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Dec 30, 2007 10:52 AM

Group menu etiquette qn

Dear foodies,

I have a question and I would like to know what others would have done in a similar situation.

I belong to an ethnic dinner group and we recently went to a fancier-than-usual restaurant. A group menu was drawn up for us (we were ~24 people, billed individually) We were advised ahead of time what the price would be, but not what was on the menu. I did ask and was told that ordering off the regular menu would NOT be an option.

Once at the restaurant, I saw the menu and did not care for the choice. (This isn't about not eating certain foods for allergy/religious/whatever reasons, I didn't think the price quoted reflected a good value for what was being served.) I requested the regular menu and for almost the same price had a much more interesting, flavorful, substantial meal.

The organizer was at the other end of the table and probably unaware that I had not ordered off the group menu. (Another diner was also disappointed with the choices and ended up following my lead.) i do know that those around me were less than thrilled with the group menu, after eating it. I did offer tasties of mine!

I wonder though, if I did the right thing by ignoring the group menu in favor of the regular one. Or would it have been better etiquette to give my regrets to the hostess, walk out, and eat elsewhere? What would others out there have done?

Thanks in advance for your insights.

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  1. Oh gosh, I think walking out would have been far worse! I do believe you committed a small faux pas - but this is one person's opinion. Groups like these are usually as much about the friendships as they are about experiencing new/different food/cultures. I doubt the primary focus is finding the best price/pound of a given food item. I would have recommended you try the set menu for two reasons:
    1. respect for the host who put the dinner together
    2. respect for your fellow diners (you may have come accross like you thought you were better than them)
    ** perhaps you may have liked the choice, who knows?
    Perhaps I am old fashioned but I would never think of balking at the choice of the host in faovr of my opinion. Sometimes manners trump taste preferences. Out of curiosity, what did you have?

    2 Replies
    1. re: chownewbie

      Well said, chownewbie. I would also ask rwarren how they suppose the host would've responded had they known what he/she did. I think out of respect for the host and the others in the group, you should've just eaten what was pre-selected. But alls well that ends well. If the host was none the wiser, then you got a pass!

      1. re: chownewbie

        The cuisine was Swiss.

        The group menu:
        Appetizer: cheese fondue with bread
        main: choice of beef, chicken, or chinese fondue (some were broth and some were oil based)
        Dessert: chocolate fondue with a few pieces of fruit and one oatmeal cookie
        beverages extra
        Fondues were shared among 4 people. (Yes even the cookie)

        My choice: table d'hote from the regular menu:
        Appetizer: escargots in garlic butter
        Main: Wiener Schnitzel with Rosti potatoes and mixed vegetables
        Dessert: Hot apple strudel
        tea included

        I am shy to post prices but mine was $5 less.

      2. The key thing is that each person was billed separately. It would be unacceptable to order something different from the group menu if it meant that the organizer would be charged for the original set menu, as well as a second meal (leaving the set menu uneaten). Since everyone pays for what they eat, and since the restaurant was willing to bend their rules and let you order something other than the set menu, I think it was very reasonable to order something different. I don't know what your relationship with the organizer is, but I would comment that there might be some organizers who might be offended if you didn't go with their choice. But if I were in your shoes, I think I would have done the same thing. Walking out would not have been an option. That would be plain rude, even with giving regrets to the hostess.

        5 Replies
        1. re: moh

          I agree with moh. If you are to be charged only for what you eat, then it matters not whether you suffer the pre-selected option or actually eat what you like.

          Of course, if each guest did the same thing, then that kind of defeats the purpose of having a hosted dinner, but that's for the individual participants to decide on for future events.


          1. re: TexasToast

            It was just as rude to blow off the agreed upon menu and insist on ordering from the regular menu, especially since the OP states that he/she inquired about that and was told it was NOT an option. The individual cost is not the issue. It's the idea that the OP agreed to be part of a group dine out and then, basically blew off the other Diners and did as he/she pleased. It was very disrespectful to the person who made the arrangements and could have easily given other diners in the group the impression that what they were eating was "not good enough" for the OP. As it was, he/she stated that another diner, 'jumped ship' based on the OP doing the same thing. The OP knows it was the wrong thing to do. He'she even acknowleges that:
            "The organizer was at the other end of the table and probably unaware that I had not ordered off the group menu"
            The purpose of a preset menu is that it allows the restaurant to prep for "X" numbers of a specific type of dinner. It is also easier to serve, thus requiring fewer staff.
            Texas, to quote you"
            Of course, if each guest did the same thing, then that kind of defeats the purpose of having a hosted dinner, but that's for the individual participants to decide on for future events"
            The key words are "future events".. Not presen events. The OP agreed to the group dinner and should have honored that committment.

            1. re: Tay

              Well, as I said in my previous post, there will be hosts who would be insulted. I guess I was assuming that the reason that ordering off the regular menu was not allowed was because the restaurant had not allowed it. But if the restaurant then allowed a few of the group to do so, then I don't see it as a problem.

