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Friends who just don't understand communal dining

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Anyone else have a problem with friends who just don't "get" ethnic communal dining? They each order a plate which is "theirs". How do you explain to them that is not how it is done, without lecturing?

I've been to chinese restaurants with a large group, and end up having 7 same fried rices at the table. Most of it ends up getting dumped, because who can eat a whole plate of it? That money could have been pooled for SUCH a better meal. It's so sad...

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  1. A lot of my friends are like that. On the other hand, my mom doesn't get the "order your own entree" concept, either. She has to share with everyone and try everyone's entree. My poor dad can only order what she wants to try.

    5 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      LOL, better than my grandfather. He's getting a little on in years and senile, and walks from table to table in the restaurant, ordering from them like it's a big picture book menu.

      1. re: qtxniki

        Funny. I do the crane the neck as obscurely as possible if I see something that looks good that someone else has ordered. Maybe one of the benefits of getting older is I can just get up and walk over to check it out! I like your grandfather!

        1. re: chowser

          yeah, senility will be my excuse as well. thx for the tip!

        2. re: qtxniki

          That's actually kind of sweet.

        3. re: chowser

          LOL chowser...this is so my life. Our poor dads!!!

        4. Maybe it should be explained to the group before one reaches the restaurant and is seated. Suggest it as an adventure in gourmet dining. The word 'gourmet' may get thru to those who have no clue. You may also ask if anyone objects to the idea.

          1. Growing up we always shared food, whether it was at a Chinese restaurant or not - it was just understood that everyone ordered a different dish and we all shared. I would laugh when we went to a Chinese restaurant and I saw people at another table where everyone ordered their own dish. I couldn't understand why they didn't want to try as many of the offerings as possible.

            When I started dating my husband we went to dinner with his mom and my parents and my now-MIL was really taken aback by my family picking off each other's plates. It took her awhile to come around, but now she doesn't mind sharing.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SarahEats

              Well, there's a distinct difference between "communal dining," where everyone orders an entree and it's passed around for everyone to sample, and literally eating off of someone else's plate. I can spot that having someone (especially multiple people) literally eating off of each others' plates would be considered a bit tasteless-to-nauseating to some folks (especially when messy children are involved). I'm happy to pass around shareable entree platters, and I may even ask to sample someone's food, or offer a sample to someone else, but it should certainly be quite limited in scope. After all, we're not swapping silverware, are we?

              Certainly, though, when food is brought in a platter with a serving spoon, it's time to "share and pass." In fact, to faciliate this without really lecturing, the best way is to take a *small* portion of yours, and immediately pass it to the left/right. That way, everyone else gets a feel for the idea, in a sort of "dining with the family at home" sort of way. If the person you're passing it to seems surprised, smile(!), and say, "Oh, you've got to try some of this. You all do!" You'd be surprised how well it works, and how quickly people "get it."

              One of my best dining memories ever happened in the Washington, DC area with my family and my cousin's family at a Chinese restaurant, where everything was shared. It's amazing how much further the food goes, and it also helps spur discussion of the food itself.

              "That's especially good!"
              "Could I have some more of that?"
              "There's too much ginger in there for my tastes..."
              "I've never had that before!"

              Always fun! ;)

            2. Sharing from someone elses plate, and sharing from a communal dish are two different things. While my husband and I may consider sharing from our own plates, it is a put off to many.

              Perhaps the way to go is to suggest, before ordering, that everybody chooses something to be shared 'family style'...and if one dish is especially coveted double that order. I remember going to Chinese restaurants when I was young that had a large lazy-susan in the middle, all dishes with serving utensils were placed there and the thingy swirled while we all took our portions. I agree that five plates of fried rice is overkill for any dish! Try to get the conversation going as to ordering 'family style'...so many can have a taste...and be sure that enough of the fab is ordered. I think we need to bring Lazy Susan thingys back!

              1. And properly eaten with the injera, the Ethiopian communal meal has less of a germ factor then passing plates, I would think. Ones hands only touch ones own bread, and the communal plate is never touched with, say, a used fork or spoon.

                1. First, unless they are your children, the table is the one place you CANNOT discuss this. It is verboten to correct manners at the table of equals.

                  Second, you cannot force people to share food they are paying for if they don't want to.

                  Whoever organizes and invites should explain the nature of the invitation: to share foods. That way, people who prefer not to eat that way will have the opportunity to decline gracefully.

                  Alternatively, someone could actually host the meal and order the food and instruct that it be presented in communal plates. The host would pay for it all. If explained generally in the invite, and guests accept, guests are honor-bound to be grateful and not obstruct or object. (Btw, this could also be done in the host's home via take-out delivery.) The guests also should write thank you notes and return the hospitality in turn.

