Food Circle via Facebook: Etiquette
August 1, 2014 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Some wonderful friends are putting together a food circle for us as we are expecting our first baby in August. I have a plate full of etiquette beans in front of me, so please follow me inside where we can share them together!

My husband & I are in our mid-30s and this is our first child. We are on the periphery of a lovely community of parents with young children in our town, though most of our closest friends are childfree. We also live in a town where several of my immediate & extended family members live nearby. (This is in a progressive college town in the Midwestern USA.)
Sweet parent friends have put together a food circle* for us on Facebook, inviting mostly the young parents that they know. However, we don't know many of these people well (we've met at parties, that kind of thing). We've been invited to the event page and made "hosts" of it, so we could potentially invite our own friends & family to participate.

I am conflicted and don't know how to proceed from an etiquette point of view.
Inviting people to give me meals seems as gauche as it gets, but this was put together on Facebook and Facebook makes this awkward by requiring me to do the inviting of my own friends even if the event is properly hosted/organized by other people. I feel stuck in a position where either I appear slightly ungrateful by not inviting anyone to round out this circle (which puts the onus of cooking meals on people I don't know well yet) or where I appear to be lacking in basic manners by asking people to give me things.
Obviously I'm not going to invite every friend of mine on Facebook. I have close friends and family who would not be too put off by this awkwardly rude invitation, might be very happy that someone is organizing this, and would love to participate. BUT some of these same people have already been so generous to us already (gifts at showers, cards, valuable hand-me-downs, etc.) Inviting them to send me meals feels kind of greedy/grabby.
Further, my sister "helped" me make several meals to freeze for postpartum (read: she did all the cooking and I barely did more than plan & buy ingredients). I put pictures of this on Facebook (as a way of thanking her for her effort by calling attention to it), so many people know that we already have meals ready to go. (These meals won't take us much further than a couple weeks into new parenthood, but that doesn't make someone else responsible for feeding us.)

*Food circle (also called Meal Train): A process where a group of people sign up for selected dates to bring meals to new parents (or to those recovering from illness or surgery, etc.)

- I hate cooking, never more so than since I've been pregnant (when a box of macaroni and cheese seems like way too much effort). I think cooking a meal is a big deal.
- I also grok that we will be new parents, and there may be plenty of opportunity to pay this back (or pay it forward) in the next few years as we become more involved in the parent community of our town. I'm definitely up for that, especially once I've been on that side of it.
- Also, people love babies and may well consider the chance to hold a new baby well worth the entry price of a casserole. (Not that we are setting entry prices or rules, of course.)

Should I invite my friends & family to this food circle? Would you consider it rude if I did that, even knowing that FB makes me do this (rather than the hosts)?
If I invite friends & family who are close enough to not be put off by the rudeness, should I
-- send them the FB event invite (which they may not see, given how FB algorithms work)
-- send them a direct message or email that says "Oh, lovely friends are doing this lovely thing, and if you want to participate (no pressure!), let me know and I'll add you to the FB invite"
with the assumption on my end that they are free to ignore all of it, of course!

Advice welcome!
posted by aabbbiee to Society & Culture (22 answers total)
Yes, invite them. Say, "hey everyone, people have been asking what they could do to help once the baby arrives and our lovely friends, Sam and Debra, have created this FB group for those who would like to cook us a meal."

People genuinely do want to help when a baby comes - especially those who have recently been the recipients of such kindness. It's also a lovely way to make better friends within this group of parents that you don't know so well.

One last thing, there are a lot of websites that take care of the scheduling for this a lot better than a FB group. Take Them A Meal, Signup Genius, MealBaby, etc. I might suggest that you sign up with one of those too and post that to the group so that you don't end up with 15 tuna casseroles on some random Tuesday.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am a bit of a grumpy old man, so grain of salt and all that, but:

Should I invite my friends & family to this food circle?

Would you consider it rude if I did that, even knowing that FB makes me do this (rather than the hosts)?
Yes. A little rude, and extremely grabby.

I think it would be great to mention this to close friends and family, by email, private FB message, telephone, in person, whatever. But it needs to be A Little Thing You Slip Into Conversation, not The Whole Reason You're Contacting Them.

