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Chowhound outings -- what's the etiquette?

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Every so often a flock of Chowhounds meets by prearranged plan at a local restaurant that's been praised on the boards. This is a great opportunity not only to meet some nice people but also to try a wide sampling of the restaurant's dishes. I'd like to try this the next time I'm in New York, but I'm wondering about the etiquette.

Normally, unless food is served family-style in large platters, I eat what's on my plate, and don't try to cadge a sample of somebody else's. But since the whole point of a Chowhound outing is to taste as many different things as possible, how is it done? Do all the entrees get put in the center of the table, for people to reach in and try? Does a host divide each entree among the diners?

And what about the bill? Separate checks, or do we just divide the total evenly? Since I don't drink anything but water with my meals, I might regret paying for somebody's Latour or Romanee-Conti.

And I have to put in some humorous questions that sometimes give me a smile. Does everyone wear masks to conceal their identity? Do we use Chowhound handles or do some people actually (gasp!) reveal their real names? (A whole second set of names for me to learn...) I wonder if people look as I imagine them.

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  1. The new guy always picks up the cheque on his first outing. *nodsnodsnods*

    And you have to wear a Goofy hat, you know, the kind from Disney, with the Goofy the Dog ears? You have to show up wearing it. It's the "hound" thing, you see.

    I'm sure I've missed a few things...

    ; ) (I don't know squat, sorry. Just havin a little fun rather than go work.)

    1. I can't say for certain that the Phoenix gathering of the hounds is just like any other city, but I have been to four get-togethers.

      We usually order for ourselves, plus some appetizers to share for the table. Once the meals start arriving, everyone usually has always offered tastes of their meal to those interested. I have accepted or declined depending on my interest. But, I am also not shy (nor have others been) about asking if they can try a bite of something that looks interesting on someone else's plate. (I will note that the Phoenix group is very conversation oriented, so sometimes we are talking about food and forget to offer or ask for tastes because we are talking about food.)

      As for the bill, the check is circulated and people pitch in for their cost. At a recent outing, some had drinks and others didn't. Same with desserts. So it made sense to just have people pay for what they ordered plus tax and tip. People seem on the up and up about it all.

      No one I know that I have met at a hound gathering has been in a mask or the like. As for using a fake name, I don't inquire. If they introduce themselves as "Bob Smith" or "Helen Williams" I will address them as such.

      Oh, and don't forget to finish the evening by singing the Chowhound anthem and departing with the Chowhound secret handshake.

      1. In the SF bay area, where we have relatively frequent Chowdowns (we currently have at least three mail lists for regions of the bay, that anyone can join and anyone who joins is welcome to use to initiate an outing), dishes are typically shared. Of course, many of the events are at places that serve family style, often Asian restaurants, but even when we go to a place where individual dishes are served, sharing is usually the norm. Plates will be placed in the center and passed. I imagine the Chowdown they had at the French Laundry a few years back was an exception, but alas, I didn't get to go to that one.

        In accord with the sharing tradition, the bill is split by the number of participants, with a generous tip included, and everyone contributes the same amount. In some cases, the organizer will order some dishes in advance (particularly if the goal is to try some special dishes that may not be on the menu, and/or to set up a special banquet) and in those cases the organizer might actually even collect money in advance, usually via PayPal (though that doesn't happen often). As for wine, it is usually handled seperately for those that drink,(getting a seperate check for drinks is usually easy) unless drinking is advertised as part of the meal, although a lot of our outings are at lunchtime where drinking is limited or non-existant since folks have to go back to work. Indeed, even at dinner, a common way to handle the drinking issue is that folks will be encouraged to bring their own bottles to share, and those that don't bring a bottle will be encouraged to throw in a few extra dollars for corkage, assuming they partake. I've not seen instances where expensive wine is ordered unexpectedly, but I have been at a number of events where some of our very generous Chowhounds, who are also blessed with great cellars, have brought some pretty remarkable bottles with them...

        I think one key is to be clear about expectations in advance: particularly as to how ordering and the bill will be handled; whether folks are encouraged to bring alcohol, how drinks will be handled, etc. I think sharing is a bit part of the fun. Actually, I think it is part of the point: so everyone can get a sense of what they like best for return trips.

        Yes, we do generally use real names...no secret handshakes. Some shy hounds will give their real name, or perhaps just a first name, but not reveal their handle. And then, sometimes we get lurkers who don't post... and some folks do request that they not be photographed when the cameras are brought out to take pics of all that great food....(and yes, someone should remember to bring a camera!)

        Typically, the last one to arrive has to do the initial write-up on Chowhound! :-)

        1. I have been to several of the NYC gatherings recently, and we all agree on what to order, order lots of stuff, and then split the cost evenly. It always seems quite fair. No masks, but that might be fun... My email address is on my profile. I would be happy to let you know about upcoming events that I am a part of. Most recent was a very fabulous gathering at Spicy and Tasty...