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According to an article written by Jess in When Harry Met Sally, "restaurants are to people in the 80's what theatres were to people in the 60's." Dining out has become a social situation, a way for people to (re)connect with friends. The meals are filled with laughter and conversation; reminiscing about the past and fantasizing about the present. The only lull in the evening occurs at 1 awkward moment: how many plates must be served before one can and should start eating? Knowing that the food in restaurants is rarely brought out at the same time, does everyone need to have a dish in front of them before beginning the meal?

Different behaviors are revealed in the moments when the server brings out the first plates. Some of the people begin eating the moment their food arrives, carefully avoiding eye contact with the hungry stares around the table. On the flip side, others are adamant about waiting until all people at the table have been served, whether there are 4 people or 20. Which is correct?

To answer that burning question: neither is correct. Like many situations in life, the topic of "how many people need to be served before eating" falls into a gray category, with several aspects that need to be considered. First of all, how many people are sitting at the table? Second, is the meal a dinner salad or an entree? If the table has six people or less, all occupants should receive their food (hot or cold) before someone takes a bite. The only time it would be acceptable to begin eating earlier would be if those without food insist that the lucky folk start their meal instead of waiting for the rest of the entrees.

If the table has more than 6 people, statistics and math skills come into play... 3 "hot" plates (entrees, pastas, secondi) should be served before taking the first bite (dinner salads are not included in this). Of course, it is polite to provide permission for those with hot plates to begin immediately, as no one enjoys eating cold steak. If the table has more than 10 diners, it would be preferable for 4-5 hot plates to be served before delving in. Typically, one-third of the table should have their food... However, the most appropriate table etiquette would be to wait until permission to eat has been granted by those without plates (the conversation being, "no, please go ahead and eat. I insist!").

And of course, this manner can be taught to children that are of the preschool age and older. To utilize developmentally appropriate math skills, the child must count how many "hot" plates are served before they can begin. Sorting out the types of food that are "hot" versus "cold" enables the child to practice placing items into separate categories. Using one to one correspondence (assigning every meal a number) will keep the child entertained for a few moments. When the preschooler becomes a working adult, this skill will ensure that he/she will not become the "rudie" at the business dinner, who started eating before all of the bosses. Knowing how many plates should be served before eating is a practice that will help children in work and social situations in the future.  Visit the Dear Julie section of our website for answers to other questions you may have.

Bon Appetit!