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Is who you eat with as important as where you eat

Had an interesting weekend dining with friends....one was a disaster and the other fabulous and the main reason was the people involved.

Friday night we go a local tapas place with two other couples. After the usual chuckle of tapas vs. topless with the men, Dh and I explain how tapas dining work...small plates meant to be shared...yada, yada, since neither of the two couples had even heard to tapas much less experienced them. It was a disaster...from ordering, to the lack of sharing, to them navigating the logistics, etc. The restaurant did their part with food and service but who we were with definitely took away from the evening.

OTOH, Sunday night we went to a different restaurant with 5 other people. This is a local Italian place which serves family style for groups of 5 or more. The food and wine were abundant, everyone was in the spirit and trying things that may or may not have had before, and the entire evening was festive. The food and service were great but what pushed the evening over the top were the attitudes and festive nature of the people involved.

It was a good reminder to me that WHO you dine with is as important as WHERE you dine. What say you?

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  1. Good company makes a huge difference! I am fortunate to like a lot of my colleagues at work, so work dinners are much more pleasant as a result. A lot of my colleagues enjoy eating and fine wine. But the few times I am stuck sitting with less fun people, well then the work dinner really feels like work!

    I love going to eat with people who eat with gusto, want to try everything, want to share everything. It is very telling when someone doesn't like a dish. It makes such as difference when that person just shakes it off and goes onto the next dish, no fuss, no drama, just something they didn't like, but look at all the other food. A sense of adventure and willingness to "go there" makes food taste better.

    1. I think this is one of those issues that we all have to experience at one time or another. It's unfortunate that you had that experience with the tapas; normally that type of food should be conducive to a fun group atmosphere! By this point in my life I definitely have a better idea of different types of cuisine/restaurants to go with different groups of friends; ranging from the chains-only up to the tasting menus. Sometimes it's for financial reasons, which is completely understandable, but I can't help but feel frustrated when someone automatically throws out the walls of "I only eat chicken/no ethnic foods/I like pasta with butter"....grrr ;-)

      1. Janet f R, I couldn't agree more. Whether it's an impromtu lunch with friends or a well planned holiday meal with family the WHO makes a big difference. Whether I'm looking forward to what comes out of a professional kitchen, a relatives 1950's oven or my own kitchen, once the food arrives the company you keep can factor into the enjoyment, the heartburn or the boredom. If we're true CH's the what we eat and the who we break bread with usually run neck and neck!

        1. Perhaps a tapas place was simply a bad choice for dining with a couple that was not familiar with the concept in the first place, and judging by the tapas VS topless jokes, a couple possessing a somewhat sarcastic attitude toward the experience. Are these people more pleasant to be around in other dining settings?

          But all things considered, I agree with the statement that the company can either enhance or ruin an eating experience just as much as the setting. I have a relative who happens to have an 'unfortunate' sense of humor coupled with a singular lack of the ability to restrain it. During a visit to a local place that serves Cajun dishes he insisted on asking everyone from the hostess to the waitress to the busboy, "Dont the cooks here know that when something is blackened, it's BURNT?". Never again. We stick to Chinese restaurants with chicken chop suey on the menu when we have to eat out with him. But alas, we cant pick our relatives.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Fydeaux

            These people (one is a couple Dh has been friends with 30 years, the other is a couple who aren't a joy to go out with at anytime, but we tend to get stuck with them on Friday night) are fine in a higher end place (such as a steakhouse or classic French place) and I gave Dh the look when he suggested this restaurant, but he tends to be more optomistic about such events. I knew it was going to be a disaster, he was more surprised by it.

          2. Yes, so true. The best food in the world will be ruined by bad company. I was having a lot of arguments with my ex and our relationship was pretty much on the rocks. He still insisted on celebrating our anniversary at this wonderful restaurant we used to go to year after year. I vehemently said no because I knew that I'd have a horrible time, even though the food there is so delicious. Bad company can't save the best food.

            1. I think there are some people who are just against the idea of sharing dishes, for some reason. I had one friend (not friends anymore) who seemed to have this idea in his head that sharing food with a person of the opposite sex implies a certain romantic leaning. He was also incredibly picky, so I don't know whether this was because he'd been left out of the sharing in the past or because of some other issue. I do think that most picky people may have more problems with sharing because it's just too hard for them to find things that they like that are interesting enough for the rest of the group.

              I think the biggest issue is making sure that everyone is satisfied with the particular type of restaurant. I have some friends that are more picky than others and as long as we keep each other's likes and dislikes in mind, there is usually no problem.

