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I'm often invited to restaurants before or after certain meetings with groups of people I know, including friends. However, I don't like to eat "outside food" and never go to restaurants or get take out in my daily life. I'm a really cynical person and I don't trust that restaurant food is of good intent. I want to be able to see every step of the process that the food went through before eating it such as how well it was washed, where was it grown, did the processor wash their hands before, is it fresh? I'm not a fan of business tricks such as skipping steps that can't be observed by the customer (such as not washing fruits because nobody can tell) Because I'm not able to keep track of these things at restaurants I prefer not to eat at them. These are my own personal reasons and I know they are not universally agreed upon by everyone else. I do not want to share them as I don't want a debate about why my reasons are not right; I know some of them are extreme, but I still prefer for it to be the way it is.

Usually I still go to the restaurant though with them but don't order anything except maybe a drink just to have "ordered" something (which I won't drink). (Note: We go to low quality/inexpensive (or overpriced low quality) places to eat)

Sometimes this becomes awkward as the people I am with start asking me questions about why I don't eat. They try to help me by suggesting that we can go to a different restaurant or recommending things from the menu. Still, it won't make a difference as I won't eat it either way.

I feel like this becomes really awkward and sometimes offensive towards the other person(s) when they see I decline to eat or order any food. It also draws lots of unwanted attention to me. Since I'm not able to communicate exactly why I don't eat anything there I feel degraded not being able to deal with the situation and end up ruining it for everyone.

I don't know how to communicate to them that I'm sitting there at the restaurant to talk or spend time with them and NOT for the food as I am not a fan of restaurants or trying different foods in general.

How can I inform people whom invite me to eat with them that I would like to go with them to the restaurant but not eat?

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    Have you tried explaining it to them the way you just explained to us, that you're just happy to spend time with them, and you don't want to eat/feel like it's not needed? – Ash Aug 4 '18 at 20:38
  • @Ash I have but they seem to be annoyed by it as once everyone is eating and I'm just sitting there with nothing in front of me people keep eyeing me and asking why I'm not eating STILL every few minutes as if they don't remember. – LDR Aug 4 '18 at 20:39
  • I just edited it to make it a little more clear, and if you do not agree with any edits, please feel free to roll it back. A few questions- How often are these restaurant outings, and how expensive are they? What country do you reside in? – ElizB Aug 4 '18 at 20:43
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    Is there anything more you can share about reasons? Taste? Health? Religion? Preference for food you prepare? Some of these might help make an explanation easier to understand. – qoba Aug 5 '18 at 0:36
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    I agree with those reasons. I do eat at restaurants, but I would rather cook my own food more often than not. Have you expressed any of those thoughts to any of your friends in the past, and if so, how did they react? – ElizB Aug 5 '18 at 2:44
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First off, this is awkward, and there isn't a lot you can do to make it less awkward. Very few people absolutely will not eat in restaurants. They may eat without enjoying it much, they may limit how often they do it to save money, but just plain not ever consuming anything a restaurant, any restaurant, has to offer is outside the cultural norms of pretty much all cultures that have restaurants. Your goal is to minimize the awkward feeling in other people when they learn this about you.

This means that you need to explain yourself at least a little. Not necessarily the why, but the actual what: "I don't eat food I didn't prepare myself." You need to state it that simply. They're probably assuming you are watching your weight, or have religious restrictions, or are saving money, or some other reason why you might prefer one restaurant to another or one dish to another at a given restaurant. When the helpful suggestions start you need to say your short sentence, eg "I don't eat food I didn't prepare myself," as many times as necessary. The simple and calm phrasing and lack of details or explanation should help to mitigate the extent to which they feel criticized by your choices. (People do: if you say you don't do X they hear maybe you think they shouldn't do X whether you say it or not.)

Immediately after that, they will be feeling kind of off-centre, so I think it's a great idea to say, as you did in the question,"I'm here to talk and spend time with you and I don't intend to eat anything. I'm fine with that." Focus on the positive.