                  1. "How do you explain to them that is not how it is done, without lecturing?"

                    Don't they get a vote? You're annoyed because they don't eat *their* meal by *your* rules.

                    There could be a lot of reasons why they don't feel like playing along. Maybe they don't like a lot of the things you want to order. Or maybe there is something on the menu they really like a lot and they want to have more than a few mouthfuls. Or maybe you're a much more adventurous eater then they are. When plates are shared it works out great for you because you get to try lots of things but they wind up on the short end because they only get a few bites of something they like.

                    If these are people you really like you shouldn't try to push them into doing things they dislike. You might want try a flexible approach. See if they'd go along with a few entrees being shared while they get to keep their main selection.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                      For a long time, I had a hard time understand why some people were not forthright with sharing, especially in Chinese restaurants, but for a lot of people they're scared of trying new things. They just want to stick with their yucky shrimp lo mein. Besides who wants to eat their boring choice of beef and broccoli? I like beef and broccoli, when I make it at home, not at a restaurant.

                    2. A simple "we usually just order a bunch of things and share" when everyone's just started to look at their menus usually does it. I have never seen this receive a bad reception if everyone has their own individual "blank" plate to eat off of.
                      Some people may not be familar with doing this in a restaurant, but certainly are used to it at home, so I'm sure it wouldn't take much convincing if there are enough silverware and plates to make sure no one is grossed out.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: fara

                        Well, announcing it with captive guests means you must accept that some may not do so. That is, establishing that rule after an invitation is extended and granted is non-obligatory on the guests. Hence the need to be clearer in the invitation; and I would not say "we usually" because a guest may still think "OK, but not for me", and simply state more clearly the intent. Clarity of communication at the right time means fewer unhappy people at the time of dining.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          My squeeze and I eat off each other's plates all the time, but I wouldn't expect it of others. It's rather intimate.
                          I grew up 'sharing' and she didn't, but we're both happy with the arrangement now. But THAT can take awhile if it's not what someone is used to
                          SO
                          I often ask "Shall we share, or do you like your own dish?", particularly in a restaurant where family style is the norm. In a big group, there's often someone that just wants their thing. And others who are excited to hedge their bets with a communal dining experience. What's the harm either way?
                          No lecture required...

                        2. re: fara

                          I don't think it's fair to do that. Why should they have to do anything just because it's the way you usually do it? What about how they usually prefer to do it? It's their meal too...

                        3. I agree. Maybe the only one who is truly suffering is you. It seems to be working out just fine for everyone else, as no one else seems to be complaining, other than you and your wish to control things. Why not just order what you really want? Or don't go to such places with such people if they are so stubborn, in your view?

                          This reminds me of when I'm eating with family. My mom insists that we all confer on what we are to order for dessert so we may all share, etc. She turns to me, asking me what I plan to order. I reply (sometimes not truthfully) "I don't know yet", to which she in a flustered manner says "But we need to know. What if we all end up ordering the same thing?" I reply "Then I guess that will mean we all got what we really wanted."

                          I may wish to mutually share on an unplanned ad hoc basis.
                          But I refuse to negotiate dessert!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Leonardo

                            Better than my Mom, who doesn't want to order her own dessert, but is very invested in *my* order which she plans to share!

                            1. re: julesrules

                              When I find I'm the only one ordering desert and notice four others salivating over my choice ("Ooh yes...I don't wanna take responsibility for myself and wish to cling to the delusion that I have self-control by not "ordering" any, so I'll just have a 'taste' off your plate"), I order another of it. One for me and one for the others!

                              1. re: Leonardo

                                ordering two is exactly what I do as well, when it is clear they want it but refuse to order it and are prepared to hijack mine...

                          2. There really is no way to "explain to them that is not how it is done, without lecturing", because there is no way to do this without lecturing. It comes across as snobbish, mostly because it is snobbish.

                            Consider the possibility it's you that doesn't "get" it. Many people find food/wine/beer snobbery pretty obnoxious, inclung some of us snobs. Ask yourself whether it is your privilege to decide for others what they order. Ask whether it's also your privilege to decide for them that they must share their food with you. This is not how it's done.

                            If you wish to introduce your friends to "ethnic communal dining", invite them out for a meal as your guests. Then you are privileged to place --and pay for-- the entire order yourself. Consider your guest's comfort when doing this, and make sure there's plenty of fried rice for your friends, who seem to find it more interesting than you do.

