Over the weekend I was at a dinner/fundraiser for the Cincinnati Vegetarian Resource Group. It was one of the rare and joyous times I have been out and able to eat anything offered to me without fear of some hidden animal product. Only the night before I had been at a house party and had to make do with wine coolers for sustenance because the meal wasn't veggie friendly.
It got me to thinking about dining etiquette when dating. I don't have any actual statistics but I think, more often than not, couples go out to eat.
Still sometimes you are going to eat at home. Whether it's a need for a change of pace, financial concerns, a desire to impress your date with a personal touch or you are simply a fantastic cook, the occasion will arise when you and your date will be entertaining each other at home. There are two rules of etiquette to be observed: The person preparing and serving the food has one set of rules; the diner has another.
I've had pretty good luck when it comes to boyfriends preparing meals, but I must emphasize the luck factor. There was certainly room for error, since a lot of things weren't communicated. When you invite someone to dinner, it is the responsibility of the diner — the person who is going to eat the unknown food — to make the cooker aware of food allergies and items you absolutely cannot or will not eat.
I certainly make it known that I'm a vegetarian. Any attempts to slip something unwanted in my food will not be appreciated.
However, it is absolutely improper to express one's preferences. For example, I don't like tomatoes or carrots. Have I eaten them?
Sure. Will I spew if I'm served them? No. I just don't like them, but I will smile and eat them or pick around them discretely if they are served. Remember the person serving the meal is trying to do something nice for you and you should appreciate those efforts.
The cooker also has some rules to follow. If you have a specialty or something you know you make well and have made before, fix that. This isn't the time to experiment. Also don't feel the need to impress to the point that your date isn't going to know how to eat it. No one is born knowing how to spoon a soufflé or eat an artichoke. Simple foods that can be eaten in the traditional way with a fork or spoon are best.
Another common mistake I see in this dating ritual is failure to serve a complete meal. When you eat in a restaurant there are more than entrées on the menu. A home-cooked meal should also include an appetizer, even if it's just crackers or bread and olive oil. And you are definitely going to lose me if you don't offer me dessert. That can even be store-bought but the sweet stuff is a must.
One of my worst dates actually was one of my best meals. It was a personal ad date, and the gentleman offered to fix me dinner. He kind of went overboard, but I was duly impressed with the pita triangles and homemade hummus to snack on while he prepared dinner, and the assorted tarts after the main course. A complete meal makes an impression. I almost went out with this guy again — even though we were totally incompatible — just so he could feed me again.
As a final reminder, the invited has the responsibility of being open, within reason, to whatever culinary delights the date has to offer. The person doing the inviting and cooking has the responsibility to make the dining experience a pleasurable one. And if you're really smart, you'll have one of those refrigerator magnets with the number of the local pizza place on it. Just in case.