DEAR ABBY: I was recently invited to a friend's home for dinner. When I arrived just a few minutes past the time I was told the meal would be served, I found that everyone had finished eating. I was asked if I'd like something to eat and offered a plate, but refused because I would have felt uncomfortable eating alone while everyone else stood around visiting. I stayed about an hour and left.
[There are two more paragraphs here, but I've omitted them--they're about how the guest brought it up with the hosts the next day and much less interesting, except for a key quote: "They felt that because everyone else had arrived earlier in the day and the food was ready, that it was OK. They also said I shouldn't have gotten so upset about it."]
-- HURT IN WASHINGTON
In her response, Abby makes a distinction between two kinds of parties:
If the invitation read, "Come between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m." and you were the last to arrive "a few minutes past the time the meal was to be served," then I can understand why the other guests started without you. However, if you were told that dinner was scheduled for 6 o'clock and when you arrived you were offered their leftovers, then your feelings are understandable.
What stands out to me is that this person doesn't seem to know which kind of party it is (an open house, or a sit-down dinner party)...and in fact didn't behave appropriately for either type of party.
If, on the other hand, it was a formal dinner where everyone was seated at a communal table, yes, it would have been odd for the guest to discover the meal over, done, and cleared when he or she arrived "a few minutes" late. However, it also would have been odd for the guest to expect them to hold the meal for his/her tardy arrival. Would the other guests be sitting around the table, pounding their silverware? Did this guest just want to make an entrance? I haven't been to many formal dinner parties, but if the meal was to be served at 6, I'd probably plan to arrive between 5:30 and 5:45 to greet folks, hang up my coat, and eat a cracker or two before we all sat down.
There are many factors that could impact the rudeness (or not) of all this: how many people were there (10 or 100)? Was it inside or outside (hot dish or hot dogs)? When dinner was served, did the guests all sit at one table, then get up when the meal was finished, or were people carrying their plates around with them, sitting, standing, and mingling (dinner party, or just party)? Had the guest let the hosts know he or she would be arriving later?
Also have to say, if everyone was there all day and only this guest showed up later--not even at the appointed time, but after it--it really comes across as though he or she was just in it for the free meal, which makes me less inclined to be sympathetic.
What do you think? Does it sound like the guest was out of line, or like the hosts played a bait-n-switch and screwed him/her out of dinner?