              4 Replies
              1. re: queencru

                Well, that's another thread entirely but this group will not offer any input ever into where we go. There are two restaurants we regularly go to on Friday nights and Dh was trying to add something new and it just didn't work out. But every Friday it is up to us to decide, make the reservations, etc. In general they are like herding cats, but this took it to a whole new level.

                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                  Like herding cats! Almost made me do a spit take. LOL They sound like perfectionists. In my opinion perfectionists don't like deciding because then they might make a mistake. Better to be passive and then complain about others so called mistakes. Agree that the company matters. Was just reading a thread about dining alone. I feel lucky that I enjoy my own company.

                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    argh that is so annoying! i have friends who do this "oh no, you decide, i don't care where we go", ok, i'll say, how about here or there and get a "ehhh" to both, or we actually get there and have an experience like yours.

                  2. re: queencru

                    Germaphobes can't share small plates; it can never be adequately hygienic.

                    Don't try to take a germaphobe to an Ethiopian restaurant. Trust me on this.

                  3. Absolutely vote for who you eat with rather than where....

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jinet12

                      Food and service come first, then the company.

                      Alcohol can make the company seem a lot better than they are, alcohol cannot help bad food or lousy service.

                      1. re: dolores

                        oh dolores, I just got a shiver of a flashback. Alcohol...depends on the drinker :) A few cocktails can bring out some very awkward behavior not too mention loud-speak. Oh, shudder the thought. In the wrong company, dinner could be cut short.

                    2. ABSOLUTELY! My MIL (who is a SAINT) always invites us out to dinner with her and sometimes she also invites her neighbors (one of who is very laid back and the other is a tightassed itchy-bay) Whenever they are invited as well I cringe, The one who is the itchy-bay never stops complaining about everything.... it is incessant!! It could be a 4 star restaurant, with top notch service and she would still find fault in everything... dead serious here, there is not one instance when I can recall a positive comment pass from her lips. However, the other one is sweet and the conversation fantastic, I love spending time with my MIL and her neighbor #1... just not the neighbor's domestic partner.

                      1. My gosh, yes. A friend I love dearly, but who is one of the pickiest and most unadventurous eaters I know, as well as more frugal than many people in his position feel like they need to be, does nothing but complain about every restaurant meal we have that isn't an inexpensive steak / burger and potatoes joint. It absolutely ruins meals for me. At high end places, we end up splitting the check so I pay for a lot of what he consumes. I can't marvel in interesting concoctions. And worrywart that I am, I also worry about his health when he eats high cholesterol foods, since he has hypertension. I can't have a good meal with him out, so whenever we want to hang out over food, I cook at home.

                        On the other hand, my sister is absolutely one of the most fun people I know to eat with. She's adventurous, eats with gusto, isn't afraid of fat (AND I don't have to worry about hypertension), loves to cook like I do (so we have fun speculating about how we could reproduce dishes we really like), has expertise in areas where I have none, is critical, but not so much that she can't have fun, etc... I don't think I've ever not enjoyed a meal with her (unless perhaps we fought in the middle of the meal).

                        1. You could watch paint dry with the right person and have a blast.

                          7 Replies
                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Really? You can eat bad food as long as the company is good? Interesting, I thought foodies or chowhounders or whatever it is we are calling ourselves were about the food first.

                              I can't picture this. I can picture sitting down with good company and then putting that first biteful of foul food in my mouth. Am I smiling because I am enjoying the conersation with the good company across from me?

                              I don't think so. The realllllly good company I eat with, I believe, would agree with me. My good company and I would spend the rest of the meal complaining about the food. As the late great JW said: gar-ron-teed.

                              1. re: dolores

                                I think good company can pull up less than stellar food (same with good service) and can bring down great food (as happened the other night) just as bad service can. For me food is only one part of the dining package. As an example, we love The Inn at Little Washington and would love to go with another couple at some point and thus far have not come up with a couple in our group of friends and family who we believe would be a good fit....and it would definitely take away from the experience.

                                OTOH, I've been at places where the food is not the greatest but had a fabulous time because of the people I was with. Of course in a perfect world the food, service and company would all be stellar.

                                1. re: dolores

                                  Dolores, I have a subscription to a year of contemporary dance shows with a group of 10 friends. When the shows are good or great, it is very enjoyable. When the shows suck it is even BETTER! We then go out for drinks and food and rip the show to bits and boy, is it funny!

                                  Similarly, if you go with the right people to a bad meal, it can be very fun. Wittiness needs a subject. Now you might have to leave later on to find something you can eat, but in the right company even a bad meal has its saving graces. These occasions then turn into stories that come back up and give everyone a good laugh and a fond memory.

