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Tete-a-tete: The pitfalls of dining out as a slow eater

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s an accomplishment to be able to do something slowly. Unfortunately, if that something happens to be eating, you’re more likely to receive frustrated looks from your dining companions than compliments about your serene approach to your sandwich or admiration of your sound digestion.

As a slow eater myself, I’ve noticed that certain methods of meal presentation put the leisurely diner at a disadvantage and can result in unnecessary stress and unsatisfied stomachs. There’s no need to avoid such situations – slow eaters can and should eat wherever they desire – but forewarned is forearmed, and you can perhaps make a few adjustments to ensure you get your fair share of food.

First up is buffet-style. I’m not talking about buffet-style restaurants, where the food is plentiful and flows from the kitchen in an endless river, but buffet-style events where a limited amount of food has been prepared and a third of the people attending didn’t bother to RSVP. Talk about pressure.

Unless the event organizers are looking to encourage chaos and mayhem, tables are generally called up to the buffet one at a time. You end up having to take everything you want during that first trip since there might not be anything left by the time you make a second trip. Faster eaters will be back in the buffet line before you’ve even sat down with your first plate and there’s limited food to begin with.

This can lead to some awkward plate-neighbors, such as the ambrosia salad and the potato salad that began to meld on my plate at one such event. Had there been a guarantee of a second trip, I would’ve taken the ambrosia salad on its own as a dessert, but mayonnaise-infused ambrosia salad is better than none at all.

In hindsight, I could indeed have made a second trip (and a third, and a fourth) for the ambrosia salad as the amount left over indicated I was the only one eating it anyway.

Next is tapas, where you share numerous small plates of food with your dining companions instead of ordering your own individual entrées. If you aren’t from a culture or family environment where sharing food is encouraged, this can quickly devolve into a race to stake your claim.

Slow eaters generally have two options in a tapas setting. You can inhale your food and watch the communal dishes like a hawk, doing your best to keep pace with your fellow diners and ensure you get what’s yours, or you can snag your share ahead of time by putting it on your personal plate. Given that the first option is a fast track to indigestion, I tend to go with the second one, even though, as with buffet-style, it can mean ending up with a pile of awkward plate-neighbors.

To further complicate matters, some of these small plates come with odd-numbered servings – three tacos, five dumplings – that make it impossible to share fairly unless you buy multiple plates of the same food, which kind of defeats the purpose of tapas. This may be less of an issue for those who are accustomed to sharing, but for those who aren’t, snaking the last jumbo sea scallop without asking can seriously impact your relationships.

And lastly, we have my personal Waterloo: the multicourse sit-down dinner. The pace at which the courses are brought to the table and cleared away far outstrips the speed at which I can chew and swallow.

This dining format, which I’ve encountered at events like weddings and business conventions, generally starts off with a bread basket. By the time that’s been passed around, the salads arrive. If you’re a slow eater, you’ve managed to butter your roll and take a few bites of lettuce before the server returns to clear the salads in anticipation of the soup course.

Some servers will take away the plates of those who’ve finished and bring the soup course for everyone, leaving the salads of those who are still working on them, but others will wait until it looks like everyone is done. If you’re the only one at your table still eating, you might find the server appearing at your elbow the moment you put your fork down for any reason, asking if you’d like them to clear your plate. I’ve lost some lovely salads that way.

After the soup comes the entrée, which is then whisked away to make room for dessert. Some servers may bring coffee during dessert and allow you to linger over both, while others might not bring it until the dessert plates have been cleared. What it boils down to, though, is that you’re given roughly thrice as long to drink a cup of coffee as to eat a roll, soup, salad, an entrée and possibly dessert. They might as well bring Pepto around with the sugar and cream.

As a slow eater, there is unfortunately no way for me to win in this situation. At the meal’s end, I’m overstuffed because I ate too quickly so I could keep up with the courses or prevent dishes from piling up in front of me, or I’m still hungry because all my food was cleared away before I could finish it. Either way, I’m glaring at my empty coffee cup because I don’t drink coffee and am wishing this time could’ve been put toward the other courses.

Being a slow eater is good for your digestion but can result in stress headaches when dining out in environments where speed is the key to a satisfied stomach. More often than not, you can adapt in ways that enable you to secure your fair share of food, but sometimes you just have to admit defeat and order a pizza when you get home.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Sept. 7, 2017


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