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Jun 19, 2007 07:50 AM

Sorry...my mouth is full.

I have often found myself in the situation where I have been asked a question during a meal and cannot respond because I have taken an ill-timed bite. It is equally awkward to have asked a question as someone else takes a bite! Is there a way to time or anticipate the conversation so that this does not happen?


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  1. I have a friend who says, "Why do they always come and ask me how my food is right after I have taken a bite?" Now, I know that many restaurants encourage this but I think it is the nature of eating. You take a bite, you chew and you swallow. Then what happens? You take another bite. Unless you have stopped to take a drink, most of your eating experience consists of chewing/tasting. Think about how much time during a meal that you would realistically have you month empty? Do you sit for a few seconds and savor every bite? Do you take a drink after each bite? Do you finish one bite and then wait to see if there is a break in the dinner conversion?

    The reason most of us eat faster when we are alone is that we are not doing any talking. If you are eating out with someone and they are talking then you are probably eating while you are listening. Everyone thinks faster than they chew (I hope) so it seems unlikely that you would actually be able to finish your bite before your companion thinks up and asks you the question.

    Have you ever seen someone raise his hand at dinner because he wanted to add something but was chewing at the time? It is possible that sometimes due to the nature of the conversation and the give and take going on that you will be better able to anticipate you need to participate in the conversation but generally, I believe that more often then not your mouth will be full.

    9 Replies
    1. re: bonmann

      What would make you think that restaurants would encourage their servers to ask you how the meal is the second you take a bite? Seems paranoid.

      1. re: srr

        i think the idea is that if they ask while their mouth is full they are less likely (i.e. unable) to complain about something. i think some chain restaurants actually have this in their employee handbooks. seriously.

        1. re: rebs

          Prove it. I have worked in many restaurants, and have only seen this issue brought up here by people who are convinced that restaurants and their employees are out to get them in some way. Believe it or not, a restaurant's sole purpose is to please people.

          1. re: srr

            a restaurant's sole purpose is the same as any oher buisiness... to stay in business which means make a profit. the most effective way to do that is to provide good food and good service, but we all know that life just isn't that simple.

            no, i do not beleive that employees are "trained" to ask how things are when your mouth is full, and i agree wiht bonman, often your mouth is full, especially in the first few minutes of receiving your food, which is also when a good server would be asking how everything is. Generally they get a nod and a smile, sometimes people put up their hands, to let the server know to wait a few moments till the customer can swallow. so what's the problem?

            1. re: srr

              actually, a restaurant's sole purpose is to make money. they make more money by pleasing people with great service and food so that people come back and make referrals.

              i can't prove it. i'll admit i was being a little snarky about the handbook remark. but i have worked with servers who did this thinking they could avoid complaints and conflict. those were lazy, bad servers.

              i've been working in restaurants for a long time and i am not one of those people that thinks restaurants are out to get me.

          2. re: srr

            Because nothing irritates more than a server asking how my dish is before I've cut into it yet. Seeing me chew means I've definitely at least tasted it.

            1. re: srr

              I read it here on this website during a discussion about customer service from someone who said they had been trained to do so and someone who once asked a waiter and was given the same response.
              I have always assumed that by coming to the table when you were chewing the waiter knew you had tasted the food. It was not meant as a criticism but meant to illustrate my point that you spend most of your time chewing and the waiter or someone else will frequently ask you a question while you are chewing.

              If I have been misinformed, I apologize.

            2. re: bonmann

              >You take a bite, you chew and you swallow. Then what happens? You take another bite.<

              exactly- how is a server supposed to show up exactly at a moment when you're not chewing? i joke that it's on purpose- just to relieve the awkwardness- but it really isn't. a smart server will know the way around this- ask yes or no questions so the chewer can nod or shake their head.

              truth is, the quality check is a just required formality- a good server will know without asking if everything's fine or not. if you're shoveling it in- you probably like it. if you're picking at the food- there's probably something wrong. if you're pounding back your drink- you'll probably need another...etc.

