Expert Author Susan Leigh
The words, 'would you like to come for dinner?' can be enough to cause apprehension in even the most confident of us. What shall we wear, who else might be there, should we take something with us, will we be able to eat what's on offer, what if something looks too awful to eat!
I'm sure we've all been there, running through these questions before we go to someone's house. And if it's a dining out arrangement then we may add questions about settling the bill, who's drinking alcohol and who's not, how formal will it be.
A lovely invitation to a relaxing meal can suddenly become overshadowed by a plethora of 'what if' thoughts running through our minds. Fear at looking stupid, inexperienced, a fussy eater can make us wonder if we should even go along.
Of course, all these concerns can be dependent on the circumstances of the invitation, on how well we know the person or persons involved. Is it a group invitation with colleagues, friends or family or is it something more formal, perhaps accompanying our partner to a business event? Is it a first date, the early stages of a new relationship or something more long-standing?
And then of course there's the other role of food in your social life, the invitation to supper! Whatever does that invitation mean? Is it going to be a light snack or something more substantial? Preparing your response in advance so that you're appropriately gracious and appreciative, whatever is served, is an important social skill.
Random social events and food are a potential minefield. I recall supermodel Jerry Hall saying she always had dinner before she went to a reception in order to avoid being tempted by the high-calorie buffet snacks that never fill you up. You never know what you're going to encounter at buffets and canape events! And then there's the hazard of finger food, the juggling of a drink, a small plate, all whilst chatting or maybe wanting to greet someone or shake their hand!
Let's not forget the food vigilantes who monitor what everyone eats. They know who's on a diet, who ought to be on a diet! Dare we eat anything too rich, or have a dessert! Dare we risk the raised eyebrows as we order a creamy pasta sauce or a sticky toffee pudding for dessert?
And allergies! Hasn't almost everyone got special dietary requirements these days, ranging from food intolerances to extensive lists of what they will and won't eat. The diverse requirements of a bigger group often justify going out to eat and choosing somewhere with a comprehensive menu that accommodates everyone.
Money can be another hot potato. The bill! Should it be divided equally between all the diners? But what about the people who hardly ate and those others who had several courses or expensive choices? Some people may have wanted to be sociable and join in, but can't afford to spend a lot. Should they subsidise the others? What about the wine drinkers and the non-drinking drivers? Is it a first date, and if so should the man pay, or could that cause discomfort or embarrassment?
Having said this, social eating is a great way to relax and reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Taking time over a meal is fun and one of the loveliest ways to spend an easy afternoon or evening. Many restaurants now cater for family parties and it's a joy to see several generations sitting together over Sunday lunch, chatting and taking their time.
Home entertaining can be an easy way to share time together, especially if several people have young children and don't want the potential stress of dining out. One suggestion can be that everyone contributes a dish, so spreading the load in terms of cost and effort. Barbecues and picnics can come into their own too over the summer months and are a fun alfresco way of enjoying food and a social life.
Safari suppers are also a good idea, where residents in a street or community plan to have one course at each house and then journey on to the next over an evening. Introduce a theme and you can end with an unexpectedly fun time!
We all have to eat so let's make the most of these opportunities to really relish the role of food in our social life.
Susan Leigh, counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
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