Basically, I'm almost always delighted to help people who need it...but I want to do it of my own volition. Being asked (whether directly or through hints) really takes away from it for me.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:10 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think this is tricky. If I were in this situation, I would post something on my timeline visible to anyone I thought might be interested (close-ish friends that live in your city), explaining that my friend was organizing the food circle, and asking anyone interested to message me and I would add them to the group. That way you won't accidentally include anyone who just isn't really up for it.
posted by barnoley at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would do one of two things:

I would post to all of my friends on my wall and say "A lot of people have asked about giving food once the baby comes, and X has set up a group to help coordinate that. Here's how you can join: " It might be that they PM you and ask to join, or PM your friend or just click on the group and 'request to join' and have to be approved, or whatever the mechanism for your group is.

The other thing I would suggest is pick one family member who has most of your family on their flist and who you like and get along with, and one fried who has most of your friends on their flist, and talk to them privately about this. Express your concerns with appearing grabby and not wanting to put people on the spot, and see if they will do the inviting on your behalf. Take no for an answer, of course, if they seem even a little uncomfortable with the idea.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:24 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I, personally, would be in no way put off if you sent this to me directly. If you don't want to do that, couldn't you just enlist a close friend from this other friend / family group to help?

I am not 100% up on how Facebook invites work these days, but it seems to me you could basically invite a close friend or family member (sister, brother, mom), make them a host as well, and then have them send the Facebook invite out to the friends / family members that your parent friends wasn't friends with, and that way it is still coming indirectly rather than directly from you?

Seems to solve most of the concerns, I think.

posted by CharlieSue at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

To be clear, it's a FB event invite, not a group. And it's set to invite-only. So there's no way to request to be added. Only I can add my own FB friends to the invite.
The "event" is just set for our due date. Then there's a list of open dates in the body of the invite text, and people are asked to comment on the invite with the date(s) they would like to bring food. The hosts would then edit the invite text to note which dates are taken.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2014

Then, I'd do a wall post with a "A lot of people have asked about giving food once the baby comes, and X has set up an event to help coordinate that. Send me a PM if you want to be invited."

I'll not, btw, that getting to an event's page after it has ended becomes much more difficult, so they may want to adjust the date of the event as it approaches, so it's always in the future.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:45 AM on August 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I am in a similar situation to you (pregnant and have weak to moderate social ties in the area, stronger outside), and I would do the facebook wall post where I say "I'm so thankful to [names] for setting up a Food Circle for people who'd like to bring food to us after the baby comes. If you'd like to join in, please let me know and I'll connect you to info." Then people message you or comment saying "sign me up please!" etc.

Agree that there are better systems out there for this, but I don't think I'd be comfortable (and sounds like you wouldn't either) saying to my friend "hey why don't you use this other system instead." It's a bit awkward, but ultimately, you have to believe that people DO want to help you, and will be grateful that there's a way to do so.
posted by bluedeans at 8:46 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would send a message to each person like you describe, "lovely friends are .." combined with dawkins text above. It makes it clear that you're not the organizer but allows them to participate if they wish.

I would not be put off by this. (And I am kind of an etiquette snob.) People that care about you want to help out. Like you said, people love babies, they will be happy for you and looking for ways to help a new mom.

Send the note and the event invite. It's great that people are doing this for you.
posted by shoesietart at 8:55 AM on August 1, 2014

I like the idea of posting it on your Facebook wall and letting people opt-in as they choose. The event invite or the direct message seem like a little much, particularly for people who have already done stuff for the baby.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:06 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a host, can you remove the 'invite only' part of the event? That way people can sign up and share as they like, and it becomes a bit more casual, and not a direct 'please make me food'. Friends will share it if they want, sign up if they want, pass if they want, without the pressure on you to invite specifically.
posted by Vaike at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah if you can make it non-invite-only, then maybe post about it on your timeline ("Thanks so much to Joe and Barbara for setting this up!"), and some people will see it. If you comment on there occasionally it will pop up in that little annoying side feed thing. And you can direct people to it who ask.
posted by mskyle at 9:43 AM on August 1, 2014

Either make it an open "event," or change it to a group. Have the intro/description text be from your friends, not you, indicating that this is a thing they're doing for you. It can say something like:

"Our friends aabbbiee and spouse are about to be new parents! We know how tough it can be to deal with cooking in those first few months, and we also know that folks often would love to help out new parents but don't want to impose, so we created this "food circle" on their behalf."
posted by desuetude at 10:32 AM on August 1, 2014

Yes, this needs to be open invite because the only thing making it awkward and potentially feel "grabby" is because you have to invite them.
posted by vivzan at 10:53 AM on August 1, 2014

No, I wouldn't specifically invite my friends and family to this sort of thing. It seems a bit like holding one's hand out and saying "gimme gimme."

