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Sharing Food with Dining "Neighbors" at Restaurants?

I recently moved from the East Coast and have had several "interesting" dining experiences since I moved to SF a few weeks ago. As a disclaimer, neither of these were at upscale joints---more like casual neighborhood locals-only type bars/bistros. But, I was wondering if these types of events happen often???

First experience: Drunk dude loudly hinting he wants to try what he perceives to be an "extra" piece of pizza at my table to his friend. Our table ignores him, until he sits down at our table uninvited, then after we decline his offer to take the pizza off our hands, he actually starts to move his hand towards it until said slice is moved away from him.

Second experience: Friendly women dining next to our table at a different place absolutely insist (to the point where they hold the plate up to our table) we try their appetizer. While thoughtful, we really didn't want it and felt kind of awkward.

Uh...is this normal for SF? Has anyone else ever had this happen?

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  1. Nope. Not normal. Actually, the only place I've ever had someone at another table insist I try something from her plate was in a little neighborhood restaurant in Paris.

    1. Definitely not normal, you just happened to sit near two oddballs.

      1. I'd say first one (drunk guy), not "normal", but guy was drunk so no "norms" apply.
        Second one, not common, but I can see it happening, especially at restaurants where tables are close together and ambience is neighborhood-y. I can see it either being thoughtful or creepy, but if your table was admiring the dish, and a conversation ensued, then I can see the offer. Or they were trying to pick you up.
        Welcome to San Francisco!

        1. I have been at a nicer restaurant where I brought in a nice bottle of wine and been sat next to someone who also has brought a nice bottle of wine. We took note of each other's wine and then offered each other a glass.

          But sharing food is out of bounds.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Scott M

            In the second case, the picture the OP paints is the friendly woman simply foisting the appetizer - which would be weird.

            But if the table was eyeing the appetizer, and they started talking, and had some kind of connection, and then the friendly woman offers a taste, that kind of thing is within bounds and happens to me a few times a decade.

            I've even done things like that myself - I remember the one time I had dim sum at Gold Mountain, the table adjacent were dim sum neophytes in from Kansas, and I tried to help them out. I offered them some tastes, too.

            1. re: bbulkow

              The "out of bounds" comment was a personal preference. I would politely decline any offer of food off of someone's plate or table.

              I have no problem telling someone what I am eating and whether I like it or not. I stop short of offering a taste.

              1. re: Scott M

                Yeah, the situation would have made more sense if we had been eyeing her appetizer or asking about it...but we weren't talking "food." We had a nice/quick little conversation about the neighborhood. And I guess she and her friend just really liked the appetizer and were trying to be nice??

                But it was a little strange. Although much LESS strange than the situation with the guy trying to eat our pizza! I am relieved this isn't a particularly common occurrence :) I was beginning to wonder if I was just a cranky East Coaster. haha.

                1. re: MaddyK

                  If the incident with the pizza guy had happened to me, I would have sought out the server or manager and asked to be moved to another table (or moved myself if it was a casual enough place). and I am not even fond of pizza. His was not acceptable behavior anywhere, IMO, including on the left coast.

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    Sounds like the Seinfeld episode where Jerry says he will give Elaine $50 if she walks up to a table of strangers, picks up an egg roll and eat it.

          2. Not normal, but as you can guess some of the stricter rules of etiquette seem to apply less.

            The only time this has happened to me was at a farmer's appreciation dinner at Incanto, where the entire restaurant was reconfigured into communal tables with one farmer at each one. A nice group of older couples had a few leftover whole grilled sardines that they pressed on a friend and me, but we didn't need much convincing. I don't know if their motivation was generosity toward a pair of young people who they perceived might limit ordering due to budget reasons, not wanting the food to be wasted but wanting to avoid excessive consumption and thus trying to move the plate out of their reach, or other reasons, but it felt right in the situation of sharing a communal table and we happily ate their leftover sardines.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SteveG

              Or maybe, like me, they kind'a have a one sardine limit!! I've both happily described what I'm having to curious onlookers, and politely enquired of a nearby table what they were enjoying, but never been offered bites nor would i offer a bite. Ick...weird...over-sharing...etc. Lived out here for 25 yrs. (originally from NJ....). adam

            2. With respect to the pizza incident, I am curious.

              Was this a pizza parlor, like Escape from New York in the Castro, where everybody is basically drunk past a certain hour anyway?

              Or a 'proper' pizza restaurant like Flour & Water or something?

              2 Replies
              1. re: pauliface

                The pizza incident happened at a little neighborhoody bar...on the continuum I guess the joint would rank in the middle between Flour + Water and Escape from NY (judging by the websites anyways, since I just moved here and haven't been to either yet).

                It was early too (before 8 pm)--so it wasn't like it I was in a late-night college hangout type place. Actually, the bartender witnessed the entire thing and just ignored it, so we ended up paying pretty quickly and leaving instead of moving to another table, or requesting the guy be removed, etc.

              2. Wasn't this a Seinfeld episode? Elaine bet Seinfeld that she could walk up to a table at a chinese restaurant and picked off an eggroll.

                1. I frequently sit at Oliveto's bar (upstairs) for dinner. Perhaps because the seating is quite tight--I really don't know--but often "neighbors" chat with each other, discuss the menu, and so forth. I have been offered sample tastes from other diners' plates, and I have offered sample bites in turn. I like to think that I am reserved to the point of being stuffy, but there it is--shared bites between strangers.

