Okay, as it seems I have the floor, I am going to expound upon my least favorite dinner party question..."What can I bring?"
Where did this come from? I was raised to bring a hostess gift when invited to someone's home, but unless the occasion was expressly labeled a potluck, I do not remember my mother ever bringing a dish to someone's home or vice versa.
Thus I felt ill prepared about a decade ago when I fell in with a crowd where this was the norm. I found it so strange and disturbing. There were several occasions where I showed up at an event with a hostess gift and everyone else had brought a dish...but it was not a potluck. weird. I also didn't know how to respond when I extended an invitation, planned a meal and everyone wanted to bring something. What the hell was going on here? It was like bizarro superman world. It took me a long time to become acclimmated and still it sticks in my craw (obviously).
As a guest, you should assume that the host(ess) who extended the invitation has the means and the inclination to serve you an entire meal. If you as the guest must ask this question and the answer is some form of "I think I'm all set" THEN YOU SHOULD RESPECT THAT. Bring a pretty dishtowel, bottle of wine, pound of coffee, box of tea, bottle of liquor, candle, flowers or some other suitable hostess gift.
I'd bet my boiling water canner that if you look this topic up in an etiquette book, it would back me up.
There are women (and I know quite a few) who are incapable of coming to your house without bringing a dish (or several). You have to let them fly their freak flag and be done with it.
Now, I have to admit, I have been infected with the virus. It is hard for me to come to someone's house and not bring a dish. I satisfy my need to bring something by bringing something I've canned. I'm still bringing food and yet not intruding on the hostess' turf. If you make candy, cookies, etc. and can package them prettily, then this is a good way to wean you off the crack of having to bring something to someone's else's thoughtfully planned dinner party (or brunch or lunch or whatever).
ALL of that said, your primary job as the hostess is to put your guests at ease and do what you can to ensure that everyone has a good time and feels welcome.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow...