HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Is it OK to start eating before your host eats?

The plating vs. family style post inspired me to ask this question: Do you wait for your host/or cook of the evening to start eating or do start eating before they do? I was raised to wait for my host/mom before commencing to eat but MIL and DH have 'retrained' me to ease up on my formal ideas for meals at home. When dining away from home, I stick to the manners I was taught even if the host says it is ok to start without him/her.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Alot of people don't think so,my grandma insists on you eating as soon as you get the food,usually because shes in the middle of cooking more to put on your plate as soon as theres room.
    I always thought that that was a dumb rule made up by the antacid companies,thank god lets eat!!!!!

    1. Well, the easier rule was that grace was said after everyone was served and no one ate until grace was said....

      Having properly warmed plates also helps make the issue of food getting cold less of an issue.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Karl S

        I was raised under saying grace first even till this day. Lately, that has been taken care of prior to the start of the "food line" as we generally eat as a large (25+) family member group. The host attempts to get some order here as getting our elders or those in more need are taken care of first.


      2. Yes, unless they insist several times that I start without them - even so, I'm reluctant to do so. Same in a restaurant, though I'll be the first to suggest that others start without me if my food hasn't arrived yet.

        1. The way I learned it, you get to sit and sip your drink with a smile until either everyone at your table has been served, or until the host (or in the case of large catered events where the host is across the room at his own table, someone else at the table) says something along the lines of "Oh, don't wait for me, go ahead and eat." Naturally, if you'd still like to wait until everyone has been served once the host says that, you're welcome to; it's a gracious gesture to the host.

          3 Replies
          1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

            There is some rule about if there are more than 8(?) people at the table, you can go ahead and start before everyone is served, for what it's worth.

            1. re: MMRuth

              i have heard that rule as well, as so the food does not cool?

              1. re: chef chicklet

                I assume so ... that serving that many people will cause the people served first to have to eat colder food. I actually serve myself first at a dinner party when I serve plated food, for that reason, even though it may at first seem counterintuitive/rude to do so.

          2. This is a good topic. I was raised to wait until everyone was seated to begin eating (after saying grace of course). My first trip to Germany with my husband to see his family was hilarious. We would be out at a restaurant and over there, everything is cooked to order and fresh and it comes out as it is done, not when the whole table's order is finished like it is here. Inevitably, my entree always seemed to come out first and I would sit politely and wait until everyone was served. After this happened about 2 times, they asked me what was wrong with my food and why wasn't I eating? So I explained how I was raised, telling them to me, it was impolite to eat until everyone was served and they all got a good laugh out of it. I still feel weird eating if everyone hasn't been served yet.

            1. I wait until everyone is seated and ready to begin eating. Though I know some cooks who would much rather the guests begin eating without them, it takes the pressure over having everything done at the same time.

              1. For at-home dining, I wait for the host, unless it is a very casual setup like buffet dining. When dining out, I apply the "Rule of Six", which says that for parties of six or more, you eat when your food comes out, lest those served earliest end up eating cold dinners. Not every restaurant coordinates the serving of dishes to large groups effectively.

                1. Place me in the wait til everyone is seated category. I just think it's not very cordial to start while others are busy getting food to the table (this relates to the plate vs passing scenario). It's almost like the host are being treated like the "help" in not waiting. They have graciously opened theri homes and spent time preparing a wonderful dinner. To start without them just seems like a little slap in the face to me.

                  Likewise at the family table, our girls have been taught to wait until everyone is seated. In that case I just think it's basic manner.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jfood

                    'They have graciously opened theri homes and spent time preparing a wonderful dinner. To start without them just seems like a little slap in the face to me.'

                    You've really hit the nail on the head as to why I prefer to wait for my host.

                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                      Me too.

                      I will (reluctantly) begin eating (ususally in tiny bites) if host/hostess insists, but I can never, ever start dessert until host/hostess takes their first bite.

                      On the other hand, when I'm serving guests, I make everyone start eating instead of wait for me.