                  1. Not often, not normal, but I've had it happen. At Pizzaiolo, actually (in Oakland - a nice, Cal-Medi restaurant with excellent pizza). I didn't take offense, but no one was super pushy about it. I didn't find anything weird about it.

                    1. Not the norm and certainly not much regional about the situation except maybe a propensity for those who are enthusiastic about food to get excited, etc. My one recent memory is being at Cesar (lovely visits) and losing interest in some randomly hot peppers. Some scorching, some mild, but my first was of the former and it didn't sit well with me (I had been duly warned). The diners at the table next to us had raved about the peppers earlier in the meal, so I offered and they accepted. Later, when their cheese plate came, they gave it to us in thanks. A very nice gesture.

                      1. There was an NPR story a while back about a couple who did this repeatedly for a year (ask for a taste of a stranger's dinner at a restaurant) and then wrote a book about it. They said almost everyone did comply and most strangers fed them a taste right off their own fork. Their idea is that people are dying to connect and one way to do it is over food.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Tumkers

                          Seriously?? That's crazy! If some random person asked for a taste of my food there's no way I would feed them off of my own fork. Did this couple just do it in one location or travel around the country?

                        2. I have had this happen a few times at A Cote, at the communal table. One time we shared our dessert with two other couples (who also did not know each other) and they did the same. Another time we gave the couple next to us the rest of our fries. Not sure why this seems to happen there a lot.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: The Dive

                            Sharing is to be expected at a communal table. Commendable even. That's different from what the OP encountered.

                          2. Just happened to us yesterday at Bund Shanghai. The three Chinese men at the next table ordered alot of food. One was the red-braised yellow croaker. I asked them which dish it was and said it looked great. He took a piece off the whole fish and offered it. I declined (not forcefully cause I really did want to try it), he offered again and I accepted. They were pleased and I was also. Win-win.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: c oliver

                              Happened again today at B Star Bar on Clement. We were leaving and chatting (I'm chatty, ya know) with a couple two tables from us. They insisted we try their lotus chips. Since it was finger food anyway, I didn't even hesitate. They were great and I'll go back just to get them. I don't consider it "weird" and I figure there are far more cooties in that restaurant than that.

                            2. I have lived here my whole life & can't remember ever sharing food with strangers in a restaurant under normal circumstances. In unusual situations like, maybe, benefits or other kinds of events where a set menu is served family-style or whatever, but that's a little different. I don't think I would want to share cooties with people I don't know! I could imagine something like that happening but there would have to be a lot of really specific factors at play to make it seem not weird.

                              1. Many years ago I was absolutely charmed by the insistence of an elderly Japanese lady at a Japanese restaurant in D.C. who offered a taste of her entree. She'd heard my remark to my boyfriend that I couldn't identify it, and was excited by my interest. That lady was a true Chowhound, and I revere her memory.

                                1. Gosh - there are so many people here saying that sharing food with strangers (the second experience) is not normal. Yet for me, it seems to *be* the norm; I somehow have the ability to strike up conversations in restaurants where said strangers and I end up sharing tastes of food.

                                  It has been happening to me for years and many of my friends remark at how often it seems to occur - perhaps to the point where if someone comments positively about something that I have been served, I will offer a taste and vice-versa.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                                    Certain people have talents for certain things.

                                    I have always ... always ... had a talent for getting comped with something free at restaurants. I think it is because I talk it up with the staff a lot and sincerley gush.

                                    As for sharing with strangers ... I have some sort of vague memory of either offering someone food once or being offered food. It may have been my Bizou days where I was a regular and more or less knew the other customers so when anyone saw something interesting there was an offer to share sometimes.

                                  2. The OP's experiences were definitely not an everyday thing, but as a former East Coaster (4 years in the Bay now) I've noticed that this type of interaction is definitely more likely out here. Back East there is more of a barrier to striking up conversations with total strangers - the chattiness that leads to eventually being offered food just usually isn't there. There are pros and cons to it - the "wow, that was really thoughtful of them" times come with the "why can't people just mind their own business?" times.

                                    1. Not normal. I was throwing a party for my young son at a bowling alley once and had this really lowlife guy start hanging around our party obviously trying to catch my eye to have a slice of pizza. I was pretty ticked off that the management was not handling this since we were supposed to have a private area.

                                      I did have a really good experience once in an airport - Miami? can't remember. We were waiting for our connecting flight and having a nosh in the airport. The couple next to us ordered a plate of conch which I had never seen or tasted before but we had considered ordering it. When their order arrived, they overheard me ask my husband if he thought that was the conch. They absolutely insisted that we try it and we proceeded to have a fascinating conversation with them about losing everything in the New Orleans hurricane, surviving the following days and then beginning to rebuild their home. They were also musicians and gave us their website to check out their music, which was great. You never know where sharing your food may lead!

                                      1. Two very dissimilar situations. Thus, it doesn't indicate a pattern.

                                        1. A couple of friends and I were dining at The Richmond and a couple at a nearby table offered us the rest of their bottle of champagne. Only one of them was a champagne drinker, so they weren't going to finish the bottle. That was really fun.