The Most Important Etiquette Rule For Sharing Food At A Restaurant

Sharing food is one of the great pleasures of dining with a significant other, friends, family, or other couples. It allows for the exchange of opinions and the chance to sample multiple dishes at a favorite restaurant. However, it's important to recognize that the way you and your partner experience food sharing may differ significantly from how others do. 

No, romantically sharing a plate of spaghetti like "Lady and the Tramp" — or sharing bites using the same fork — is not advised. In most restaurant settings, there is a specific method for sharing food. The person doing the sharing should scoop or lift a bite or small portion of the food (the method may vary based on the utensils available) and place it gently on the bread plate of their dining partner. After the transfer, both the sharer and the recipient should use their own cutlery to sample the dish.

Notably, the type of restaurant influences these etiquette rules. The etiquette rules for a fine dining establishment may be slightly different from those in a more casual dining setting.

Don't assume everyone wants to share with you

While intimate food sharing at home is perfectly acceptable, the etiquette for sharing food in a fancy restaurant setting is much more defined — you don't want to disrupt or distract other diners. If you can share discreetly, use bread plates for a clean handoff to your dining companion. You want to avoid the risky and frowned-upon action of transferring food directly from one dinner plate to another, which could lead to spills.

In casual dining establishments, the approach to sharing can be more relaxed. If a little food spills while passing it to someone else's plate, it's generally acceptable. However, there's a universal dining etiquette rule: Never share food with someone who doesn't want it, and don't take offense if someone declines to share with you. Not everyone is comfortable with sharing their meal or trying someone else's. Is there a polite way to discern these preferences? Of course. "Would you like to try a bite of my entree?" is an appropriate question, and can foster a spirit of generosity among diners.

Etiquette for ordering items to share

Some restaurant experiences are designed for sharing, like family-style platters and appetizer plates meant for multiple people. If you're dining with your significant other, friends, or family, opting for these options facilitates the sampling and sharing of diverse menu items. Similarly, shared plates in some restaurants are offered for communal ordering by the entire table.

However, when ordering individual plates, sharing should not be assumed; it's a discretionary choice, and may not always be suitable, depending on the setting. This means not raising your voice to offer food to diners across a large table, or infringing on others' personal space to offer samples. (Pro tip: If you want to really follow proper etiquette for passing dishes when sharing with several diners, make sure to pass your plates to the right.)

In more casual, friendly environments, feel free to share. Just reserve more intimate gestures like the "Lady and the Tramp" moment for when you and your partner are in a more private setting.