                  2. I dated a guy once whose grandmother was one of those iron fist/velvet glove types -- very warm and lovely woman, but a stickler for etiquette. When there was a large group of us eating together, she'd always say, "Three are served!" when three people had their food in front of them, and that was the cue that it was okay to start eating. Don't know why three was the magic number, unless of course it's because three is the magic number.

                    1. nah, it's always right to wait, if the person is your host.

                      however, in a restaurant setting if you're in a group of many, and some have been served and others' appear to be in for a bit of a wait, it's only right for those who are waiting to say 'go ahead' and encourage those with food to get started.

                      1. Wow, thanks for all the thoughtful and thought provoking responses. It is a question that has bothered me for awhile.

                        1. If I'm cooking and serving I prefer my guests to start eating' cause I don't want their food to get cold...eat!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jbyoga

                            I concur,why wait.I do it,reluctantly,when I feel its the etiquette of where I happen to be,If I'm at either of my grandmas houses then I know you can eat as soon as the foods at the table.There too old to waste there time with stuffy old rules.The main reason is my grandmas want you to eat so they can cook you more to fill the empty spots on your plate.Especially after me and grandpa used to go fishing YUMM

                          2. Eating with others is a social situation, not just chowing down. So you wait until everyone can participate. How cold is your food going to get in a minute or two? You won't starve. (Technically, you're not even supposed to start salting, peppering, etc. until everyone is ready. It's not Gentlemen, start your engines!)
                            If someone is obviously not able to start eating, because their food hasn't arrived in a restaurant or they're still tending to meal preparation, they should have the social grace to say, "Go ahead and eat so your food doesn't get cold."

                            We taught our kids this at home, even for informal family meals, because manners become habit. I didn't want them to grow up to blow job interviews over lunch or horrify potential in-laws. Good manners are a part of basic thoughtfulness of others in social situations. Otherwise we could put the food in a bowl and eat in front of the TV.

                            1. While we're asking....what is your preference on serving large gatherings...better to pass the food/bowls around the table or serve individual plates or set the food in the middle of the table and take turns filling your own plate. For our large/extended family this has become an etiquette issue.


                              5 Replies
                              1. re: HillJ

                                I don't do either. To avoid bumper-car contact sports with serving plates/bowls going in different directions at different speeds (or not at all), and to create more space at the table, hot food is in the kitchen and people go there to serve themselves, while cold/tepid foods are on the sideboard. It works fantastically, so I got over my etiquette fetish against that approach.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  HillJ, the etiquette is that the serving pieces are set on the table and passed counterclockwise. (This is the same direction in which servants would move if you had them.) Sometimes this makes for problems getting the sauces after the meat or starch unless the host plans well. If I pick up a platter and offer it to the person on my right, it starts things moving in the correct direction and everyone follows the pattern.

                                  Originally, filling plates in the kitchen was done when the servants were off (how's that for an antiquated concept?) when you would have only had close family or friends at a meal. It was considered very intimate, perhaps what we might now consider something of a "boundary issue," except that we've become used to restaurant service. The exception of course was always "composed" courses,that were were served cold, e.g. Cobb Salad, appetizers, desserts. Attitudes have changed but it's hard to "plate" hot food for more than a few without a helping hand. Plating does not allow for allergies or preferences of those you don't know well. I still reserve this for family and close friends.

                                  Smaller dining rooms and tables require planning to limit the number of serving dishes on the table. Maybe you can't have as many candles or flowers. Sometime having a serving cart close at hand can help with clutter. It avoids the disruption of having guests jumping up and down from the table to refill their plates. That breaks the flow of conversation and creates constant motion and a sense of chaos. Or the occasional sidebar chat in the kitchen.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    And one of the reasons I have adopted the kitchen is that I usually need to make many dishes to accommodate the preferences of my guests, so many people are taking food from select pots, as it were. I find that, when done initially by everyone, there is rarely anyone getting up more frequently than when I had all the food in the dining room, as people still had to get up to get things from the different sideboards and what have you.

