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How do you feel when a guest suggests changes to a dish?

  • f

The post on non-appreciative guests reminded me of a guest I had the other night. I spent quite awhile making a pasta and eggplant timbale (w/beef and and hard-boiled egg as well). Now, I've made this many times in the past, I know it's good, and my guest could see that I put a lot of effort into making the sauce, frying the eggplant, etc. When he tried it, he said "you know i could see putting some of that basil you bought in here." i had bought two small packages of basil at wf for $2.00 each and thought that might be enough. true, the dish could've used more basil but is that really an appropriate comment, especially since all the basil I had was in there?
i don't particularly like this person now for various reasons, but is it appropriate to comment on your friends' cooking like this?

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  1. You mention that even you thought the dish could have used more basil.
    A true friend is always truthfull, but it sounds like you have other reasons for not liking this person.
    I don't mind my friend critiquing my cooking, as long as they know what they are talking about.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Infomaniac

      I agree that a true friend is truthful, but offering an unsolicited suggestion is, I think, in this instance, rude. I wouldn't mind if it were a close friend, who at a later time (ie, not at my dinner party) said "That xyz was delicious, but I think it could benefit from more basil."

      1. re: Infomaniac

        A true friend knows *when* to be truthful.

        1. re: julesrules


          I'd apply that to your family as well. One thing my Dad never did was critize my Mom's cooking, ever. He knew better.

      2. Yes, Sometimes I appreciate a tip. Sometimes it's best to just ignore certain comments.

        1. If it's a good friend with whom I've shared many homemade meals - and we've usually shared in at least some of the cooking at each other's homes - I wouldn't mind at all.

          If it's someone I've not cooked for before, I would feel a bit insulted but would likely say, "Hmmm, you could be right about that," just to be polite.

          1. "Silence is golden"

            An unsolicited comment is unwarranted and inappropriate. If the host(ess) asks the guest (and feels that the guest might have some thoughtful input) if (s)he had any suggestions to improve or change the dish that's one thing. But to be a food critic at a social gathering is obnoxious.

            If they are real friends, probably the next time they're running, shopping, hanging out the host(ess) may ask, out of earshot of any other potential guests. But keep the conversation at the table to fun, thoughtful, entertaining, not critiquing.

            12 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              Silence at the table, particularly when one has gone to some trouble to cook and considers it a treasured pastime, is very undesirable.

              Sure, we're primarily looking for compliments : ) but this guest made an innocuous comment that seems to have struck a nerve because the cook regretted not purchasing more basil.

              "You know you could have put some of that basil in here" is an opening line for a friendly discussion of cooking and ingredients. "This is bland, it needs basil." would be and unfriendly unsolicited comment.

              There is a big difference between making conversation and critiquing.

              1. re: Kater

                "'You know you could have put some of that basil in here' is an opening line for a friendly discussion"

                This strikes me, not as an opening line, but a frontal assault. "You know" begins as very confrontational and condenscending, followed by "you could have" doubles down the rudeness.

                I agree with basicfoodgroupie's suggestion. Start with a compliment, i.e. this is really terrific, follow by a "may I add" similar to salt in chicken soup, and take one for the gipper and end with a "i like mine a little more XXX." This gives the host(ess) an idea for later consideration.

                The best managers in the world do not tell, they guide and likewise friends don't whack each other with unsolicited "I told you sos" and "I know betters" unless the friend is moving into danger. I do not think "more basil" enters the danger zone.

                1. re: jfood

                  The best managers in the world do not coddle, they guide. If a cook is so sensitive that any comment begining with the vernacular 'You know' constitutes a frontal assault then it's probably a good idea to draft a script prior to the event so that guests will know precisely what level of treacle should replace a normal conversation!

                  This guest demonstrated an active interest in the dish he was served. That alone makes an ideal guest. The guest also recalled that the cook had an ingredient that could make a nice addition in the future indicating an ongoing interest.

                  On Chowhound's roster of 'Bad Guests' this guy doesn't even make the top thousand!!!

                  1. re: Kater

                    Sorry Kater, but i never used the word "coddled" and would never except when referring to eggs. We agree on "guide" but this does make not only the top 1000 but probably the top 100 (and I'm probably kind at that number).

                    One should not confuse good manners with treacle. As many have stated here, both the delivery and the message are important. Someone spills red wine on your new white tablecloth, you do not scream at them and call them an idiot, you politely say "that's OK we'll send it to the cleaners."