                                  But a bad meal with the wrong company - eek. That is just a disaster.

                                  1. re: dolores

                                    Dolores, I don't think you understood me. I'll try to clarify.

                                    Great company won't make bad food taste better, but it will make the situation more tolerable and an occasion for humor.

                                    Great company is also easy to work with -- rather than eat the bad food, we'll bail out and find something acceptable, once again laughing and creating the best possible outcome out of a bad situation.

                                    1. re: dolores

                                      some of my most enjoyable and memorable meals out have been not that great food, but great company...and if an eight year old has been given the privilege of picking the venue and chooses mcdonald's, so be it. We would still go with a smile and probably have fun.

                                      1. re: pepper_mil

                                        Whole 'nother story altogether, kids.

                                        I was only speaking to adults, and remember having a horrid meal in Chili's with clods, and a horrid meal in TGIF's with great people, where the service and food were awful.

                                  2. Bad company can ruin anything, even a sunset. The "bad" company may be wonderful in another type of setting. We have dear friends we would never go with to an upscale place. They will eat such limited foods that you can not enjoy dinner knowing they will not find "safe" food. That would be fried shrimp, nothing green, steak and potatoes.

                                    Good company you can have fun at Denny's and I have. Good food is very important and good service also. But you gotta have fun or you can't enjoy the goodness. And with good company bad food can be fun time.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Janet

                                      Hmmm, okay.

                                      I don't agree and I'm surprised to see company takes precedence over food here.

                                      1. re: dolores

                                        " I'm surprised to see company takes precedence over food here."

                                        I would rather eat bad food with people I love than good food with people I hate.

                                        Fortunately for me, many of the people I love want to eat good food too!

                                        1. re: moh

                                          Oh, I agree, moh. I think both are equally important. I had good food with a clod and rue the day I did it.

                                          But bad food with good company is anathema to me.

                                          The best of both worlds of course, is good company with good food.

                                    2. I think there are two separate issues here. Mostly, we're not talking about people we dislike, but rather people we *do* like who somehow manage to make eating out experiences less fun because they won't share, aren't adventurous about food and willing to try new things, or complain incessantly about the food and service. In other words, it's specifically attitudes about food or eating out that matter in one's companions. Same with other kinds of outings: it's no fun hiking with someone who doesn't like the outdoors and whose idea of what is or is not a strenuous hike differs widely from yours -- even if it's your very best friend.

                                      I'm going to dissent from the general consensus and say that for me, good company doesn't compensate for bad food; but it does make me more willing to tolerate bad food.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: jlafler

                                        good company doesn't compensate for bad food; but it does make me more willing to tolerate bad food
                                        Well put, jlafler. On that I definitely agree.

                                          1. re: dolores

                                            Yes, this was my point earlier as well.

                                          2. re: jlafler

                                            I see what you're saying. Well I definitely agree with your statement with good company (because I like them) making me more willing to tolerate bad food. And I'm OK with eating with people that aren't likely to share, etc. as long as I like them. But with people I dislike (and not because I don't share their eating style), I would care not to eat with them at all. You would think that life is too short to be hanging out with people you dislike. However, I find it can't be avoided in certain circumstances.

                                            1. re: jlafler

                                              Exactly. I was just about to add that the question isn't, "does good company make bad food taste better?", the question is, "does good company allow us to enjoy ourselves despite bad food?".
                                              Personally, I would answer "yes" to the second question about 75% of the time. Sometimes the food really is the essential thing, like when a tableful of disappointed diners are stuck sitting there, hungry and grouchy, which can happen.

                                              1. re: jlafler


                                                your last sentence does say it all, but getting to the point of the OP question isn;t it a 2x2 matix with good/bad and food/company as the drivers. Everyone will agree that the best is good food/company and the worst is bad food/company. But the choice of bad food/good company versus good food/bad company is the harder question.

                                                Jfood firmly lands in the good company/bad food camp over the bad company/good food camp. He actually feels sorry that anyone would prefer food over company even on these boards. Becoming a CH does not immediately queer your prioritization of people over dead, cooked stuff.

                                                Jfood likes a great meal as much as the next dog, but he would gladly go to any restaurant with friends and tries to avoid those dolts who bore the living crap out of him at a great meal.

                                                So great company can elevate bad food to a great evening and bad company can ruin the best of food. Sign jfood up for the former.

