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Catering to relatives who don't want "exotic" food

Hello, there. My in-laws occasionally invite us to meet them for dinner at either a diner or Red Lobster, as that is the kind of food they like (it isn't our first choice). But every time I invite them to meet us at a restaurant, their first response is always, "Okay, but nothing too exotic." It doesn't even matter if the first suggestion out of my mouth is something I know they like, such as Chinese food. They always have to add, "Good. As long as it's not too exotic."

A few years ago they reluctantly came along with us to an Indian restaurant after my son's game, as he was hungry and it was close by. They grumbled and complained the entire time about the smell of the food, even though we got them plain chicken and rice. We never tried Indian again with them. Then last year, for our anniversary, they joined a big group of us at a Persian restaurant that had plenty of simple dishes such as chicken and rice and bread. But at that meal, Great-Grandma, who is always with us on these occasions, was flummoxed by the concept of kebabs and could not get past the fact that her chicken was on a skewer. That ruined the meal for all. At the end of the night, my mother-in-law said, "Next time we'll go with Chinese, okay?"

So...next weekend is my son's birthday and I have invited both sets of grandparents to join us at a local restaurant of my son's choosing. The first thing my in-laws said was, you guessed it, "Nothing too exotic, please." If my son has his heart set on something "exotic," like Thai, do I have to kowtow to my in-laws? I don't ask them to change their plans when they invite us to places that we don't like.

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  1. i'd side-step the drama and make a second party just for them in a restaurant that they can accept.
    at this point, they are not going to change, and i don't see any percentage in trying to get them to accept change.

    imho, this is not a matter of "rational" debate;
    this is a matter of either catering to family members because of OTHER, more global, family issues, or opening up the probability of an unpleasant incident

    1. This is about being a good host and a good relative. It isn't about exercising one's "right" to eat anywhere you like.

      If you involve the Red Lobster in-laws you should accept their limitations and dine accordingly.

      Surely you can find an acceptable compromise and do it joyously.

      You can Indian any other time you like.

      1. Look I have new friends who were going to stay with us for a few weeks and I when questioned them on preferences, they asked for "nothing fancy". I figured a pot of meat sauce and ravioli. How was I to know?

        Live and learn, we are still friends, and she jokingly sends me gift certs to Applebees and other chains for special occasions. I live for food but not everyone does.

        2 Replies
        1. re: coll

          coll: was the meat sauce and ravioli too "fancy" or exotic for your guests?

          I guess I'm having trouble grasping that and asking for clarification. Do they really like Applebees or don't I get the joke?

          1. re: debkurt

            Not at all, they like "hot dishes" or what I call tuna noodle casserole etc, or a plain roast with potatoes. I should have researched: Apparently there's not much Italian food in North Dakota. Where here in NY it's the default meal for guests.

            They were amazed we had so many choices for dining out too, I guess it overwhelmed them so they wanted to stick with what they knew. Someday when I go to visit them, I am sure I will be exactly the same, only in reverse! I think it has been a great lesson for me.

        2. Stop trying to force them to eat food they don't want...

          They apparently like seafood and American. Invite them to places like that. Your partner presumably grew up with them- s/he can't come up with some place they'd like?

          If you don't want to go to Red Lobster, say so, but don't invite them out for Indian as some sort of tit for tat thing.

          That said, your son should get to choose where to go for his birthday. Could they join you for cake?

          19 Replies
          1. re: Hobbert

            Might be an opportunity for the son to learn about real respect for others. Even on his BD it isn't all about him.

            1. re: sal_acid

              I don't think respect enters into it. If that's what he wants for his birthday treat, cool. It's not as though birthday must celebrated within a 3 hour window of time out of the entire year. The in laws could wish him a happy birthday earlier of later than the actual day.

              1. re: Hobbert

                I think it is a matter of respect. These are his grandparents,not some shmoes who live down the street. They deserve consideration.

                Its birthday dinner for your grandson. Wouldn't you feel slighted/sad if left out...or relegated to dessert only...or invited to a place that everybody knows you hate?

                1. re: sal_acid

                  I don't know if I would call it "respect" but a boy old enough to be selecting the restaurant for his birthday should be old enough to understand concepts of consideration for his grandparents. By the time our son was 5, he had a much more evolved palate than his grandmother, who would never have tried sushi, Indian or Thai food, all of which he relished. But this was the same grandmother with whom he did jigsaw puzzles and played cards, who made him her special macaroni & cheese when re visited for dinner, and whom he adored. It would never have crossed his mind that we would go out to eat with her to a restaurant where she would hate the food. And, if it had, we would have gently suggested some other locale for dinner with her, with the suggestion that we go to the restaurant of his choice some other time.