                    Like fine wine, manners develop and are refined with age and the use of the vernacular "you know" strikes me as a 20's or 30's lingo, versus mannerly guidance. Maybe if "you knows", "likes", and "you hear what I'm sayings" would be removed from everyday linguistics, people would have better communication. OK, my rant is over and soapbox is left.

                    1. re: jfood

                      If people are determines to get their panties in a wad over such an innocuous comment, refining their vernacular is not likely to solve the problem.

                      It wouldn't make the top 1000 and might not even make the top 10,000!

                      Surely if we continue like this long enough, you'll come around to my point of view...

                      1. re: Kater

                        Over the years i have mentored many young Associates in their professional skills and social graces. One thing i have noticed is many of these A-type overachievers have spent so much time studying to achieve high grades to attend top-tier schools that their social skills were not as strongle developed. One thing about understanding these skills is that they are rich in history and as so many others on this thread have agreed, it is fairly common and accepted practice.

                        In your face rude might be the norm and acceptable behavior in a college dorm or a beer party but once graduation occurs people move into, and are expected to act more properly, in a social settings and have a greater understanding of acceptable versus rude behavior.

                        The individual in the OP was clearly rude and unfortunately does not understand that everthing on the brain need not reach the tongue and vocal chords. It is a trait that maturity will hopefully bring to him and those who think this is an acceptable norm.

                        There are few responders who think this was innocuous and i am not sure if anyone got "their panties in a wad". That being said I will gladly stay on this side of the proper vernacular, the proper respect, the avoidance of rudeness and the condenscating manner of the guy's response.

                        1. re: jfood

                          So true - after I left a large law firm I seriously considered starting up classes to teach young associates such things.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Thanks MM, i was fortunate that the dad one of one my roomate's in undergrad was the dean of the business school. he taught us all how to act at a business meal

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              I am always amazed at the lack of social graces by persons at the top of their professions - law, architecture etc. who are totally lacking in table manners for instance, waving their fork in the air to make a conversational point; leaving a messy plate with fork and knife ascew; not using a napkin; eating with their mouth open. Ugh.

                            2. re: jfood

                              It is absolutely fascinating that you think your post avoid 'rudeness' and condescention.

                              More importantly, you're not doing anyone any favors by encouraging them to overreact to innocuous comments. Social skills are important to success in relationships and career. Overreaction and hyper sensitivity are absolutely crippling in both of these arenas.

                    1. I think, like so much in life, it is not what you say but how you say it.

                      It also depends on if you solicited comments and the amount of intimacy and comfort you have with the individual.

                      There are some people, even if they asked my opinion, I would have answered something like, "This is just lovely."

                      There are others that, only if asked, would I have said something like, "It was great. I might add a little more basil, but that could be my palate."

                      Rarely would I just go and say something like "This needs more basil" unless I have a very close relationship with the person and a degree of understanding.

                      Now, if someone said something like that to me, even if I was offended or didn't care for the individual personally, I would simply thank them for their advice.

                      If a person offered their opinion rudely, I might suggest to them another serving, but in a different orafice.

                      Patrick C=:-)
                      Your Basic Food Groupie

                      1. Fara, Don't feel like you're alone. My wife and I have an old friend who does it too. Not nice! I just tell him to cook it himself so we can compare. Ya know---he's never done it.

                        1. First, kudos on making a timbale; it is a time-consuming and spectacular dish, and your guests should all have been properly appreciative. I would have to agree with most of the posters that if the comment came from a friend I knew well, and whose gastronomic skills I respected, I would have taken the comment as wholly constructive. If the comment was meant as a putdown, I would have chalked it up to the pettiness and lack of graciousness of the guest and made a note in future not to expend that kind of effort on such a poor guest.

                          1. Fara, to be honest, I think your guest could have skipped the comment. As countless CH's have said, it's in the delivery. Guest could have said "Fara, this is scrumptious. You know, come spring when I grow a bunch of basil, I'll bring some fresh basil over and you can show me how to make this"

                            Or better yet, s/he could shut up and enjoy. It's not like he found a fingernail in the dish.

                            1. Uninvited critiques of the host's cooking are impolite. If you're a guest, find something nice to say even if it's stretching the truth. If someone I invited made a comment like this, I would either ignore it totally (if I were in a good mood) or raise a eyebrow in astonishment. What has happened to courtesy, or even manners?

                              With my close friends and family I'll often ask for an honest opinion and in those cases anything they say is fair game.

                              1. As most posters have said, it is all about the relationship and the delivery. I think the suggestion is pretty mild but a different relationship, a strong tone, etc. could have changed that. Even if that was the case, I would probably be only mildly annoyed. Extra basil is a pretty mild comment.

