Many Thanks: When Thanksgiving dinner guests also invite others

Q: You ask your in-laws over for Thanksgiving and they accept–but then ask if their extended family (about eight others) can come too.  Do you have to say yes?

A: You’re not required to welcome the crowd (guests don’t normally invite others), so a friendly “I’m so sorry, but we’re not set up for that many people” is fine.  But it’s Thanksgiving, so why not make room?  Just ask for help up front:  “Could your sister bring a pie–and I’d love it if you made your amazing sweet potatoes and an appetizer.”


  1. Jody

    I agree with the first part of the original advice, but disagree with the second. Definitely a friendly “we’re not set up for that many people” is appropriate. The original poster didn’t say how large his/her home is. It’s quite possible that they physically can’t accommodate that many people no matter how much they may want to.

    • Jenn

      This always comes up around the holidays when my MIL comes to town and wants to visit with all the other in-laws of her other children. I find it very rude if she is staying with me and expects me to host people that I am not related (my sister-in-law’s in-laws+family for instance, if you can follow). While I enjoy these people at my SIL’s house, is it my responsibility to host them at mine? I think not, but I would like to know what others think. I will often say something like, “Oh, I’m sure you will see them when you stay at your daughter’s house.”

      In my search, I’m not sure how to refer to this… is it extended family? In-laws of in-laws? Are there any general guidelines that EPI offers for such relations?

      • Jenn

        I will also say that my MIL tells me, “Oh yes, they are your family too. Your ‘family at large.'” I’m quite sure she made that up! While I enjoy being inclusive, with having six sibling in-laws on my husband’s side, not to mention my own large family, things can get expensive and chaotic very quick!

        I am a first generation American from Europe and I grew up never seeing my cousins’ other grandparents… families are just so large, it isn’t expected in my culture.

        So again, just wondering what other people think…

        • Alicia

          Well in my opinion it depends on the family. In my family, Moms side of the family I only see my cousins grandparents at things like cousins graduations and weddings in which case I am perfectly polite to them. On dads side we are a bit closer and I see them a bit more often. You are never ever required to host anyone in your home you do not wish. So if you want to host them do so, if not then do not.

        • Elizabeth

          Do you live in the same area as your husband’s siblings? So when your MIL comes to visit, she also visits with her other children and their spouses’ parents? Does she expect you to host a huge party of all your in-laws and their parents??

          The answer to your general question is: you can see your in-laws parents if you want, and you don’t have to if you prefer not to. Most people are not that close with their partner’s siblings’ partners’ parents. If you invite your husband’s siblings over, you are definitely not required to invite over their spouses’ parents.

          I can understand if your MIL only comes in to town for a short time that she wants to see everybody, but it is not your responsibility to put on a huge party on demand. There are some alternatives: suggest that each sibling take a turn hosting the big party, if that’s what everybody wants. Then, its only your turn once every 6 years. Or, suggest that you all go out to a restaurant that can accommodate a big group, with each family paying for themselves.

          Where is your husband in all of this? It might be best if he deals with his mother directly. That’s the tactic I use : )

          In any case, Alicia is right that no one can force you to host people against your will. If your MIL invites people without your knowledge, it’s definitely time for your husband to set her straight.

      • The Daughter-in-Law

        It’s that time of year again! My Husband invited his Mom and her grand daughter who lives with her. Now she invited her son, the other grad daughter with her husband and their two kids and the grand daughters boyfriend. 8 in total. I was expecting only 2 guests. There is not enough room at our dining room table and this family…is a “trying” group to say the least. We don’t socialize with them on a regular basis. The problem with just telling MIL that we can’t accommodate everyone is it will go straight to “we think we’re too good” mode and hurt feelings will ensue. There is no calmly talking about things; they all lack emotional intelligence and obvious etiquette. To make matters worse; my daughter is bringing her “new” boyfriend she has been dating and we are to meet him for the first time….She is literally freaking out. The last BF only met this side of the family once in 7 years. What to do….?? Nothing right? Just move forward being polite and gracious?!?! So much for a nice stress free holiday!

        • connie

          I am facing something similar. Thanksgiving is a special family time that requires a lot of work for the people cooking, cleaning, etc. I find it simply RUDE when your invited guest asks to bring others. From 2 to 8big move bringing a boyfriend home for the first time. It is so hard to say “no” but enough is enough.From 2 to 8? Seriously? It is not an open house.

          Good luck.

          • Lori C

            If your invited guest asks if it OK to bring her cousin, his wife and three kids, or they tell you they have already invited cousin, wife and three kids, the answer is the same. I’m sorry but that is not going to work for me. But I understand if you need to decline my invitation if you want to spend Thanksgiving with them. Could you please let me know if you are coming to my house by 3 pm this afternoon? I would really appreciate it.

            Or you tell mother in law you are going to need a lot of help with 8 extra people coming that you were not planning for. Can Mother in law bring mashed potatoes? Can granddaughter bring dressing? Can second granddaughter bring the corn casserole? Can third granddaughter bring the sweet potatoes? Can the son bring the green bean casserole? Ask for their help setting up the second table, setting both tables, and cleaning up afterwards, putting the food away and doing the dishes.

            I also suggest you calmly sit down with your husband and come up with a battle plan to handle his mother, her accusations and hurt feelings.

