Dinner with Friends, Vol. 6, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

Recently, my husband and I planned a dinner engagement with friends. The most mutually convenient plan was for us to host a dinner, and I was happy to do so.Under normal circumstances, I typically inquire as to a guest's food allergies or socio-cultural food-related concerns. However, we've dined with these friends on many prior occasions, and they have no such predilections.

This time was different.

In three separate communications prior to the dinner, the couple repeatedly requested an accounting of my proposed menu. They mentioned that they were "dieting" and wanted to make certain that dinner was "healthy."

As I am not the White House chef, nor a professional caterer, I don't make it a habit to pre-approve my menu with my guests. I also don't serve "unhealthy" meals, e.g., fast food, foods I consider to be heavily processed, or foods containing poison, etc.

My response to my guests was to acquiesce, provide them with the proposed menu, and go from there. They offered to bring dessert, to which I responded that I had planned only on serving a fat-free hot chocolate in lieu of dessert given their oft-mentioned "diet."

My quandary: did I behave in a Perfectly Proper manner? Did they? Should I kindly suggest to them that this is not really very polite on their part and as such, should be refrained from unless an individual is faced with a life-threatening food allergy or an applicable religious conviction?

Dear Hostess Fricassee:

Well, you certainly were plucked and trussed by your guests! How sad that they seem to value their "diet" more than your generous hospitality. Etiquetteer does understand how important diets are to the people on them, but it’s Beyond Improper to enlist friends to accommodate them that much. As usual in these situations, Etiquetteer would like to serve a Perfectly Proper serving of "shut up and eat!"

You were more than accommodating in allowing your guests to vet your menu in advance, so much so that Etiquetteer thinks they took advantage of your friendship. Since it’s never a good idea to tell people they’re rude in so many words, you’ll have to approach this from another angle. Should they, or others, try that in the future, Etiquetteer encourages you to respond "Gosh, I’m probably not going to decide what to cook until that day. Perhaps you should host if that’s going to be a problem." (Some people would call this passive-aggressive; Etiquetteer calls it cagey and astute.)If these "friends" for whom you’ve bent over backwards didn’t send a Lovely Note afterward, Etiquetteer would seriously reevaluate how much you want to cater to them.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Do I really have to offer to help in the kitchen after dinner?

Dear Scullery Shirker:

The only thing you have to do after dinner is send a Lovely Note. Of course if your hosts ask you to help, Etiquetteer expects you to do so cheerfully. You’ll also note how lonely it is to sit by yourself in the dining room with everyone else in the kitchen washing up.

On the other hand, Etiquetteer has noticed an interesting trend in Middle-Class Homes With No Help (which is to say Middle-Class Homes) for kitchens to become large enough to accommodate guests. This way the hosts can continue to prepare dinner without leaving their guests all alone in the living room. Even Etiquetteer has set up a cozy nook in the kitchen with two armchairs and a cocktail table so company can nibble on hors d’oeuvres and chat while Etiquetteer wrestles with the risotto. This is a far cry from the day when guests never saw the "working" part of a household, and while Etiquetteer sometimes mourns this situation, it certainly does make things easier.

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