                                Congrats on constructing a timbale!

                                1. He didn't really suggest that you change it, he merely made a comment (that you agreed with) It was quite a mild and nice way, by the sounds of it.

                                  I think he just bugs you and that's why you took offense.
                                  Because I agree that they way you feel about the person plays a big part in how you feel about what they say.

                                  1. I'd be annoyed, no doubt about it. The funny thing is that I *constantly* critique my own cooking (drives my husband crazy to be grilled during dinner over whether or not I could've used a different wine, or added a pinch of whatever) but I have to admit the idea that I'm doing the "hostess thing" and *being* critiqued is pretty rude, IMO.

                                    So, I think it comes down to the old "you choose your reactions" thing - obviously "my" insecurities (based on my self-critiquing habit) would color my reaction to being critiqued.

                                    On the other hand, it just also seems there's a time and a place to play holier-than-thou-palate-food-snob, and at a friend's table just isn't it.

                                    1. I agree, it's in the delivery. 'This needs basil'=bad. 'This is delicious, you know, it would be really nice with some/some more basil'=good. Especially as you can then say - 'it does have basil in it, but I ran out/it's really subtle' depending on whether you mind or are peeved at the person anyway!

                                      But if you want really irritating try asking how people feel about a dish in order to decide whether to cook it again, vary it or burn the recipe and get either no response or 'it's very nice'. If anything my friends/guests don't give me enough feedback.

                                      1. My friends and I all cook. We all belong to a so called gourmet club, for lack of a better term. Conversation is always about food and food prep. I don't think anyone would take exception. What really irritates me within our GC dinners is when someone is assigned a dish to make and they change it without consulting the the hosts. In our group the host of a particular meal selects the menu and assigns who makes what and supplies the menu and recipes. At one dinner, even after a couple of years I am still ticked, I had assigned the salad to someone who decided it lacked something and dumped crumbled bleu cheese all over it. That upset the balance I was trying to achieve. If she had consulted me I would have explained that to her but added that if she wanted to bring some along for her own that would be fine. But during the meals we often critique the recipes. But I can understand somone being upset by unsolicited critiques.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Candy

                                          You could have said: "You know, this really doesn't need blue cheese." ;)

                                          1. re: bryan

                                            I think it depends on how the group is set up. If "control" of the menu rests solely in the hands of one member for a full dinner than I agree that the "preparers" should be true to the wishes of the one deciding that full menu. Hopefully the "button" rotates so everyone has the chance to choose.

                                            If on the other hand a recipe for something is given with the hope that each member is good enough to tweek for the better, then this is another story.

                                            Our group has a person who decides the menu theme in consultaion with several people and then she chooses the recipes. Jfood has been tasked each time with the entree. Sometimes these are challenging and other times quite easy. Our group allows for slight variations and sometimes I just can't find an ingredient (i.e. preserved lemon). Gotta find a substitute.

                                            In this case if the group is the former and the salad maker thought blue cheese would be nice, a phone call to the planner is appropriate for guidance on whether in the salad or on the side is the "approved" method.

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              We all take turns hosting a dinner. In our group The hosts set the menu and assign who makes what. We usually have a co-host who helps the host out if needed and the co-host usually prepares the main dish
                                              the host has enough to do with getting the house ready and the clean up aftrwards. It was too late to say it doesn't need cheese.

                                        2. It really depends on who's giving the unsolicited advice. My cooking buddy and I always think of other flavor options after the second bite. This situation hasn't really happened to me, but I think I would get slightly annoyed depending on who the guest was, the delivery, the context.

                                          What is annoying to me are the guests who swear they know what you put in your dish. After you've already told them the entire recipe twice, they still insist that you've included what they think they're tasting. Then they think you're hiding a secret ingredient and they've just figured it out. "Really, I didn't put any Shitake mushrooms in the Chicken Verde Enchilada!??!"

                                          1. "Oh, that sounds like a wonderful idea! How about we all come over for dinner at your home next Saturday?"

                                            1. No matter how much my Dad likes something I've made, he will always follow up a compliment with "but it would be better if you added ......." He's learned not to do it to my mother, because it drives her crazy. It used to bother me, but now I just roll my eyes because I know it really has nothing to do with the quality of my food.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: LaurainCT

                                                If it's your Dad (or someone else near and dear to you) and you know it isn't meant unkindly, beat him to the punch. After the compliment, respond with, "But, it would be better if I added..." just to let him know you know it's coming.