                                    It is also a great excuse for brief sidebars that can actually enhance the general flow of conversation. Then again, I am a huge believer in assigned seating precisely to separate couples (yes, that's a wonderful old rule, very wise), separate people who tend to dominate or argue, and encourage interesting seating mates, et cet. Place cards really do improve dinners.....

                                    1. re: Karl S

                                      Just different menu planning styles. I don't do cafeterias. I design a meal that will appeal to everyone, taking into account the obvious (Kosher, halal, vegeterian, allergies) and go with that. I found that if I offer a choice of potatoes and, say, quinoa, someone will just pass on the unfamiliar. But if there's just quinoa, Mikey takes a little of it to be polite and, dang!, he likes something he never would have tried. A guest might pass on a hated food but there's plenty of other choices in the menu and no one goes hungry.
                                      There are also those who take something from every pot in the kitchen and get a dibs-and-dabs meal instead of a nicely planned dinner which I prefer to offer. To each his own.

                                      I agree with you about place cards. My kids loved to make them when they were small. They add a special thoughtfulness to even informal meals. They're a good way of giving little party favors or giving each person a copy of the menu if you're serving a special food or wine.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        What I found to be a problem is that serving dishes would not make the rounds of the table without too much prompting, for a number of reasons. I had some very difficult combinations of guests to accommodate as well; now I don't, but the serving style I had to develop to deal with the earlier situation worked so well that kept it and people thank me for keeping it.

                                        But, I am the first to champion the host's customary role to choose and serve the menu, and for the guests' role to be gracious and smile and eat what they can of what is offered to them, rather than expect a host to become a restauranter. So I am not wagging any fingers at you in the least.

                                2. I agree with everyone who says it's polite to wait until everyone has their food and is seated - including the host (who's invariably serving). It's also polite for the host to say, "Please, go ahead and start eating!" But I do get annoyed when I have people over for dinner and they start to eat when I'm still dishing up food.

                                  And the rule at the family dinner table is the same.

                                  1. The best rule of etiquette I ever learned, when you are a guest and unsure of this or any other question, act serene, relaxed and confident, while (without darting your eyes about) being aware of what others are doing. Then copy them.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Brian S

                                      lol that was probably the most truthful statement on the board.

                                    2. No, it is not acceptable to start eating unless specifically told to numerous times.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: mojoman

                                        While I agree one should wait unless encouraged to start, I'm not sure why it has to be "numerous times." Social insincerity really irritates me on both sides. If I tell someone it's okay for them to start, I want them to believe it the first time and not have to say it again and again to prove I mean it. I also don't want to have to falsely protest about starting when I'm encouraged to do so.

                                        Is it really such a big deal that a charade has to be played out? Once is enough.

                                        1. re: Orchid64

                                          Mmm, I don't even know if numerous times would help. I've been brought up not to eat until everyone has their plate-- including the host. I have had hosts encourage eating as soon as I have my plate, but frankly, it feels really awkward and unpleasant to me. It's not a charade in which I need to be asked several times, but in some ways, it's me bowing to pressure of the person telling me to eat, in spite of the fact that there is this other voice that removes any pleasure from the activity.
                                          I do have an over-developed super-ego, though, so I recognise I have a problem! :)

                                      2. I usually take cues from the host or other diners. If I didn't know the host very well or I am at a restaurant, I wait for everyone to be served. If the host says it is okay to start without him/her, I wait for someone else to start before I start to eat. In some cultures or households (like my own), we start eating once we are serve and usually don't wait.

                                        1. Count me in on the side of wait until everyone's ready or until urged, although my practical side happens to agree. It's not that my food will change temperature dramatically or not before eating, but that I don't want to finish significantly ahead of everyone else.

                                          But I also agree that a more useful and general rule is probably watch for cues from the host (and everyone else).