  2. Meggin R. Capers

    Though I was born in the 1974 you would have thought it was 1874. I have a very proper Mother and Grandmother who gave me my first Emily Post book I believe when I was 5 yrs old. While I appreciate them and what they have taught me very much, we have landed in a tussle or two recently over etiquette items. I am trying to explain things are changing and they tell me, something simply do not change. The most recent one was over wearing jeans to our High School (The Agnes Irwin School, all girls prep school) Athletics Day much like a Homecoming. How can I help my mother understand that things, including what is acceptable to wear when, can change without the world coming to an end? Do you have a “Modern Etiquette Book” that I can give her for Christmas that might help her understand that new is not gauche or unacceptable, just new? Thank you so much!

  3. Barb

    We recently held a baby shower for our daughter. We asked a co-worker’s mother (whom we met on one occasion previously) if she would cater the event. Catering events is not “Mrs. Q’s” full time job, but something she enjoys doing on the side on an intermittent basis.

    The shower was wonderful. Approximately 40 guests enjoyed the food & drink. The food table was a beautiful display. Mrs. Q was a Godsend to us on this hectic but memorable occasion.

    Mrs. Q is charging us for the food & drink, but for some reason is excluding the fee for her labor. We absolutely expect to pay her for the food and compensate her for the time she spent organizing. But if she doesn’t give us a dollar amount, how do we figure her compensation? Is there a formula to determine this based on what she will charge for food, drink & supplies?

    Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! ~~bb

  4. Mel

    I do not know of a specific formula to employ in this circumstance, but here is my logic that may help your decision. Below are average costs of catered foods (and of course this does vary greatly but this is guideline anyway)

    Light Hors d’oeuvres $15 – $22 per person (4-5 different options)
    Heavy Hors d’oeuvres $23 – $30 per person (6-7 options)
    Dinner $25 – $35per person

    I list this for this reason…Let’s presume that this was light hors d’oeuvres. That is $15-$22 per person. Let’s use the middle ground of $18. $18 x $40 guests = $720. Take the cost of the food and subract that amount…offer her an amout close to the rest for her time and effort.

    I say “offer” her the rest because since this was a shower she may have wanted to contribute her time and talent as a gift.

    As I mentioned this is not anything I have specifically read anywhere but it seems logical that you could at least gauge the amount based on comparable services.

  5. Barb

    Mel– I just found this (my original post). I wondered where it went! I paid the caterer today & have just found your advice. I do appreciate your input.

    I tried again to get a cost for the caterer’s prep time, etc. She wasn’t very helpful. :)
    My friends were helpful with their opinions but I felt they came in too low $-wise for what I should pay Mrs. Q.

    So. I checked the miles from her house to the party and paid her mileage based on information on a site by my state government. I know she spent 6 hours at the shower. Not knowing the amount of hours she spent in prep time at home or additional trips to the store, I added another 6 hours. So I paid her for 12 hours plus mileage. I would share with you what I paid her per hour, but I’m afraid I’d get “bruised” again (re: the SAE thread)!

    Thank you so much for your input. It is much appreciated! ~~bb

    • Mel

      You are quite welcome. And please don’t be deterred, I have been reading and taking part in discussions here for quite a while now and generally the discussions and advise are respectful and well-intentioned…it is an etiquette blog afterall. 😉

      Sometimes the finest point of etiquette is to graciously accept someone elses behaivor, wether it meets our expectations or not. At some point defending the ‘rule’ becomes poor etiquette in and of itself.


  6. I’m feeling a little offended right now and I need to make sure that it is justified, so please help me!!! Here goes. My husband and his brother have birthdays on 8/25 & 8/27. I received a text from my brother-in-law’s fiancé “Wanted to know if you had anything planned for Jason’s birthday or if you wanted to do something with the family?” The first problem is that it sounds like something my mother-in-law put the soon-to-be daughter-in-law up to. Here’s the second problem…after practically being “guilted” into doing something for the whole family, I decided to make reservations for (8) people at a place my husband and his brother haven’t yet been to. Today, I received a text from brother-in-law’s fiancé “informing” me that her parents will still be in town on the night of the birthday dinner…she says “I invited my parents and I have called the restaurant and changed the reservation to (10) people.” My problem with this is that I thought it was a bit presumptuous and that none of us has ever met her parents….shouldn’t meeting the parents be done on a more intimate setting such as him, his parents, her and her parents then later to the rest of the family? Or at the very least, should she have at least asked me if this would be okay, rather than arbitrarily assume that it was?

    • Elizabeth

      Is this a joint party for both brothers? If so, your husband’s brother would have some say in the guest list. Second, is this the first time that anyone has met her parents? Or have your husband’s parents already met this, and this is just your first time? The first time the parents meet each other is usually kind of a big deal, and that would definitely change the tenor of the evening, since the in-laws will be trying to get to know each other. But if they already do know each other, it seems like less of a big deal and more a matter of convenience- if her parents are ‘in town’, that means they’re probably in town to visit your future SIL, and so it would be weird for her to ditch her parents for a family party, since they are about to be family. It sounds like you feel like you have ‘ownership’ over this event, whereas the rest of the family sees it as a ‘family’ occasion.

      I would try to relax about these things – you will be related to them for a long time, and this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. However, if you had planned to pay for everyone, you might want to re-think that.

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