The problem: We entertain frequently. Often, when we invite someone over for dinner, he or she asks, “What can we bring?” Not, “Can we bring something?” If inviting someone for dinner, we usually plan out ahead of time what we’ll serve. If we’re invited, we usually bring flowers or wine, but not a contribution to the meal. Help! 

Low road: Teach this boorish guest a lesson. Say, “Why, yes! Please bring a pot roast for 10 people plus a vegetarian option, a kale salad with dried cranberries, new potatoes, a baguette and a few desserts, one of which is gluten-free. Is 6 p.m. too early? That gives us plenty of time to visit before you clean up and leave.” 

High road: You have lovely, well-trained friends. Asking, “What can we bring?” is an appropriate and widely expected question offered up by those about to be fed and entertained in your home. I assure you that no disrespect or hidden agenda is meant. (Anyone who shows up with his or her own food in Tupperware, on the other hand, is fodder for another column.)

There is always something you can suggest. If you already have planned the wines you want to serve with certain courses, how about suggesting an after-dinner liqueur? Or fresh bread or ice cream? If you really don’t need a thing, say so graciously. A good guest will likely bring a small but thoughtful housewarming gift.

Now, about those flowers: You might consider bringing a plant instead. Hosts are typically frazzled getting ready, and finding a vase, cutting the stems and finding the right spot to place the vase can add to their stress.

Send questions about life’s little quandaries to Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at