Sunday, July 20, 2014

Etiquette When Eating With Others

One of the hardest things about staying (or getting) a healthy weight is keeping to your plan when you are in a social setting. Maybe you're at a friend's house, or at a party, at a restaurant or a potluck meal. What to do without blowing everything?

Here are some things that might help:

Don't Talk About It All the Time

We all know people who are always on a diet -- and they never miss an opportunity to tell you about it. Whatever you serve them to eat at your house, they "really shouldn't" eat because of their diet. Often they seem to know everything there is to know about food combinations, food taboos and fad diets. The only problem is that they continue to be overweight! Your most fervent wish is that they would just shut up and DO it already. 

The fact is that nobody cares what you can or cannot eat. They probably won't even notice what you do, or don't, eat. When you go out with friends, do you care what they eat? No, of course not. So, unless specifically asked, there is no need to talk about what you are doing here.

Just eat what you want to eat, and don't eat what you don't want to eat. Do your friends a favor, and talk about something else.

Ditch the Need to Show How "Special" You Are

What about the people who think they are so special because of whatever diet they're on? They bring their own food or tea bags when they eat out. They may even bring their own utensils, or ask the cook to use food they have brought. They never miss a chance for everyone to know what they do, or don't, eat.

Caution: I'm not talking here about people who have genuine allergies and need to be careful because of the death-defying nature of a mis-step. I'm talking about people who have simply decided certain things don't agree with them, or there are certain things they don't eat, and make a show of it. They grill the host(ess) or server about every little ingredient in a dish.

Well, ditch that! You may think this type of display is innocent, but, believe me, it is more about being special than about avoiding certain ingredients. You're at a party, after all. Enjoy the company. It won't be the last meal of your life. It doesn't need to be perfect. Don't obsess about the ingredients -- and especially don't subject others to your obsession.

Just eat in moderation and avoid anything that looks suspicious. No fuss, no muss. In someone's home, especially, there's no need to make the host(ess) feel defensive or bad for serving something you "can't" eat.

Restaurant Etiquette

Okay, here's a particular hobby horse of mine: people who go to restaurants and want the chef to change just about everything for them because they're so special. You know the ones I mean. You are with friends at a restaurant, and there is one person who inevitably has a conversation with the waitperson that goes something like this:
  • "I'll order the halibut with spinach and capers in hollandaise sauce. I don't eat eggs, though, so do you think the chef could put a different sauce on it. Also I'm not supposed to eat dark leafy greens, and capers have a lot of salt in them. So I'd like to have broccoli substituted for the spinach, and maybe some dill, instead of capers, would be good. As for the salad, I don't eat onions or tomatoes, so could you leave those out?  And I'd like the bleu cheese dressing, please, but without the cheese."
  • And the final touch: "Oh, I forgot, I don't like fish, so could you make that with chicken, instead?"
Okay, just to be clear: I'm not talking about someone who has a real food allergy here. But, even then, don't you think there is something on the menu that you could eat, rather than causing the chef to go into contortions to modify his/her carefully planned dish for you?

I'm also not talking about eating at a diner, where the short-order cook can do just about anything you want, and doesn't care if you don't want gravy with your meatloaf or would prefer frozen broccoli over frozen carrots and peas. It's all the same to him/her.

I'm talking about eating at a restaurant where the chef has put considerable thought into the menu and taste combinations that represent his/her particular talents. If it's an especially busy restaurant, the chef has set out the ingredients in stations for easy assembly by the sous-chefs (or other helpers). For example, the halibut with hollandaise sauce has the fish station, the sauce station, and the spinach with capers station. The salad mixture is prepared (onions, tomatoes and all), ready to heap into bowls.

You get the picture. Imagine the chaos when ONE customer asks for all that special treatment. Now imagine EVERY customer doing the same, each with a different variation they want, because of their "specialness."

What's the answer? Well, first off, none of us is all that special, not even you. So relax. Stop grilling the server about every little ingredient in a dish. There's no need to treat each meal as if it were the last meal of your life. It's probably not even your only meal for the day.

Find something on the menu that you can eat, or at least comes closest to something you believe is okay, and order that. Surely there's something, maybe in the appetiser section even, that you can tolerate. If there is nothing, just get some tea and settle into socializing with your friends.

Be good company. Don't annoy your fellow diners. Allow the chef to get on with his/her serving of other customers. You're there for the social occasion, after all. No need to call all that much attention to your special dietary desires. You have much more interesting things to talk about, and you are so special in so many other ways.


  1. Terrific, thoughtful article. I promise never to bring my own hamburgers to P&G's again, nor my home-baked bread and home-grown organic tomatoes, accompanied by my own green tea. I'll leave my mother's silver home, too, as pretty is it's been eating with her heirloom utensils.

    You've made me feel very guilty. I may never really be able to eat in a restaurant again, unless I know it has a reasonable, tolerant attitude toward people like me with special needs.

    1. I could get you a discrete little chest so you can bring your entire dinner with you to the restaurant. Why bother at all with those pesky ingredients and combinations the chef has put together?


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