modern ms manners: dining out – a note on eating in the company of others
- Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright
I read an article earlier this week about how one’s eating habits are influenced by the company one keeps. Apparently if you are surrounded by people who are healthy and exercise you are more inclined to adopt these good habits. Or at least, feel guilty enough to follow suit to avoid being the odd one out. The article made me question the idea of eating around other people and more importantly, the manners of eating out at a restaurant.
Personally, I love food. All the food. I would happily live out my days like some sort of Roman Senator, lounging on silken pillows and feasting myself to sleep, until it was time to feast again. Consequently, I find myself in the company of people who also enjoy food (if not always to the same, gluttonous extent). However, realising that life is not always like a day in Rome, I do feel an element of restraint is needed when eating in the company of others (unless they have committed to loving you, even when you scoff down a greasy burger).
Something to Start:
Before heading out to a restaurant, it is polite to make a reservation in advance. Whilst most places are still happy to accept walk-ins, this cannot be guaranteed. It might seem like a good idea to be a free spirit and just go where the night takes you, however as far as I am concerned, the night is taking me to dinner so I would rather eat something than walk around aimlessly.
Also when making your booking, make sure you notify the staff of any food allergies or intolerances that you or your guests have. Whilst most guests may be able to navigate their way around a menu, it is much easier if you give the kitchen fair warning. This will also prevent any spontaneous bouts of vegetarianism when your guests suddenly realise that they are at a steak house.
The Main Meal and Basic Rules of Sharing:
As any person from a large family will tell you, sharing is something that is forced upon children to counteract the individual’s survival instinct. This also is an attempt to make sure that the ‘good biscuits’ last through to the next week, under the premise that we can apparently all control ourselves. However, in my experience this utopian view was regularly shattered, with only the orange creams remaining in the Family Assorted box, whilst the Tim Tams were a distant memory by the weekend.
Now as an adult, I soon realised that gorging myself on all the office Tim Tams would be considered a bit of a faux pas.
I do not think it is in our instincts to share. However, I do agree that it is good manners not to steal your boss’s portion of Jim’s birthday cake. So how do we find a balance between these two competing stances?
- Bring emergency snacks with you. If you are going to be in a situation with other people where food is present and you are not sure of timing and availability, I find a good stash of snacks is a great way to make sure you do not dive upon any unsuspecting cocktail waitress at the function. My favourites include nuts, muesli bars and fruit, however if I ever found a wallet size chicken I would probably consider it quite seriously.
- Eat before you go out. Very similar to the strategy above, having something small to eat before I go out to dinner means that I am not raging at my friends who will not just hurry up and order. I have since named this strategy “first dinner”. Pass it on.
- Do not order a salad if it is a burger you want. I feel this way for two reasons. Firstly because I think that there should not be any emotions associated with food. The idea that you cannot eat something because you would then feel “guilty” about it, in my mind, shows a negative relationship with food. If you really want a burger, then order it and exercise later. Secondly, because more often than not, I will be the one ordering the burger. And no I will not share with you after you realise that your green salad was just a side dish.
- Consider context with sharing. There are more instances than not that make it appropriate to share a meal. Tapas, all you can eat buffets, and group pizza nights are all good examples of when you should share your food. The fact that I have more than one chip on my plate is not. Sure I may offer you one. But I mean that as a literal one.
Something Sweet to Finish:
If you genuinely do not feel comfortable splitting the bill, speak up at the beginning of the night and then order something that is made for one person. Any discussions about who ate how many pieces of pizza and therefore should pay a greater percentage of the meal are embarrassing and will only make you appear cheap and ruin the evening. If someone offers to shout you dinner, do not make a fuss. If you wish, offer to pay for drinks or suggest that it will be your shout next time. The general rule is that if someone wants to “take you out” for dinner, then they have implied that they will pay. However, it is always best to discuss this openly.
Remember, dining out with friends is meant to be an enjoyable experience, not something that should tie you up in knots. Nothing improves or enhances company and conversation like delicious food and wine. By the same token, nothing ruins company and conversation like eating the entire cheese platter. I, personally, am slowly learning the difference.