attendees tried to get their free lunch.
    This rolled up to the CEO of the fortune 500 company, who looked at the project costs and demanded to know why we were spending many thousands of dollars on catering food daily. In fact, What The Halibut was going on with the project budget overall???
    No more food, no more catering, big trouble for project manager, and she left shortly thereafter.

    1. Essentially Cheesy*

      Yeah what’s the deal with the people refusing to wait until after the attendees have their rightful portion? That always drives me crazy. I have taken to serving lunch in the conference room (we have a nice counter for setup in the room and the attendees accept my coming in to set up lunch with the vendor) so that’s not so much of an issue anymore.

      1. Grace Poole*

        I’m so naturally guilt-ridden that if no one told explicitly told me that this food was up for grabs, I can’t even imagine loading up a plate and walking away like I owned the place. “Unattended, fully stocked taco bar? Finders Keepers!”

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        We always had to have the receptionist guard any food that arrived before they were ready in the meeting because people would destroy it. The funny part is there were always leftover at the end of the meeting, but people couldn’t wait. It got to the point where if the receptionist had to step away she would call me to guard it while she couldn’t have direct eyes on it, because people would get into it if she was away for even a minute.

        Once the quality manager took an entire box of donuts back to his desk when she walked into the meeting to bring them the box of coffee. Someone in the meeting left early, saw him with the donuts he knew had been stolen, and the guy got a talking to. Did not stop him in the least bit from pulling more food stunts.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          At my old church we kept the food in the (lockable) kitchen for coffee hour. You were supposed to leave after communion and put all the plates out on the tables.

          I was told this was because some street people (we were in a neighborhood that had a large population) had come in and cleaned the room out. (The door was left unlocked during services because of bathroom access.) But given the congregation’s voracious habits, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone spirited it down to their car.

      3. allathian*

        This has always been standard at my employer. We’re only allowed catering if we have external guests, so it doesn’t happen very often. But even then, the caterers slip in and out to bring the food and the coffee urns and to clear up. At least no food gets stolen this way. Leftovers are always up for grabs.

    2. Lab Boss*

      On the one hand I can’t officially approve of Joe’s behavior… on the other hand one department giving themselves special potlucks when nobody else can is obnoxious and the idea of Joe ostentatiously annoying them is hilarious.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        It was so funny! MID employees would look at him like they just shoved a big slice of lemon in their mouths. Joe was a generally oblivious and happy person who never even noticed.

      2. Anon for this one*

        Ug – in a similar, not pot luck story.

        I was a server for awhile – and everyone knows there are 2 days a year that you can make your rent for the next two months by working a double, but it’s EXHAUSTING and there is no real time for a “break”. (Valentine’s and Mother’s day) ((and yes, I know illegal, also, welcome to the service industry. this particular restaurant was actually pretty good about breaks, except for those two days. ))

        So the place I worked had 5 double spaces for those days, and everyone else worked half a day. I was one of the 5 one day pretty much every time bc of competency and seniority.

        Management ordered us, the doubles, pizza to eat in the kitchen around the start of second shift.

        By the time I got back to the kitchen from my tables to shove a piece of pizza in my face, the people who had been at work less than 30 mins had eaten it all. Me and the other 4 servers who had already been on for 5 hours without a real break had zero food left.

        We were LIVID.

        Luckily, management came through and jumped in the kitchen and made us something real quick form what was supposed to be food we sold.

        After that, when they would order pizza for doubles on those day, Management put it in the managers office, locked the door, and handed out keys to the Doubles. After we had eaten, they would take the rest out for everyone else.

    3. fposte*

      I was at some huge posh publisher’s dinner at a conference and a colleague whispered to me “This is why books cost so much.”

    4. The Starsong Princess*

      We always had hot, catered lunches for the trainees flown in for a week of training. People started taking food even before the trainees and would always hoover up every leftover morsels. So the training people started ordering more and more food. Our CEO looked at the progression of the costs and realized half the office staff was getting a free catered lunch. So several emails were sent around reminding the office staff that the lunch was for trainees only. Finally, the CEO lost patience and said he would fire the next person he saw taking any of the lunch, even leftovers. He only had to fire one guy (who was a complete nitwit anyway) and the company’s trainee catering costs went down by 2/3.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        This is a very satisfying story. I cannot imagine taking food from a meal I’m not a part of. I was getting more and more irritated reading these stories about employees pouncing on food. You story is a welcomed relief!

  17. RaeofSunshine*

    You know those wonderful, evil appetizers that are a water chestnut inside a date, wrapped in Bacon and secured with a toothpick? Someone brought a whole tray of those to an office potluck, and someone was so excited to eat them that they didn’t remove the toothpick first… the toothpick horribly ruptured their esophagus, and it turned into the most serious scenario faced by our ‘safety-response’ team as this man foamed blood from the mouth (I’m so sorry for typing those words). He spend a month in Intensive Care and was back to work a few months later … we are no longer allowed to have potlucks at work.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Why doesn’t your company do potlucks any more?

      “People would contribute nothing and take huge plates full”
      “There were just too many concerns about food safety and allergens”
      “Ted stabbed himself in the esophagus”

    2. CBB*

      I’ve always disliked food served with toothpicks in, and now you’ve justified what I thought was an irrational phobia.

      1. fposte*

        But now I’m going to suspect all food of having secret toothpicks, since apparently this guy didn’t realize there was a toothpick in his.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I’m reminded of an episode of Friends where there was a toothpick in a uh…homemade prosthetic of sorts.

        1. caps22*

          I already have one. Every time I see people walking around with a toothpick in their mouth, I gag imagining that they will inhale too hard and swallow it.

      2. Thursdaysgeek*

        My mum would use toothpicks when she made a layer cake, to make them stay together (in addition to the frosting). We just ate slowly. Of course, when she made marble cake for my brother’s birthday, we knew there was also a marble somewhere in the cake. At least, when we made stone soup, the soupstone was too large to fit in our mouth.

    3. Funbud*

      Had he never seen an hors d’oeuvres served on a toothpick before?

      Horrifying story but you do have to wonder about people’s life experiences.

      1. CBB*

        I just googled pictures of bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. In some examples the toothpicks are glazed and baked so they’re the same color as the bacon, so I can sort of see how someone in a moment of absentmindedness might not realize it’s there.

      2. Social Commentator*

        I’ve seen some people cut the toothpick short on those kinds of apps. I don’t know whether that’s what happened, but I now realize how terrible an idea it is.

      3. MissM*

        There’s a reason that fruit roll-ups tell you to remove the plastic before eating it. Never assume anything says my lawyer brain

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            I knew someone who did this. She was one of my cousin’s girlfriends, staying at another cousin’s house to attend a family event from out of town. Apparently she NEEDED to sleep with a fan, but cousin 2 didn’t have any in her house. So Girlfriend turned her hair dryer on without heat and put it under the bed… for the sound… all night…

  18. Choggy*

    Our office solution was to no longer have a potluck because it was so unbalanced, they have it catered instead. Someone would bring the turkey, and someone else just a few bottles of soda or a few bags of chips (and these are VERY well-paid individuals). There was no way to make it fair and invariably someone would get butt-hurt. I am so over any kind of luncheons with my department, and yes, we have one, in the office, this year…oh, joy!

    1. Paperwork Pusher*

      OldJob bought the meat and everyone else brought sides or desserts. It was a very simple solution.

      1. Berkeleyfarm*

        My OldJob sprung for the turkey, gravy, ham, and drinks. People signed up for other things.

        Reminds me I should make some peppermint bark for NewJob.

  19. TB*

    This happened about a decade ago- Not exactly a potluck, we were having a special dinner for my team to celebrate successfully navigating the high profile opening of the theme park attraction we all worked at. A VP was putting it on (he was VERY senior to us, we were front line, just for context) and I ended up sitting next to him. There was a dessert on the menu that was called something like “Warm and Gooey Chocolate Cake” or something like that, which I ordered. Once it arrived and I was digging in, the VP leaned over to me and breathily whispered right into my ear “…how’s that warm gooey?”. He was like 35 years my senior. I was so grossed out that I immediately lost my appetite and to this day my best friend (who was also on that team) and I will creepily ask each other “how’s that warm gooey” at like…the grossest, most inopportune moments (like, we used to work at a theme park, and I might ask her this as she was cleaning up vomit lmao). Like idk what he was doing, I don’t know if he was hitting on me or being intentionally creepy OR thought he was just asking a normal question in a normal way?? Idk. But the words “warm” and “gooey” used together in any context still skeeve me out lol

      1. TB*

        Hahaha, by all means, laugh away! I was horrified in the moment, but it’s definitely become a huge inside joke between me and my best friend, happy to have you laughing along with us :D

    1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

      Thank you for this story, I’m laughing my ass off!! “Warm gooey” is going to live in my mind rent-free from now on XDD

    2. LabDude*

      TB, I am so sorry that happened to you. It must have been extremely uncomfortable.

      I am also sorry that I am laughing so hard that I literally have tears running down my face. I can’t believe that this is, somehow, simultaneously, both a gross instance of sexual harassment and the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

      1. TB*

        Haha, thank you LabDude! It was EXCEPTIONALLY uncomfortable, I was very young and innocent, and for whatever reason seemed to attract the grossest/weirdest behavior from older men during that period of my life. BUT no need to apologize for laughing- I definitely took back power in that situation by turning the VP into my own personal joke over the last decade, and I’m thrilled that years later, he’s still being laughed at for being gross in the absolute WEIRDEST way hahaha

      1. TB*

        HAHA amazing. I did work for the park that used Voban, but this one was at the OTHER park, where we used Sansorb hahaha

    3. PhyllisB*

      I have read and chuckled (and cringed) at these stories, but this one made me absolutely lose it. (Thankfully, I’m alone right now or my family would think I was totally insane.) I especially love that you would say it at something like cleaning up vomit. Thank you for the best laugh I have had in ages!!

  20. PrairieEffingDawn*

    I used to work at a seafood restaurant where one of the perks was free clam chowder for anyone on staff, it was in a big soup pot in the kitchen and we were allowed to help ourselves. One summer a new waitress came in and single handedly ate so much chowder that we all got our soup privilege revoked. Like Ron Burgundy, I wasn’t so much mad as I was impressed.

    I’ve shared this on AAM before but it’s just one of my favorite work anecdotes and think it hates repeating.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        That was my first thought too.

        But in a case like this – was there any better way to handle it? Could someone have said to her “Hey, you are eating too much clam chowder?” or “Only one bowl per day for everyone?”. How do you handle people who can’t see that they are ruining something for everyone?

    1. Artemesia*

      my first job at 18 was in a greasy spoon where I was underpaid and waitressed, dish washed and made the lunch special some days and made ice cream and was a soda jerk during non meal service times. We were allowed to eat the food sort of in lieu of decent pay. I think I pretty much single handedly ate all the hot fudge. Little dab of ice cream and a small scoop of fudge — but half a dozen times a day. I remember the owner, who was hands off in the extreme, remarking ‘we seem to be selling a lot of hot fudge’ as he was doing orders on one of his few visits to the store.

  21. Evan*

    At a end of fiscal year celebration, one of the supervisors thought it would be a real treat to bring pulled pork and other traditional BBQ sides (baked beans with bacon, etc.). We weren’t given any notice about what would be served.

    I am Jewish, but don’t keep strictly kosher, and I’m not a vegetarian but I try to avoid eating meat more than once a week. So I asked about a vegetarian option. I didn’t want to explain all my reasons, but was asked by this supervisor “what, you don’t eat pork?”. He then said couldn’t have any of the veggie option as he had brought only one portion for the one employee he knew was vegetarian. I ended up with some soggy cornbread and slaw. The veggie option I didn’t get was just a can of baked beans popped in the microwave.

    Anyhow, my lesson from that was to always bring a lunch unless you know what is being served.

    1. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      Ugh I hate potlucks for this reason. I don’t eat beef or pork but I’m not a vegetarian. So I can relate. But but the veggie option was A CAN OF BEANS??? So gross. This thread makes me extra glad that I work from home now!

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I am a vegetarian & at a work-catered meal after an all-company meeting, I ended up with a lettuce & mustard sandwich. Because they had done burgers but hadn’t accounted for those who don’t eat beef. And for some reason, there was no cheese. In a state famous for cheese…

        There were vegetarian options the next year. I don’t think I was the only one who complained.

    2. Tau*

      I am suddenly reminded of the time my team went out to lunch and one guy really wanted to go to “the hot dog place”. I was assured there was a vegetarian option, so I joined.

      …what I was not informed of was that the vegetarian hot dog consisted of replacing the sausage by a carrot.

      I’ve had better lunches.

      (Also, giant ugh on the “there are this many vegetarians and we have exactly that many veggie options” behaviour. This is actually one reason I ended up going fully vegetarian – too many times when my “I’m technically an omnivore but I’m really trying to cut down on my meat consumption” ended up as “great, have this bacon sandwich.”)

      1. londonedit*

        I don’t live/work in a place where potlucks are particularly popular (I’ve never encountered one) but I’ve been to so many barbecues where the meat-eaters all treat the vegetarian options as extra side dishes so there isn’t enough for the actual non-meat-eaters. Luckily at the last couple of organised barbecues I went to before Covid, you had to specify meat/veg/vegan in advance and then the vegetarians were invited to go and get their food first, so everyone got a fair share. Doesn’t work so well when you’re at a friend’s house and everyone wants a share of the one block of halloumi you brought along.

        1. ???*

          Actually, it sounds weird but carrots really do make a great ‘hot dog’. I like to boil it until it’s tender enough to stab with a fork. Then you treat it like it’s a normal hot dog. I like jalapeno peppers ketchup and mustard on mine in a hot dog bun.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Slow-roasted carrots can be a decent sandwich filling.

            But they take effort and time, so I’m guessing this was a raw carrot.

          2. GlitsyGus*

            This does sound good. I would probably want to go with roasting for flavor, but I’m sure boiling is much easier.

          3. JSPA*

            slow roasted in a well-oiled pan, after rubbing with a hit of soy and/or veggie aminos; cider vinegar or rice vinegar; plus one of the following (as pre-roasting marinade, during roasting, or as a post-roasting marinade):

            a) white pepper, ground coriander, ground mustard and mace or the slightest hint of cardamom (to approximate the spicing of a classic hot dog) or

            b) rubbed with white pepper, fennel and sage and perhaps a touch of smokey paprika (to approximate sausage) or

            c) clove plus cumin plus thyme approximate the spicing of certain blood sausages

            Some people like to pre-rub or pre-soak with salt to alter the consistency, but that’s a lot of salt.
            [sausage devotee who no longer can ‘do’ much real sausage for health reasons]

        2. Tau*

          There were some toppings, and IIRC it was cooked but not sufficiently so I was chewing on half-raw carrot with ketchup and roast onions.

          1. allathian*

            Ouch! That said, I prefer my veggies very al dente and intensely dislike them if they’re soggy, so…

      2. Butterfly Counter*


        I’ve been to catered events where a non-vegetarian just didn’t feel like meat that evening, so asked for the non-meat option. When it got time to serve me, there was no veggie plates left. The caterers panicked and I ended up with a dinner of boiled unseasoned squash.

        Similar event happened at a wedding. The bride specifically asked that I be given a vegetarian option and some wires got crossed somewhere the day of. In the end, after everyone at my table’s food had gone cold (they refused to eat without me), I was presented with a plate of just asparagus. It was actually pretty tasty, but that was literally it for my dinner.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Yup. Had a seated, served-plate dinner for some reception at my workplace and oops, this vegetarian got a plate of what looked like some thick-cut vegetable prep work, cooked to much firmer than al dente and thrown on a plate without seasoning. Ugh.

          1. Artemesia*

            I’ve done conferences and have been impressed at how well hotels usually manage this. In addition to having well thought out vegetarian meals, I have had vegetarians get a meal and then declare they don’t eat beans — and the hotel manages to go into their freezer and bring out and microwave something else. Usually with advanced notice this is well managed.

            1. Mannequin*

              I used to live on beans & rice and then I hit middle age and LOL my guts do not like beans anymore.

              I still eat them sparingly, but I would have a big sad if some place decided that default vegetarian meals meant “beans”.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, there are other veggie protein options… These days, my gut doesn’t like any pod veggies like peas and beans except in very small amounts. I’m a flexi-eater, and will often try the veggie option if it looks appetizing, but not before the vegetarians and vegans have had their share!

        2. Artemesia*

          This is mean but a fun ‘run out of veggie’ story. I was on Kuwait airlines flying from Rome to Kuwait with a grad student who is vegetarian — but who had not ordered a meal. There was an unbearably rude Saudi on board whom everyone heard berating the FAs and just being a total jerk. He was across the plane and a few rows behind us.

          So mealtime comes and my student tells the FA he is vegetarian and would appreciate a veg meal if they have extras — otherwise, he’ll cope. She comes back with my tasty plate and a veggie meal for him. About 5 minutes later we hear a shout ‘WHAT do you MEAN you are out of vegetarian meals; I ORDERED a vegetarian meal’ from our obnoxious fellow passenger. Only time I have actually witnessed karma.

      3. LizB*

        Seconding the giant ugh. I’ve realized over the years that if there are any vegetarians at a meal, you should have more vegetarian options than meat options to make sure they actually get as much food as they want. Most omnivores are, in fact, omnivorous, and will eat dishes even if they aren’t chock full of meat. If you’re ordering pizza, order more plain cheese than anything else. If you’re grilling, you can get away with roughly the same number of veggie burgers as you have vegetarians (maybe n+2), but make sure all or almost all of the sides are vegetarian. One of my Thanksgiving guests is vegetarian and we’re going to have two veggie main dishes and one meat main dish, plus mainly vegetarian sides. Granted, in a potluck situation it’s more difficult to control unless you have people sign up ahead of time, but it’s just common sense!

