Decide upfront if you are splitting the bill Share food implies sharing the costs, but depending on who you are with you might want to clarify this upfront. Do you have a poor student who never carries more than $20 with them, or someone who is on Weight Watchers and likes to be sociable but never eats?
We've all been caught in situations where you have a bowl of soup and a glass of water and then are expected to chip in for someone else's Wagyu steak. This is especially important if you don't really know all the other people in your group – they might have very different ideas on how to settle the bill. If in doubt, ask the host (or whoever arranged the dinner).
What about vegetarians? The menu at this particular restaurant was heavily focussed on carnivores, and my vegetarian friend struggled to find enough vegetable dishes on the menu. Her spiced tofu was a modest $9 and needless to say, she wasn't partaking in the $150 worth of suckling pig that ended up on the table.
She has developed her own ingenious solution though, and now drinks her share of the bill in cocktails. Very clever, I say, but probably not a solution for everyone.
Put someone in charge If everyone is being polite and umming and ahhing, then someone needs to step forward and make a decision. Let one person order a range of dishes for the entire group.
Ask the waitress/waiter for their input (and it might also be nice to check with your friends) but to avoid every second person on the table ordering a ridiculously expensive dish, then one person needs to take responsibility. It also means you can conveniently blame them when something goes wrong.
Too many of these and you may feel a bit generous with the ordering
Order your food before you have too many drinks Seems obvious, but after a couple of glasses of wine it's easy just to throw your hands in the air and say 'bring us one of EVERYTHING' because 'everything' might include a $75 caviar dish.
If in doubt, make the person in charge be someone who is a designated driver, not the birthday boy who has already imbibed half a dozen beers.
Tell your waiter what your budget is
If you don't want to spend the night with your calculator out, figure out in advance how much everyone wants to spend and then tell the waitress to let you know when the budget has been reached.
Make sure you are clear on whether this budget includes alcohol or not. If you only want to spend $30 a head, then make sure the restaurant knows.
You can always order more later
Don't be tempted to order everything all at once, because you often can't tell how big a share plate is going to be. Portion sizes vary greatly between establishments. Besides, bread is filling. Beer is filling. Free peanuts are filling. All of a sudden those three whole snapper are looking surplus to requirements.
Don't be polite
If you've established you're splitting the bill, then everything on the table is fair game. Don't be shy - eat. There is nothing worse than watching the last dumpling congealing slowly in its own juices because everyone is being too polite to eat the last one. That being said, don't reach for seconds until everyone else has tried some.
Don't you hate it when everyone refuses to eat the last thing on the plate?
Do you cut things in half?
What happens when there are six of you and only four sliders on the plate? This food is already small enough, do you need to be polite and take only half? Well, that will depend on how well you know your dining companions.
Unless you are sitting next to your beloved who will happily eat the crumbs you leave behind, cutting a tiny piece of food in half and leaving a morsel behind on the plate is just annoying. Take the whole piece. Or you could save yourself the headache and just make sure you order enough for everyone.
… and finally…
If you're a tight-wad or germ-freak, then share food is not for you
If you're broke, a tight-ass, scared of double-dipping or on a strange diet then face it – share food is probably not the best option for you.
If you are going to count how many chicken wings the dude from Accounting at the other end of the table is consuming or notice that second-cousin Ralph's new girlfriend has three prawn heads on her plate and everyone else has one, then you're probably going to give yourself a stroke and you should just stay home. For everyone's sake.
If you have heart palpitations at the thought of someone else scooping up some beans using a spoon that has *gasp* been in their mouth, then perhaps share food is not in your best interests. Tell people you're washing your hair and stay home.
What other 'share food etiquette' tips do you have?
Its an unwritten rule, recently and annoyingly broken by a "friend", that if you organise a lunch and not everyone chips in the correct amount, the difference is YOUR responsibility, not whatever schmuck you choose to extort extra from. Two of us at recent table paid $125 for a $75 meal. NOT HAPPY.