DEAR MISS MANNERS: A few hours before the small dinner party I was throwing for close friends, one guest called to ask if she could invite a mutual friend. I said, "Of course!" -- it was a buffet and we had more than enough food.
The new guest ended up arriving over an hour late. We were all hungry, and I was getting antsy. I was in the dining room when I was suddenly overwhelmed by strong odors.
I went to the kitchen to investigate, and what did I see but our late-arriving guest pulling crabs out of a cooler and handing them to another guest, who looked almost as confused as I felt. She told me the crabs are cooked and she has everything needed to shell them.
I was annoyed, but I said, "OK, add it to the buffet!" Honestly, I wish I had asked her to put them back in the cooler and leave them outside. I worked all day on a big dinner, and it was waiting.
I explained to the other guests that it would be a few more minutes before we could eat, that some crab needed to be shelled. The entire house now reeked of crab!
After about 20 minutes, I went back to the kitchen and some of the other guests had heroically joined the shelling party, and one of them was smartly bagging up the crab detritus.
Eventually we managed to get all the crab shelled and get the waste to the garbage. To the crab-bringer's credit, she cleaned up, and we were finally able to eat.
The dinner ended up being fun; we all had a good time, and people helped clean up after. The only thing is that the house was so smelly I could barely taste my food, and I'm just so resentful that my party was hijacked by such a party foul!
The person who brought the crab did say she thought it was maybe a potluck. I know the crab was expensive, and to her it was a nice gesture.
Should I have asked her to not serve the crab, or was it better to have an already late dinner even later and air my house out days after, knowing that we will laugh about this for years?
GENTLE READER: Fun then, and laughs later -- you can't be that upset. Nevertheless, you should know how to foil a party hijacker.
Miss Manners realizes that you were only trying to be polite by postponing dinner and allowing a guest to take over your kitchen. None of this was necessary.
You should not hold a meal for an unreasonably late guest. As an earlier etiquette authority, George Washington, once declared, it is rude to the chef. And, he might have added, to those starving people who were prompt, have drunk enough, and are contemplating eating the cocktail napkins.
What is required is to say, when the crab-bearing guest finally arrives, "I hope you don't mind, but we went ahead with dinner. I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted us to wait."
You had given that guest no reason to suppose the dinner was potluck. Miss Manners hopes that this has not come to be considered the default way of entertaining. At any rate, you could have told her politely that she was mistaken, and, as you ushered her to the table, that it would be better for the crabs to leave them in the cooler.