                  1. re: masha

                    I don't think it is disrespectful to choose a place that is special to you for your birthday. It's not as if the grandparents cannot eat at these places. They simply do not prefer them. You are asking that he choose a place he does not prefer for his birthday rather than them respectfully and pleasantly attending a meal at a place they do not prefer. At a certain point, shouldn't we also expect the grandparents to be respectful?

                    I think I'd talk to the son. Remind him that the grandparents don't like certain cuisines. Ask him what he thinks should occur--support him no matter what his choice but talk through it a bit. Choosing a preferred restaurant is not disrespectful, but it does affect others. So have that conversation.

                    I also like the idea of a note to the grandparents: Son is really interested in trying _____ for his birthday. We know you're not a big fan of that style of food. Would you still like to join us for dinner, or would you prefer to meet us at the house after dinner for birthday cake?"

                  2. re: sal_acid

                    Well, to be fair, they are choosing to be left out. I think it's unfair for the OP to keep pushing his/her choices, but unless they're going to the House of Exotic Weirdness and Nothing Else, they can find something. I personally hate sushi but go to sushi places if the company is worth it. I eat lunch late and fill up on rice and tempura. It's just one meal a year and they could both compromise.

                2. re: sal_acid

                  I really disagree with this. When you're a kid, you realize the day is not all about you, but you also realize when you aren't getting what would be your choice because others object, with no real reason except an exception to the exotic. It's ONE meal a year. I think the grandparents should respect the birthday boy's wish.

                  1. re: charlesbois

                    I'm with sal. I can't imagine my parents taking me to a place that my grandparents wouldn't like (nor would I have ever thought to give them the option of coming or staying home) regardless of the event, whether it was my birthday or I had just won a Nobel Prize. Even when it's "your" day, it should never be only about "you" (one possible exception is for the bride on her wedding). This is a great opportunity for a life lesson. If the kid "needs" an exotic fix, take him a different day.

                    1. re: charlesbois

                      But they are old. They have probably eaten a certain way their entire lives, why force this on them? Our bodies experience many changes as we age. There are meds and ailments to consider also. Spicy food may not agree with some. There are so few precious years with parents and grandparents. I would vote for cherishing that time with them and going along. There will be many years once they are gone for your son to enjoy other cuisines.

                      1. re: charlesbois

                        Thank you, it's the kid's birthday. The one day he can and should get what he wants. He can have another dinner with the grandparents later.

                        1. re: charlesbois

                          The OP/mom is the one with the agenda. Not the son.

                          1. re: MamasCooking

                            son does what he is taught (by example)

                            you are right OP is the one who won't "cater to" anyone.

                          2. re: charlesbois

                            I'm with Sal on this one too.

                            By asking the boy to compromise so his grandparents can enjoy his birthday meal with him, he gets a lesson in how to be generous, how to defer to/respect his elders, and that a meal together has less to do with food and more to to with the company.

                            He can always eat some exotic meal later.

                            1. re: EarlyBird

                              He gets that lesson 364 days of the year already since they get to choose and he has no say.

                              1. re: EarlyBird

                                In other words, he is learning all the lessons his grandparents apparently did not learn.

                                These are lessons he can learn without having to have them in play for his birthday. For all we know, this kid gets up on an occasional Saturday morning and says, "Hey mom? We should call the gparents and see if they want to go to dinner tonight. Red Lobster is fine." Kids don't turn into horrible creatures because they are spoiled on their birthdays but rather because they are spoiled every other day.

                                1. re: debbiel

                                  "Kids don't turn into horrible creatures because they are spoiled on their birthdays but rather because they are spoiled every other day."

                                  True. I guess I'm just old school. If someone is to give-in in this scenario, I would expect it to be my child, in deference to his grandparents who want to be with him on his birthday. I surely would not subject the kid to a meal he hated just to please his grandparents, but some nice compromise would be good. Giving is a gift too.

                              2. re: charlesbois

                                I totally agree, except for the part where OP says "what if he wants to go to a thai restaurant?" Is the boy getting primed? I dont' know, but suspect. I wish that kid good luck.

                              3. re: sal_acid

                                Respect for others goes both ways. Sounds like it's time the inlaws do their part here.

                                1. re: rasputina

                                  Well, it would be nice. Who are adults here? Any change is on their plates. Actually, the one I feel most sorry for is the MIL who stands between the great grandmother and the OP.

                                  And we don't actually know what the birthday boy wants, only what his mother is expecting he will want.

                                  I managed to unhinge my grandmother by coming to the dinner table barefoot. Of course, she didn't let me know, but put my mother through the wringer later. And then, in the era of barely cooked vegetables (she grew up with boiling spinach for an hour), I served her basically raw green beans.

                            2. As others have said, just accept their limitations. Parents and grandparents are a blessing in so many ways; if they love and respect you, who cares about theIr culinary taste? My MIL was like this. We found that Italian restaurants worked fine for everyone so long as they served some Italian-American standards -- bonus points if they also had some homemade pasta and more authentic Italian cuisine that we preferred.