                            People's tastes vary. Be prepared to learn that at least some of your friends are already quite familiar with the communal dining experience, but simply do not enjoy it as much as you do.

                            1. I love communal dining and this would be my preference in certain ethnic establishments. However, I would never insist that any of my friends order and share in this way if that is not how they enjoy eating. In cases like this, my boyfriend and I order a couple of dishes and share them between ourselves, without inflicting our preferences on anyone else.

                              Really, dining out is about having a good time with friends, not forcing them to do things the way you like to do them and possibly making your friends uncomfortable.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hrhboo

                                exactly, exactly. who's to say that that's how it "should" be done? if you don't like how other people eat, then don't go out to dinner with them. i have one friend who has a lot of food dislikes, and i feel badly that she always seems to get the short end of the stick when "the group" decides to order communally. she ends up with a few bits of the one or two dishes that she likes and doesn't touch the rest. and of course is still expected to split the bill evenly.

                              2. How about just bringing it up casually, "Hey, is anyone up for sharing dishes, the way it's usually done with Chinese food? I love trying different dishes." That way, people who want to do it, can do it, people who don't, don't.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: chowser

                                  I'd probably stop at the second comma. The rest of the sentence assumes/implies that you think the other diners are unfamiliar with the concept, and comes across as arrogant. That probably isn't true. Anybody that's been to a Chinese or Indian restaurant often enough to be able to order is already quite well versed. Some people simply do not like to dine out this way.

                                  1. re: PDXpat

                                    I don't know if everyone does. I have enough friends who wouldn't know that that it doesn't surprise me anymore (in fact, more than not). If they only go with people who order their own dishes, they might not see how others eat. But, personally, it doesn't bother me and I'm fine with leaving things as is with them.

                                    1. re: PDXpat

                                      Agreed. Everyting after that second comma is lecturing, if done at the table....

                                      1. re: PDXpat

                                        I also agree. Just say, "do you want to order a bunch of different things and share?" At least some people at the table probably will want to, and if some don't that's okay.

                                    2. To me you have to know your audience and act appropriately. If you are pretty sure that someone isn't open to trying new things don't force it. It gets difficult when you are talking about poseurs however. I have a friend who knew of my appreciation of adventurous eating and (I realize now) from time to time would simply want to impress me with some cuisine "name dropping". I however took it as more than mere name dropping but as an actual indication of an intrinsic appreciation of certain cuisine. So I invited her out for Dim Sum with a group. We all shared Dim Sum passing it around the table. She ordered from the menu Shrimp Fried Rice and would not try anything else.
                                      What's most irritating is that I could have invited someone else who could really have appreciated the food and atmosphere. So watch out for poseurs.

                                      1. Just before ordering...I suggest you say to your friends... Lets do this "Family Style" and then we get to try more! Most people ar team players... :) Brian

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: BRIANTHEFOODUDE

                                          That isn't the point. The point is that one diner wants to determine the way the entire group conducts their meal, whether they like it or not. Shouldn't the majority decide whether they want to eat family-style or not? It seems like most of the OP's friends prefer to have their own dish.

                                          1. re: LAfoodfiend

                                            The point is that one diner wants to determine the way the entire group conducts their meal, whether they like it or not.

                                            I think that's a harsh way of stating it. Don't we all agree that Chinese, Ethiopian, and Indian food in restaurants is as a rule served family style? My interpretation was that the OP hopes to encourage her dining companions to enjoy the meal in the traditional manner of serving.

                                            1. re: babette feasts

                                              Yes, but everyone should be free to eat in the style they find most enjoyable, even if this is not what the OP would prefer.

                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                "Don't we all agree that Chinese, Ethiopian, and Indian food in restaurants is as a rule served family style?"

                                                You know what? The people the OP dines with don't agree. As a matter of fact I don't agree either. It depends on the group I'm with and whether some people really want to eat primarily one thing. People get to choose whatever makes them happiest.

                                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                  Especially if (1) they are paying, and (2) their agreement to dine with the group was not originally premised on sharing.

                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                    To recap: a billion Chinese are free to eat family style if they want, but in America you can have your kung pao chicken all to yourself. Isn't that why we all live here?

                                                    You know, for a long time I didn't like going out for Chinese food, because of the mandatory sharing. And I still sometimes get annoyed at modern small plates restaurants that expect you to share. I guess it just seems like implicit in an invitation to dim sum or ethiopian cuisine is and expectation of following the cultural norm of eating family style.

                                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                                      Are you going to refer to it as Freedom Pao as well?

                                                      Certainly people are free to eat as they like (and will) but to infer constitutional oversight vis-a-vis a BILLION Chinese is just wacky or worse...