        1. quill*

          I think the ratio of vegetable main dishes to vegetarians (Attendees = N, Vegetarians = V) is better off as V+(N/5) assuming that 20% of the main dishes that the non-vegetarians will eat, based on “oh I don’t like hotdogs” or “no pork” or whatever, will be veggie, and then having a little wiggle room for the office pig.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          I agree with this. I am not a vegetarian, but I limit my meat intake, so…I don’t want to limit myself to just the meat dishes. There are always going to be more people eating the vegetarian options than the non, so just order a lot more veggie options than you think you need.

        3. Strict Extension*

          Yup. I used to work somewhere that got pizza (like, nice pizza from a gourmet place) for certain staff occasions. One of my coworkers, who for some reason often ended up being the person to finalize the order, insisted that because 1/3 of the staff were vegetarians while the rest ate meat, we should get 1/3 veggie and 2/3 meat pizzas. I explained over and over again that the meat-eaters would also eat the veggie pizza, but he just didn’t think that was the case, at least not if he got multiple meat options. And every time, everyone would grab two slices to start, and most of the meat-eaters would make one of theirs veggie.

          I finally lost it when halfway through his serving one day he looked down at his plate and said, “oh, I think I took all veggie slices. Huh.”

          1. GrumpyZena*

            People get so weird about this. I once suggested something on a now-defunct *etiquette* forum (so, you know, people are supposed to be polite).

            The suggestion was this:

            If you are in a buffet-type situation, and you can see that the veggie burgers are limited, take a meat one first if you eat meat and then circle back for a veggie one if you want to once everyone has been served.

            People lost their ever-loving minds!

            “It’s not my responsibility to make sure that there’s enough for everyone, why can’t I just get what I want, there should be enough for everyone to have one of everything, you’re rude for suggesting this at all.”

            It was crazy. Apart from anything else, imagine the food waste if everything was catered to those specifications!

            1. Tau*

              I admit I don’t really like this advice either, because it’s possible for omnivores to not like or not want to eat much meat either. I mentioned upthread that this is actually one of the reasons I went vegetarian, because “I am an omnivore trying to significantly reduce my meat consumption” was just plain not respected. It’s really frustrating when you’re trying to eat, say, meat at most once per week or only on special occasions, and then every buffet or similar you end up chowing down on meat because you’re afraid there’s not enough for both you and the vegetarians.

              Of course, you’re right about the food waste. My preferred solution would be to have a lot more veggie dishes and cut way back on the meat ones, which from the sounds of it wouldn’t have been to these people’s taste either.

              1. Mannequin*

                “ It’s really frustrating when you’re trying to eat, say, meat at most once per week or only on special occasions, and then every buffet or similar you end up chowing down on meat because you’re afraid there’s not enough for both you and the vegetarians.”

                Sure, but it’s way less frustrating than being the vegetarian watching everyone who at least has the OPTION to eat other food chow down on the only things you CAN eat and leave you with little or nothing.

                1. Tau*

                  True, but it’s still frustrating *enough* that it was a genuine contributor to me deciding to just go fully vegetarian so that I’d finally have my dietary preferences respected.

                  To be clear, I’m not arguing that if there’s a limited vegetarian selection we shouldn’t make sure the vegetarians get their fill first. Especially because I’m now one of the vegetarians who’ll go hungry otherwise! But I wish we’d focus more on why there was such a limited vegetarian selection at all, on why the organizers didn’t make sure there was enough vegetarian food for everyone who wanted it, rather than saying that omnivores shouldn’t be eating vegetarian. There’s a real spectrum in between “never eats meat ever” and “is happy to chow down on burgers and steak at any occasion”, and that gets ignored a lot.

          2. Mannequin*

            I don’t even KNOW how many times I’ve been in the situation where people thought “Mannequin is the only vegetarian so we only need to order one non-meat pizza” where there was still plenty of meat pizza left over afterwards, but the non-meat disappeared before I got a chance to eat my fill. It’s sooooo frustrating.

            Also: people that don’t understand why you get sick of eating food with them when they continually want to go to places where your only options are cold salads/salad bar while sitting next to people chowing down on hearty delicious filling hot meals.

        4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My rule of thumb is to offer 80% vegetarian dishes on a buffet (numbers adjusted if guests have additional relevant dietary requirements).

          1. PeanutButter*

            Yeah, whenever I’ve been in charge of food, I always go for the options that will let more people eat them – so like if there’s vegan/vegetarian/gluten free/kosher/halal/low allergen options on the catering menu I will select those and THEN any meat dishes or stuff with common allergens with the rest of the budget.

        5. RabbitRabbit*

          Yeah, back when my office was still all in-person, kind colleagues would give a heads-up to those with various dietary restrictions to hit the buffet line fast. They’d also try to tuck away a cheese pizza at the end/underneath some others, because most omnivores going through a pizza buffet line would be like “sausage, sure, deluxe, sure, cheese, sure…” and take one of everything.

          Our cafeteria would do free meals for staff on various holidays/celebrations and the cafeteria workers would essentially tell the omnivores who were craning their necks over at the veg entree option to stay in their lane, as only so much had been prepped.

        6. Elenna*

          “Most omnivores are, in fact, omnivorous, and will eat dishes even if they aren’t chock full of meat.”

          Correct, but also I’m reminded of the person mentioned above who yelled in disgust and threw the spoon upon being told that the mashed potatoes were vegetarian. :D

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            And I have been surprised to learn how many people make mashed potatoes that aren’t vegetarian. (It always seems like such a safe option to me…)

          2. Anonybonnie*

            I wonder if maybe she was actually upset to learn that what she’d thought was bacon was actually potato skins. I know some people absolutely hate mashed potatoes with skin included.

      4. Lizard*

        That’s awful!

        I once went on a work lunch to a Basque restaurant, with similar promises of “there will be something for you”. And there was… a plate of plain spaghetti noodles with microwaved frozen veggies on top. Yum.

        1. Rob aka Mediancat*

          I went to an anniversary luncheon for my company, had requested the vegetarian option, and got a play of sauceless tortellini surrounded by oversteamed vegetables. It was inedible.

          (The appetizers and desserts were spectacular. this, not so much.

          1. WS*

            I had a similar experience, only it was three tortellini on a plate. No sauce. Just three tortellini. Fortunately there was plenty of garlic bread!

        2. Elenna*

          …Spaghetti is, like, one of the easiest things to make vegetarian, too. They could have literally just thrown tomatoes, garlic, and a couple herbs in a pot and made a decently good marinara.

        3. Mannequin*

          One way I used to get around restaurant menus that did not have veggie options back in the day was ordering a fancy sandwich, without meat but with extra of whatever the non-meat components were.

          Then one day, out at lunch with my parents, I order a sandwich this way, and receive- a sandwich that is ALL meat and ZERO X, the non-meat component that is a major part of what makes the sandwich what it is.
          Thinking that perhaps the signals were crossed, maybe they thought I said “all meat no X” instead of the other way around, I politely bring it to the servers attention.

          Nope, no mixed signals! The kitchen was out of X and instead of letting me know so I could choose something else, sent me out a sandwich consisting ONLY of the ONE thing I had specifically requested NOT be on the sandwich.

          This was decades ago and to this day I cannot figure out how anyone on the kitchen or waitstaff thought that was an acceptable choice to make.

      5. Strict Extension*

        My very favorite vegetarian options was at a function I was speaking at through work hosted by another organization at a country club. When I answered “turkey or ham?” with “I’m a vegetarian, actually,” it was clearly a curveball.

        Do you know those grocery store fruit trays? The kind meant to serve a whole party, with the cream cheese dip in the middle? I swear they just took out the dip and turned one of those onto a (rather large) plate. Then they put cottage cheese in the middle.

        The fruit was good, at least.

      6. Tierrainney*

        I can’t find it, but there was a Fox Trot comic where the children complained to their Mother that a Corn dog was not corn in a hot dog bun.

    3. Essess*

      Similarly I worked on an office project where over half of the team was muslim or jewish or vegetarian. We were being thrown a big potluck as a thank you for all the work and overtime we’d done. All all the side dishes were to be supplied by the team, but the main meat entree would be [mostly] purchased by management but all the team members still had to chip in $5 toward the entree if they didn’t bring a side dish to share.

      The big entrée that we discovered when we got to the potluck?? A a giant baked ham. No other meat, just pork. At a company that constantly patted itself on the back about diversity and inclusion. After the meal, I had a serious discussion with the woman that does the food ordering for the department about how bad that impacted the team morale to not only serve a food that more than half the team couldn’t eat but also charge them for food you knew they couldn’t eat.

      1. Gnome*

        Ugh! I keep strictly kosher, so I generally can’t eat at any office events. Like, it has to be cooked in a kosher kitchen and the veggies have to be checked. Bit that’s just… Ugh!

        I am probably the only person who gets unreasonably excited by store bought cookies and chips (many are kosher), added to the company pizza party, but that would make me mad even if I couldn’t eat a fish or veggie option they would get instead.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I think a lot of people – even the best, kindest, well-meaning people who would not deliberately hurt anyone – don’t get what goes into keeping strict kosher, or, for that matter, severe food allergies and intolerances. Caterers do, and they are required to be up on food safety precautions as well, so I really think it’s best to have caterers provide food at events unless it’s a tiny office where everyone trusts one another and nobody sticks their hands in macaroni.

          1. Tell Me About Your Pets*

            The hillel at my college (basically the club for Jewish students) had an open Shabbat dinner once. It was catered and super fancy. The student in charge of organizing it was very clear with the caterers about what was and wasn’t allowed, and she was assured that they could follow the rules, which was that meat was allowed but no dairy.

            We got to the event hall and at every single placemat was a thing of butter.

            Nobody was confident that the meal was actually kosher after that.

            1. PeanutButter*

              I have given up on people understanding actual food groups. I still remember being a grade-school aged child who was very sensitive to cow’s milk (not an allergy, but I’d get horrible sinus infections – thankfully I’ve outgrown this) and being told that I couldn’t have an omelet at a school brunch, even with the milk-free “cheese” option because my allergen info on file said “dairy” and the omelet had eggs. I remember trying very hard to explain to the person that eggs did not come from cows but was unsuccessful and ended up getting no meal.

              1. Cera*

                I have had this conversation. And the logic is that eggs are in the dairy section of the groceries store therefore they must be dairy. Facepalm.

                1. pandop*

                  In the UK we don’t refrigerate eggs, and in my local supermarket they are in the section with baking goods – so flour etc.
                  Thankfully I don’t think anyone here has suggested that this means they come from the wheat plant

      2. Wendy*

        The local hospital made waves when they served lemonade and cookies to a conference for diabetics. No sugar-free options, no pitchers of water even. Someone got a talking-to over that.

      3. JustaTech*

        One year our head of HR decided that the company should buy everyone a ham for Christmas. Thankfully she was talked out of this by folks who pointed out that, for the price of the very fancy ham, they could give out grocery store gift cards and folks could a get a just fine ham *and* the rest of Christmas dinner.

        This story is being relayed by my local HR person and I said “Thank goodness that didn’t happen, what about all the people who can’t eat pork?”
        “Who can’t eat pork?”
        “Uh, vegetarians and Jews and Muslims?”

        Like, I know this is a diverse country, but how do you get all the way to senior in HR without having heard of religious dietary restrictions?

        1. Artemesia*

          Our university dropped the big annual Christmas party that pretty much nobody really wanted to go to and substituted free turkeys. You could get a tofurky if you wished. Everyone actually liked that a lot better then spending that kind of money on a party. Anything left after turkey pick up day was donated to local homeless feeding groups.

        2. allathian*

          That’s… I can’t even… How is it possible that anyone can get to a senior position in HR without knowing this, and acting on the knowledge? My mind is well and truly boggled.

      4. Mannequin*

        With so many vegetarians, why would they even consider having the main entree being meat based AT ALL.

        Besides, I’ve met enough meat eaters who enjoy pork in other forms but don’t like the traditional “baked ham” form that it would never even occur to me to make it the single main dish even in an office full of omnivores.

    4. None the Wiser*

      Heh. Catered lunch at my place…the admin (a very nice person whom I like very much, they just didn’t know) was very happy that they were able to score pork loin for the main course. There are a smattering of Muslims, vegetarians, and Jews here. One of them took it upon themselves to secure an emergency tray of vegetable samosas from a nearby Indian restaurant.

      Those samosas were absolutely delicious.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        If I went to a party where vegetable samosas we’re all I could eat, I would think I’d died & gone to heaven.

  22. A Simple Narwhal*

    I like the story of the office chili cookoff where one guy brought in an empty crockpot and secretly filled it with a scoop from everyone else’s chili and ended up winning for his complex array of flavors!

    #1 here: https://www.askamanager.org/2021/02/a-drunken-cowboy-gingerbread-house-chaos-and-other-office-contests-that-went-badly.html

    Original comment: https://www.askamanager.org/2021/02/the-hot-sauce-contest-soup-gate-and-other-work-contests-gone-awry.html#comment-3284972

    1. Littorally*

      I love the chutzpah of that story. I’m sure if I were a competitor I’d have been pissed and felt it was very unfair, but as a bystander, it’s pure gold.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      One of my all-time favorites! I wish I had the courage to do that at a cook-off event (not that I’ve ever been part of one though).

  23. ItWasn'tMe*

    Many lifetimes ago at a different job, we had a potluck. And that office had a stovetop with four burners – no oven, just a microwave above the burners. I brought my contribution in a crockpot and plugged it in to warm near the tables, but somebody else decided to cook their contribution on the stovetop … and walked away from it. Eventually there were sparks and smoke and a fire drill/not drill, and the stovetop was removed.

    1. Windchime*

      I used to work in a building that had a full kitchen located directly above the server room. The dishwasher broke and…….well, you can guess what happened to the server room. They ended up removing the dishwasher after they had replaced/fixed the ruined servers.

  24. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I don’t remember if this was me or another coworker, but for St Patrick’s day, there was a “green themed” potluck. One of us, and I don’t remember now who, when asked what they were bringing, said “Lettuce.” The reason I don’t remember who it was is that I actually brought guacamole, but don’t remember if this was because I chickened out on just bringing the lettuce (I was pretty new to the team), or if my teammate actually brought lettuce. Or if they chickened out too.

    1. CBB*

      I would find a dish of lettuce leaves a welcome addition to any potluck.

      And if the idea is to recall the verdant green of Ireland, lettuce seems more appropriate than guacamole. Lettuce is a staple of the Irish kitchen garden, whereas avocado trees are less common.

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        Oh yeah, like, someone legit brought in a very lovely salad. The joke was we were just going to bring in like…a head of lettuce.

        Or maybe it was an uncut zucchini? Something that screamed “I hate potlucks”.

        1. quill*

          I tend to bring a salad of some kind, with unusual toppings (cheese, cranberries, walnuts) on the side.

          Someone is always happy for the lettuce. :)

    2. Wesley Smasher*

      This reminds me of when my kid’s class had a St. Patrick’s Day party and had to each bring in green food. There are only so many ants-on-a-celery-log that one can stomach. On the other hand, some green food coloring dropped in orange juice makes for a great beverage that all the kids wanted to try.

      1. Paperwork Pusher*

        When I worked in retail, a woman was putting together a St. Patrick’s Day basket and thought it was perfectly fine to include a bag of Japanese wasabi peas. I mean…

  25. Joyce To the World*

    There is always at least one person who NEVER contributes, but expects to pig out and take home left overs with out even asking the person who brought the dish. Also, never eat the brownies made by the lady with really long nails who never washes her hands after using the bathroom.

    1. Juneybug*

      My person was Joshua. Would bring cheapassrolls (no butter) or “forget” to bring something. Would be the first in line to eat. Would have three servings before anyone else was done with their first serving. Fixed a plate for dinner while the potluck was still going. Complained about what was on the table (what, no cheese to go with the homemade spaghetti?!?!) in front of the person who brought the item. Would go fix another plate for his lunch tomorrow as we were putting the food away. So that’s five heaping plates for one horrible person…

      His boss talked to him about his morale killing actions but Josh didn’t change. So we stop having potlucks until one day we realize Josh called out sick and hey, we can all go grab something from the store, break out the grill, and have a BBQ. It was a delightful time with everyone since Mr. Complaining Moocher wasn’t there. And that became our new potluck system (Josh calls out, we go grocery shopping, grill food, relax, and have leftovers for lunch the next day).

  26. Janet Snakehole*

    At my old job, we had themed department potlucks about once a month, and after we’d gotten our fill, someone would send an email to the rest of the company to let them know that there were leftovers up for grabs.

    One of my coworkers was a generally angry, unpleasant person, and she always objected to offering our leftovers to everyone else, since they never had their own potlucks to share with us. So one time, before we had the chance to email the rest of the team, she just threw all of the remaining food away, down the garbage disposal. It turned out that some people in our own department had been in a meeting when the food was first set out and she threw it away before they even got a chance to eat – and this was food that they’d brought in themselves!

    After that incident, our manager told us that she wasn’t allowed to throw the food out ever again. At the next potluck, she offered to send the email to the rest of the company, and we thought great, she’s had a change of heart!
    But nobody came! After a few hours, she claimed that since nobody came to get food, they were obviously uninterested so we should no longer offer it.

    We found out that she only sent the email to our department, but she put everyone in the BCC field so that nobody could see who actually received the email.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Imagine being that petty! I used to share a building with a department that would have random potlucks scattered through the year, and they would nearly break our doors down to tell us to please, PLEASE come take leftovers so nobody had to deal with them.

      1. Windchime*

        Same here. My team used to put on an awesome breakfast potluck, complete with cheesy potatoes, waffles/pancakes, egg dishes….you name it, we had it. There was always tons left so we would bring them back to our work area and then people from neighboring teams would smell it and gratefully come and make themselves a plate. I don’t really remember anyone hogging or taking more than their share.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      This is like an old colleague of my mother’s who used to put stuff like furniture she no longer wanted out for trash pickup, but she’d break it first because she didn’t want anyone else to have it. Like, wut??

