9

When I dine at a nice restaurant (not fast food), I frequently "collaborate" with another in my party so that between the two of us we can order two different items from the menu and then we each the have an opportunity to taste two different menu selections.

Half way through the meal we switch plates. We have been doing this for years in the U.S. and have not noticed that anyone else at the table was offended by this. One time at a restaurant in Paris one of the party that we were dining with was clearly offended when we did this.

Is this improper etiquette? Does it vary by country?

8

For what it's worth (not much!) I, personally, would be at least mildly put off to see the plate trading.

In my experience it varies not by country but by restaurant. Many restaurants in the US are explicitly or implicitly family-style, meaning it is expected that all entrees will be shared among diners. These usually have a serving plate for each food order, from which individual portions are served onto personal plates of each diner.

Other restaurants may not clearly be family style, but it's still pretty common to share (though the method I see most often is people trading portions of their orders to their own plates once the food is served, not trading plates of half-eaten food later in the meal).

The appropriateness might also vary by type of food/method of eating with my general rule being: don't eat food that was in someone else's mouth. I, personally, would find it unappetizing to see someone bite into a hamburger until half finished, then see someone else start biting into it. I would be similarly distressed to see someone moving a fork repeatedly from inside their mouth into a plate of pasta and back again, then swapping plates for a different person to do the same. I would not care at all if some portion of uneaten french fries were exchanged

But the "nicer" the restaurant, the less appropriate obvious food-sharing is. At even the fanciest restaurant I might exchange food on the order of a single bite's worth, but certainly not more than that. A high-end restaurant seems to usually come with the assumption that menu offerings are designed to be a unit providing a specific experience for the meal, and "mixing' such large a large portion as a half only dilutes that for both diners.

You wouldn't watch half a movie and then trade seats with a friend in another theater to see the second half of a different movie instead, after all. If you really wanted to see both, you would just go to the movies twice. It's not a perfect analogy, but a nice restaurant with a high-end chef and a unique menu is more like a movie than is something ubiquitous and undifferentiated, like a McDonald's Big Mac.

  • A friend and his wife tried the plate-swapping technique at a restaurant in the US that was well-known for being friendly to family style, and were told by the restaurant staff to use the portion-shifting technique. This restaurant did have an explicit mention that extra plates were available to facilitate sharing in their menu. I would especially concur with that method for sharing a hamburger - cut it in half and move the portion, rather than the plate. – Ed Grimm Feb 17 at 8:32
  • @EdGrimm I'm surprised that a restaurant would prefer people to drip sauce and meat juices on the table linen than just pass plates. I'm not doubting your account, I just don't understand the restaurant attitude. I suppose one could always swap seats! – Spagirl Feb 18 at 10:16
  • 1
    @Spagirl I doubt that that's the restaurant's preference, though they're probably prepared for it (spills happen even under the best of circumstances). It's easy to put two plates near each other and move food over such that the food is always over one plate or another. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Feb 18 at 14:39
  • @Upper_Case You must dine at restaurants with more spacious tables than I do. My partner and I do tend to trade morsels and passing them past the cruets, candles, mini-flower-vases and other paraphernalia that restaurants deem essential table dressing can be quite the challenge at times. Especially if you have something slithery or drippy. – Spagirl Feb 18 at 15:04
  • 1
    @Spagirl I can't comment on your specific restaurants, but if you can pass entire plates around the table you can also move them such that food can be transferred without hurling spoonfuls across the place settings. And if the combination of food-neatness and table layout is such that it is impossible, or very inconvenient, to share food without causing a commotion or mess then I'll hazard a guess that, at that restaurant, sharing entrées at all might not be encouraged. In general I believe that entrée sharing is not the idea around which restaurants are organized, even if diners do so. – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Feb 18 at 15:53
3

I'm french, fully trading plates might be seen as "weird" in luxurious or gastronomic restaurants and frown upon.

I put an emphasis on the "might", because I would not mind, and most people I know would not mind either.

We actually (We being : me and my Friends or me and my parents) share a bite of our plate with the others if they request it. And It has never been frown upon but some people may refuse to do It.

3

Background

I'm French and my dad is a huge fan of good restaurants. This means that, when we go on holiday, we usually eat at a good restaurant at least once.

