buffet

Group Dining Etiquette from Bars to Buffets

One of our greatest joys is to celebrate life moments surrounded by food and friends. Whether we celebrate casually or formally, good manners are essential. After designing and working hundreds of events from restaurants to large group functions, I’m inspired to share some key dining etiquette tips to make sure everyone enjoys both food and friends:

Appetizer Platters or Offerings

Appetizer platters at restaurants or bars usually come with some side plates, utensils and napkins. What is usually missing is a serving utensil. If this is the case and you have a large group, ask for a serving utensil or designate one clean utensil that the entire group can use for food service.

Here’s a real story to help illustrate this point. There was a group of professionals, including an ER physician, who met up to enjoy some libations and appetizers including a large bowl of guacamole. When the guacamole bowl arrived, the ER doctor dug into the guacamole with his fingers and knuckles to scoop up a large portion for his plate. Do you still have your appetite? Probably not. Listen, we love our friends, but there is a limit to what we should and can accept when serving ourselves in a group. Let’s keep the spirit of celebration high with equally high etiquette and sanitation standards for everyone.

Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Passed hors d’oeuvres, aka appetizers, give guests a range of tastes with a traditional touch of semi-personal service. Some passed hors d’oeuvres are offered on a stick and/or with an accompanying dip. It is acceptable to pick up the food with your hands and use the provided utensil to drizzle the dip over the food. At times, it may make sense to skip the utensil and just dip your food directly into the dish. Remember, if you touch it, it is yours!

If you choose to partake of these types of hors d’oeuvres, please note that it is not appropriate to put your used stick on the serving platter after consuming the food or double dip your food in the accompanying condiment. If you put your stick back on the serving platter, you’ve contaminated the entire platter and the rest of the food for other guests. Therefore it is best to keep your sticks to yourself, find a trash receptacle or wait for a server to come your way to gather your trash. This action shows respect and courteous to yourself, guests, host and servers. Contaminated food must be thrown out which could possibly impact the event food supply.

Family Style Dinners

Family style dinners are the type of dining experience that most often happen during holidays. Families and friends sit around a large table to enjoy an abundant banquet of food. The family sits down to eat and the passing of bowls and platters commences. When a platter arrives at your seat, please use the serving utensil and take a moderate portion to ensure that everyone at the table has an opportunity to enjoy each dish. You can always scoop up seconds once the platters circulate.

By the way, always pass to your immediate right first. Yes, the proper way was to pass from your left but this practice has been modernized with counterclockwise movement.

A few other rules of thumb include 1) turn your head and pass food along if you have to sneeze or cough, 2) continue passing if it is not what you desire as long as your guest to your right has free hands to accept the dish and 3) position platters as close to the center of the table to keep food as conveniently accessible to all and uncontaminated as possible.

Buffets                                                             

Ah, the allure of a buffet; all-you-can-eat dining customized to your palate. Buffets are wonderful ways to feed a large group of people in cascading courses and order. However, there are some necessary refreshers to enjoy the buffet while keeping the food safe for you and your fellow event attendees.

  • Use the provided utensils. Do NOT put your fingers, hands, personal utensils or other items in a platter to portion your food.
  • Once you pack your plate, move away from the area. Do not eat or talk over the food or stand next to the buffet blocking the flow. Be excited to see someone, but move the party away from the line.
  • If food falls out of the serving utensils, leave it where it is. Do not put that food back into the serving vessel or on your plate.
  • Try to avoid spilling one type of food into another type’s platter.
  • Avoid placing your trash, dirty plates, glassware or trash on the buffet by the food the group is accessing to eat. Frankly it is gross and tacky. My bet is that neither one of these are your style.
  • If you are short on space, make sure that the buffet is kept away and separate from places where people may eat. For instance, I was at an event where the food was served on the dining room table which was dressed with chairs. Since there was limited seating throughout the space, people choose to sit around the table thus, sitting directly over the food. Well, people sitting at the table were eating, breathing and talking over these platters of food which made the entire set up both unsafe and inappropriate, Keep serving and dining areas separate unless it is a family style dinner.
  • Food needs to be kept at a certain temperature to be safe. Therefore, food on a buffet needs to be rotated to keep the good eats flowing while retaining the integrity of the food.

Although these tips may seem like common sense, these are actual behaviors witnessed by people from all backgrounds, age groups, social structures and education levels. My recommendation for hosts is to hire professional caterers and servers who maintain the quality and integrity of the food in order to prevent unnecessary illness that can arise from the innocent mishandling of food. If you are attending an event, then please do your part and bring back class to these types of celebrations.

Cheers. Bon appétit!

P.S. Wash your hands first and other great reminders delivered in a humorous manner can be found in this video.

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