              I would agree it would have been rude to act this way in the following circumstances:
              1. The Host and the rest of the group were stuck with the cost of an extra uneaten meal.
              2. The restaurant would boycott the Host from any future reservations because of the perceived break in contract
              3. The stated goal of the evening was for everyone to eat fondue and discuss fondue ad nauseum.

              I would agree that the original poster should probably reconsider his involvement with this group, as they may not be a good fit. And I have already agreed that some organizers would take offense, so yes, he was being rude if that is the case. But personally, if I were the organizer of the evening, I would encourage a varied menu rather than a single set menu. The point of these groups is to try different foods. I would want to have multiple choices. It sounds like the limited menu was imposed by the restaurant, so if the resto is willing to bend a bit, why not enjoy it? In someone's home, it would be rude to ask for a different dish just because one didn't like what was being offered. But in a restaurant?? Isn't that the point???

              M question is, what harm was done in this situation? If the host is insulted because someone didn't perfectly follow their plans, well I'm sorry, but that's a bit thin-skinned. You are a host: your goal is to make sure that people have a nice evening. It is a bit controlling to be upset if someone wants to order something a bit different from your menu choice. 24 people are never going to spontaneously order the same thing in a restaurant.

              Now what is the worst case scenario? OP orders off the menu. then everyone starts to order off the menu. Restaurant gets upset. Chaos ensues. So I agree, perhaps the potential for disaster makes the original action rude. But fortunately that didn't happen. And if it did happen, then there is something the matter with the group dynamic, and then you do need to reconsider the purpose of this group, there is some major dysfunction going on. Perhaps I am lucky to be surrounded by reasonable people, but in my usual group of diners, if chaos ensued, we'd all just go back to the set menu, then have a good laugh later on about the absurdity of the situation. And continue to plan our next eating fest, probably at another restaurant. That is the point, isn't it? To have fun and enjoy each others' company and to explore different cuisines? When it is no longer fun because you have to worry about potentially insulting someone vs. ordering something you want to try, well, I get enough politics at work. It's time to find another hobby. Social disasters happen, but just because they do, it doesn't mean the evening is ruined. If you really like each other, then that just becomes a "remember that crazy evening???" moment that everyone chuckles about later on.

              BTW: it's Moh, not mob...

              1. re: moh

                moh (sorry about the misspelling... At that hour sometimes everything 'blends' :-}
                " It sounds like the limited menu was imposed by the restaurant, so if the resto is willing to bend a bit, why not enjoy it?"
                As was pointed out several times before, the OP inquired about ordering off the regular menu and was told that was not an option. so the restaurant was not, ' willing to bend.' The fact that she/he apparently insisted, was rude. The restaurant handled it very professionally
                This is the thing:
                The OP agreed to abide by the choices/decisions of the Group.
                The Group entrusted a designated individual, AKA: The Host, with the responsibility of making the dining choices/arrangements.
                If the actual menu was going to be an issue with the OP,then the time to make a change was not at the time of the dinner.
                Ordering from the regular menu when everyone else has agreed to share a communal meal in an equalizing-type of dynamic, sends one or both of the following messages:
                a)That the OP really isn't willing to participate in the spirit of the shared Group meal..
                b) That the OP somehow feels that he/she is "above" having to share an "ordinary" meal... Even the comment about allowing others to have a taste of his/her (implied, 'better' meal) made me shake my head...

                1. re: moh

                  i think a good rule of thumb for behavior is to ask yourself, if everyone did what I am doing, would it be a problem? This limits individuals from doing one-off rude things- it is not cool for one diner to order their own food while everyone else toes the line and eats what is ordered for them. As you pointed out, if everyone at the table did this, it would likely pose a problem. Why should one person do it? Poor form, I say.

          2. The restaurant is there to please you not the other way around. You have every right to order off the menu.

            1 Reply
            1. re: BlueHerons

              "The restaurant is there to please you not the other way around. You have every right to order off the menu"

              Oh yes, I agree with this statement completely! But we have all been to places where they have rules like "everyone at the table has to order the tasting menu or else no one can order it", "no substitutions", etc. Often, when a big group has a set menu, the restaurant might be reluctant to allow someone to order off the main menu. So you are stuck. Of course, you vote with your feet, and you may never return. But at the time of the group dinner, it sometimes doesn't seem worth it to make a fuss.

            2. rwarren
              When you joined the group, you agreed to participate within both the confines and the spirit of the group. You had already asked about ordering from the regular menu and had beeen told that was not an option. You did it anyway which I think was rather rude. Ordering off the agreeed upon menu was not acting in the spirit of the group. It could easily have caused dissention. What if half the people suddenly decided to do the same thing? I have no doubt that there were some in your group who resented your action regardless of whether or not they expressed it outloud. It was a "Marie Antoinette" moment and we all know what happened to her. As for contemplating giving your regrets to the hostess and walking out. That would have been even more insulting.!
              Seriously... Perhaps you're not cut out for group dining.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Tay

                I agree with Tay, you went to dinner knowing that you were expected to have dinner from a pre selected menu but chose not to do so. I'm sure others were much too polite to actually tell you that you were being rude. You could have always went back at a later date by yourself if you really wanted to try other menu items. The pre selected menu by no means sounded awful so I question the real reason you chose to be the rebel of the group.