I'd get the organizer to change it to an open (public) event rather than invite only, then I'd share the event on my FB wall with a note that says something like what dawkins_7 suggested:

"Many of you have been asking for ways you can help us once the baby arrives; my friend So-and-So set up this event for those of you who would like to cook us a meal." Then I'd make it clear that there was no pressure to join, "since you've all been so generous and helpful already."
posted by tckma at 11:04 AM on August 1, 2014

Who created the invite? Think of that person as similar to your maid of honor or the person who plans your baby shower. They are responsible for inviting people, even if you tell them who you want to be included. Put the onus of the invite on them, but give them names. That way you seem less gauche but still get to control the process. I'm sure the person who set this up for you will graciously accept doing this for you.
posted by Brittanie at 12:10 PM on August 1, 2014

I think the issue with that is that you literally can not invite people who are not your FB friends to FB events to prevent spamming.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:17 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the event creator can't invite my friends on FB because they're not his friends on FB. Only I can invite them. That's what makes this awkward.

I have asked him if we can make it a public event, though that also gets weird because then it will show up in everyone's event feed on FB if they are friends with any of the hosts or possibly even any of the attendees. But at least it gets around the idea of me inviting people directly.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:35 PM on August 1, 2014

I'd really suggest porting the circle to a specialize website better designed for organizing this sort of thing (some good suggestions have already been mentioned). Making it an event in FB is going to make lots of problems including an extended run of gumming up people's feeds with event notifications. Not to mention the politics of deciding who gets invited.

If you move the circle to a website designed for that purpose, you can make a general announcement that "kind friend XYZ has put together this food circle for us, here's a link" and leave it at that.

Also, when I've participated in food circles, it's made very clear on the website that it's a drop-off only. It's not an invitation for everyone bringing something to come in and visit and see the baby. Some may chafe at that aspect as many consider themselves inner-circle and exempt from guidelines. But, it can be a major burden to have to entertain friends and have a parade of potential germs come through in exchange for a meal. Most circles have indicated that it's best to drop the meal on the doorstep in a disposable/recyclable container and text or email the recipient (doorbells wake the baby!). That saves the likely exhausted parents from an endless parade of people wanting to be entertained as well as the logistics of trying to return lots of storage containers.

posted by quince at 12:54 PM on August 1, 2014

Is there any way you can get the creator to take it down, and do a different invite method, like Meal Train, or even an evite? That way you can supply the email addresses of people you think would be open to it, but you wouldn't have to send the invitations yourself.

'Cause I agree, inviting people yourself feels awkward, and if you post on your own wall "hey, want to get invited to give me things?" is going to result in a few enthusiastic replys, but probably just a few.
posted by vignettist at 12:55 PM on August 1, 2014

I do not feel comfortable asking him to move this to a different site. It is wonderful that he even thought of us enough to set this up in the first place. The issue isn't that we'll have a lack of response and thus no one to make us free meals; the issue is instead that I don't want the onus of participating to be on this small group of acquaintances because I was too conflicted about how to make my friends/family aware of it in the first place (without appearing greedy or applying pressure).

He agreed to open it up as a public invite. I will share the link with a carefully-worded post to Facebook with the audience tweaked for only local friends & family, and I will hope that anyone who thinks this is gauche will just chalk it up to my late-term pregnancy exhaustion (combined with social media fucking with basic standards of etiquette) and not judge me too harshly. I mean, I haven't even started posting endless pictures of my perfect special-snowflake angel baby yet!
posted by aabbbiee at 2:27 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Backing up from the technical and etiquette specifics: let people feed you. It is one of the nicest memories of the time after my son's birth - friends and acquaintances alike stopped by with food and good wishes and just connection to the world at a time that can be a little isolating. People that want to do this will be glad to have the opportunity, and people that don't want to do it can just ignore the request. I'd strongly urge you not to deprive yourself of this chance to connect with your community - it's really sweet and we don't get many happy opportunities in life to experience how supportive our friends can be. It's not an exaggeration to say this was one of the factors that helped me avoid any post-parting depression.
posted by judith at 7:46 AM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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