      1. Anonymouse*

        In Los Angeles, you put non-broken furniture out on the grass by the curb.
        The furniture magically disappears overnight. You never actually see anyone pick up the furniture but it is gone.
        Although I have left furniture curbside, went inside to get more furniture and come back out to find the first load is already gone.
        And there are no garden gnomes in the neighborhood, so I ruled out those suspects rather quickly.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Same thing happens in NYC and it’s magical. I once curbed my old coffee table and walked 1.5 blocks away to get McD’s. In the <10 minutes that trip took, the coffee table vanished. I wish whoever picked it up knew that I had a matching end table that I was planning to bring down as soon as I got back from McD's.

          Have you seen the How I Met Your Mother episode about curbing furniture?

          1. The Dude Abides*

            Yes, and clearly those people don’t live in my area.

            I put out a wood dining table on Sunday, and yesterday ended up just hauling it to Habitat for Humanity, since clearly no one wanted it.

        2. JustaTech*

          This happened when my parents lived in Baltimore in the 80’s. Except the thing they dragged out to the street was the cast-iron stove that took four very strong people to move. My mom went back upstairs for all the knobs and plates they’d taken off to lighten the load and the stove was already gone.

        3. Mannequin*

          My first apartment was in Los Angeles and the way some people talk about doing their homes in Mid Century Modern or Early Colonial or whatever, I used to joke that mine was furnished in only the finest Late 20th Century Found By The Side Of The Road

    3. AntsOnMyTable*

      Wow. I could understand her saying the people who did the potluck should be allowed to take stuff home as leftovers instead of it going to the rest of the company but to think it is preferable to *throw it away* is so egregiously petty.

  27. EvilQueenRegina*

    I remember we had one once that ended up having very little food – the date had been planned a while in advance, but then the week of the potluck, it snowed, a lot of people were working from home and wouldn’t have come in with contributions, and someone made the decision to cancel it. Then as the weather forecast started looking better, someone had the bright idea of “Let’s have it tomorrow instead!” But a lot of people were still remote, not that many came in and some of us had to panic buy contributions at the last minute. I can remember trying to make my way through the slush from the nearest supermarket to the office, wearing leaky wellingtons, carrying a replacement pair in one hand and contribution to the potluck in the other. I hadn’t thought about that in ages.

    1. Maid Dombegh*

      I have always admired your username, and I hope that your potluck contribution was apple based.

  28. Potluck Thievery*

    I used to work with a couple of people from the same family. They would keep tin foil in their bags and whenever food was given out at work, they would take some to eat at work and then wrap extras in the tin foil and put it in their bags to take home, which often meant not everyone got some of everything. We all got invited to a co-workers wedding and they did the same thing with all the wedding food!

  29. Merci Dee*

    I’ve worked at the same company for 11.5 years, and most of our food events have been catered lunches (Thanksgiving, and a quarterly employee appreciation lunch, though most of this has been scaled back as a result of Covid and cost-saving measures). Thankfully, for the catered lunches, everyone manager-level and above is drafted into the serving on the food line, so they’re doling out regular-sized portions to everyone coming through. We always manage to have just enough to feed everyone on a particular shift, and no one does without.

    There was one time where leadership decided to order pizzas for the employee appreciation lunch. The pizzas were distributed among the break rooms based on the number of employees in each department, and lunch was supposed to begin serving at 11:00. Around 10:45, managers were going to the break rooms to get ready to hand out the allotted number of slices to each employee, and most of the managers found people trying to walk out of the break rooms with a stack of five or size pizzas each so the employees “could have some at lunch, and then take the rest home for tonight.” All pizzas were reclaimed, and management explained that each person could have the three slices that were allowed. I have never seen a bigger group of people whining and complaining that they just couldn’t walk out of the break room with half a dozen boxes of pizza, like nobody else on the line was hungry and wanted any.

    1. Pikachu*

      Some people only take one slice, in case there is not enough. Others take three slices, in case there is not enough.

      1. Merci Dee*

        Ha! Yeah, there’s a difference, though, between taking one more slice than you were allotted, and taking five and a half pizzas more than you were allotted. :P

      2. Liz*

        Yes! I will always start with one. And if it looks like there’s enough left over, AND i’m not the first one to go for seconds, I’ll take a second slice. I’ve seen others though, take 2 or 3, and go back for more!

      3. CBB*

        For any food, but especially pizza, the idea of what’s a normal amount to consume can vary by orders of magnitude from one person to another.

          1. quill*

            Yeah, depending on the cut of the pizza / size of slices / metabolism of person, you are gonna get a polite range from one slice to like, seven (when it’s cut in those little squares…) but if you’ve decimated half a pizza? Time. To. Stop.

            1. Merci Dee*

              Yeeeaaaahhhh . . . well, the first time I went out to eat with my ex-husband, he suggested that we go to Cici’s Pizza (for those that aren’t familiar with Cici’s, it’s a buffet that offers salad, pizza, pasta, breadsticks, and several options for dessert — all you can eat for a pretty reasonable price).

              To set the stage: when I first met my ex, he was 6’7″ and weighed about 180 pounds. If you’re imagining a tall, skinny scarecrow of a dude with long, gangly arms, you’re 100% on the mark. At that time, he was working on a construction crew, so he was burning massive amounts of calories on a daily basis. Considering that he already had the thin, ectomorphic body type with a ramped-up metabolism, the calories that he burned through on the construction crew meant that he would eat massive amounts of food to refuel.

              I did not realize exactly how massive those amounts of food were until we sat down at Cici’s and he started to eat. By the time he was done, he had eaten:

              1 medium plate of salad
              2 large plates of spaghetti (admittedly, one of his all-time favorite foods)
              44 pieces of pizza (Cici’s put out their large 14-inch pizzas on the buffet, cut into 8 slices each, so this works out to about 5.5 pizzas. He didn’t like the edge of the crust of the pizza, so he would leave a thin margin of crust behind for each slice that he ate, and, yes, you bet I took the time to count the crusts.)
              1 medium plate of Cici’s hand-made cinnamon rolls (wow, those things were phenomenal; about 6 rolls)
              1 medium plate of “dessert pizza” (pizza dough with pie filling for the sauce, usually in apple or cherry varieties; he ate about 4 pieces of dessert pizza, so half of another pizza)

              I didn’t bother to keep count of the times he got up to refill his drink cup.

              We entered the restaurant some time around noon. It was almost 2:30 by the time we left. He took a couple of brief breaks during his eating (2 or 3 minutes each, tops) to decide whether he was still hungry or whether he was full, but otherwise for 2 and a half hours, it was just steady eating.

              This was about 20 years ago. To this day, I have never seen anything like it.

              1. quill*

                I mean, there’s all you can eat, there’s getting your money’s worth, and there’s having a black hole in your stomach.

  30. Littorally*

    My old team used to have a breakfast club. Every Friday, it would be someone’s turn to bring in a breakfast for the group. Since our start times were varied, and some people like to come in early to do some overtime and some don’t, it was never really consistent when exactly breakfast would arrive, but generally somewhere in the 8am-9:30am window.

    There was One Guy who was devoted to getting the food the moment it arrived. It didn’t matter what time the breakfast-bringer came in, and somehow he magically never seemed to be in conversation with a client (which was his job) or otherwise in the middle of something. When the food-bearer came, he was there, and if it was your turn to bring breakfast you could bet on him breathing down your neck while you set things out.

    This was not the kind of setting where everyone will stand around waiting for someone else to go first, either. We were a bunch of hungry young finance bros, we weren’t shy, but most of us would finish a call or an email before we stood up to partake! I don’t explicitly know that he ever put a client on hold just to be The Very First In Line for breakfast, but I don’t see how he would have managed it otherwise.

  31. Dr. Rebecca*

    …that first one’s manager should have, well, managed, and told him to cut that ish out. Eyurrrgh.

    1. Use your words*

      He was a publisher at a publishing company. He wasn’t as high up as you can get in the entire corporation, but he didn’t have anyone more senior to him in our location. Peers, yes, but no one above him to observe his behavior.

  32. Choggy*

    Yup, we had one of those employees who would put his hands into (someone else’s) cereal box and eat it, and he was blatant about it! He also took all the large (wrapped) candy bars that were left by another employee, for everyone to share, home for his children. He would take/eat anything that was not nailed down. Glad he’s someone else’s problem now!

    1. Windchime*

      I think every office has a food-toucher. We had a woman who would pick up each bagel and inspect it, before putting it down and moving on to the next. Finally someone put up a little sign that said, “Please use the tongs.” That seemed to help.

      We also had a little candy-dispensing machine, and we would all take turns providing small candies like M&Ms or jelly beans to fill the dispenser. This same woman would dispense some candies and then pick through them. Once she attempted to put her rejects back into the dispenser, but she was quickly told by the manager that she couldn’t do that.

      1. JustaTech*

        My office has the opposite: the food not-toucher. Most of the time it’s great because it means that there are always tongs and scoops and whatnot.
        But then one time the not-toucher wanted some chips that were still sitting out the day after a party. But obviously at least some of them had been touched. So he decided to sterilize them by microwaving them. Now, I’ve been told that this actually works fine with tortilla chips. But these were potato chips and they caught fire in the microwave.

        So then we had a new rule “chips must be closely supervised in the microwave”.

    2. SpellingBee*

      Many years ago one of the small law firms I worked at would get those giant jars of mixed nuts from Costco when the office supplies were ordered. One of the attorneys would scoop up a handful, pick out all the cashews and eat them, then dump the rest back in the jar. After enough of us complained the office manager started buying the big jars of just cashews. But since the same guy continued to stick his germy hand in the jar, I didn’t eat any of those either.

      1. SpellingBee*

        Oh, and I just remembered that the same attorney would always show up to the office potlucks with an apple. One whole apple, uncut. I guess at least he brought *something.*

      2. Slipping The Leash*

        In the Before Times, we had a costco jar of mixed nuts for anyone to help themselves to. We kept a scoop on a paper plate next to it, and everyone was good about keeping it sanitary. Except. No one wants Brazil nuts, and everyone once in a while I’d notice people picking them out of their scoop and tossing them back in the big jar. We put a cup labeled Unloved Pre-Touched Brazil Nuts next to the scoop – problem solved.

  33. Jay*

    Not really a potluck…I’m a doc, and I always work Christmas because we don’t celebrate. My first Christmas after residency, my best friend was also assigned to work that day. She was sad about missing her Christmas dinner. We’re both cis/het women married to men, and both our husbands love to cook…so we decided to bring Christmas dinner to the hospital. I made stuffing the night before, her husband cooked the turkey and gravy because they lived closer so it would stay hot, and we split up everything else. My husband hates football and figured he’d be bored, so he decided to spend the day making a Black Forest Cake – full-on complete with all the layers and decorations. We invited everyone who was working to join us (it was a small hospital).

    One of the other docs COULD NOT BELIEVE that men had done all the cooking. She (yes, she) started out marveling that my friend and I had managed to do all this in advance. We explained that we hadn’t. She seriously did not believe us. The turkey and homemade rolls and string beans were bad enough – but when my husband brought out the cake, she said “that must have come from a bakery. You can’t possibly have baked that.” I said “why would he lie?” She got flustered but did not back down.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Lol my husband is a former cook so he does all of the holidays meals. I make the pie he makes literally everything else. People always marvel that he’s doing the cooking and not me. People can be so weird sometimes lol

    2. Your local password resetter*

      Gotta love those ingrained gender roles.
      It was a lovely thing to do for her though!

      1. Lord Peter Wimsey*

        One of the things that soured me on office potlucks was seeing this gender role division in action: I was working in a department that was mostly women (including me, contrary to my username), and just two men. We had a potluck, and most of the women cooked homemade treats. I asked the men about their (rather elaborate) offerings and both said they had had their wives cook them (note, both these wives also had jobs outside the home). The idea that all the work for this potluck came from the wimmenfolk just rankled me — and it’s been store-bought for me ever since.

        1. marvin the paranoid android*

          This used to annoy me in choirs as well. Usually the soprano and alto sections were told to bring specific homemade baked goods to sell, the tenor and bass sections were told to set up the folding chairs because of the massive strength that requires. I was particularly steamed one time when I went to a lot of trouble to bake something that I thought was going to be sold as a fundraiser but was actually fed to (unappreciative) male choristers. It was cake mixes from that moment on.

    3. AMT*

      I (make) always got this reaction from coworkers when I brought in cakes. “Your wife must have made that!” What makes you assume my wife is good at baking?! (I mean, she is, but they didn’t know that.)

  34. PT*

    100%, I would write up the dirty food touchers. I’d burn collateral on that. That’s filthy and they have to learn to be sanitary in a communal space.

  35. JMR*

    This is not about a potluck, but it is about office food. I was downstairs in our lunchroom grabbing a soda when one of our talent acquisition managers brought in a candidate who was on-site for an interview. At the end of all our interviews, someone in HR takes the candidates on a tour of the facilties to show them the on-site gym and the lunchroom stocked with snacks, etc. The candidate asked if he could have some, and then we both watched as he opened his briefcase and just absolutely stuffed it with fresh fruit and packages of crackes and trail mix. It was so bizarre. He did not get the job.

    1. Duke of Mildew*

      Sounds like something that I heard of happening in my old company. It was a smaller company… hiring manager was giving an interviewee a tour of the office, and they went through the breakroom. One of my coworkers had recently traveled somewhere and had left a box of chocolates from their trip to share with the office. Not enough for everyone in the office to have one, but a nice little treat if you’re passing through. So the manager takes one and gestures that the interviewee could take one too… and the interviewee took like 3 or 4 chocolates, putting them in her purse.

      She didn’t get the job either.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      But he did come up with a way to be memorable and stick in the mind of those who interviewed him.

    3. The Starsong Princess*

      Some years ago, we had an interviewee who was left alone for just a minute in the break room. She filled her briefcase with sugar packets and those tiny tubs of cream. At the end of the interview, she opened her briefcase to put away her resume and notes. All the cream and sugar came spilling out. She too did not get the job.

    4. Emma*

      Maybe the interview had gone badly, or he’d decided for other reasons that he didn’t want the job — and figured since he wasn’t getting hired anyway, he might as well get some free groceries out of it

  36. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve been lucky with work potlucks, I guess. No adverse conditions and no one getting sick. At OldExjob, we had a sign-up sheet for them; the shop personnel were pretty outspoken about you not getting anything if you didn’t bring anything. They even had a chili dog lunch one day and wouldn’t let anyone else eat them. (I got one because I brought the cheap-ass rolls, haha.)

  37. LadyAmalthea*

    I absolutely hate bananas, to the point where the smell of bananas makes me nauseous. All of my coworkers knew this, and it was occasionally a source of good natured ribbing.

    When I quit after 15 years because I was getting married and moving to another country, my boss had a special goodbye breakfast for me. His partner decided that the food she had to get as a special treat was banana pudding. Absolutely everyone started laughing when they saw what she had brought in, and I had to sit in the breakfast, starving, until I could run out and get a roll afterwards. We spent the next few days giggling like mad about it.

    1. Ally McBeal*

      How was banana pudding the ONLY food served at this “goodbye breakfast”??? It’s not even a breakfast food (although admittedly I have eaten it for breakfast in the past, like anyone who’s ever been told “when you’re a grownup you can eat whatever you want” would)!

      1. Ashkela*

        Yeah, but the smell of the banana pudding probably put them off the rest of the food. I’ve had that kind of thing happen.

      2. Bird Bird*

        It sounds like the smell alone would have prevented LadyAmalthea from eating any other food provided.

    2. WS*

      Oh, are you my brother? He’s hated bananas since he was a small child (I also dislike overripe bananas, but not to such an extent) and for his farewell party at one workplace his manager made a lovely hummingbird cake with banana!

  38. Stella70*

    I managed a department of about 15 people. One lady was extremely proud (and vocal) regarding her banana bread (this was years before Covid and the national obsession of baking banana bread). Once, I joined the conversation and mentioned my mother also had a wonderful recipe my family loves. I will spare you the details, but within a day or so, I found myself embroiled in Bananagate as the Manager Who Cruelly Insisted Her Recipe Was Better. The only way to settle it was a Bake-Off, which I tried mightily to nix (my staff was an unhappy bunch, no need to poke a bear….or baker). My Director saw an opportunity to bond, and said I needed to participate.
    It was just the two of us, and no offense intended, even after all these years, but her bread was bad. Real bad. Black crust, liquid center (how is that even possible?). I will sheepishly admit I might have baked a half-dozen loaves, because the weight of my family’s place in banana bread history was riding on this. Of the six, I brought the best-lookin’ one to work. It was no contest, really – mine was judged superior. I was modest and humble and said next to nothing.
    My fellow baker/staff member was incensed and being the most vocal member of the [union] department, called her rep to complain. The grounds? My “sway” with the staff (I had no sway, they hated me) gave me an unfair advantage, which was the only reason I won. The union, needing to do due diligence, phoned me for my “side”. I had so many real issues to deal with, Bananagate needed to be put to rest quickly, so I told them to just have their baker/member bring in a loaf and then, call me.
    I heard later that she did provide a loaf to them….but they never called me again.

    1. londonedit*

      Oh, this reminds me of a bake-off we had at a club I’m part of! There were three judges, including me, and the whole thing was meant to be really light-hearted and mainly an excuse for everyone to share their recipes and eat loads of cake etc. To that end, as judges we decided to implement some silly prize categories once we saw what everyone had made – so we had ‘best savoury bake’ when the joke was that only one person had turned up with anything savoury, and all three Victoria sponges were awarded prizes. Basically everyone got a prize and then we announced an overall winner just so there was a bit of actual competition. Anyway, one of the silly categories we came up with was ‘looks terrible, tastes amazing’ especially for a cake that did indeed look like it had been dropped from a great height and possibly then run over, but tasted perfectly nice. So we announced all the prizes, everyone had a laugh, the cakes were shared out, and everyone went home happy. Or so we thought, until later that day when I had a message from ‘looks terrible, tastes amazing’ completely tearing me to pieces on a very personal level because they were incensed that I’d humiliated and shamed them in front of everyone. Of course that would never have been our intention! We quietly cancelled the bake-off element of the event the following year and a group of us just provided a few cakes for people to share.

