Q. I had to plan a business lunch at a restaurant for my boss and some out-of-town business associates. He wanted a small private room reserved, and he asked me to pick out a couple of simple lunch menus and get the total price with tax and tip on each. To save time, instead of everyone ordering something different, he would decide on one menu for everyone. I was to e-mail all the secretaries of those coming and give them all the details to pass on to their bosses, which I did, including the menu he picked. Then I was to collect the money from each person attending at the opening meeting in our building that morning, and give it to my boss to pay the entire bill at the restaurant, again to save time.
All went well until the food was served and one person announced he was a vegetarian and couldn’t eat the meal. My boss had to have the waiter bring in a menu and have him order. He said it really put a “chink” in trying to get through lunch in a hurry and back to our conference room for more meetings.
My boss never said anything more to me about it, but I felt like my boss thought I messed up. I would like to go back to this man’s secretary and ask if she didn’t pass on the menu to him, but probably shouldn’t. Should I? Maybe this man didn’t even look at the selected menu. If I have to do this again, what can I do to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen? One of my co-workers said there should have been two menu choices. Should there have been? How would that work?
A. First of all, you did exactly what you were asked to do. You had no control over whether the secretary passed on the information to her boss, or whether her boss looked at the selected menu. The responsibility, lies with the business associate, who is a vegetarian. Any Individual who has a dietary restriction, food allergy or specific food preference, has the responsibility of notifying all meal hosts in advance of his specific food restriction. In the business world, he should definitely make certain his secretary is aware of his food restriction so she can assist in providing his food restriction information as necessary, in this case, to you.
As to what you could have or can do in the future to avoid this situation: After providing the invited guests or their secretaries with the proposed menu, ask if the guest has any dietary restrictions, allergies or food preferences. If one is identified and provided to you, select the corresponding appropriate menu from the restaurant, notify the guest or the secretary of the new menu and ask the guest to notify the waiter upon entering the room or after taking his seat that he has the special menu item. This process should preclude having to offer a second menu because offering a second menu opens the door for another set of potential problems, such as:
▪ It invariably takes longer to receive the menu selections from the invited guests.
▪ The second menu selection must be the exact same total cost as the first, or yet another set of problems is possible.
▪ An easy, subtle method of making certain the servers understand who gets what menu choice must be established, implemented and made known to the restaurant point of contact and to the individual servers the day of the meal; i.e, writing a “V” on the top right corner of the individual’s place card for “vegetarian” or an “F” for “fish” or a “C” for chicken. This, however, requires providing the person in charge at the restaurant with the place cards in advance, as well as a possible seating chart including names. Furthermore, not all restaurant points of contact feel obligated or will accept the responsibility of this request; therefore, you, the secretary, or someone, must go to the restaurant prior to your boss and the guests arriving to set out the place cards, etc.
▪ If the course of action is merely to advise the wait staff to ask each guest at the table, which meal he selected, inevitably there is going to be at least one guest who has forgotten what he ordered, or will see how fantastic one menu looks on a plate already served, and decide that menu choice is now his as well, ignoring the original menu selection. Consequently, the guest who actually did select that particular menu item will have to settle for what is left, or another embarrassing situation will result for the host.
The bottom line: The more options offered — the more time and effort required — the higher the probability of a less-than-perfect outcome.
SPITTING REVISITED: Thank you to the reader who has notified me again, his disagreement and displeasure with my position that all spitting in public is disgusting and ill-mannered. I am sorry you disagree with me, and you have that right. However, etiquette experts agree with me and lawmakers agree with me as evidenced by the fact there are laws against spitting in public not only in many states here in the United States but in many other countries as well. Individuals continue to be arrested and fined for this unlawful behavior. Health officials cite studies that spitting in public can cause the spread of very dangerous diseases. As to your reference that farmers spit, I can tell you I grew up on a farm, and I never saw my father spit. I also never saw other neighbor farmers spit as they collectively went from farm to farm to help each other. As to the many years of watching professional baseball players spit on the field or in the dugout, that doesn’t mean it was proper then, nor now. So, let’s just agree to disagree.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to email@example.com.