Now that I think about it, this is actually really similar to How to respond to peer pressure without being excluded. which was about people going out for a smoke and the asker wanting to accompany them but not smoke. Check that out, too.

Ideally this will become known as a thing about you. when the whole "I don't know, where do you want to go" thing starts, you can say "doesn't matter to me, I won't be eating!" and grin a little. They can get used to it.

  • To help prevent others from feeling criticized, it also might help to say what it is about yourself that makes you have this preference. For example, "I have lots of dietary restrictions, so I don't eat at restaurants.", or "I have OCD, so I can't eat food I haven't prepared myself." (The latter example may be true for you.) By saying that you feel this way because you are X, they may feel less criticized because they are not X. – David K Aug 6 '18 at 16:20
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    @DavidK problem is, OP's reason is "I don't believe any restaurant is truly clean and the food uncontaminated." I would not want to hear that right before I ate, and I think most people hearing it would try to convince OP "oh no this place is fine." When you don't give a reason, there's nothing to argue with and no implication the other person should agree with you. – Kate Gregory Aug 6 '18 at 16:23
  • @KateGregory That's true. I guess it would only work for reasons which are unchangeable traits of the person (food allergies, religion, etc). That's why I mentioned OCD, which is a diagnosable condition that would prevent people from arguing. It could very well be true for the OP, and even if it isn't, it could be easy enough to pass off as a lie. – David K Aug 6 '18 at 16:27
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It's going to be weird no matter what — sharing food is a huge human social activity since well before civilization.

I would recommend emphasizing that your friends' company is the reason why you're out, and that you prefer to only eat food that you prepare yourself.

People will ask you why, and you'll likely have to explain. There are a few strategies to deal with this, let's go over them.

  • Deflect attention from the question by re-emphasising why you're there anyway ("I don't eat food that I don't prepare, but I like hanging out with you folks") or trying to make people comfortable ("I don't eat out, but don't let that stop you from enjoying!"). Works but this may have people assume that you're doing so for private reasons and get even more curious about it.

  • Explain your concern with the hygiene of food prepared at restaurants. I would not recommend this at all; it's either going to "yuck your friends' yum" and they won't enjoy their food, or they could feel offended that you don't trust the same places that they do.

  • White lie: give an explanation that isn't true but that people are unlikely to challenge or argue with. You can argue a medical condition, such as severe allergies, or that you're not hungry at all, or that you're on a strict diet for medical reasons... Some people resort to this to avoid discussing the real reason but I don't encourage that either because you might end up getting deeper into your lie, and especially if these are people you're going to meet over and over, they'll figure out this isn't true and it'll backfire.

  • Tell your friends you can't make it to the main course but would like to join them "for coffee". Show up after they sit down and order food, and order a drink (coffee, can of soda, whatever you feel comfortable with). You don't actually have to drink it if you don't want to but it'll attract less attention than not ordering anything at all.

A note on the last one. Depending on the restaurant, some will have policies against customers taking up a spot without ordering. Ordering a drink should make the restaurant whole, more or less, since often times they make all the margin on drinks. Be conscious that some of your friends may be uncomfortable if people in their party are not ordering because they may feel the social pressure to order from the restaurant. Thus I would recommend buying a drink in any case (be it a bottle of water) as it will deflect attention overall.

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I get invited to join the group for lunch fairly often, where they've already discussed and decided where they (we) are going, and I go along.

Sometimes I would eat there and sometimes not.

In one case I explained that I did not like that kind of food without going into details, they thought I was missing out; I figured that I knew what I was missing (lucky me).

In another case it was the group's favorite place that they always talked about, and I went partly out of curiosity and also to see what was so great. When asked what I thought about it I told them.

I explained that while not actually "bad" it certainly was not good, my observation was that I suspected that they went there solely because they liked the name and that it had no other redeeming qualities. They thought about it for half a minute and agreed.

Simply explaining that you hang out with your friends/acquaintances because you enjoy their company, and not necessarily for specific actions, should be enough. Do they smoke and skydive, so you must do this too? - watch from the ground in the non-smoking area ...

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