      1. Decidedly Me*

        I love that prize category! I don’t cook for appearances – not that I don’t want things to look good, but better that it tastes good than looks good in my opinion.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Yeah, I’m with the looks terrible winner (I mean, not with the ranting, but with the hurt feelings) — you really can’t do that, you have no idea if the person tried very hard to make it nice, or thought it did look nice…

        I personally would laugh and be pleased — but I’m a very good cook and I’d know if I brought something ugly but tasty.

        1. londonedit*

          Really? Everything has to be fluffy unicorns just in case we happen to hurt someone’s feelings? We’re British, that doesn’t really happen here.

          1. JB*

            I mean…if your intention is for everyone to have fun, then yeah, it’s probably worth a couple seconds of thought to avoid needlessly insulting someone. Especially if the other categories didn’t include an insult.

    2. TiffIf*

      Years ago, my company sent out an email saying “please, everyone, take some bananas from the breakroom–as many as you want.” They always had fresh fruit and other snacks in the breakroom and the general rule was don’t take more than a few things but it was Friday and a holiday weekend so no one would be in until Tuesday and the bananas were already pretty ripe. A few of my coworkers decided to take a bunch each and do an impromptu banana bread contest that the rest of the team judged on Tuesday.

  39. ChemistryChick*

    At my old job, the company would celebrate birthday months with cake and we also had potlucks for the usual holidays. Sometimes vendors would bring us fresh Krispy Kreme donuts.

    Didn’t matter what it was, everyone knew to get to the break room before the packaging department because every single person in that department would 1) overload their firsts plates with their favorites and 2) get to anything left (sometimes before others had a chance to get firsts) and package up more plates for themselves for “later.” Thing is, they wouldn’t put their plates for “later” in the normal Places You Store Food. They’d squirrel it away in random places. You might see where this is going.

    One day, we’re doing our monthly fridge/break room cleaning and I hear a shout from a co-worker. I look over and see her staring at the top shelf one of the wall-mounted cabinets where we kept plates, forks, cups, etc. She’d found one of the packaging departments’ Hidey Holes, complete with forgotten moldy cake from the previous month’s birthday celebration.

    I don’t know what, if anything, was said to anyone after that, but I do know we never found hidden food in places it didn’t belong ever again. We (thankfully) didn’t have a problem with food thieves so I never understood why they couldn’t just label their hoards and keep it where food is generally kept.

    1. PurplePeopleEater*

      I once found a stash of cookie that had been clearly leftover from some catered event, moldy, in the drawer of a credenza in the conference room. I’m almost glad to know that it wasn’t just our office!

      1. ChemistryChick*

        Oh gross. Reminds me of a non-potluck related story from the same job.

        One of our co-workers (super nice, great guy) was just not kitchen/cooking savvy at the time. I had to stop him from microwaving an uncooked, still-in-the-shell egg once. So it was no surprise when he burnt the ever-loving itshay out of some microwaveable popcorn. Stunk up the entire building including the lab, which was super impressive given the amount of ventilation the lab had.

        A different co-worker took exceptional offense to the stench and instead of just complaining amongst the rest of us, decided to take it a step further. She dug the mass of burnt popcorn out of the garbage and put it in the guy’s desk drawer (he had an office outside the lab) when no one was around. Cue everyone trying to figure out why the burnt smell was lingering so long. Took the guy a few hours (if it wasn’t the next day) to find his present.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      Co-worker was lucky she didn’t see a mouse happily chowing down! I’ve worked in places where you were NOT allowed to keep snacks in desk drawers – they had to be in the refrigerator or in a rodent-proof container – because the mice would have a feast. At least they weren’t rats…brrr. Also roaches. I’m surprised your workplace was not Roach And Ant Heaven.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Hey hey rats aren’t all that bad! ;)

        We have mice at work, and I would prefer not to worry about sharing my Emergency Desk Chocolate with other species of rodents. Strangely, I have a colleague who has befriended the Second Shift Mouse to the point that it will eat French fries out of his hand. He’s an actual buddy outside of work at this point, though I question this recent hobby of his and am not quite sure what to make of it, and at this point, I’m afraid to ask.

        My previous job had a Lab Chipmunk. I was less territorial about that little guy, as he seemed more intent on bringing in acorns than removing Desk Chocolates. Thanks for your contribution to the potluck I didn’t know we were having, I guess?

      2. ChemistryChick*

        I want to say we did have mice at one point. I think the only thing that saved us in this scenario was the fact it was a wall-mounted space and not on the floor. Snacks in desk drawers wasn’t a huge issue due to most of the staff desks being inside the lab itself, so no food allowed.

  40. I'm Fresh Cut Grass!*

    I personally always avoid office potlucks (I never bring food, I never take food). Looking forward to reading these comments though!

  41. CW*

    I don’t know if this is really an entertaining one, but my ex-boyfriend used to work for a prestigious and well-known college. One time, he and my coworkers had a potluck at an event the college was having. Everything went well, until a homeless person busted in uninvited – frazzled, hair messy, and smelled bad. Without permission and before someone could kick him out, he grabbed a plate, grabbed a huge chunk of food of every selection, and walked out the door. My ex-boyfriend eventually caught him but at that point, it was too late and the homeless person darted out the door without saying a word.

    1. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

      I have a lot more respect for the homeless food-snatcher than I do for office food hoarders/thieves. Assuming the guy was with it mentally enough to realize he shouldn’t be there (which should not be assumed), he still has the excuse of being hungry and destitute.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Yeah, I can’t really get too worked up about stealing food from a bigname institution like that.
        Like, it’s not very pleasant for the other people. But rather that than having people starve.

      2. CW*

        Agreed. To point out, if a rich person did this, then I would be upset. But this was obviously the complete opposite case.

      3. Autumnheart*

        I was waiting for the punch line to be “We thought he was a homeless guy, but it turned out to be a tenured professor.”

      1. CW*

        @Huh? – Maybe my wording was off, but I was upset when my ex-boyfriend told me. But he was, don’t know why? It was just a one-off event. I would have just shrugged.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      At least there’s a reason why a homeless person might want to help himself to a big plate of food. And that might be his only decent meal for a week.

      Well-fed executive types, otoh, can take one normal sized plate at a time, or they can face the judgment of their coworkers and AAM.

    3. hodie-hi*

      This reminds me of a non-work related banquet incident. It was at a local hotel to celebrate a winter athletic event, competitors and plus-ones only. A scruffy looking dude in dirty clothes and the filthiest ski jacket I’ve ever seen got himself a plateful and sat down at our 10-top table. He didn’t speak or look anyone in the eye, neatly inhaled the meal, then walked out the door. We all just looked at each other and shrugged.

      1. CW*

        That would have been my reaction as well. To be honest, in my state (California) there are homeless everywhere. I am not offended by such actions.

        Now, if a non-homeless uninvited guest walks in and is rude about it, then that would be a different story.

    4. Generic Name*

      My office is directly across a small pond from a retirement community. The apartments look down onto our parking lot. Every time we have an outdoor office party (usually a summer picnic/BBQ) this one gentleman from the retirement community walks over and helps himself to a plate and hangs out and eats it. He normally wears a polo and khakis, and he looks like he could be a client or “friend or family” of my company. Nobody ever tells him to scram. One of the senior managers told me he is in awe of his chutzpah, and I have to agree.

    5. Hmmm*

      The right response to this may have been to offer him a spot to sit. Or if that couldn’t be done, offer him something to carry the food with.

      Why would they want to catch him and kick him out? Was he causing mayhem?

  42. Involuntary contributor*

    During my grad school years we would have several (incredibly awkward, at least for me) potluck dinners each year at our advisor’s house where all food assignments were divvied up between the grad students and postdocs (IIRC my advisor just provided the venue and the company of his wife and kids). Whoever the current social chair was (that was an assigned lab job, just like trash autoclaver and pipette calibrator) would unilaterally assign everyone to some course/item category to bring – main course, salad, bread, dessert, non-alcoholic beverages, alcoholic beverages, etc., and once they were assigned there was no swapping allowed. I didn’t cook much then and so I felt like I was getting tortured every time I got assigned to bring in a main course, because it was harder or more expensive to buy for a big group (20-30 people including labmates’ partners and kids) on my tight budget. The kicker was the passive aggressive comments I would get from a particularly nasty labmate who prided herself in being a domestic goddess type. She suggested to me once with a a straight face that I watch Semi Homemade with Sandra Lee to get some ideas (this show has a bit of a cult following for featuring gross or culturally inappropriate recipes, among other things, so I replied to her that I was well aware of that show’s reputation and would pass, and she snickered). So glad when I defended my dissertation and got off the potluck list!

        1. What in the world?*

          There was also a Hanukkah cake that contained marshmallows… which aren’t always kosher. And no note was made to remind people of this.

          The Kwanza cake was pretty awful, too. It’s the Corn Nuts that did it for me.

      1. Pikachu*

        My guess is the Kwanzaa cake fiasco.

        I think the non-food equivalent in AAM lore might be Hanukkah balls.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Please google the Kwanzaa cake. All questions will be answered. And so, so many more will arise.

    1. Siege*

      I knew someone who did a dinner party of Semi-Homemade recipes, including the (racist as all hell) Kwanzaa cake. Everyone at the party got sick, and it wasn’t the food handling. Unfortunately it’s been years and I didn’t know them well so I don’t remember what they actually made except the cake, because that thing is legendary.

    2. Rock Prof*

      Ugh, faculty who expect their students and post-docs to be able to do this, extending time and money, is so annoying. At the very least, they should provide main dishes for everyone. I’d never make a student spend money on that type of thing.

    3. Jamie Starr*

      hahaha Sandra Lee! She dated former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo for many years and I remember there being some type of outrage when she admitted using cottage cheese in her lasagna! (Sacrilege to Italians, evidently.)

      My “favorite” Sandra Lee moment was when she made some sort of (meat?) loaf. It came out of the oven looking absolutely disgusting with juices oozing out and she said, “Look. At. That!” Yes, look at that, indeed. (I’m sure you can find it on YouTube.)

      1. Mannequin*

        My mom always used cottage cheese in place of ricotta because it was less expensive. It was delicious!

      2. JB*

        I don’t think actual Italians care; it’s not like they use ricotta cheese in their lasagnas. That’s an American addition to the recipe.

        1. Jamie Starr*

          I just looked up the “scandal” again — supposedly Sandra’s recipe also used canned tomato soup(!). The Governor’s mother thought this was disgusting and had the following to say about it:

          “You know, maybe she puts cottage cheese because he doesn’t want to put on weight. He’s watching his diet. But that’s not the way you make lasagna.”

          I agree with Mama Cuomo – cottage cheese and tomato soup is no way to make a lasagna!

    4. Artemesia*

      When I worked in an academic department no one would have imagined tasking admins and grad students with providing a main course. The profs and department chair etc would bring the expensive mains and others would fill in with salads and desserts and bread etc. A box of brownie mix is really cheap — but yummy. I used to buy a big bucket of KFC which was always a hit. One of our group would bring a honey baked ham and another liked to cook a couple of roast chickens — it was never organized but because of the unspoken rule that the higher paid members provide the meat, we always seemed to have plenty and no one was put in a position of feeding 20 people lasagne on a grad student budget.

      1. Olivia Mansfield*

        That’s how it still is in my academic department. The chair and a few profs bring the expensive main / meat dishes, the remaining professors and staff bring the sides, and the grad students don’t even need to bring anything — they’re just invited — but they usually bring a dessert or a side. I always thought the host was supposed to provide the main / meat dish, anyway.

  43. Duke of Mildew*

    Our department used to have a huge holiday potluck every year. One coworker would always bring the same thing every year, a certain stew. But it wasn’t enough that he brought it; he hyped it up. Like, he’d send emails beforehand to the whole department alerting everyone that he was bringing his stew! On the morning of the potluck, he’d let everyone know what time the stew would be arriving! And send a special email thanking everyone that helped him do his job, and the stew was his repayment. It was like he believed the entire potluck revolved around his stew. (It didn’t.)

    Thing is, I don’t think anyone actually liked the stew. I think the only people who tried it were new people to the department that hadn’t tried it before.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      That’s funny…we had the opposite at one of my old companies. One of our coworkers was a daughter of a Laotian immigrant who taught traditional cooking classes at the local community center. Her spring rolls were legendary. The daughter would always bring a large tray – enough for at least 1 per person if not 2 – of them to the annual all-company holiday potluck (300 people). You could always tell when her dish arrived – first you would hear murmurs, then a dull roar, an email would go out, and then a stampede down stairwell. Even people who usually abstained from the potluck would go down and get at least one.
      One year…she and the precious spring rolls weren’t there. We found out the mom was in a bad car accident a couple days prior and was not expected to make it so daughter was at her bedside. A collection was taken and PTO was donated (company matched all offerings) and mom sadly passed after a few more days (shortly before Christmas).
      First day the company was open after New Year’s there is a commotion at the front door. This employee and her entire family came to the main entrance with THOUSANDS of these spring rolls for the employees as a thank you for donations and financial/PTO assistance. We feasted. I happened to work in the department next to hers and for several months following, whenever she was missing her mother she made those spring rolls and brought some in to share with our floor. I left there 2 years ago but timed my last day to coincide with the annual potluck so I would have one last chance at those spring rolls.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Wasn’t expecting to sob at a “work potluck” story, but here we are. Thanks for sharing!

  44. tinybutfierce*

    I don’t have any specific stories, but several years back, I was one of a few temp/outsourced office assistants for a company in midtown Manhattan; this employer had capital-M Money and I know that the employees were taking home salaries at least four times what I made at the time (this is not an exaggeration). You have never seen so many adults LOSE THEIR MINDS as fast as when food appeared ANYWHERE on one of the four floors at this office. When we set up catering tables for meetings, which happened several times a week, the tables had to be either watched constantly or hid until the meeting began, because people would walk by and just take whatever they wanted, and even talking-to’s from their managers didn’t help. The company had lunch delivered every Friday, and while we started setting up an hour+ in advance, employees started gathering like ravenous seagulls to be first, as if there was some way the copious amounts of food would vanish before they got there.

    It was always something to finish setting up lunch and be practically shoved out of the way by someone twice my age acting worse than a child, making more money than I can imagine, just so they could be first in line for free food. Meanwhile, myself and my coworkers always brought tupperware to work on Fridays to take home leftovers, because we were genuinely broke af and not having to make a few extra meals was a genuine boon to our budgets.

    1. The Original K.*

      I used to work at a university and someone had to pull a new dean aside to tell him it was a bad look for him, who made hundreds of thousands a year, to be regularly first in line to get pizza in front of the students at events.

  45. Pikachu*

    These stories about food evaporating from a potluck within minutes are so nuts to me. My last company had potlucks about once a month, and every single time people were BEGGING others to take leftovers home with them! We had some incredible cooks who made amazing dishes but there was always too much food.

      1. Aarti*

        Yeah, while I hate potlucks, we have this problem too – everyone cooks enough to feed an army! And our staff is small! So at the end of the day everyone is packing up their leftovers.

    1. JustaTech*

      We had a catered picnic at work this summer (required by senior management) and unsurprisingly a lot of people didn’t come (yo, COVID). We had *so much* food leftover, untouched. Like, whole catering trays of mac’n’cheese and BBQ and beans. The organizer was nearly in tears trying to figure out what to do with it all, since throwing it away would be a terrible waste.

      Thankfully our brand-new facilities guy happened to volunteer at a local teen shelter and he arranged for them to come and get all of it. So some kids got fed and we learned to order way less food, no matter what the C-suite says.

      1. Artemesia*

        When we had new, commercial, untouched food for a teen event at the church or a company event, our local homeless shelter would take it to include in their evening feeding program. Like if we ordered tacos and ended up with an extra tray — they were happy to have them.

  46. EvilQueenRegina*

    Ex-manager once thought that the best way for signups, rather than have a sign up sheet that everyone could view, was to get everyone to email us what they were bringing so we could monitor it. This then meant that because people didn’t know what everyone else was bringing, lots of people were signing up for the same things, and she then had to send an email to several people because they’d all offered pork pies and she asked if anyone could bring something else. Next time one came around, I had to suggest to her that maybe it was better if we had a proper sheet somewhere.

  47. Economist*

    I used to work with a small group of food safety researchers. Our division (mostly not food safety researchers) had a holiday potluck every year. The food safety researchers would go around the conference room table and ask who make each dish. They would end up taking and eating only the bakery cupcakes that I brought in.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      Wow, I can’t imagine the pressure of contributing to a potluck among food safety researchers.

      1. Economist*

        The researchers who weren’t food safety researchers felt no obligation to satisfy the standards of the food safety researchers.

    2. NitroCat*

      When I worked with food safety researchers, there was a legendary catered event at which they noted they’d all chosen mostly the same foods from a large selection. It turned out each of them while in the food service line had held a hand close to the outside of each catering tray to gauge temperature (i.e., if the contents were safely hot or cold enough) before accepting a serving of that dish.

  48. SoMuchHair*

    One woman I worked with would always bring the most delicious cookies to our potlucks. No one would touch them except me (red flags are not apparent to me until after I look back on an offending incident) but I didn’t catch on until I found a hair while enjoying my cookie. And then another. And then another. It turns out she has a lot of cats helping her bake. I love cats; I have cats. I now don’t bake for non-family people just in case a stray cat hair would wind up in the food.

    1. CalypsoSummer*

      Was she using the cat to stir the batter? Suspending the cat over the bowl and combing it vigorously? I have cats, and I’ve had long-hair shedders who were a serious menace to the vacuum cleaner, but I have never had cat hair show up in anything I ever made.