                                                      And Americans wonder why the rest of the world often sees us as half retarded or culturally backwards.

                                                      And what ever happened to "when in Rome..."?

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        Of course. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Chinese restaurants, do as the Chinese do. Or did you mean when in America, do as Americans do, which is whatever we please?

                                                        Isn't willful ignorance of customs 'backwards'? If Chinese food was meant to be 1 plate per person, why does each dish arrive with serving utensils?

                                                        Sorry, I guess my sense of entitlement must not be working right, I'll get that checked. And I'll also try to make more money so I can feel more powerful, because everyone seems to agree: if I'm paying, I can do as I please. ; )

                                                        As a food lover, part of the enjoyment of enjoying foreign cuisines is learning about customs and cultures, being able to use chosticks well enough to not need a fork, nor being afraid to touch my food with my hands as with injera and ethiopian food. I can see how the OP would find unadventurous dining companions frustrating. Of course you can't force people to share, but you can try to lead them and hope they follow.

                                                      2. re: babette feasts

                                                        "To recap: a billion Chinese are free to eat family style if they want, but in America you can have your kung pao chicken all to yourself. Isn't that why we all live here?"

                                                        sarcasm don't always read as such on a message board . . . but I think/hope that's what babette feasts was going for here.
                                                        And I bet alot of us would live someplace else and eat family style every day if given the chance! Mmm, family-style Italian . . .

                                              2. This is one of my big pet peeves. What's really annoying is that at Chinese restaurants, the meals come out either as they are ready or by a set order. So if you are dining with others who don't want to share, then I feel like I have to wait until all the entrees come out, which is ridiculous with a Chinese meal.

                                                What does help is at this point, many people have enjoyed the family meal concept at Maggiano's and I can explain how traditional Chinese meals should be ordered basically the same way.

                                                1. I think a little explanation of what "family style" dining is about is in order before you dine. It should be explained in a nice, casual way. If you think it's rude, ask your waiter to explain. If the explanation doesn't come then it's your duty to explain...or suffer from eating 5 plates of fried rice or the Family Dinner #3.

                                                  Of course family style doesn't just apply to Chinese restaurants but also traditional Basque and some Italian places..and this could help the explanation. You could simply say they serve dinner like at home...everyone shares from a large plate, and a lot of old fashion places do it.

                                                  I don't know any family who plates for each family member...but then maybe I just haven't seen it all. Heck, Thomas Keller's AdHoc serves family style and they explained so it shouldn't be that weird. Tell them it's trendy.

                                                  As to ordering, the way it works with my family or friends is everyone gets to pick one dish/plate and usually agrees on another so everyone is assured to get something they like. This works well with vegetarian, dislikes and food allergies.

                                                  If the educational stuff (this is really what it is; education) doesn't work -- get new dining friends. I think however if you can get half to try it, everyone will be converted.

                                                  1. The posters who have already said "Know your crowd" are absolutely correct.

                                                    I have a friend who doesn't like to share. I always thought it was strange since he was raised in a Chinese family (family style, every night).

                                                    Then someone pointed out to me that it wasn't that he didn't like to share or thought we were germy. It just pissed him off that we never ordered enough! He works out a lot and needs to eat more than anyone else, but felt rude hogging shared plates or tacking on three extra dishes after we finished ordering.

                                                    So now, he orders something that's just for him (hands off, you vultures!) and the rest of the table shares. He also gets to share whatever looks good to him, but he always happily puts in extra at the end.

                                                    1. As a pain-in-the-butt vegetarian I find family style dining difficult. I can't demand that we order all veg dishes, as that would greatly disappoint the meat-eaters. So what usually happens is that we get, say, 6 dishes, 5 of which have meat. Everyone takes some of each. They all get a full meal and I get a dab of vegetables and all the rice I can eat.

                                                      My favorite example of this was when I was a guest of a family I had just met and they said "Oh, we will do all the ordering since we know this place so well!" The veg item they ordered was flaming hot tofu chunks. They all dined happily as I tried desperately to cool my mouth with wads of rice...funny looking back on it, not so funny at the time.

                                                      This is why I like to order my own entree.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Snackish

                                                        I remember one visit to a Chinese restaurant with 10 people who understood the family/sharing concept, but had an assortment of restrictions -- 3 kosher (no pork or shellfish), 1 or 2 vegetarian...so to come up with 9-10 dishes to give everyone a reasonable variety (and everyone was good-natured about working together), including varying the spice levels, was an interesting challenge. I think it helped that we were all science/math nerds and boiled it down to a good word problem... (It may have been more frustrating for the waiter, who came by about 3 times before we were ready to order.)