                1. re: Rick

                  I agree with Tay and Rick. And you can be darn sure everybody in the group found out about your and the other guest's choices. Offering "tasties" of your own food to others could have been viewed as an insult to the host/organizer and your fellow diners - sort of a "see what I got and you didn't" or "I make better choices than the host" sort of thing. Question, Rick: What do you mean billed individually? The host paid (or prepaid) the total bill plus tax and tip and then each diner paid their 1/24th share? How was your $5 savings realized then?

                  1. re: scoopG

                    I'm sorry, I agree, ordering off the menu was poor manners. If there was a set menu for four to share fondue and only three shared one of the fondues then who "ate" the cost of your share rwarren? The host or the restaurant? Nevermind the extra work involved serving a pre-selected menu to a large group AND serving menu items...just my 2 cents.

                2. re: Tay

                  I agree with Tay. we're members of a dinner group...on alternative months we dine out. There have been some occasions where someone arranged a set menu with a restaurant for the rest of particulalry memorable as something my husband and I didn't enjoy at all...but we had accepted teh date, time and plan and just made the most of the evening though we didn't enjoy the meal at all. Sometimes a restaurant is chosen we really don't care those cases we decline well in advance but would never dream of agreeing to the group consensus and then going against the grain at teh restaurant.

                  One the months we cook at someone's home there's been plenty of times - for all us members for sure - where we might not have been thrilled with the theme or some of the courses but again it's a group dynamic and we agreed to be part of the group.

                  Life's just too short get wound up about things like this...

                  1. Before jfood begins, your menu was waaaay better, but that's not the question.

                    Six Sigma is drooling over the process errors in this one.

                    - One person chooses and sends only the price and not the menu (a recipe for disaster if no choices)
                    - Restaurant allowed more than one person to order off-menu (maybe they were disturbed by the menu ofperpetual fondue as well)
                    - No one asked "organizer" if (s)he minds if the restaurant would allow would (s)he mind if they did not order the triple fondue

                    Given the situation, on a macro level, it was probably not the best thing from a group dynamic perspective to order off-menu. Although this menu is not very appealing to jfood as well. he probably would have sucked it up and eaten it and suggested a change in process going forward. In the event that you just can't bear it, then Jfood would suggest that the person who has an issue with the predetermined menu at least ask the organizer if (s)he would mind, and in this situation stating that you really did not like fondue should be enough.

                    By now the organizer has probably heard about your selections. You may want to give a call in case there are any ill-feelings.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      You really are the CH Diplomat. The OP knew it was a Swiss restaurant and I cannot imagine that she/he didn't have some sort of inkling that fondue was involved. I'd wager the group probably chose the restaurant for the novelty of having fondue. The price was based upon a large party all being served a set menu. And the kitchen was prepared to deliver 'en masse'. What would have happened if even more diners decided to 'break ranks' and order off the regular menu?... Chaos for the kitchen and possibly the staff. . Had the OP asked the organizer if she minded if the OP ordered from the regular menu what would the organizer have done if those within earshot said. "Oh me too!". That would have goten awkward really quickly. I think, your kindness aside, the OP was really off the mark on this one. The time to take a stand is before the date of the dinner. If I felt that strongly about it, I would have contacted the restaurant and found out what the group dinner consisted of and if it was displeasing, I would have contacted the organizer and bowed out, or joined the group for after dinner coffee and cake.
                      Had there been an allergy involved, that would have been a different situation but not liking the menu that 23 of your friends and acquaintences are eating around you?...I'd have to say: Suck it up and chow down.

                      1. re: Tay

                        Forgot to mention, the OP also wondered if it would have been better etquitte to have excused himself from the dinner and give the host his regrets! Does anyone really need to ask if that's a better choice, honestly?

                        Sorry OP, but it seems like you like to be the black sheep. Nothing wrong with that really, but why join a large food group if that's your thing? I doubt you'll enjoy many dinners where 20+ other people are weghing in on what to have for dinner.

                        1. re: Rick

                          Oops, oh yeah Rick, forgot about that. No way is that an option.

                        2. re: Tay

                          Tay, hopefully no Swiss posters will come by stating their cuisine is more than hot oil/cheese/chocolate and some tongs. Jfood wonders if this ever happened to this "group" before. Pleasing 20 people at various restos is a major undertaking.

                          In jfood's groups the inhouse affairs have the entire menu sent to all participants plus what each is expected to make/bring. On the outside groups we normally get together, everyone looks at the menu and then the moderator asks if there is something taht really looks good and anything that looks reall unappealing. Then the moderator orders.

                          The OP should have sucked it up as both you and jfood stated but the pre-dinner process also has some flaws that could be better achieved.