      If, umm, forced to be absolutely accurate, there has been a time or two when a hair did show up in a loaf of bread or something, that I made, but they, umm, were mine. Ahem.

      1. Ali*

        Those cat visuals have me crying with laughter at my desk, partly because I’m imagining my very expressive cat’s face if I attempted to do so with her. XD

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        I’m literally laughing uncontrollably at my dining room table at “Was she using the cat to stir the batter?” OMG. What an image.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        I now have a mental image of my tabby sitting on the counter holding the KitchenAid with his front paws.
        My BIL stayed with us for a while after he split from his ex. He kept leaving the butter uncovered on the counter. We pointed out the obvious lick marks, and he just said that a little butter would be good for Tom’s coat. My daughter asked BIL, didn’t he know what else Tom licked? Butter was covered after that.

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      That’s just disgusting. I have two long-haired cats in a small apartment… not once have I ever found cat hair in anything I’ve cooked. Does she let her cats sit in the batter?!

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Not the greatest housekeeper and there was surely cat hair on the floor and furniture, but didn’t have cat hair in the food. If she did routinely that says something about overall conditions in her home that would discourage eating her potluck.

  49. Sati*

    At my last job, I was teaching 2-3 week employability courses. There was the main office, which I went to occasionally, and then the satellite office/classroom, which was part of a Job Centre, but on our floor it was just me, my manager, a security guard and the students. Typically students went out to lunch for a half hour at 12-ish (they finished at 2-2:30 so had a short lunch), manager and I locked the door and ate our lunch in private while reading or whatever, not sure what security guard did (he was there because a small but not insignificant number of students sometimes got violent, so when students were out to lunch he could do what he wanted).

    I didn’t think anyone knew about my birthday (which I don’t celebrate, because reasons – I don’t even tell people when it is). Unbeknownst to me, my manager looked up my birthday in my personnel file and brought me a birthday card and cake. He even bothered to get gluten-free, since at the time I thought I had celiac. Students saw that it was my birthday, and one went off to the bakery and brought back cream donuts for everyone on her own dime. We all had donuts and cake for lunch.

    And I bawled, right in front of everyone, because that was the day I realised that my manager and a class of students who would only be in my life for 2-3 weeks, students who were forced to come on the course by the government or risk losing their unemployment benefits, students who didn’t want to be there SO MUCH that we had to have a security guard in case they tried to attack us, still cared about me more than my family and friends did.

    That was an eye-opening day. I have fewer, but better, friends now. The family is still family, but I no longer expect anything from them, which makes life easier. I decided after a year or so that teaching wasn’t my thing, and am now a self-employed stitcher, but I definitely learned a lot from that job.

    1. Anonym*

      That is so wonderful! I hope Allison will consider including the happy stories, too. This one and the spring rolls one above are really heartwarming.

    2. Dino*

      As a fellow “birthday isn’t a happy day for me for Reasons” person, I’m glad you got to experience people caring for you and celebrating you.

  50. CatPerson*

    We had several independent teams on our floor (reporting to different leaders). On our team we would throw fantastic potluck tailgate parties in the fall. Lots of homemade food and plenty of it; decorations, band music, team jerseys, etc. There was another team who would always get bent out of shape when we had the party because it was for our team, not theirs’ (although anyone on the floor was free to have food through the afternoon, which we left in the large conference room for everyone). The sniping about “not being invited” got so bad that we were forced to invite the whole darned floor the next time we had one (and it was chaos for the original team, who still did all of the work). The team that did all of the sniping about being excluded didn’t bring any food to it.

  51. CupcakeCounter*

    My friend reminded me of this one a few weeks ago (I had to leave early for a meeting and missed some of the fallout).
    A much beloved coworker had just disclosed a breast cancer diagnosis and was about to start chemo. As a secret fundraiser and act of solidarity, several of her closest friends and coworkers decided to do a head shaving party in conjunction with a preplanned potluck. Several of the higher ups decided to join in a “if you get $X of donations I will shave my head”. Since this coworker, we’ll call her Shannon, and her bestie who was leading the charge (Anna) were on cross-functional teams, long time employees, and absolutely incredible at their jobs…the funds were exceeded and matched by the company.
    So day of the potluck arrives and when Shannon walks in there is a SUPRISE! We all did this thing for you and one of the people who volunteered to have to head shaved grabbed the clippers and zipped right through the top of their head letting the hair fall al over. I’m sure many of you can guess where this person was standing…right in front of the food tables. No one noticed for a few minutes but all of a sudden there was a loud “oh shit” from the first few people going through the line as they noticed chunks of hair all over the food. The only things safe to eat were in the covered crock pots and the chips/cookies still in their original unopened packaging. Such a waste.

    1. WellRed*

      When you combine anything hair related with a potluck this is what happens. Let’s be glad those folks aren’t event planners.

    2. Yessica Haircut*

      This one hurt to read! All that food going to waste: it’s like reading a story where a character you like dies at the end.

  52. Not a Name Today*

    OldWork used to order tons of food for events so they could bring out the leftovers the next day. It was all food that would still be awesome the next day like Mexican, Pasta, and BBQ. But then the leftovers were disappearing from the fridge overnight. I’m talking about dozens of catering trays of food were being taken by someone going into the office after hours.
    It got so bad that they installed a lock on the catering fridge to prevent the theft of the food.
    The lock was broken off and the fridge damaged the first night it was installed. I guess if you’re going to all that trouble to steal food, you aren’t going to let a lock stand in your way.

      1. Not a Name Today*

        They did have security footage! The catering kitchen was off a room with an outside door, so there was a camera. I’m guessing that they know who it was and didn’t want to directly confront the individual.
        And they would frequently go to the security footage for anything weird happening, so it wasn’t like it was a burden to investigate.

    1. TiffIf*


      Do they not have security/surveillance? Log of who access the building when? Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to find the culprit before installing a lock? And even if no one wanted to find the culprit before installing the lock, once you break the lock and damage the fridge, that’s property damage. That was an amazingly lax workplace.

  53. Tisiphone*

    Several years ago I had a coworker who ate like a starving lumberjack and his superpower was “Detect Food”. He worked days, but often he stayed a few hours late when he knew there would be free food.

    One afternoon I arrived to begin my night shift to find that they’d ordered Chinese food for the day shift. Unsurprisingly, there were no leftovers. My email had the usual notification and another one just for us night shifters that at 7pm we’d also be getting Chinese food brought in. Oh good, not pizza for once!

    Our starving lumberjack was done for the day long before 7. Around 6:30 I spotted him heading toward the conference room where the food was going to be served.

    I didn’t wait for the email, if this guy was heading to the conference room, the food was being set up. When I got there, it was, with large portions already taken. For the number of night shifters, it seemed like an inadeuqate amount, more of a snack than a meal. I was glad I had a backup dinner I brought from home.

    Later on, I heard from a coworker who was behind Mr. Lumberjack. (This wasn’t just going back for seconds, he works days and probably got plenty then, too.) He loaded his plate with the only entree left and joked, “I hope there’s enough left for you,” and took half of the entire container, not just half of what was left. The coworker barely got anything. A good number of second shifters got nothing at all – just white rice was left.

  54. fiona the baby hippo*

    This isn’t potluck-related but it is food-related. I worked at a media company and almost everyone who worked on the editorial side would just get massive amounts of free stuff, almost all of it unsolicited. There was a ‘free table’ where you could unload things, and food-related stuff would often go fast because we were all broke 20-somethings. Once, though, a coworker got an entire box of literally EVERY kind of Peeps that was released that season. Like imagine a moving box full of JUST marshmallows. Things could get pretty competitive for free food but people generally were good about taking just their share, even if they might power walk/straight out run to grab it. Except for this cursed box of Peeps. My coworker who opened the box immediately said, “ew peeps, I don’t want these!” and before anyone could make a move or she could take them to the free table, a senior editor covering for my boss out on leave grabbed the ENTIRE BOX, didn’t even give anyone around a second to grab some, then kept it under her desk and LOUDLY ATE PEEPS FOR BREAKFAST for weeks. I had no idea how noisy Peeps could be until I had to hear a grown woman chew them audibly next to me. (it was a cool media start-up, of COURSE we were all sitting jammed up next to each other). I still shudder when I see Peeps.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        You can eat anything loudly. Just say “OMNOMNOMNOMNOM” between bites! Alternatively, dinosaur noises work too.

        Source: my five-year-old cousin.

    1. Owler*

      Roasting Peeps over a campfire is the best. I highly recommend bringing them if you ever make s’mores with kids. (Do tell everyone how hot the sugar on the outside gets, so let them cool.)

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        I have a buddy who loads up on Peeps and lets them sit out for a week or 2 so they harden up. He LOVES Peeps. Easiest person to shop for. Ever.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I have been known to have a pumpkin cookie for breakfast, but I just can’t picture eating peeps at that point in the day. Not unless the day is Easter, at any rate.

    3. Yessica Haircut*

      Eating Peeps for breakfast EVERY DAY for weeks is mind boggling. I thought I had an unusually sharp sweet tooth for an adult, but even I wouldn’t have the stomach for it. I would honestly feel like crap every day having that kind of sugar hit first thing, and I feel like the late morning sugar slump would be brutal.

  55. CaviaPorcellus*

    My own story isn’t actually fun (I was the only Jewish person in the room and the coworker who organized the lunch led us all in a prayer that started with “Father God and his beloved son Jesus” – in a government agency, no less).

    I guess my husband’s story isn’t fun either, since it ended in mass food poisoning. But it IS pretty funny that his office was so cheap that they literally served deep-frozen and then thawed Thanksgiving leftovers in March.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      When I was at a county health department, we had a county-wide ‘Holiday Dinner’… except they made everyone participate in a prayer to eat. No one else seemed as horrified as I was and seemed to think it was totally okay and normal.

    2. Zona the Great*

      I’m not a Christian but I do t think I’ve ever heard anyone pray to Father God and His Son Jesus in my life.

      1. Ali*

        I AM a Christian, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone pray to “Father God and his beloved son Jesus” in my life.

        1. Editor*

          Alas, I have lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line and in that particular rural area, not only did the PTA meeting begin with a prayer to “Father God” often, depending on which pastor was in the rota, but one of the Lutheran ministers would make his prayer into a lecture about the nature of the Triune God. The “prayers” from some of these ministers lasted a good five minutes or more. I was astounded — I grew up in a northeastern state as a Mainline Protestant, but in my liberal, rural community public prayers were to an unspecified “Lord” and were only a few sentences long — they did not incorporate little sermons. While we lived down there, I don’t think I ever went to a public event that did not open with some aggressively evangelical-style prayer.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Re month’s old leftovers at a potluck — I’d be surprised if it DIDN’T result in food poisoning.

      And about your coworker who opened lunch with a specifically Christian prayer — Am I a bad person for wishing that she alone had been sick after that lunch???

    4. quill*

      And here I thought the story of Swanson’s excess turkeys, after wandering the country on a refrigerated train for months, ending up as the first TV dinners was bad. At least those had never yet been thawed!

  56. Msspel*

    Some years ago I was working at a nonprofit that held an annual Thanksgiving potluck. It was great – the company provided the turkey and we all brought in sides and desserts, and there was always a ton of delicious food. Well, one year I was in line behind a coworker, Jane, who was serving herself turkey and gravy when she lost her grip and somehow, I’m not sure how, caused a plume of gravy to rocket up to the ceiling and then arc inexorably down onto the President of the organization. It was probably his first week on the job, he was extremely cool about it. Jane nearly died of embarrassment, however.

    There was still a gravy stain on that ceiling when the nonprofit relocated a few years later.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Having been in the nonprofit world, I’m not surprised that the gravy stain was there for years afterwards…

  57. Anon for this*

    Years ago, we had a bigger staff and a lot of students working for us. The potluck we did was set up in a conference room that had these two big tables. People brought in various dishes and we also had a couple of pizzas to round everything out. In preparation for the potluck, we pulled the chairs to the edges of the rooms with the idea that people would help themselves to the buffet and then sit in the chairs to eat.

    We didn’t factor in the one secretary who ruled the library like Dolores Umbridge. She came into conference room, fixed her eye on one of the students and told him to make her a plate, shouting out loudly, directives like “No, not that. I want THAT” and “You can skip that it; it looks gross.” Then she ordered another student to pull out a chair and put it directly in front of the pizza box.

  58. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

    Honestly though, after reading through dozens of stories of food hoarding… I kind of wonder wtf is wrong with the US that we have a level of food scarcity that makes people hoard food from the office…

    (I know not all commenters are in the US, but I think a large percentage of these stories are probably from the US & UK)

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      There might be some food scarcity issues, but most of this is plain old gluttony. The ones hoarding food probably aren’t suffering malnutrition in any way. IMO, the US has more of a problem with a healthy mindset toward food. Our portion sizes are ridiculous.

      1. fposte*

        As noted above, I think the situation breeds a scarcity mentality even in those with plenty–it’s not simply gluttony. I don’t do anything weird with office food, but I definitely suddenly feel a strange desperation about access to it that has nothing to do with my general food situation.

        But now I’m curious if this happens in countries other than the US and UK.

        1. quill*

          Personally I think it comes from the fact that whenever ANYTHING is scarce (a one day event, some sort of fast food item that’s there for a limited time) people loose their sense of proportion. Combined with people who think “their fair share” is all they can eat of their specific favorites, we get potluck gluttons, who reinforce the scarcity mentality for everyone else, creating a vicious cycle.

        2. marvin the paranoid android*

          In my anecdotal Canadian experience, I’ve never seen anything like this. If anything, everyone at every office I’ve worked at has been excessively polite and will leave the last muffin to wilt and die on the tray rather than claim it. I’ve never heard of an office food thief either, outside of this site. I imagine that US offices are lawless places in general, with bands of desperados roaming the halls.

        3. Ben*

          Australian here – some of the behavior described here definitely sounded familiar. I think it’s a western world thing, or at any rate a non-Europe western world thing.

          There’s something about free food – or free access to anything we’d normally have to pay for – that makes most of us a little crazy. Not just scarcity mentality, but the bargain mentality we have now.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Yup, people lose their damn minds over stuff that’s free. Having worked a lot of events, I can testify that people will do almost anything for either free food or a free t-shirt.

        4. MM*

          I think it’s sort of an inside out Tragedy of the Commons. To explain:

          1) The Tragedy of the Commons is the notion that if something is just freely or communally available, each individual will take as much as they can and the resource itself will be destroyed. This is supposedly a demonstration of each individual’s rational self-interest and shows why such individual interests need to be limited or regulated–not by norms, laws, or anything else, but by price and cost. This is taught as “true” in some politics and economics courses. It is made up out of whole cloth, and reflects intense market and individualistic ideology. (Also the writer was a big eco-racist Malthusian, but that’s a whole other can of worms–apologies to worms.)

          2) In most scenarios where people actually do live on/with communal resources, what is in their rational self-interest is to cooperate to preserve the resource. (That is: their rational self-interest is in behaving communally rather than individualistically.) So there will be some kind of sociocultural mechanism that works to regulate behavior around this, some of which will be explicit resource management (e.g., timesharing water sources in the Arabian Peninsula), some of which will be much more about social norms and behavior (e.g., if you fail to make the water you have freely available to your guests and those passing by your home, you will be socially punished for this). The irresponsible behavior around the resource will not be compatible with a successful life in the community.

          3) So now here we are in highly individualistic and market-driven societies where as few things as possible are communal and the ones that are are being chipped away at (the drive to privatize the NHS in the UK, for example). Everybody has been trained to think in these individual terms. Scarcity is a genuine fact of life even though much of it is artificial or unnecessary–I don’t mean that everyone is food insecure, but that we all understand implicitly that you get what you pay for yourself, and if there’s no more of whatever it is you don’t get any. You cannot assume that someone will have saved you a cupcake if you don’t get there quickly. This may not kill you, just like “missing out” on some limited edition luxury good won’t kill you, or paying for a copy of something that has zero marginal cost to reproduce like an ebook won’t kill you. But all of these are artificial scarcities to which we are generally supposed to respond individually. Having that as the baseline assumption is something we should treat as a culturally and historically specific, because it is.

          4) Into this situation, introduce “free stuff” that is not a structured part of any kind of community life–that is, is not part of the system of how you survive and maintain yourself in your social unit. Between the formal structures of the workplace and the disconnection of the potluck from said structures (except for one incredible case in these comments, generally nobody is losing their job or getting promoted based on potluck behavior), the stuff is “free” not just in that it’s not to be paid for but in that it’s like….socially free-floating.

          5) Most people still default to that communal and normatively governed behavior, which is why we’re all sitting here discussing others’ bad manners and poor behavior–we do, even in this scenario where the resource management has little bearing on our survival, default to that same attempt at regulation. But anybody who is oblivious or just capable of brazening it out? Nothing will really happen to them. So here is where you actually can make something like the Tragedy of the Commons real. If a few people decide to port their scarcity-driven, individualistic behavior into a communal scenario then, yeah, the “pasture” will be “overgrazed” and nobody’s “sheep” will survive. But for the opposite reasons that the (extremely racist) guy who wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons” thought.

          1. JB*

            Thank you for pointing out that the “Tragedy of the Commons” is entirely invented.

            I had an econ teacher who taught it uncritically when I was getting my degree. Our college was in New England. Where nearly every town is centered around a commons (or a green, etc.) because that was how most communities managed livestock for a long time! I wanted to ask him why our college was sat next to a commons if they were so very ineffective as a communal resource.

            1. Emma*

              Lol, economists. As a student I did a module on legal sociology – basically studying law from the perspective of how it actually functions as a part of people’s regular lives, rather than the narrow formalistic approach of law as a discipline. One week of the module was about using this approach to look at economics, instead.

              I read this enormous, very recent economics paper which proposed the daring and unorthodox notion that sometimes people make decisions which are not based on self-interest. The authors went to great pains to acknowledge that this was a radical idea that flew in the face of all economics as we know it. But, they pointed out, there were all these weird inexplicable situations that kept popping up in the real world that economics just couldn’t explain! I remember one example was of rural communities where farmers put produce on the side of the road with an honesty box for people to buy the produce. Despite the fact that there was never anybody around and no risk of facing social punishment for stealing produce, nobody ever did!! How can we possibly explain this bizarre and irrational behavior???