              1. re: excuse me miss

                When I was serving, it never failed that when I asked someone how their food was, they had just taken a bite. It wasn't on purpose, and I always felt bad, but I could never predict exactly when a person wasn't going to have their mouth full, and usually if they didn't they were conversing. So, I felt bad either way, interrupting them with their mouth full or interrupting a conversation.
                It got to the point where I'd just laugh about it and apologize and tell them that it always happened to me at restaurants too. They'd usually laugh along.
                I think most patrons have a sense of humor. At least most of mine did.

            3. I think if you are eating with someone you know well and you have a good conversation going, it's easier to deal with. Most of the time someone else at the table will be telling a story, talking, etc while I'm eating, and then we switch. Unless we are wild hungry beasts or everything is so delicious that we don't want to talk!
              It is mostly when I'm eating with someone I don't know well that there is awkwardness like that.

              1. Thanks - you have just reminded me of the entirely-too-many people I've known who wouldn't let a little thing like a mouthful of food deter them from speaking, especially since they probably didn't have their mouths closed in the first place.

                I do sometimes hold my hand up if I'm asked a question while chewing, or at least gesture towards my mouth. I never find it particularly awkward to do this; though I was more selfconscious about such situations when I was younger, I guess I've gotten old enough not to give a hoot.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  I do that too, or just put up my hand to indicate "please wait, I'm finishing my bite and I don't want to expose you to seeing me chew with my mouth open"!

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    As I posted on another thread, this ALWAYS happens to my sister (where they ask with her mouth full). For some reason, I'm always able to answer for the both of us, then she powers down her bite just as the waiter is leaving. Strange --

                    1. re: aurora50

                      this is my curse as well. I can never time it right. I think I need to take smaller bites maybe ><

                  2. re: Will Owen

                    We have a family member who cannot stop talking, ever. Partially masticated food in her mouth? No problem, she just talks away. I try not to sit opposite and preferably at the opposite end of the table on the same side so i am not exposed to the view.

                  3. The original comment has been removed
                    1. i think the obvious answer is that people can see that you're eating, and it's a natural part of dinner conversation that talk is interspersed with food. if someone asks you a question, and you're chewing, they can see this, or they can figure it out. natural pause - then you answer. i don't think it's necessary to raise your hand or point to your mouth, which seems like bad manners to me. did your family not speak at all while eating dinner?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: fara

                        In my circle of friends, this is always a source of humor--we don't do it deliberately but it's good for a laugh to see the gyrations and hand motions people make when someone says something to them and they've got their mouths full. Yes, it's obvious, but people feel like they've got to do something for some reason.

                        But with regard to waiters--anyone remember Sniglets from the early '80s? There was actually one of those for the apparent tendency for waiters to choose the exact moment when your mouth is full to show up and start asking questions.

                        1. re: revsharkie

                          This discussion is too funny. I hate talking with food in my mouth, and I chew slowly and take small bites because I want to taste the food. I get by by covering my mouth and shaking my head coyly when in conversation, though I know plenty of people who talk and eat (at the same time) with gusto.

                          As for people who are worried about stealth server follow up question tactics, I have a friend who has a slight persecution complex who thinks that everyone who works in any restaurant is out to get her in some way. When we go out to eat together as two women, even on a Friday night without reservations and with the inevitable wait, if people come in behind us and are seated who obviously (to me anyway, as I've worked in restaurants for ten years) have reservations, she thinks the host/ess is deliberately snubbing us. If we get seated at a less than primo table, she thinks it is because we are women, even though I've explained to her how section and seating rotation works. She even worked briefly at a restaurant herself, but refuses to understand the behind-the-scenes reasons that can affect what happens in the front of the house. If a server inflicts upon her what she perceives as a slight--and usually it is only in her mind--it is because we are two women dining together. She even pays attention to what happens at other tables. Once we were eating out together at a midscale Italian restaurant and she noticed that another table that ordered before us received their pizzas after we got our food, even though we ordered a (cold) antipasto platter for two, a salad, and a bowl of soup, none of which require significant prep, so of course our order came out fast. She couldn't understand that you can only fit a finite number of pizzas in a wood-fired oven, so if your pizza order was behind several other pizza orders, you could end up waiting a bit. She is otherwise a sweet and lovely person, but at times her restaurant paranoia and hypersensitivity can be annoying.