                                                  1. re: funkymonkey

                                                    my dad and I do that to each other, but it's more that we have minutely different taste preferences. if something is off, we would announce it before it is served.
                                                    in the case of the main post, i just felt that it was obvious i had spent a lot of time on it, and the first thing out of his mouth was a critique. anyway, i am generally too sensitive, but not so stupid as to be friends w/rude people.

                                                1. Can't add much except I agree with those that say unsolicited comments are not appreciated. If I ask, what do you think?..then I am asking for the truth (if it is what I want to hear) :).

                                                  I would have bitch-slapped him and then shoved the basil up his nose...and then said, "thanks for being honest".

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. As a dinner guest, I would only critique someone else's food if asked for an opinion, other than that, its bad breeding. I would also wait until I was close to leaving and had a private moment with my host, I would then ask to have the recipe sent to me "because I'd like to try it with more X, Y or Z".

                                                    If I'm testing a recipe, or someone else is testing a recipe and opinions are requested, then honest but tactful opinions are acceptable. My husband and I have an open conversation agreement when it comes to food and even then, we're very careful with each other's feelings.

                                                    I'm wondering, just a little, why you're hosting someone that you don't particularly like. As for his opinion, consider the source and take it with a grain of salt.

                                                    1. "You know, you're girlfriend could be a little less chatty"

                                                      "You know, your son could be a little more sociable".

                                                      "You know, your hair could be a shade or two lighter".

                                                      Same thing to me. Who asked you?

                                                      1. you know, you could forget about this person and never invite him to dinner, or anywhere else for that matter..

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. Hey maybe the person is a Basil freak. Don't you just love the home food critic. Here you are cooking all day. It needs more basil.Best to smile and not invite that person over for dinner again. ESP when you don't care for that person anyway. They will probaly have something to say about that also. ONe question you said you used 2 bags of basil wasn't that a bit over powering for the rest of the dish.

                                                          1. I don't think the original question was about 'delivery' or if the person making remark is liked - but whether it's appropriate to comment on execution of a dish as a quest. Yes, it's generous for someone to eat something and thoughtfully offer suggestion for improvement.
                                                            I like to cook for my friends and welcome or solicit their response. It's not always the flawed cooked but sometimes the version of a recipe that isn't so good. I appreciate any comments, don't think it reflects a disregard for my effort and hopefully the comments make me a better cook or at least improve the result next time I make that dish. (I think I'd like your hair shorter.)

                                                            1. For me it would all have depended on the circumstances of the meal. If it were a friend that wasn't very close or a first date and the person started critiquing, then I'd view it as rude. If it were a very close friend and they managed to say it as a suggestion for next time and not condescending, then I don't see a problem with it.

                                                              1. In general the rule at my house (husband is a chef) is don't complain about a meal while you are eating the freaking thing! That being said, in general when others who love to cook are around, we just can't help ourselves and love to pick pick pick things apart- but unsolicited suggestions on any topic (parenting, dressing, eating...)are rude! I'd put this guy on the list!

                                                                1. just concider the source. maybe this person is not up to give
                                                                  a realible opinion worth you concidering. I would just forget
                                                                  it. and the person too.

                                                                  1. Hummmmm?

                                                                    I think I will take the Dear Abby approach and suggest that the both of you see a professional (shrink).

                                                                    Now you would really be up the creek, if the shrink asks you what Basil thinks about all about this. ;-)


                                                                    1. I try my best to make things that I think my guests (and my family) will enjoy at my table, but if they don't, they don't. It's not the end of the world. No one is going to starve to death not eating something -- or anything at all -- at one meal.

                                                                      As a disclaimer, I need to say that I am a freelance writer. I am used to being ignored by editors whom I query with article ideas, and then edited, rewritten, questioned, etc. when I have turned in a story. If I were sensitive to criticism, I ought to find another line of work. For everyone else, cook what you enjoy cooking -- and harden that shell a little.

                                                                      1. Personally, I love to talk about food I'm serving, and I love to hear what the people eating think of it. What drives me up a wall to is to make some interesting and complicated dish and have folks not want to talk about it. Like my MIL -- "It's good, don't tell me what's in it, I don't want to know." Infuriating.

                                                                        I'm even this way with the bad food that comes out -- "Wow, I really destroyed this, didn't I?" is not a rare thing to hear at my dinner table. Usually connected to the first making of a recipe, or to a dish I'm experimenting with dramatically. Paella comes to mind......

                                                                        1. I'd probably say something like, "Well, I made it for lunch when your wife was over here Tuesday. She liked it fine. Especially with that bottle of prosecco. Wanna know what we had for dessert?"

                                                                          Then again, I have issues.