              I discussed this with the tutor, who confirmed that this paper was, indeed, at the forefront of a brand new, radical and progressive school of economic thought, and I have not been able to take economists seriously since.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I don’t want to dismiss the idea that food scarcity is real; there are in fact way too many people who don’t have enough to eat at home. But a lot of these food hoarders do not suffer from food scarcity; not everything is the result of trauma or poverty — some people are just greedy.

      1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        I hate to be extremely Pollyanna-ish — and you’re right, not everything is the result of trauma or poverty — but I disagree that some people are “just greedy”. Their parents or their siblings or their circumstances — something or someone — taught them that, they weren’t just born that way. Which is why I ask, wtf is wrong with the US? (The answer is: a lot.)

        1. Anonym*

          I don’t know if it’s all cultural issues, trauma or greed. I’m in my mid thirties and am just conquering my “OMG yes free food I can save on groceries this week!” impulses, which I think are just from not having much money and being frugal in young adulthood. And when I say conquering them, I mean feeling them but reminding myself that free =/= I need it.

          But pre-pandemic, more than a few of us would keep an eye on catered meetings and grab a few things post meeting just before the catering team came to dispose of the leftovers. They were very sweet and would also sometimes stop by our desks on the way back to offer stuff, especially if it was good/substantial.

          1. Chris too*

            One thing – some industries have a group of employees doing heavy physical labour while others are sitting at desks, but they might all come together in the break room. You have to look at what a person is actually doing with their day, and how many calories they’re burning through, before you judge who’s being piggy and who’s not.

        2. Spicy Tuna*

          My husband’s business partner came from a large family. I once dropped by their office with a pizza for them for lunch. Hubby was in the bathroom. Business partner was multi-tasking and clearly very busy. Without even looking away from his computer screen, he opened the pizza box, folded up the entire pizza and ate the whole thing in about 4 bites. It was totally gone by the time hubby exited the bathroom. Business partner was almost in a trance while doing this and when hubby exited the bathroom and said, “WTAF”, business partner looked very sheepish and said that growing up in his house, if he wasn’t aggressive around food, he wouldn’t get to eat. He wasn’t thinking because he was distracted by work and reverted right back to his childhood eating habits

        3. KellyKoo*

          When I was about ten years old, I went on a cross-country road trip with my aunt and uncle. My family was low-income at the time–not poverty-stricken, but the kind of folks who bought dented soup cans from the discount store.
          The first night of my road trip found us staying at a Motel 6. The minute we walked in the room, I immediately went to the bathroom and gathered all the towels, hand towels and washcloths and stuffed them into my bag. My aunt came over, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, “Let’s use these and save them for the next person, okay?”
          I was really mortified. I thought that ALL people did that, and it wasn’t until then that I realized I had been raised in a house of horrors. My aunt and uncle told that story for years, and my mom was always furious when they did because of how it made her look.
          If you don’t like being held accountable for your poor decisions, MAKE DIFFERENT CHOICES.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      From the stories I’ve read of people actually experiencing food scarcity living off of food provided in the office, they tend to try and be incredibly subtle about it and don’t want to bring attention to the food they’re taking. (For example, the “I don’t want my co-workers to know I’m living off cupcakes from the employee kitchen” letter.) The people being so brazen about taking food are almost certainly not actually experiencing hardship and are just thoughtless jerks. (Think of how many letters there have been along the lines of “My boss is stealing my lunch”.)

      I’m not disagreeing with you about the US and food scarcity though, that sadly is a real problem.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes, I’ve experienced food scarcity and was very quiet about taking extra food from work. You typically a) don’t want the shame, and even moreso b) don’t want someone to notice and tell you to stop.

        It’s a real problem but not quite the social phenomenon we’re seeing in most of these posts.

      2. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        You’re right. As Man Behind The Curtain said above, the probably is perhaps more about one’s relationship to food than it is about experiencing food scarcity. (Remember “a handful of almonds”? Of all the types of food to request, why that? I wonder if that manager was on a seriously bad diet and was starving all the time — ergo, bad relationship with food — and still was looking for the smallest and most meager meal possible, in this case a handful of snack nuts.)

        As you said, people experiencing actual poverty / food scarcity / etc are understandably very ashamed about it and want to keep it on the dl as much as possible. (To be clear — ashamed because our society tells them to be ashamed, not because it’s inherently shameful.) I’m just generally really angry about the US — and the entire world — having enough wealth and food to feed everyone, and yet poverty and hunger are still very present and real. So yeah. I know it’s not *all* food scarcity but it really infuriates me that we still live this way in the 21st century.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s almost inevitably the people earning the most who are bowling the interns out of the way as they charge the buffet with a pile of tupperware. The senior veeps who take seven servings of lasagna. People who are actually food insecure are careful not to let on, lest their veneer of having it together at work take a hit that could make them more food insecure.

      I think it’s the free aspect–it hits some latent feast-or-starve circuitry in some people’s brains. Normal people have learned to override this because we have to interact with each other, but the most powerful people at the company don’t have that brake.

      1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        Yeah. People are OBSESSED with free things, especially here in the US. To be honest I’m not completely immune to this — one time my colleague & I were at a recruiting event and I walked around to a lot of the other companies’ tables to nab their free swag. I had no interest in talking to them, I didn’t need to be recruited, I just wanted the free things! Still, I’d be interested to know if anyone knows the psychology / if there’s been research behind why we’re obsessed with free stuff lol.

        1. Pennyworth*

          Free food triggers some weird urge in me. Normally at work I eat a small lunch and am not at all hungry, but put out free stuff and I have to remind myself to take only a reasonable amount and if I know there are leftovers I keep thinking about them when I am back at my desk.

    5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      For what it’s worth, I’ve never encountered a work potluck in the UK (an equivalent event would always, always be catered even if takeaway pizza or supermarket sandwiches).

      I’m sure there will be UK stories relating to Free Food F–kwittery more generally, but I think the potluck-specific issues will nearly all be US.

      1. workswitholdstuff*

        You mean you’ve never had a ‘fuddle’ (Midlands term I think?)

        I’ve had them loads in various contexts – but I’ve not really seen any particular bad behaviour at any of the ones I’ve been too.

        Maybe I’ve just been lucky!

        1. pandop*

          You are the first person outside of West Yorkshire that I have heard use that term! We always have a fuddle in the office.

    6. Cambridge Comma*

      There are epigenetic changes down the generations when people starve. I met a woman at a buffet who attributed a lot of antisocial buffet behaviour to this, especially her own.

    7. Generic Name*

      My granny was a girl during the Great Depression. She didn’t talk about it basically ever, but I’m sure food was scarce/nonexistent at times. I have a deep-seated aversion to wasting food, and I think it’s generational trauma from the Great Depression. I think a lot of people in the US are: currently food-insecure, grew up food-insecure, or have generational trauma from an ancestor’s food-insecurity. But also, there are just a lot of selfish assholes.

  59. __ID__*

    My favorite was the snotty co-worker who was straight out of “Mean Girls”. She made it known that she was having a Christmas party and that only “some” people from work were invited. Sadly (!) I did not make the cut, as I was too low in the pecking order for her notice.

    Our Office Christmas party was the day before her party, and it was quite elegant, with lots of tasty hors d’oeuvres. Her Majesty sailed into the room before the end of the Office Christmas party with to-go containers and began to load them up with the company-provided treats. No one said anything because they were shocked, but she looked around the room and said “oh, these are for my party tomorrow night.”

    That sound you hear is Emily post rolling in her grave.

    1. Funbud*

      This reminds me of a long ago job I had at a small, very old-fashioned company. It was an odd place, run like an old-time factory (even though we were not in the manufacturing business). For instance, your whole dept went to lunch at the same time and ate together in the cafeteria. Every day. The CEO gave a speech the year before I started, thanking his workforce (who were more than 50% female) but stating that “women should really be spending their time in the home.”! And this was in the 1980s.

      I worked in a small department that was linked to two other departments. In one of them was a classic blonde “Mean Girl”. She was a member of a prominent local family who owned a large landscaping business and some other ventures. I was not from the area, but many of the younger employees were locals and it became apparent this girl had essentially re-created her high school social set up in the office. She had her little group of acolytes and they all spent time making everyone else miserable. It was one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen in a workplace. Details are a bit fuzzy now, but I think her mother or aunt was an executive at the company and this gave her cover for her actions. To the older employees she was condescendingly nice, but the younger ones went in fear and trembling of her and her group. The company still exists and I’ve often wondered if 1) she is still there and probably a VP by now and 2) what the atmospher is like there today.

      1. Autumnheart*

        That’s what I was thinking! She’s trying to make it an “exclusive” event only for the cool kids, and she’s serving yesterday’s spring rolls from the office party? Wtf. I always serve reheated leftovers to people I’m trying to impress. /s

  60. I Herd the Cats*

    Not precisely potluck, but food related — we had a suite on a floor with several other small companies. There were probably 70 people total on our floor. There was a large conference room (used by everyone) down the hall in the common area, with a reception area outside where we put the catered food/beverages for those events (conferences, training sessions, board meetings, etc). And we had a LOT of events. One of my tasks on those days was to make sure that I or someone else was parked over there to prevent total strangers from eating the food — food that was clearly there for an event in the conference room, an event they had nothing to do with! Hosted by a company they didn’t work for! It … blew my mind that people saw food set out like that and felt they could just go help themselves.

    1. Artemesia*

      At the university if food were set up outside an event, if there was not a guard, random students would wander by and eat it.

      My photo school had an annual event when a new photo exhibit went up and a cake competition with the winner receiving a scholarship for a photo class. I made a wonderful mojito cake one year — very fancy looking (but alas didn’t win — some ice box cookie did). The cakes were all out on display and were to be eaten after the judging — but some rando wandered up and took a big knife and carved a piece out of my pristine and lovely cake. Some people truly have no sense — or a very big sense of entitlement.

  61. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    A branch of my company decided to do something nice for its employees and have a Thanksgiving potluck. The workers brought all the sides, but the company sprang for sliced turkey breast. Almost everyone ate the turkey, while remarking that it was awfully pink. Within hours, every bathroom in the building was occupied, and they had to shut down for a couple of days due to the mass poisoning of their employees.

      1. WellRed*

        Also I love companies that want to do something for employees and then assign those employees extra work plus expenses.

      2. Lizy*

        To be fair, I’ve ate some pretty awesome poultry that was pink. But… it was smoked, so the pink was a smoke ring. And when served, we made sure to tell others it was pink because of the smoke ring.

        But fried turkey is definitely the best.

      3. JustaTech*

        We had a summer grilled lunch at work one time and for some reason the grilling was done by coworkers (rather than hiring a caterer). After they’d started cooking, but before we were supposed to eat it started raining, so everyone rushed all the food inside. Thankfully one of my coworkers cut into her chicken leg immediately, and realized that it was still raw. So everything got microwaved and after that the event committee insisted that we have an actual cook.

          1. JB*

            Their other two options were to eat raw chicken or to not have chicken at all. Which option would you prefer, as a chicken purist?

  62. Gracely*

    A holiday choir I used to sing in would have a potluck meal between our matinee and evening performances. This usually goes really well with a nice variety of foods. Except one year, someone new brought some appetizer that had shrimp or crab in it. Not a bad thing to bring, normally, but our choir director has a deathly allergy to shellfish–even smelling it can cause a reaction, as we all learned.

    He ended up being okay in time for the final performance since he didn’t actually swallow any of it.

    They still do the potluck, but now everyone has to say what they’re bringing ahead of time, and the choir members organizing it warn everyone not to bring anything with shellfish.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I went to a potluck where everyone had to list the ingredients in their dish on a card beside it, which was really helpful.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yep – I do this for every dish I make, except the fruit salads (only cut up fruit of obvious types, no sauces or sugar).

      2. FloatingGravy*

        Definitely. Our chili cookoff had that as a rule. And it was near impossible to keep up with an office that collectively ate gluten-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, keto, kosher, halal, diabetic-friendly, zero-dairy, fish allergies, shellfish allergies, and peanut allergies. The one time I managed cookies that checked all the boxes, everyone hated them. We tried to be considerate with what we brought in normally, but all bets were off for chili.

  63. TouchNotThisDog*

    We had a blind woman on our team. Packing up after meetings usually took her longer than anyone else because she had more gear and had to go carefully. On days when there was food after meetings, the horde would rush out of the meeting room and into the food room, leaving bags and chairs all over the place. By the time our blind colleague arrived, they’d generally finished all the food. This was at a nonprofit whose ostensible message was all about decency and increasing access to minorities. Just, apparently, not disabled ones who inconveniently wanted jobs. Management were as bad as the team.

    1. Artemesia*

      A less ugly but still ugly event. At a big professional conference of those in the altruism and civic engagement business, the evening was capped by a lovely buffet of mini desserts. The first people in the line heaped their plates high and so 300 people got massive plates filled with little desserts and 300 people got none. It hadn’t occurred to those at the head of the line in the ‘consideration for others ‘ profession that the supply was finite. It is too bad the organizers didn’t announce ‘please enjoy 3 of the mini desserts so that everyone gets to participate’. but it was mystifying to me that these well compensated, well fed, people supposedly committed to social justice would gom down ALL the goodies leaving none for others.

  64. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I am and work with odd people; every dept. potluck or birthday celebration the whole group (me included) stand back and look at the spread eating almost nothing. Someone has to pass a slice of cake at us to get us to take one. A bag of tortilla chips can last a week on the breakroom table. It might be group think — not wanting to be the first (or only) taker, plus most of us are over age 40 and have various dietary needs (diabetes, high cholesterol, vegetarian, marathon runner, observant jewish, counting points on WW…) The most successful thing I’ve ever brought to a potluck was a bowl of plain fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries) — no sugar or cream added, just cleaned, stemmed and sliced if necessary.

    1. TimesChange*

      At our potlucks, it’s definitely best to make something “ready to eat.” If it needs to be opened, open it. If it needs to be scooped, put a spoon in it. If it needs to be cut, cut at least a few pieces.

      1. GlowCloud*

        I’m British. It seems to be a cultural ‘rule’ to never open or visibly be the first to take a slice out of something, so everyone will awkwardly hover, looking at the office buffet until someone takes the initiative to declare it open. If you bring a non-bitesized type of food to serve (like traybake), you should actively cut it & dish it out to people to prevent awkwardness.

        I think the only criterion for passing our citizenship test should be to present a packet of biscuits with only one biscuit left in it – No true Brit will take the last portion of anything proffered. That biscuit will be left to go stale rather than anyone take the last bite.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      A friend used to do a social potluck over the summers. I always brought fruit salad: peaches, strawberries, blueberries as a base, then variants – just those 3, or +melon, +pineapple, +kiwi. Never had leftovers, and kept having to increase how much I made each year.

  65. urguncle*

    My first job out of college I had to work Thanksgiving, so we had a little Thanksgiving potluck. I brought mashed garlic redskin potatoes. I was behind a coworker who asked if the potatoes had bacon in them. I proudly answered no, they are vegetarian. She threw my serving spoon back into the bowl as if I said I’d pissed in them while audibly gagging. Uhhh, thanks I guess?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I had a coworker who said she was vegetarian, and one year I brought a tamale stuffing for a Thanksgiving potluck, so I was running it by her – I said oh, I’ll use vegetarian tamales and vegetable broth instead of chicken. And she said “oh, chicken broth is fine, I just can’t eat chunks of meat” ….

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I mean, I’m not a vegetarian and I don’t tell people how to do vegetarian, but . . . [whispers] that’s not vegetarian.

        I wouldn’t have said it to her, but OK. I would still have used vegetable broth so any other vegetarians could still eat them.

        1. The Dogman*

          I have a vegetarian friend who won’t turn down things like that as the animal is already dead and prepared and the waste is worse than the process. She would never buy dead animals but she will eat a soup etc with a meat base. Another reason is she wants to be easy to get along with and be able to go to restaurants easily too.

          1. anonymo (cuz no-name-o)*

            Yep, this. There are many reasons for and ways of being vegetarian. It’s not a unitary movement, and while people who call themselves vegetarian tend to follow some similar “rules,” they will often tell you if they know they do something a little different

          2. Annony*

            I know several like that. They won’t buy chicken broth or use it themselves, but if broth is the only thing that makes a dish not vegetarian they will eat it.

          3. something*

            Ahh, flexitarianism. When I lived in a country where vegetarianism was rare, that’s basically how I did things, too.

          4. ...*

            I’m kind of the same way. I will not buy meat at a store, but if someone is preparing to throw away meat products, I would much rather eat it (or preferably feed to my dogs) than see it go to waste and think the animal died for nothing.

          5. quill*

            I mean, the family vegetarians are similar. They’re not about to interrogate if there’s anchovy paste in a restauraunt’s tomato sauce or what the mushroom stoup stock is made of. They simply are trying to not contribute where possible to the buying and farming of meat.

            Everyone’s level of meat avoidance in vegetarian, vegetarian with plausible deniability, or not really vegetarian but avoiding meat diets is different.

            1. Quoth the Raven*

              Aye. I’ve always avoided eating the animal proper, by preference. Now that I have absurdly high levels of uric acid even when I ate beef or pork once or twice a month and a family history of gout, I need to avoid certain foods health reasons. However, by-products such as chicken stock or dairy are okay with me because seriously, if I avoided that, I would find it really hard to find something to eat at all if I’m out, and I’d make it extremely difficult for my family to eat at home.

        2. Frank Doyle*

          Eh, people can eat what they want. It’s probably just easier to tell people you’re a vegetarian if you MOSTLY eat vegetarian.

