Going out to eat is one of life’s greatest joys. There’s no grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning up involved. Restaurant dining allows you to sit back and let someone else do the hard part.
All you have to do is order and eat.
But about that ordering bit: It’s not as straightforward as it used to be. With share plate dining all the rage at restaurants around the world, you may not be in the “When Harry Met Sally” territory of “I’ll have what she’s having.” Or you might be.
Two CNN Travel editors duke it out over sharing food versus, well, not sharing.
A CASE FOR SHARING
A veteran restaurant-goer, Stacey Lastoe knows her way around the menu. In spite of a recent Eater argument against perusing menus online beforehand, she can’t help herself and prides herself on being a quick enough study to place a drink order during the first step of service (a.k.a. water service). Ordering items for the table to share — whether for a party of two or eight — is not only the best way to enjoy a meal out, but it is also the best way to control the pace of the evening. An exception can be made for burgers. When Lastoe’s burger craving strikes, sharing is a nonstarter.
Picture this. You and your party sit down to dinner. The server comes by, first attempting to upsell you on the water — “sparkling, still or tap?” (the word tap is barely audible; blink and you miss it) — and the savviest diner (me) in the group immediately knows what to do: “Tap is great, thanks.”
Of course, depending on where you’re dining, your selection may vary. Here in New York City, the answer is almost always tap.
After water is poured and drink orders taken, your table will likely be regaled with a rendition of the popular “how the menu works” tune. While I pretend to pay attention to this, I’m secretly plotting my table’s order.
So. Many. Categories.
Now there are still a handful of establishments that offer clearly stated courses — appetizer, entree, dessert — but many more want you to “experience” the menu, to taste around the various categories.
These categories may include but are not limited to “hot, cold, small bites, raw, bread, noodles, main, big appetites, for the table.”
I could go on, but I’ll spare you. If you go out to eat even a couple of times a year, you’re probably familiar with this insistence on relegating menu items to very specific sections along with instructions on how many items to order from each. This, by the way, if not clearly stated as it most often is, is code for: We encourage sharing.
And I encourage efficient ordering. As a former front-of-house restaurant employee, nothing pains me more now as a diner than sitting idly while a member of my party struggles to make a decision.
A seasoned server will accurately read the situation and attempt to move on to one of a thousand other things they have to do during service, but not before the worst offender waffles some more and says urgently: “don’t go anywhere! I’ll just be a minute.”
A really good orderer
I have my flaws, but I know my strengths, which is why I can confidently say: I am a really good orderer. Faced with an indecisive group or individual, I like to offer my assistance by suggesting we just share everything. I feel good about this approach even when the menu isn’t definitively designed for sharing. I also know not to, uh, order the salmon at the steakhouse.
“I’m happy to order for the table,” I’ll say, adding, depending on the people I’m with, “Feel free to tell me your menu must-haves.” I’ll oblige desires to have the cod fish filet even if I have a hunch it’s going to be the weak link of the order as fish filets always are (unless you’re eating at Le Bernardin, which recently was awarded a coveted three Michelin stars rating — but that’s another story).
Ordering in this manner is not only the best way to move the meal along at a logical pace. It’s also the best way to ensure everyone’s satisfied and sated.
The spiels from waitstaff about tasting around the menu are tired, I get it, but the intention is on point. Truly the best way to dine is to try as many things as possible (knowing what to avoid).
An individual cannot reasonably order and eat multiple appetizers and more than one entree plus dessert.
But even two diners who opt to share are guaranteed a more diverse, pleasing dining experience.
When you share, you also avoid that awkward but inevitable offer to your dining companions: “Would you like to try a bite?” even if giving up a single bite of your lobster noodles is the last thing on Earth you want to do.
Sharing makes this a nonissue.
I suppose it also promotes a sense of community around the table in a way reaching across the table to stab a piece of Wagyu steak from your friend’s plate never will. Plus it makes bill splitting a cinch.
A CASE FOR NOT SHARING
Growing up in 1980s Los Angeles, Brekke Fletcher spent her formative years dining at restaurants. She is an expert editor/taste maker who routinely orders the best thing on the menu. Fletcher’s ninth birthday party, held at My Brother’s BBQ in Woodland Hills, California, still haunts her. Having ordered a whole rack of ribs for herself, only to witness her friends and family eat them one by one while wearing a pristine plastic bib, with the only the detritus of a lackluster potato salad to sate her. After years of frustration and disappointment, Fletcher decided to stop sharing her food. She has never looked back.
I don’t share! I don’t share!
Don’t blame me. Blame the squash blossoms. There were three in an order, and the Generalisimo running things at dinner had determined we would share everything that night. He also ordered several other small plates, none of which had me rapt and salivating like the squash blossoms.
The plates arrived on the table one by one. I had a taste of the white bean salad, a few beets with faro, waiting for those most delicate, ricotta-filled, lightly fried blossoms. When the server slid the plate to the center of the table, I felt my heart flutter. Then something happened.
Four adult humans, armed with borrowed forks and knives, started tearing these beauties apart. Ricotta flew, bits of fried squash shot off the plate, and while I tried to salvage one decent bite from the carnage, I said aloud, “You know what? I — insert expletive here — hate sharing.”
I flagged down the server to put in another order of squash blossoms, to be eaten this time with the reverence and respect they deserved, by me alone.
I am ‘that guy’
With the proliferation of “family style” ordering, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. I do not want to be that guy. The one who won’t share or puts the kibosh on plans to eat at restaurants that specialize in plates meant “for the table.”
And yet, if I’m going out to eat and spending my money and calories on food that a) I may or may not want and b) that wouldn’t split four ways with a top surgeon and a sharp scalpel?
No, I do not want 1/6 of a meatball, just to say I tasted it.
Two pieces of a Hamachi scallion roll, so Sharey McGivememore over there can try a substandard Philadelphia roll? How do you say, “no,” in Japanese? (PS: I Googled “how to say no in Japanese,” and there is not a single answer to that question.)
I love food. All food. And yes, I, too, want to taste all the things. You can commonly hear me say the following Dickensian rip-off prior to dining, “I regret that I have but one stomach to give to my dinner.”
Ordering for me, myself and I
But when it comes to some menus and certain dining companions, I insist on ordering for me, myself and I alone.
Does this mean I won’t offer a bite of my food? No. Does that mean I won’t request a bite of yours? No. Does this make me a horrible person? Jury’s out.
So there. I said it. I do not like to share.
That is unless you and I are food related — in that we eat and love all of the same things with equal measure and gusto.
I know this won’t make a popular group dining date, but I also know what makes me happy, what I want to order, and what I don’t want to order.
And I will act according to my own desires and not those of the group in this one scenario, and I’m sorry (not sorry). I will not lose another squash blossom.
Now, who wants dessert?