We have all been there. Invited to a friends or family members house for a meal or cookout, praying silently on the ride there that they won’t serve up the casserole dish that tasted like dog food the last time you ate it. Or the cake that was as dry as cardboard, with icing that left you feeling nauseated for several hours afterward. You have even taken the extra steps of bringing your own side dishes and meat, have even offered to head up the cooking, all in the hopes of not revealing the fact that the hosts’ best qualities should not include preparing food. For anyone (other than the family pet)
The question is, why not just be honest? Should you compliment a bad meal? Manners and etiquette lessons, remind us that when we leave someone else’s home after a meal, we are to immediately give kudos to the cooks and let them know just how much we enjoyed the pasta salad, and ribs or shrimp. After all, that’s nice, and that’s what decent people do, right? There really is no reason to take a bite of food while at the table, and quickly spit it right back out on your plate as you are wincing with disgust. That sort of behavior is saved for 5 year olds and scolded with leg slaps under the table. But doesn’t lying about the meal only set you up for more bad meals to come? If you raved about the tuna casserole to the cook, while secretly hoping you could find a bush in the backyard to vomit in, don’t you really just increase your chances of the host serving it FOR you again?
According to the infamous Miss Manners, it is considered rude to say negative things about a meal that has been prepared for you. Especially if the person who prepared it is no more than a friend or acquaintance. The rules however change, when a cook is preparing a new meal or ‘trial meal’ and asks for your honest opinion. If the cook has prepared a new dish, and is thinking about bringing it to the next covered dish night at church, and you honestly don’t like it – the polite thing to do is actually say something such as, “This is not something that suits my personal taste.” This in no way insults the cook, and is a more a direct hit on the recipe rather than he or she who prepared the recipe. Plus, it’s normal and expected that every person has different taste buds. And just because YOU don’t like something, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. Even more helpful, if you can offer tidbits of advice to make a dish better such as, “Perhaps it needs to be cooked longer, “ or “A little more salt would make this tastier,” will indicate that you didn’t quite like the meal without being down right rude.
If the cook is a close family member, and someone that you are comfortable being honest with, then you should let them know that you don’t like the meal. Especially if you plan on sharing more time together at the table in the future. Likewise, if you are planning a dinner party and one of your guests lets you know that they didn’t quite like the food you served, it is important to take it to heart and appreciate their honesty rather than immediately take it personally. When it comes to food, individual tastes and preferences are vast and it is unrealistic to think everyone will share the same taste in dishes and food. And just because someone does not like what you cooked (or you didn’t like what someone else cooked) doesn’t mean the dish was inherently awful.
Honesty in some form or another, is definitely the best policy. One of the worst things you can do is outright lie to a friend or family member and tell them that the food was delicious when it clearly wasn’t. If you do, then you can expect to leave all future outings either hungry, or grabbing Pepto Bismol. Plus, if these are people that you care about you certainly don’t want them serving up their homemade cat food casserole to other people, right? Maybe the best thing is not to tell them immediately, or in front of the whole dinner party. Maybe the best thing to do is to wait a day or two, and then let them know that the new recipe or the steak was undercooked.
On the flip side, if you are eating at a new friend’s home, or an acquaintance, or going through a buffet style covered dish event at a local school or church or work function – then your culinary opinions should be kept to yourself. After all, being known as the food critic and turning up your nose at the fruits of other peoples efforts in the kitchen would do nothing but make you look rude and ungrateful. And the chances of you having to eat the food again (or even at all) are certainly slim to none. Just pass it by, throw your paper plate in the trash, and move on.
Being rude or hurtful or spewing insults in any form or fashion is never the best decision. Likewise outright lying to a cook is not in your long-term best interests either. Essentially, the best thing to do is handle these bad meals with a bit of humor, some honesty, and compassion for the person who cooked!