          1. Plant*

            Yeah, life is way simpler if you are a vegetarian who can tolerate things like fish sauce or rennet. (Chicken broth tastes gross to me now, so I do my best to avoid that, but same idea.)

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            I eat mostly vegetarian at home because it keeps longer and is both cheaper and better for the environment, but I’m happy to go out to a steakhouse. I refer to myself as a “social carnivore.”

            1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

              That’s a good one! I normally call myself an ‘accidental vegetarian’ because I don’t like cooking meat at home (I feel like the smell lingers and isn’t pleasant – yes I’ve looked into improving airflow but it would be a pretty major renovation) so I’ll sometimes go weeks without eating it.

              1. Third or Nothing!*

                I am allergic to dairy and eggs and usually order vegan dishes at restaurants because it’s the simplest way to ensure I avoid my allergens, so I often jokingly refer to myself as an accidental vegan.

            2. Emily*

              This is how I am! I usually think of myself as a veggie-heavy omnivore, or maybe an omnivore masquerading as a vegetarian, but I like your framing too. At least for the time being, I’m happy to get maybe 90% of the benefits of vegetarianism (mostly environmental/ethical concerns on my end) without actually committing to a meat-free diet.

          3. whomever*

            Along the same lines, I once told a Vegan that some cookies I’d made were Vegan…because I completely forgot that honey wasn’t vegan. I was really embarrassed but he was fine with it, honest mistake etc.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Well, and that depends on the vegan in question — the ones I know do eat honey. It’s a whole big contentious thing in some circles. But it would never have occurred to me that it wasn’t considered vegan by everyone until I knew a few.

              1. Em*

                I think it was the Simpsons that had someone proudly proclaim that he was a “level 5 vegan [who doesn’t] eat anything that has a shadow.” Obviously an extreme version, but it’s a good reminder to me that there’s a wide range and, if I’m cooking for someone whose dietary needs I don’t know very well already, it’s polite to give them an ingredient list.

                (When I cook for potlucks, I print off an ingredient list and put it with the food. I figure it makes life easier for people.)

                1. Epsilon Delta*

                  My soulmate. I am the only one who labels my food at a potluck. It blows my mind that no one else does it.

            2. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

              On the opposite side of that I used to bring homemade marshmallows to the office fairly frequently, especially in the winter (easy to do lots of different flavors and because of the way they melt they’re amazing in coffee or hot chocolate). I had little cards that would say what the item was, if it contained any common allergens (peanuts or tree nuts mostly, especially if it wasn’t obvious like using almond flour in cookies), or if it was vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc. For marshmallows I had to specifically make cards that said “NOT vegetarian/vegan” because I had people assume they were even though I didn’t put out the cards. When they asked what was in them I told them gelatin, and then if they were confused I would ask if they actually wanted to know where it came from or if they just wanted to know it was an animal product. Similar thing when someone asked why a commercial good wasn’t marked vegetarian but didn’t see anything in the ingredients to suggest otherwise – “natural” flavor or color can contain animal products (mixed bag on “artificial” but that generally means chemical/man-made).

          4. Waiting on the bus*

            A friend of mine has a bunch of food intolerances, raging from mildly annoying to painful diarrhea for the next few hours. Most of them are for animal products like anything cow milk related, eggs, etc. She can get some goat or sheep cheeses and honey is hit and miss, but anything else is off the table. Expect for meat, which she can eat without any problems whatsoever.

            But with casual acquaintances or when she has to RSVP any food restrictions she always puts down vegan for herself because it’s much easier than to explain what’s actually going to make her suffer and less chance for people to mess something up.

            Saying you’re vegan or vegetarian is often just easier than to go into lenghty explanations. I also know some pescetarians who will say they’re vegetarian just because people don’t often know the term pescetarian and saying you’re a vegetarian who eats fish can lead to unwanted debates.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Ha! I guess one could argue that everyone eats vegan; most people just eat other things in addition.

        3. hamsterpants*

          There are many definitions of vegetarian used by different communities. There is no one universal definition! I fully support people using whatever definition suits themselves and just asking for clarification if I really need it.

      2. Reba*

        To be fair to her, many people are much less thoughtful and accommodating than you were! (I can’t count the number of times I’ve had sort of the inverse situation — “is it ok, I used chicken broth but there’s no real meat!” or even, “is it ok, it’s just chicken, no beef!” like…chicken is not a vegetable, people.)

        So speaking as a vegetarian, a lot of us develop a certain flexibility or sense of “close enough” because it can make social food experiences easier/possible. It’s up to each person of course, but imo that doesn’t make her less of a vegetarian.

        Anyway, can you say more about this tamale stuffing? :D Sounds amazing.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I try really hard to accommodate dietary restrictions wherever I can; I have a close friend who’s vegan and I’ve learned all sorts of tricks for her. I want people to be able to eat my food so they can tell me how awesome I am ;)

          I don’t remember anymore if I adapted this recipe or where I got it from, but here ya go – adjust spice levels to taste.

          Tamale Cornbread Stuffing
          2 tbsp butter
          1/2 medium onion, diced
          2 cloves minced garlic
          4 cups crumbled cornbread (half of baked 10″ skillet)
          ground cumin
          Dried sage
          3 jalapeño, seeded and diced
          1 cup corn kernels
          4 oz shredded jack or Mexican cheese
          6 tamales, chopped into chunks (any kind)
          2 cups broth

          Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease baking dish.

          Melt butter and saute onion, garlic and jalapeño with seasoning (s&p to taste, I add adobe too) until softened. Transfer to large bowl, stir in cornbread, corn and cheese until well combined. Gently stir in chopped tamales and place in baking dish.

          Pour broth over top and stir gently once more. I put a bit more cheese on top :) Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake additional 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Frozen – from Trader Joe’s (obviously I heated them through first and let them cool a bit). But I really think you could use any kind.

            1. I Herd the Cats*

              No, but in the original comment above referencing this recipe, the poster mentioned making it for a vegetarian coworker by not using chicken broth. I think the reference in THIS comment mentioning a vegan friend is a different friend/context. And it’s true, when my daughter became vegan I learned all sorts of interesting substitutions.

              1. ThatGirl*

                Yes, the stuffing was not intended to be vegan, my vegan friend and my “vegetarian” former coworker are two different people. Sorry if that was confusing.

          1. Hannahnannah*

            Thanks for the recipe! I was secretly drooling when you initially mentioned it up-thread. I am going to make it gluten free for myself for Thanksgiving!

        2. Ace in the Hole (LW)*

          Agreed. Also, if I tell people “I’m vegetarian” they’re more likely to give me food I can eat than if I tell them “I avoid all animal products except shellfish, humanely raised/slaughtered meat from local farmers, and things that are waste byproducts of other industries, oh and I limit meat consumption to special occasions.”

          Saying I’m a vegetarian isn’t technically correct (anymore – I used to be). But I eat vegetarian 99% of the time anyways and I’d much rather be served vegetarian food than a hot dog. Unfortunately, people only respect that if you seem to match their personal idea of what a vegetarian is supposed to eat. Can’t tell you how many times people have made fun fun of me for saying I’m vegetarian when I eat dairy, chips, cookies, etc. because they think vegetarian = health food.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I get it! I’m not a vegetarian either but I don’t eat a ton of meat, and depending on my choices I will often opt for a veggie-friendly one, which has led people to ask if I’m vegetarian. Me not eating a hunk of meat at every meal means I must be vegetarian?

          2. TiffIf*

            I have a friend who has some liver problems and so has had to cut down a lot on meat so will describe her diet as vegetarian to outsiders when actually the truth is she can eat meat in limited quantities and things like broth don’t bother her liver at all but it is just easier for others to understand what is safe for her by saying vegetarian rather than explaining all of it. She usually only eats meat about once a week.

          3. Not Elizabeth*

            Vegan here. I wouldn’t say people make fun of me for this, but I do sometimes get a surprised reaction if I eat, say, potato chips. (Potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt, sheesh, what part of that do they think comes from an animal?) But what really gets me is when I say I’m vegan and they start telling me what items are gluten-free. Yeah, not the same thing.

          4. Ace in the Hole*

            Whoops, forgot to reset my posting name…. just to be clear, I am not one of the LW’s this time!

      3. irene adler*

        I know the response sounds disingenuous, but I have a friend who has a dietary restriction where she does the same thing. Says she’s vegetarian. She’s not going to consume meat, but the broth is fine.

        See, she limits the amount of protein she consumes as her body forms kidney stones with the protein she consumes. I know it sounds strange, but this is the result of consultation with her doctor after suffering a most excruciating bout of kidney stones. She wanted to avoid ever suffering another attack and doctor offered her meds or a strict limit on the protein she consumes. She opted for the latter.

        When we go to restaurants, she tells them she’s vegetarian as it’s easier than explaining that she needs to keep protein consumption to a minimum. And, yes, she avoids dairy, eggs and high protein plant sources too.

        And, FYI: this limitation does not extend to desserts. Hey, gotta draw the line somewhere-right?

        1. ThatGirl*

          oh, sure, I understand shortcuts. In my coworker’s case I actually think she was grossed out by meat, it wasn’t a health thing. But I found it funny at the time.

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, that does sound ridiculous. The phrase I use is ‘I don’t eat meat’. I’m not a vegetarian as I do very occasionally eat fish, and I don’t want to claim to be vegetarian as it just causes more problems if you then eat something with fish in it (plus vegetarians get rightly furious at people who claim to be veggie ‘but I eat chicken’ or ‘but don’t worry about the beef stock’ because it waters down the actual message and adds to the confusion over what actual vegetarians eat). So I stick with ‘I don’t eat meat’ and it doesn’t usually need much more of an explanation.

            1. Storm in a teacup*

              This! As a vegetarian I thank you for not confusing the message. I get so frustrated when people assume I’ll eat fish or cheese with rennet or stuff with gelatine or meat stock because a mate of theirs eats it and is vegetarian. Ummmm no actually!

            2. Old and Don’t Care*

              That’s what I do too. The term pescatarian annoys me for some reason, I just leave it as “I don’t eat meat.”

            3. anonymo (cuz no-name-o)*

              I tried taking this approach when I started moving away from strict vegetarianism while going to college in a state where vegetarianism is fairly rare and often misunderstood. Our dining hall made “vegan inspired chicken pasta” and labeled bacon mashed potatoes as vegetarian. I would find people assumed that “I don’t eat meat” means vegetarian anyways, while vegetarian just means “I don’t eat meat (and fish up to interpretation).” When the different wording is mistakenly taken as a synonym and someone’s sample size for vegetarians consists of very few people, it’s hard to correct the confusion, especially when you’re hungry.

          2. anonymo (cuz no-name-o)*

            Sorry to push on this, but why exactly is it funny? Obviously I don’t have the context you do, but it sounds to me like you asked your coworker how to accommodate her dietary restrictions so she told you, and you seem to judge her because it doesn’t line up with what you think her restrictions should be. As a pescatarian who rarely eats fish, I often call myself vegetarian as shorthand if people ask why I won’t be having a burger with them. I don’t use chicken broth myself and I prefer vegetable-based alternatives, but if I’m served something with chicken broth in it, I’m not going to turn it away. What I mainly don’t eat is chunks of meat, like your coworker. (Eating that much animal muscle protein at once does odd things to my digestive system now, as it does for most people who don’t eat meat for extended periods of time. When I started, though, it was largely because of preference. My parents habitually over cooked chicken breast until it had passed rubbery and turned into sand. I don’t really enjoy meat, and considering it’s a very resource-intensive food to produce, I’d rather eat something I enjoy more.) It’s nice that you wanted to accommodate your coworker’s diet, but the judgment is a little odd, particularly considering it sounds like she didn’t ask you to do so. If you wanted to make sure the dish was okay for people who are more strictly vegetarian, I understand that. It sounds like you were particularly wanting to accommodate her as someone you knew who was vegetarian, and she spoke for herself rather than vegetarians in general. People have many reasons and many ways for limiting the meat and animal products in their diet, whether it’s for health or preference or something else. None of them are really wrong.

            1. ThatGirl*

              I’m not sure how to respond to this – it was a brief amusing (to me) anecdote, I don’t begrudge anyone their personal diet preferences, and I never said it was wrong. I just didn’t expect someone who identified as vegetarian to tell me chicken broth was OK. That’s all.

            2. miro*

              This seems like a really strong reaction to ThatGirl’s comment. I don’t think ThatGirl was judging the person or thinking badly of her, as you imply–she just found it vaguely and briefly amusing, in the way that things that subvert one’s expectations often earn a “huh, that’s funny” sort of response.

              As a parallel, I work at a library and once mentioned it someone in the context of a conversation about how much we both like books. Their reaction was something along the lines of how they don’t use libraries/always forget that libraries exist, which was funny to me. I wasn’t judging them because it doesn’t line up with what I think their practices should be (to paraphrase your comment)–I totally get that some people prefer to buy books vs using a library, and thank goodness for that because I want authors to make money. It just stood out to me as something that contradicted what I might have expected (that a book lover would at least sometimes use a library) and gave me a brief moment of amusement as a result. In other words, I found it funny.

              (Side note: writing this response has made me wonder if there are some big cultural or linguistic differences associated with the word “funny” because I feel like the way ThatGirl and I are using this word is getting at something radically different than what anonymo and maybe some other folks are–can any linguists/knowledgeable people give some insight?)

              1. ThatGirl*

                Thank you! “Funny” can cover a range of feelings, yes; in my case it was mild, temporary amusement. She was someone I worked with closely and liked very much; I certainly wasn’t judging her or her choices.

              2. anonymo (cuz no-name-o)*

                I think you’re right that there are linguistic differences with funny, particularly when you look at semantics (I’m not a linguist, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I did study ambiguous syntax and semantics for a bit). Where I’m from, “funny” in this context doesn’t necessarily just mean someone found something humorous—it’s often used sarcastically as well, attributing the “funniness” not to the unexpectedness of the interaction but to the participant’s strangeness. Hopefully that explains part of the response!

                1. miro*

                  Ooh, yeah, that is a pretty different usage and I think does explain some of the difference in responses.

              3. SaffyTaffy*

                Linguist to the rescue! Yes, different groups of English-speakers use “funny” to mean different things.
                For many people “funny” can be a polite synonym for “unpleasant” or “flawed” as in “this cake tastes funny.”
                For many people, “funny” is also a positive/neutral way of saying “unusual” as in “my diet is a little funny; i like chicken broth but hate chicken meat, so i just order the vegetarian option”
                In the first instance “funny” does have a negative connotation, so it’s possible for there to be some confusion.

                1. Editor*

                  In my extended family, we sometimes say “funny-peculiar” to clarify that something is not funny, as in humorous.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          A friend of that, only her phrase is “I generally avoid meat and dairy” to reduce the chance someone will make rude comments when she does give in and eat a slice of pizza.

      4. I'm just here for the cats!*

        to be fair I do know people who legit can’t eat meat but things like broth or other animal byproducts are ok. so she may have learned that it’s just easier to say that she is vegetarian as that is more mainstream and people will understand then saying that she physically cannot eat meat.

      5. ostentia*

        This is basically my dad’s understanding of being a vegetarian. I was a vegetarian as a teenager, and he really tried to be supportive, but he just didn’t really get it. Our conversations often went like this:

        Me: “Is this vegetarian?”
        Him: “Yes! I looked up a special recipe just for you, I hope it’s good!”
        Me: “What’s this chicken broth on the counter, though?”
        Him: “Oh, well, yeah, there’s chicken broth in it.”
        Me: “……..”

        1. Sabina*

          I realized a friend of mine has the same interpretation of what constitutes “vegetarian” food when I kept getting stomach cramps and other intestinal issues after eating her cooking. Turns out she used chicken broth in virtually every dish, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, “vegetarian” chili, etc. Having been a pretty strict vegetarian for more than 30 years, I have apparently lost the ability to digest animal products, even in liquid form.

        2. Olivia Mansfield*

          Ha my husband and I were vegan for one year, and his mom made us a vegetable stew which she described as, “It’s vegan, except for the sausage!” By which she meant, there were a lot of vegetables in there; it just also happened to have some sausage in it, as well.

          1. Mannequin*

            Oh, the “if you pick out the meat, it totally becomes vegetarian/vegan, right?” people, LOL. Bless their hearts.

    2. Oodles of Noodles*

      I don’t know where the disgust comes from for them being vegetarian. Mine are technically vegetarian, but have enough butter and heavy whipping cream to clog arteries just the same :)

    3. Dust Bunny*

      That’s . . . bizarre. Maybe this woman was looking for an excuse to throw a tantrum?

      I wouldn’t put bacon in potluck food because a) vegetarians and b) a lot of people don’t eat pork even if they do eat meat.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. I mean, I love bacon and bacon mashed potatoes would have people licking the bowl in my house, but, when cooking for a larger audience, I leave it out to be more inclusive of various dietary restrictions.

        Someone in my office did a mashed potato bar once where they made mashed potatoes (which were delicious by themselves) and then surrounded the bowl with chives, bacon, cheese, and roasted garlic as toppings. One of the best potluck offerings I’ve had.

        1. a tester, not a developer*

          Our cafeteria used to do a baked potato bar once a month or so. One of the few things I miss now that I’m 100% WFH.

        2. A Genuine Scientician*

          We had this at the poster session of a scientific conference I went to a few years ago. They had glass bowls of mashed potatoes that looked like a fancy ice cream sundae bowl, and then this same sort of topping bar (which also included carmelized onions)

        3. LimeRoos*

          Potato bars are the best!! At my old job my team had a baked potato bar for my wedding shower, and it was seriously the best thing ever. So many good toppings, and the awesome coworker that made the potatoes literally made the best baked potatoes. Lightly crispy on the outside, totally fluffy on the inside. I took 5 of the extras home lol. Hubby and I ate potatoes all weekend.

          1. Editor*

            Back in the 1980s, my daughter’s elementary school had a potluck with parents and students. It was an academic town, so mix of all U.S. classes plus grad student kids and professor’s kids. The teacher had the kids find recipes or get family recipes for potatoes, and all the dishes had potatoes. There was a mimeographed recipe pamphlet about a week later.

