Q: I have always been told that it is ‘rude’ to return a dish to a person empty. Therefore, when I am returning a dish, say after a holiday meal when others have brought food, and left their dishes for me to wash (just a little sarcism!), I always put something in it. I may put a new dish towel set, or maybe some homemade cookies. Is there an etiquette protocol for this?
A: It’s really a matter of local custom. In some areas, it is not uncommon to return the dish with some token “gift” while in others it’s not expected. It’s very thoughtful of you to put something in a dish when you return it, but it’s your choice. In fact, using your example, after a holiday meal, you could transfer any leftovers to one of your dishes and return the dish to the owner either rinsed out or not. You could also simply tell that person to take the dish and to keep the leftovers. As the hostess, it’s your choice.