                                              2. Eating with 'unsavory' company is bad for the digestion. Just as is cooking when you are in a foul mood. I wouldn't want to waste good food by dining with people I didn't like.
                                                That is IF I had a choice.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: P Macias

                                                  I had a friend who, when I first met her thought she was great because she liked to go to the same sorts of restaurants that I did so we were very compatible on that level...until I realized that aside from the food I always felt like I was basically her therapist...that took away tremendously from the enjoyment(and is another instance where alcohol was able to make it more tolerable...for awhile)

                                                2. My mother, never a great cook, always says that who you eat with is more important than what you eat. Did I forget to add that she's really good at rationalizing??

                                                  1. I dread going out for lunch with Mr GG's aged father. He's nearly ninety, and is entitled to be a grumpy old man, but he always wants to go to the cheapest and nastiest pubs. We reluctantly went to one place with him, which smelt overwhelmingly of overboiled vegetables. When we put our feet down, and insisted on going elsewhere, he accused us of being snobs.

                                                    He complains about everything, basically, and is just difficult. We went to a local pub which is one of the better ones and he said there was nothing on the menu he wanted, despite having said in the car that he really fancied sausage and mash (which was on offer). He drives me mad! I think he's been a bit better recently, since Mr GG lost his temper and told him he was being incredibly rude!

                                                    He does like my cooking, even though I put garlic in stuff (which he claims to detest).

                                                    1. Great company, anyday!
                                                      Now, I have some wonderful friends, but I wouldn't choose to "dine" with all of them.
                                                      Some have no adventure, or don't like to share/taste eachother's dishes, and some have crazy-bad table manners. Then there are the friends that I don;t see often but are such a joy to dine with that I will always think of them when there is a new place to try.
                                                      I even have some ex's, that even though we weren't a match, they are the best to have a great dinner/glass of wine with.
                                                      Just last week, I had the most wonderful dinner at Palate (Glendale, CA) with a friend that I had made at Father's Office, an ex-ish guy (we've gone on plenty of dates but aren't really a match) and another gal who "ex-ish" and met at a sushi bar and I re-ran in to her and her husband at antother sushi bar...the 4 of us are all very adventurous and passionate about food and wine and are willing to eat/drink anything so this meal was incredible! The conversation was so much fun, no one talked about work, we had so much fun trying eachothers dishes and exploring new wines...it is such a treat to enjoy a meal with linke-minded people...we couldn've been eating trash-truck food on a corner with a brown-bagged 40 and still had a great time!
                                                      I've declined dinner dates to some amazing places just because I new that the company would have been such a detraction from an amazing meal.

                                                      1. I'm late here, but I thought it was an interesting question.

                                                        I don't think it's a zero-sum choice between WHERE and WHO(M). Assuming that you like all the people (if you don't, then it changes the equation), there can always be some sort of accommodation. For example, you might have had a really good evening if you'd gone with the two tapas couples to a burger joint or some other restaurant where they felt more comfortable. Sort of annoying that they were a bit hard work with the tapas, but you now know that with them, you have to plan accordingly. Your next meal with them could be just as good as the Italian dinner on Sunday. You live and learn.

                                                        1. I often eat alone so I don't have to put up with "fussy eaters". When we do dine out with friends, they are ALL chowhounds who will try anything. It is a bummer when there is an anorexic in the bunch (which has happened) and a germophobe...but they never joined the dine out group again. Company is very important....as important as the food and service.

                                                          1. Company is more important to me...The worst is going out to eat and sitting there with someone in silence, or having awkward conversations!

                                                            If I was with good company/bad food, afterwards, I'd remember the good time I had with the good company, and forget about the bad food. On the other hand, if I was with bad company/good food, afterwards I'd probably remember the bad company, and have forgotten about the good food. My interactions with people make a stronger impression on me than the food I guess...although naturally I adore good food!

                                                            1. What a wonderful thread! I finally finished reading it all and I thought of something. Isn't there a tradition with really good wine to not offer a toast because the emotion might overwhelm the flavor of the wine? I have this one friend, W, who I eat out with frequently and once in awhile I have to ask him to talk about something lighter because he is an amazing conversationalist. I am not kidding, this guy and the way we talk together sometimes makes me not be able to taste my food. I just get carried away by the world of ideas we go to that I'm barely aware that I am eating, let alone what it is. And no we are not in a romantic relationship or anything. So I can say that sometimes excellent company can detract from the food too he he! If that is my only problem I'd consider myself blessed.

                                                              1. Good company makes the best meal. There are places that I would never want to eat at,but will with friends and will have a fine time in spite of the actual food or place. Also, there are great places I will not go to if I know there are jerks that will be at the same table - friends of friends I don't care for