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Food and conversation - what a combination! No wonder it is such a popular way of catching up with friends and family. However it can also cause stress beforehand and during the meal. If you take a few things into account when planning your visit it will help prevent awkward moments.
CHOOSING A PLACE
This requires a little bit of consideration. People think of the obvious: the type of food, the price of meals and drinks. Most people are good at this. Remember, if you are inviting a larger group of people, you will have to choose a restaurant that has a wide range of food. Most specialised places however will have at least one dish for the "odd man out".
There are however some things that people do not often take into account, yet are very important. The biggest one of these is location. Two things are important.
The first is geographic location. If you have people coming from all over town, it is courteous to choose a location that is central to everyone.
The other big thing is parking. People forget about this. You do not want to choose a location that is difficult or expensive to park in. Often there are good restaurants out of the main part of town where this is not a problem.
Unless you are paying for everyone this should be worked out ahead of time and people informed before accepting your invitation. If you are being invited and the person does not raise this, politely ask how this will be managed so that you can be prepared when the time comes.
Not knowing how the bill will be split can induce anxiety, especially when ordering. If the bill is being split evenly between the guests there may be resentment when ordering. People may think, "Why should I pay for Fred's lobster and an expensive cocktail and I am only having a salad; maybe I should get lobster too." You do not want anyone to feel cheated.
As most restaurants will not split bills, the fairest way is for people to put money for what they ordered into the kitty, plus some for a gratuity if appropriate. Make sure that you ask for people to bring adequate cash.
Not sure how this will work out in the future when cash becomes history.
A PLACE FOR EVERYONE AT THE TABLE
As a host, work out what kind of table you want, especially for a larger group. Having a large table and a smaller one for overflow makes people on the small table feel left out. A long narrow table will also not work as people will to speak only to those immediately next to and those opposite to them. Having a larger round or square table works best.
Unless there are designated places, show consideration with where you take a place. For example, if you are single and there will be couples, do not take the seat second from the end of the table, leaving only one spot. Of course this is not a problem with round tables.
Likewise, do not make it that there are more people sitting on one side of the table than on the other; this makes conversation difficult.
If you are saving a seat for someone, place something there, such as a coat. If someone accidentally tries to take that seat, don't move away; politely offer him or her the seat on your other side or opposite to you. Make him or her feel welcome.
If you are the host you may consider writing place cards. Get to the restaurant early and put out the place cards. That way you can plan appropriate places for everyone.
People may be hungry and start perusing the menu, or they may start chatting, but when everyone has arrived gently nudge them to look at the menu. Perhaps you can start looking at yours and make a comment on the dishes to get things going. Ask what they would recommend.
At the beginning work out if people are having starters or just main courses, and whether people intend to have deserts. If some want starters, consider getting some sort of share plate so that the others can nibble while people eat their starters. It can be awkward having people watch others eat, waiting for them to finish so that they can have their meal.
And PD hopes that he does not have to remind people not be snobs or show off; if someone wants a sweet wine with his or her main meal, that is their right. Do not make any snide comments or turn your nose up at him or her. Everyone has a right to enjoy the evening, and a right to eat and drink what he or she likes. Remember, there are probably things that you do not like. Do not ruin someone's fun because you think differently.
NEXT ISSUE: PD Manners 1: Restaurants continues. The feast has only just begun!