                                                        1. re: Snackish

                                                          Exactly. That way I am guaranteed at least one dish I'll like. And then if by chance there are other things that look edible, maybe I can sample it.

                                                        2. My greatest concern isnt "demanding" people dine the way that I want. I have no qualms with people ordering a dish each of their own. We can even order a duplicate if someone really adores a particular dish. I just HATE seeing food go to waste. Most of the time there are duplicates, no more than 30% each plate gets eaten. The rest is NEVER packed up to go, not even to give to a homeless person. Also, since the dish is obviously "theirs", I can't ask for it to be packed up either. Imagine how a person who loves food feels, sitting there starting at mounds of perfectly good food about to be tossed in the garbage. I don't even mind if they just shared amongst themselves. Just dont waste it! Maybe they just don't see the pros of ordering an assortment, and I want to know how I can break this to them.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: qtxniki

                                                            "I just HATE seeing food go to waste. Most of the time there are duplicates, no more than 30% each plate gets eaten. The rest is NEVER packed up to go, not even to give to a homeless person. Also, since the dish is obviously "theirs", I can't ask for it to be packed up either. Imagine how a person who loves food feels, sitting there starting at mounds of perfectly good food about to be tossed in the garbage. I don't even mind if they just shared amongst themselves. Just dont waste it!"

                                                            There was an old cartoon that ran in the "New Yorker." A mother is browbeating her son saying "Eat the rest of your spinach! Think of all the starving people in China!"

                                                            The kid dutifully forces it down and the phone rings. The mother picks it up.

                                                            "Mrs. Jones, we are the starving people of China and we thank you for making Johnny eat his spinach."

                                                            Let it go. Some wasted food at an occasional group meal doesn't matter much in the big scheme of things.

                                                            1. re: qtxniki

                                                              if your concern is wasted food,
                                                              and your companions are not taking their leftovers to go,
                                                              and you want to pack up the remains for a homeless person,
                                                              just say so. I doubt your dining companions will have an objection.

                                                              1. re: qtxniki

                                                                Exactly. And why do people have a problem sharing, if given enough plates and utensils- b/c they're afraid they won't get enough is the only reason I can think of. WTF, really.

                                                              2. My husband is like this. It's disappointing to me, but I'm not going to force him. And he's willing on occassion if we are with a group...sometimes...

                                                                1. I like only very spicy Chinese food and find the other stuff boring. I'll share my dish but never seem to have anyone that wants to share. Oh they try it but as I'm adding more of the hot oil to the food because most restaurants don't get the "really spicy" concept the people who have tasted my food are having an attack and demand to know "how I can eat that stuff".

                                                                  1. My husband loves communal dining. I much prefer to have my own entree and side dishes (I don't mind sharing appetizers and dessert). There are two restaurants we frequent regularly where he's always wanting to do family style with a group or have us each order something and share. If we're with a group of people, I suck it up and realize that night chances are I won't have what I want for dinner. If it's the two of us, I have finally convinced him that I'm just not going to do it. For instance, last time we went to our favorite Italian place, I wanted spaghetti ala amatricana (sp?). He wanted to get and order of veal marsala and an order of spaghetti carbonara and us split the two dishes. I told him no <g>.

                                                                    1. I recognize that there is an undeniable social element to "family-style" sharing of food, but I've found there is all too often a more insidiously (IMHO) practical reason that no one here has mentioned yet: It justifies and simplifies a clean split of the bill.

                                                                      As a fussy eater, I have had countless bad experiences with compelled "communal" situations at restaurants. I often find myself going out with a group of, say, five people who order five or six dishes to share, from which I typically will eat no more than half. The "even split" in reality results in my paying an outrageously disproportionate percentage of the bill given how little I ate, while I watch others exhort endlessly (even when the food wasn't great) over the enormous bargain buffet they just devoured.

                                                                      Here's an idea that people should come to accept: Not everyone at the table needs to be part of the same dining arrangement. Some can choose to share, others can opt out. But whenever I've proposed this, nine times out of ten I can be assured I will hear the following: "... but ... but ... but ... that's gonna screw up the bill!" Yeah. For you, buddy. Not for me.

                                                                      1. In my experience, most people like to share. There are, however, people who do not, for a variety of reasons: no pork, no meat, no peanuts, no garlic, whatever. It's up to each diner to try to balance their needs/wants with that of the group. If someone decides she has to order something for herself alone, it's none of my business, and I don't feel she owes me an explanation. I would certainly never try to make her feel bad.