For my dad, the definition of a good restaurant is a restaurant that serves traditional French food (or German when we are in Germany, etc..) and he usually chooses them by looking in the "Gault&Millau" (a list of good restaurants).

So far, we didn't go to the more expensive ("gastronomique") restaurant so I don't have experience with the really expensive restaurants (just some really nice and a bit expensive ones).


Here is what I have observed

Sharing dessert is always okay. Whether you choose to take "one for two" or to do a "half-half" (you take two then each person eat half of each), you won't have any problem or be badly seen. Also, the sharing technic here really doesn't matter as nobody cares.

For the main course, having someone else taste a little of what you are having is also a very regular thing to do. Also, I'm often unable to finish my plate in the restaurant and my family always finish it for me which has never been a problem (as far as I can tell, it's also a regular thing to do).

About the fact that you decided to eat half and then switch plate, I must say, I find it kind of unusual. But is it bad etiquette? I really don't think it is. After all, when I want my sister to have a taste of what I'm having, we often switch plate and then switch back when each of us has taste the other food.


About the idea of transferring half of the food...

...from one plat to the other

Please, avoid doing that. You will completely mess up the presentation (when you are transferring food to another plate, since you are transferring a lot of food at one time, it's really difficult to be "delicate" with the presentation in order to not ruin it).

Taking a bit from someone else plate is fine. Switching plate is fine. Telling the staff in advance that you will each have half of what the other is having is an option (even though I have only seen this happen for dessert).

But messing up some plate presentation?

Don't do it, you will likely be seen as rude and uneducated if you do (People always look at me weirdly and kind of disgust when I dare mix my "floating island" dessert).

Add per requested about the "not mixing rule":

This is probably a cultural thing but I was taught to not "mix" my food (unless it's already is or is meant to be mixed). You can eat in the order you want when things are in your plate but people will definitively see you as weird if you mix some stuff that isn't supposed to be mixed (at least, that what I have observed). And, even when something is supposed to be mixed, I will often only mix a small part at a time to respect the presentation because I know it's important to the people around me.

  • My wife, her daughter and I often share food at a restaurant. My wife's phrase is "a taste for a taste". We never pass plates around. That would seem awkward and somewhat rude, it seems like the message would be "I don't like this, you take it". Also, if I ordered the steak, I generally want the steak. I might like a taste of something else, but I don't want to give up half my dinner. Instead, we always pass some food from one plate to another. No one has ever objected, or given us any kind of discouraging look. – DaveG Feb 18 at 16:40
  • One other issue with exchanging full plates is that I'm often dining with my wife and her two adult children. Obviously passing all of our plates back and forth isn't going to work. Exchanging "a taste for a taste" works just fine. – DaveG Feb 18 at 16:52
  • 1
    Why is it such an awful thing to "completely mess up the presentation"? Assuming you've gone to a restaurant to eat (not to treat it as some sort of avant-garde art gallery), the presentation will be completely messed up anyway. – Chris H Feb 19 at 8:49
  • 1
    @Ælis I don't know if that makes anything clearer, but to be honest I suspect I'll just find the entire concept ridiculous no matter how well you explain it. If you can transfer the food to your mouth without ruining presentation, you can transfer it to another plate without ruining presentation. If you can't transfer it to your mouth without ruining the presentation, then there's no difference anyway. It's the absolute worst kind of 'etiquette', it's nothing other than an excuse to look down on people. But ultimately I guess it's a good answer to the question, even if I think it shouldn't be. – Chris H Feb 19 at 10:51
  • 1
    @ChrisH When you are transferring food to another plate, since you are transferring a lot of food at one time, it's much more difficult to be "delicate" with the presentation in order to not ruin it. But yeah, "etiquette" is often just a nice excuse to look down on people... – Ælis Feb 19 at 11:26
0

For me, I usually cut the item into the portions I want to share before taking a bite. In my experience, the appropriateness depends more on how you close you are to the people you're dining with. For example, my parents and I order different items and share them all the time. I've also done the same with a few close co-workers. In either case, nobody has ever batted an eye.

For the record, my family is Asian while my co-workers come from all backgrounds.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.