                                          1. same here. ya wait.....always. i know a couple who join us for dinner frequently and he dives in every time the second the plate hits the table or his butt hits the chair. ...and he's usually finished before we're halfway through the meal. it seems crude. i should be used to it by now, but it always galls me.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: spinach

                                              spinach, I used to have a cousin that way till granny made a comment to my cousin that went something like--- Bless your heart for offering to help me with the dishes... His reaction was absolutely priceless, considering 22 of us, was eating at the time. Then gramps just happens to spill the beans that he would indeed have fun washing paper plates. <LOL>


                                              1. re: Candy

                                                Geez, I was hoping no one would mention "at a picnic"!

                                                Someone mentioned to the minister that great-great granny was 98 at the picnic of her last birthday. (late 60's) All the foil and lids was pulled ready for grace, then get ready to form the line on the back side of the cabin. (Hidden from the seating area view)

                                                But somehow the minister thought it would be nice to take time for some personal reflections, before saying grace. Yikes! The wildlife got first dibbs and most of the grown ups had to rush off to the stores to get more food as that stuff wasn't fit to eat.


                                                1. re: RShea78

                                                  My mom has moved to Tulsa here and her neighbor says it is okay to sneak in a few bites before grace because the grace automatically blesses the food in your stomach!!

                                                  1. re: RShea78

                                                    Great story! I am reminded that at our church picnics, there are always a few people whose job it is during very long prayers to glance at the food table and discreetly (or not so discreetly) ward off critters. There are always many volunteers.

                                                2. I usually wait unless they REALLY insist. I'm a fast eater, so if I started first, I'd be done before the host/hostess even sat down!

                                                  1. It is an insult to the chef/cook/host/hostess not to eat the food that is served at its best - and that is when it is first served. Modern - by which I mean in the last 100 years - etiquette tends to suggest we wait for the hostess to be seated before the guests start eating, but this is not the way it used to be.
                                                    As the only cook in our house I'd far rather people enjoyed their food at the best I can produce rather than let it cool down - even a little - until everyone is served.

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: Susan1948

                                                      At home, I also feel the same way, and though it may seem rude, I serve my husband and myself first, then the guests, so that their food will be hotter.

                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                        I guess it depends. Even if the host/hostess indicates to the guests to begin, I would wait if they weren't still milling around. Otherwise, digging in is perfectly fine if the host/hostess so indicates.

                                                        Up top, though, someone mentioned 'properly warmed plates'! What is this and who does this? And if there's a large party, how does one keep the first plate warm by the time one gets to the last plate? I am picturing the plate spinners showcased on the variety shows of ages ago.

                                                        1. re: dolores

                                                          I am not an expert, so hopefully other will chime in. I usually stick oven-safe plates into a warm oven (about 150-200 degrees Farenheit) until they are hot, but I must admit, they are often too hot when I finally get them out. I have seen some gadgets that allow you to stack a pile of plates and keep them warm. There is a leaf between each plate. I am intrigued, but so far haven't made it a priority to get this gadget. It is awfully nice to have a warm plate that keeps your food warm, but I have also had issues with minor burns. My skin is quite sensitive to heat (there goes my professional kitchen career!)

                                                          1. re: moh

                                                            We have a plate warmer and I love it. It is below our coffee machine (Miele) and is technically a cup warmer but I always use it for plates and serving dishes as it holds quite alot. I was taught to wait until everyone is served before eating. We invited my bil's g-father to dinner often and he would start eating as soon as the plate hit the table serving himself, etc. We always felt it was incredibly rude.

                                                            1. re: moh

                                                              if you don't have a plate warmer installed in your kitchen ($), you can warm plates in your oven or in a filled, stoppered sink of hot water (the plates or bowls are quickly dried with a clean towel just before service). it helps keep portions warmed more than anyone appreciates until they have tried the method. i use the hot-water method all the time when doing pasta at home for 2 people, just fill the bowls with hot water and let sit in the sink while finishing the pasta, drain the bowls & wipe out with clean lint-free cloth, air-dry for 8-10 seconds, fill with pasta, carry out to table, porch or lawn. use a towel if the dish is too hot to hold, but the food stays warm *much* longer.

                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                I sometimes just put them on an unused burner when it's the two of us - the residual heat from the oven/other burners does the trick.

                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                  jfood does this little trick as well every morning when making eggs for the little jfoods. It does a very nice job.