            Not only was the meal amazing, but some of the budget-strapped parents said they never knew potatoes could be so cheap and filling. That was eye-opening to me.

        4. JustaTech*

          One of my cousins had that at her wedding and it was the thing that everyone talked about for years afterwards. (Her mother was not best pleased that this was the thing we focused on, but at least the awesome mashed potatoes came out ahead of the groomsmen trying to get the groom drunk before the ceremony.)

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        100%. Does my mac and cheese taste AMAZING with bacon in it? Yes. Am I ever going to add it to my mac and cheese I’m bringing to the pot luck at work? Hell no. A) I don’t believe in making something traditionally vegetarian into something non-vegetarian and removing options from people and B) I really don’t believe in adding meats if I know a religion forbids them. So adding beef or pork to a food that doesn’t traditionally include it is a no-go for me if I’m cooking for a group of people and don’t know their dietary requirements. (If you’re coming over and I’m cooking, I’ll ask if there’s anything you don’t eat or need kosher/halal/whatever and plan from there.)

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Also I’m just going to throw this out there if anybody ever needs it – if you get lactose free cheddar and goat milk, butter, and cheese, you can make a killer lactose-intolerant friendly super-creamy mac and cheese. It takes more seasoning because they’re relatively bland as far as mac and cheese cheeses go, but I made mac and cheese my dad could eat for the first time last year and we all (all 3 of us that lived together at the time, that is) went back for thirds.

          1. miro*

            Another, related note for anyone who ever needs it–my family (with several lactose intolerant people) uses goat cheese for ours which is also good (though quite rich). If you go for goat cheese, I recommend getting a hard/block one rather than the typical gooey tube stuff (trader joes does a good goat gouda).

            For those unaware/wondering, goat and sheep’s cheese has very low (pretty much negligible, at least for me) levels of lactose in it.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              The casein proteins are also distinct enough that some people who can’t handle cow casein can handle goat casein. It’s not super duper common, but it’s common enough that cow and goat casein are tested separately for food allergy tests just in case. (….in. Sorry couldn’t let the opportunity for a pun slip by.)

            2. nonegiven*

              My cousin’s grandson is allergic to cow’s milk. She keeps goats to milk and pasteurizes it on the stove.

              I have seen goat’s milk in a store exactly once and when I asked about it, the department manager said it had been ordered by mistake.

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              I basically adapted the Better Homes and Gardens recipe, but I subbed goat milk for milk, goat butter for butter, and then lactose-free cheddar (we used Cabot) and goat cheese. The thing to remember is you’re really going to need to season it – honestly, I just throw in a ton of Old Bay, but use whatever you and the people you’re cooking for like! I basically add cheese and seasoning according to what my heart wants, not what the recipe says, but if it’s BHG you can usually quadruple the amount of seasoning suggested and still be happy.

              BHG also has a lot of options for add-ins. I bake mine with a breadcrumb top, but they have recipes for stovetop and slowcookers!

              1. KoiFeeder*

                I’m from maryland, “throw in a ton of old bay” is not a seasoning recommendation it is a mandatory part of the lifestyle. I knew a guy in college who had an old folgers tin of old bay that he brought with him everywhere, it was incredible.

                Thank you for the recipe, this’ll be fun!

    4. RagingADHD*

      A lot of people don’t actually know what vegetarian means. They think anything called “vegetarian” must have wierd (to them) substitute ingredients in it.

      It makes you wonder if they go out of their way to put meat into like, breakfast cereal or ice cream.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, it’s a lot better now but years ago when I’d say I didn’t eat meat I’d get a lot of wide-eyed ‘But…what DO you eat??’ Some people are really wedded to the idea that a meal equals a piece of meat with some vegetables and potatoes as an accompaniment, and they can’t get their head around the idea of that piece of meat not being there.

        1. Ben*

          Mm-hm. My mother cooks a roast once a week and sometimes doesn’t have the time/energy/opportunity to do the roast, so it’s just vegetables. And she is *always* incredibly apologetic about what a huge deal it is that there’s no meat. Meanwhile I’m stuffing myself on roast potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and steamed green beans wondering what all the fuss is about. No matter how many times I try I can never convince her that there doesn’t have to be meat in every meal.

          I am a meat loving person – I like my fried chicken, my rare steaks, my pan fried ham and bacon – but there doesn’t *have to be meat in every meal. I tend to think of meat as the thing you cook when you’re too time or energy poor to cook multiple vegetables.

      2. NoOneSpecial*

        I did once meet seone who insisted she *never* ate anything vegan or vegetarian. I pointed out that a peanut butter sandwich is vegan and that cereal is vegetarian. She then switched to, “I’ll never eat pb sandwiches again!!” It was… strange….

        1. Elenna*

          So I guess she just… never ate any dessert ever?? Granted a lot of desserts have butter in them, but practically every dessert should be at least vegetarian…

      3. Teapot Librarian*

        Seriously. There was a contestant on the Great British Baking Show (sorry, non-Americans, the American name has been ingrained in my head) who could NOT handle vegan week for this reason. How hard is it to make a tart that doesn’t have meat in it? (Admittedly, no egg and butter are complications for tarts, but his issue was with the filling.)

      4. Thumper*

        That was my exact thinking, as I have some relatives and older coworkers who have a very strange idea of what vegetarian means. I bet she thought you somehow made it without potatoes

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        I have never understood that. I love vegetables, and my perfect diet is one that is mostly vegetarian with occasional meat. (I love steak, bacon, and BBQ too much to go full-on vegetarian.) We do a lot of salad, rice, potatoes, and veggie sides (green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, peas mostly) because that’s what everyone likes. I will also eat beets and marinated artichoke or palm hearts as a meal. It’s really not hard to not put ham hock in green beans or to leave the bacon out of the potatoes.

        Vegan is what I would have trouble with. I love cheese, hard-boiled eggs, butter, and cafe au lait. Vegan cheese does not do it for me, nor do any of the milk substitutes I’ve tried.

        1. Cold Fish*

          Similar, I’m not a huge carnivore but could never go full on vegetarian, I get really grumpy without an occasional cheeseburger. But I cannot fathom cooking something with chicken broth and calling it vegetarian. Vegetable broth doesn’t cost any more than chicken broth and is located right there on the same shelf at the grocery store so I don’t know why it would be any more effort to just use vegetable broth.

          I don’t like cooking meat so a lot of my weekday meals are mostly beans, rice or potatoes. I LOVE cheese (as long as it doesn’t have mold in/on it). I do not know if I could survive without cheese…
          I prefer Almond Milk with my cereal but most of the time I prefer cow’s milk to any of the substitutes out there.

          As for potlucks, I usually make a dessert. Easy and (most of the time) okay to leave on a table until lunchtime rolls around. No refrigeration needed for Chocolate Chip Cookies! :)

          1. TechWorker*

            Meh. I’m vegetarian for environmental reasons, which basically boils down to I have no ethical problems with eating meat, but the environmental impact is huge and it’s something relatively easy to change I have choice over. I would never buy chicken stock, but if say, I went over to a friends for dinner and they realised they’d accidentally used chicken stock at the point they were serving up.. well… they didn’t kill the chicken for me, you know? I feel the same way about gelatin and rennet in cheese. I’ll avoid it if I can, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it otherwise.

    5. JSPA*

      A sensory or flavor perception thing with potato skins, maybe? Some people are strongly “peeled, only.” And on cursory inspection, red skins could pass for bacon crumbles.

      1. JSPA*

        it’s incredibly rude if it was an intentional comment. If it was a bizarre reflex, then it’s unexpected and difficult-to-impossible to control.

        You’d expect an apology after the fact, though. That not having happened makes me second guess my response, and presume it was some sort of “vegetarianism is the mark of the anti-deity” performative rejection dance.

        But lots of people have painful inner dialogues over food. “I have diet issues, I though this dish was ‘worth’ the calories / the carbs, but now am panicked to a strange level by the realization that I nearly Chose The Wrong Splurge”–that plays out at plenty of pot lucks and buffets. I’m grateful not to have to hear that voice in my head, and feel sympathy for those who do.

    6. MacGillicuddy*

      Not potluck, but office holiday party (after hours, spouses invited, everybody dressed up, etc) at a company that had many Indian employees, most of whom were vegetarian. The buffet menu had meat in everything, including the green beans (the only vegetable) that included bacon. There might have been a wimpy “tossed salad” with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, but that was it for the vegetarians.

      At another company, a holiday lunch during the workday at a steak house. I mentioned to the person organizing “you know, Sally, Fred, Heathcliffe, Lulu, and George are all vegetarians – will there be anything they can eat?” The organizer said “I think the restaurant has fish.” I said “they’re vegetarians- they don’t eat anything that has a face”. She immediately looked terrified. This was just a couple of years ago, so it’s not like vegetarians are a new thing!

      At a third company, the admin ordered small sub sandwiches for a company lunch meeting (attendance required). 3 kinds of sandwiches:
      (a) roast beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato on a sub roll.
      (b) turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato on a sub roll. Note that each of these had one lettuce leaf and 2 slices of tomato that were so thin you could read a newspaper through them. The sub rolls were boring and slightly stale.
      (c) was the vegetarian option. One lettuce leaf and 2 microscopically thin slices of tomato on a sub roll.

  66. Mostly Managing*

    Not work, but potluck related.
    My husband and I used to sing in a choir which had two potlucks a year. One at Christmas, and one in late spring or early summer.
    Never a sign up sheet, people brought whatever they felt like, and it always worked out fine.
    Until the Christmas party when every single person brought dessert. This was funny! Not the end of the world! On we go!
    That spring, all but one person brought a variation of potato salad. With bacon, with dill pickles, with onions or peppers or ham or…..

    The following Christmas, there was a sign up sheet.

    1. Jay*

      Our friend group will ALWAYS bring something when they come to dinner even if you explicitly tell them not to. I decided years ago to go with it rather than trying to stop them, so now when we entertain we cook the main dish and whatever else we want and when people ask “what can I bring?” I give them something specific. So pretty much every party we have is a quasi-potluck but at least we don’t have a roomful of potato salad!

      1. TiffIf*

        I always feel uncomfortable going to someone’s home for food and NOT bringing something. (I don’t actually know why this is such a thing for me? I don’t remember my parents doing it when I was growing up? But it just feels really rude to me?)

        Though, when I take something it is almost always homemade and has never ever been potato salad. I have a friend who I invites me over for Sunday dinner nearly every week and I usually volunteer to make dessert but I’ve also done side dishes and rolls.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have a friend with real control issues around other people’s parties. I am hosting a birthday dinner for my husband tomorrow. I am concerned she may show up with a birthday cake. (I once volunteered the dessert for a potluck at her home where she was poaching a salmon. Everyone brought something — and although I had made a really lovely dessert, she trotted out a cake she had made, ‘just in case.’ It is annoying.

    2. Tessie Mae*

      Not work, but yes, potluck related.

      A group I belong to has a potluck for its January meeting every year (ever since we got snowed out one year and the poor hostess was stuck with a whole lot of food). Similar thing as above–no sign-up sheet, and people brought either an appetizer or a dessert (it was an either/or thing). Except yes, one year nearly everyone brought dessert. LOTS of chocolate. It seemed like a good thing, but it really wasn’t. Way too much sweetness. Ugh (and I love dessert).

      Ever since, we have a sign-up sheet.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      My group started a sign-up sheet for our thanksgiving potluck dinner after the “Squash-pocalypse.” Fourteen out of fifteen people brought a squash dish. The fifteenth person brought drinks.

    4. LizB*

      Various groups I was in as a kid (community theater, girl scouts, synagogue) had potlucks every once in a while, and usually there was a type-of-dish requirement by name: families with last names A-F should bring appetizers, G-M mains, N-R desserts, S-Z drinks. I can only imagine the problems that led to this rule being implemented, but it worked like a charm!

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Old job implemented that as well – they were smart though…the dishes rotated so first potluck was as you stated above but for the next potluck it would shift so A-F brought drinks, G-M apps, etc…

      2. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        That’s what my work does too — well, in the Before Times when we actually had potlucks. There was a sign-up sheet and you signed up for a specific type of dish to ensure there was a variety.

    5. AFac*

      Once upon a time, I accomplished A Thing. My friends asked me what kind of party I wanted to celebrate. Stressed, sleep-deprived me decided I needed a bit of energy, so I told them I wanted a dessert party. Everyone brought a dessert. There was so much dessert. As the Person of Honor, I felt required to try as many as possible.

      Friends, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, but by golly, it was fun.

        1. Editor*

          Early in my career, I had a department potluck that I wanted to bake something for. I may have signed up for dessert. But I had some crisis at home, no baking got done, so I cobbled together a fruit salad and went.

          Near the end of the event, my (favorite boss ever) department head pulled me aside and asked if I had brought the fruit. I said yes. He then proceeded to thank me profusely because his wife, who had diabetes, was delighted to have fruit to go with her meal and loved my fruit salad. I was so relieved no one thought I had taken some unconscionable shortcut with my shared dish.

    6. Run mad; don't faint*

      In one non-work group we belong to, the organization provides hamburgers, hot dogs and drinks, while the rest of us are supposed to bring side dishes and desserts. For years, most people either brought nothing or those overly sweet soft iced cookies from the grocery store. So we had meat and (unappetizing) dessert and very little else. We started bringing huge salads with us along with another side dish just to increase the variety. On the bright side though, a few months ago, we had our first one since the pandemic started and people brought a lovely selection of salads and side dishes. Long may it last!

    7. Anonymous Teacher*

      I used to be a primary teacher, and one year, I had a class that wouldn’t bring anything for holiday parties. At one point I think I had a bottle of apple juice, tons of plates and cups, and maybe one bag of cookies. I managed to barter with other classrooms to get a few more things, but I was also of the opinion that whatever people sent would be what we had. The kids would have fun regardless, and if the parents didn’t approve of the selection, they could do better next time.

      Later in my career, my favorite parties were our pancake breakfasts. My teammate and I would just ask parents to send fruit and syrup, and we would bring pancake mix and make pancakes in the classroom for all of the kids in that grade.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        When I was in college, they always kicked off finals week with Pancake Night. Fruit, whipped cream, chocolate chips, all the fixins. Traditionally, the university big wigs would make and serve pancakes in the cafeteria for hours. Finals were stressful, but Pancake Night was always fun!

    8. Nannerdoodle*

      Omg this happened in my friend group once! We did a Christmas potluck and the person hosting said they’d make ham. Everyone else brought dessert, except for the one person who brought a bag of clementines. Someone got to the potluck 45 minutes late with salad and you would have thought they’d announced that they were giving away money with how everyone reacted to it.

  67. Mama Sarah*

    Okay, so I get that these are suppose to be funny. But the first two kind made me wonder if those persons had experience food insecurity as youths or even later in life. Not having enough food, or no food, can create some weird behaviors in people (even as fully employed, food secure adults).

    1. Not A Manager*

      Sure, that’s true. But understanding why someone might do something doesn’t mean that it’s okay for them to do that thing.

    2. Use your words*

      No as the writer of the first one I can tell you with certainty that it wasn’t the case. Privileged up to his eyeballs in fact.

  68. Undine*

    I’m not even going to try and anonimize this…

    It’s not a potluck, but the Princeton graduate math department had tea and cookies every afternoon. At the time I was there, John Nash (later the subject of A Brilliant Mind) was on the faculty and would sometimes come in. Once he walked over to the neatly arranged rows of cookies, picked one up from the middle, regarded it profoundly as if it were a math problem, took a bite, looked at it again profoundly and somewhat sadly, and put it back.

    There was a fee for tea and cookies, and some unfortunate graduate student was responsible for collecting it. There was a professor who was known for doing well investing in the stock market. One year, he was one of the last ones who hadn’t paid his fee for the year. When the grad student in charge of fees (a friend of mine) asked him for the money, Professor K said he would pay the next day. It subsequently turned out that the next day he flew to France for a six month sabbatical.

      1. Artemesia*

        And he is so right. Just got back from a couple of months in France this week and the first thing to impress me was how much sugar is in ordinary apparently healthy whole grain bread here.

    1. jm*

      incredible. i feel so bad for those grad students, and anyone who may have inadvertently picked up nash’s partially eaten cookies.

        1. Former Usher*

          I recently discovered that I finally has a (finite) Erdos number: 6! Now I find that I’ve been beaten by cookie. Comparison really is the thief of joy.

          1. pumpkin socks*

            Unless the cookie co-authored a paper, I think you’re fine. I had to carefully justify why my Erdos # of 3 still stands.

    2. hodie-hi*

      At a catered holiday meal about 10 years ago, I saw the #2 onsite leader pick through a plate of cookies with her hand, then use the provided tongs to place the Chosen Cookie on her plate. She was known for being very proper and a bit harsh.

  69. 30 years ago now...*

    Two anecdotes about potlucks/office pilfering.

    One, okay, I messed up.

    Two months in to an operations tour at job one out of college, the mailroom guy was celebrating his ten year anniversary. They ordered lunch in, I offered to help set up. I had zero idea this was a speech situation, and in my defense the other two helpers made themselves a plate and skedaddled, so I did as well, and I had three managers TPS cover explain to me that I had made a faux pas in serving myself before the speeches I didn’t stick around to hear.

    “So, um, mike, yeah, we don’t help ourselves to the food before the guest of honor, mmmkay.”
    Frankly I wasn’t raised by wolves, but with five brothers the distinction lacks significance. Get your food before it’s gone is hard to just drop.

    Second anecdote, same company.
    The highest earning salesperson was a jackass.
    He had four people working for him, and if there was a free meal to be had their job was to get him a plate and put it in tupperware to take home. They were not allowed to even have a piece of cake themselves.
    He also, according to office gossip, was once reprimanded because he seriously took all the one ply tp home with him.

    He was earning near 400k, and he stole one ply tp.