We all have a list of them. Whether it's inappropriate conversation at a dinner table or hosts who apologize too much for the food, crimes in eating and dining are annoying.
I could spend an enormous amount of time discussing dining horrors. I've committed them, and I am victim to them on a daily basis. They happen in your home, other people's homes, at restaurants, even on your commute to and from work.
I felt compelled to write about these atrocities after a discussion at a recent dinner party about people who bring food your home and then take the leftovers back to their home. So let us begin there...
Crime No. 1: Do You Take Home the Food You Brought? No.
That's right -- the answer to that question is "no". It's rude. Don't do it. Look, we've all showed up at dinner parties thinking the food we brought over was so wickedly delicious that whatever was left over had to come home with us. Or perhaps you thought your host wasn't deserving of your precious leftovers? Resist the temptation and walk away.
If you bring over ingredients such as spices and what-not to make a course, you take the spices and what-not home: NOT the food. And as far as booze is concerned, wine and champagne no; the special vodka or scotch you brought to make a drink, yes, unless the the bottle is a gift for the host/hostess.
Crime No. 2: Eating With Your Mouth Open Is Wrong. And So Is Talking with Food In Your Mouth
This should be a universal rule. Possibly a law with grave consequences when broken. But it's not. There are cultures in which eating with your mouth open is perfectly acceptable, as is belching. But I am incredibly uptight about these sounds. They're disgusting. The people in my life who are so close to me and who I so dearly love often receive the stink eye from me if they make food sounds.
Take note of how you eat and drink, and if there are sounds coming out of your month, cut it out. And there is no need to talk and chew at the same time. Everyone knows you can multitask.
Crime No. 3: Life is Too Short Not to Split the Check Down the Middle
Years ago I was dining with someone who explained why I should pay more for the check by informing me: "Well, you ordered an ice tea and I had water." Had I ordered and consumed a bottle of 1970 Chateau Latour, I would have insisted on splitting the bill to reflect my indulgence, but iced tea?
Split the bill down the middle; especially if you are with good friends. It all comes out in the wash.
Crime No. 4: Don't You Know There Are People Who Don't Have Enough to Eat?
One of my New Year's resolutions is to shop carefully: don't buy too much food, only what we are able to consume. When I'm walking around in the grocery store, I see certain foods and think, "I should stock up on this." Or I'm lured by delightful ingredients that are going to be no short of thrilling in whatever recipe I use them. But it's not necessary unless I know I'm going to be trapped in my house for a long period of time. And even when I have been trapped in my home for such things as snow storms and hurricanes, we've never finished all the things we bought that we thought we would need to survive.
Throwing away food that has gone bad is a culinary experience wasted.
Crime No. 5: People Who Never Offer to Help
Look, I get it. I too want to come to your house for a meal, find a comfortable place to sit, and consume your good wine for the rest of the evening. But I don't. My mother would be horrified. I know this for a fact because I have gone to my mother's house on numerous occasions, found a comfortable place to sit, and waited while she prepared some extraordinary Indian meal while I should have been chopping cilantro or some such thing. But I revert to my 8-year-old self at my mother's house and an 8-year-old should not be handling sharp knives. That's my excuse. But at your house? At your house, I will hear my mother nudging me to at least ask if I can help with anything.
Always offer to help the host/hostess. Even if they've got help, even if they look like they've got everything under control, even if you know they are going to say no. And once the host/hostess does decline your help and insists you relax and enjoy yourself, do just that. And be sure to loiter a little to chat with the host/hostess. Ignoring the host/hostess is right up there with ignoring a guest. Not cool. And if the host/hostess is right there with you partaking in food, drink and conversation, be sure to comment how beautifully the meal is going.
In the next edition of Table Manners, I'll share my thoughts on dinner-table inebriation and dealing with grownups who refuse to deal with their very excited children in your home. Sigh.