                                                        2. re: Susan1948

                                                          jfood thinks everyone should start together. When he is serving from the kitchen there is barely a 3-4 minute gap between first plates out and host plate out. He cannot think of one dish that can go from great to OK in that timespan.

                                                          Dinners at the house are for friends and family and if that 3 minute cooling off is more important than starting together well, that's not the proper priority.

                                                          When he rememberss he also warms the plate in the oven. With that there is barely any, if any, difference between plate 1 and plate 12.

                                                        3. I always wait until told otherwise, even when i'm with my family (although some of us take a little pick sneakily ;)). My hunger is no more important than anyone else's, plus i think it'd be a mark of respect for the host's house rules and customs to wait. I wouldn't want to be sitting and scarfing down food when someone starts a grace or something. Besides, I don't like eating alone, unless i'm alone and i'd like the host to be present when i start admiring their meal.

                                                          Even in a restaurant, I don't like to start chowing down if my meal comes before everyone else's. Someone may smack me if i start oohing and aahhing and enjoying my meal while the other poor souls sit with growling bellies ;)

                                                          I don't really mind as much I guess, when i'm hosting myself, but i do try to time and plan my meals so that i'm not spending half of the dinner party out in the kitchen while everyone else is eating.

                                                          Then again, i'm also not one to start doing dishes or packing things away before my guests leave either.

                                                          1. As a host who can be a tad bit scatter-brained, I want my guests to start digging in the moment the food hits the table. When I am a guest, I always wait for the host -- funny how that may be, because as host, I *insist* they don't wait for me. Usually, my guests know well enough to listen to me :-D

                                                            A good way to keep the plates warm until the food is ready is nuking them for a few minutes.

                                                            1. Yep, gotta wait. I'm there for the relationships I have with people. Food is something to do, but not why I'm there.
                                                              I feel bad enough when someone has to send back an entree and I'm the one left with my food while someone is waiting for theirs.
                                                              The bottom line is you try and be as gracious as possible. Never behave as though you came for the food, even if you did.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                                                I agree with the wait-for-everyone crowd. This is how I was raised. But the in-laws that I occasionally eat with (at restaurants and other people's homes) are not quite so, ahem, polite. Thanksgiving at their house is a free-for-all, (no blessing offered) and when we eat in restaurants, they always want separate checks, which means that the food comes out at different times to the same table. If mine comes first, I wait politely for them to be served (they think Im crazy when I try to explain why). If their food comes first, they dive in like starving dogs.....

                                                              2. I understand all the tenants of etiquette, as do the friends I invite for a dinner party; however, I only invite close friends, and this makes for some amusing times -- some will eat as soon as the food hits the table, others will wait, some will follow me around in the kitchen with spoons in hand, and still more sneak in some bites before everyone has been served. I think that the most gracious host(ess) can accept everyone for who and what they are, and merely smile and appreciate that the food and environment they present are enjoyed by their guests, regardless of what is "proper." I've always thrown brunch/lunch/dinner parties for others' pleasure, and have long let go of dictating how they "should" behave. (Of course, my friends are also those who will hide bottles of wine in their car and only present them -- to our delight! -- when the night goes longer than planned, or clean up the morning after, or even take the hosts out for breakfast -- in short, they're amazing ;).)

                                                                1. a variation on this theme: I went to a brunch yesterday. The food was served buffet style. The hostess was stil cooking the main dish (roasted meat and potatoes) when we arrived, but most of the other food was already displayed.

                                                                  We had arrived earlier than most. Before the meat was sliced and put out, and before most of the guests had arrived, another early arrival grabbed a plate and started filling it with sides, saying 'its time to eat already'.

                                                                  I felt it was a bit rude to start eating before urged to do so by the hostess, particularly since most of the guests hadn't yet arrived. I wouldn't of done so.

                                                                  OTOH, drinks had been served and there were appetizers (cheese and crackers mostly) on the table. Perhaps the hostess should have put the appetizer items on a seperate table and then encouraged others to start there...