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Culinary defenses against late people


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Yesterday I started a topic about my annoyance with people who can't get a meal ready on time. In a related vein, I know several people who never show up on time when I invite them over for a meal. I'm not talking about being late within a socially acceptable margin of error -- say, half a hour. I'm talking about consistently being an hour or more late beyond the time you say dinner is going to be on the table.

I've found that there are two defenses against people like that:

1. Serve foods that are extremely forgiving of extra holding time, such as braised meat. (Not, for example, risotto).

2. Serve foods that are cooked at the moment of service and take very little time or attention. (Not, for example, risotto).

Also never invite habitually late and habitually on-time people to the same dinner, especially when the on-time ones have kids.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think you left out an important one: Sit down to dinner and eat, if the scheduled meal time came and went half an hour ago.

In this day of ubiquitous mobile technology, not letting someone know you're running behind schedule isn't really excusable, unless some emergency has cropped up (and if someone is on their way to the emergency room or something, they're probably not going to put in an appearance anyway).

ETA, if I'm running late owing to an emergency, I'm not going to feel less stressed realizing that the dinner host and other guests are probably sitting about, becoming testier by the minute because I haven't put in an appearance or contacted them, as I'm strapped to a stretcher/trapped in a lift/stuck in subway. I'd want them to get on with dinner!

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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a: - I agree with Michaela, and

b: - I'd go far as to stop inviting them altogether. No excuse for:

I know several people who never show up on time when I invite them over for a meal.

There's just no fucking excuse for habitual rudeness.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Ok, the first time I ever watched Dr. Phil his comment to a guys girlfriend who was always late was "get over yourself! You are not that important" and he told the boyfriend half an hour late..just leave her behind.

I was shocked at his advice to her but when you think about it, it is spot on. In this day and age if you can't make it for the designated time you should decline the invitation. Stuck in traffic is somewhat acceptable but as it has been said, with mobile phones being so available this day and age, there really is no excuse to be an hour late.

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It seems to me you have a choice:

If you don't really like the person then stop inviting them to dinner parties or if you have to continue doing so, start eating without them

If you do like the person, then talk to them and try to come to some solution. Perhaps they need you to always tell them an early time than they need to be there. Perhaps they need a text from you an hour before the event starts as a kick up the ass - you'll have to decide how much effort you are willing to go for your relationship. Probably the best thing to do, if the person just cannot manage to be on time no matter what you try, is the same as above - start eating without them. Main difference would be that if you like the person, you should kindly but firmly let them know that's what you'll be doing from now on, and that you like/love them very much but it has to be done!

I'll say it again because it bears repeating - if you value the company of the person, please please talk to them about the problem, don't just simmer in silence or do something passive aggressive to "teach them manners". There are always tonnes of these etiquette type questions on Chowhound and it blows my mind how most people seem to approach them in a completely black and white way which does not involve communicating like an adult at any point.

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Interesting. We don't do 'dinner parties' very often because normally we eat our big meal at noon. Also we live very casually and are dog ridden, way out in the country in the middle of nowhere, with no traffic between us and most people...just country roads. Friends often bring their dogs for a walk and then a meal.

My problem is with folks who are already at the house.

I am announcing that dinner is served. But I have already announced five or so minutes earlier that dinner will be served in five or so minutes.

So as I am serving, either buffet style or from the table or directly from the kitchen onto the table...then the 'offenders' go off to the bathroom to do their ablutions, etc. Sometimes this is family & relatives (none of whom live at our home), sometimes friends.

Frustrates me and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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I really do live in the mythical kingdom! I can't remember when a guest was ever late except for an emergency. And when there has been a problem, we have always received a phone call well before the appointed time to warn us so that we can adjust our timing or begin without them if necessary.

eGullet member #80.

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I'll say it again because it bears repeating - if you value the company of the person, please please talk to them about the problem, don't just simmer in silence or do something passive aggressive to "teach them manners". There are always tonnes of these etiquette type questions on Chowhound and it blows my mind how most people seem to approach them in a completely black and white way which does not involve communicating like an adult at any point.

You bring up an interesting point. I have found that most people who run chronically late are not aware of it! They just run on a different time from the rest of us. Getting to the airport seconds before the doors close, to the movie a minute before the film roles, a restaurant within the grace period of a reservation is just the way things go. And their answer is often, "I've never missed a plane..."

Whether they can be reconditioned, is an individual matter.

eGullet member #80.

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If I'm inviting people over for a food-focused event (esp. a multi-course meal), I make it crystal clear in the invitation that food will start exactly at time X, with or without them. I also encourage my guests to show up half an hour early, as by that time most of the prep work is already done and we can relax and hang out a little before service starts. I might wait 15 minutes for a late guest, but then the little guy on my shoulder who has been planning and cooking to a precise schedule for up to several days beforehand gets really angry.

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Whether they can be reconditioned, is an individual matter.

But we're not really trying to recondition them here, right? If they are friends, and you are flexible, then who cares if they are "late" if you can create a meal that has an adaptable timetable? I agree that you can't invite habitually late and habitually on-time people to the same dinner, but you can certainly accomodate either at separate events.

Many stews, for example, are very forgiving of being held relatively long times at serving temp. Also, meats cooked sous vide can often simply be held an additional hour with no loss in quality (not true of fish, unfortunately).

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Many stews, for example, are very forgiving of being held relatively long times at serving temp. Also, meats cooked sous vide can often simply be held an additional hour with no loss in quality (not true of fish, unfortunately).

But fish, of course, usually takes only minutes to cook under any circumstances (sous vide or otherwise), so you can just start it once your guests arrive.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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I don't have a lot of sympathy for the chronically late, whether they have an inflated sense of their own importance and don't think about how their actions effect others--or just have a very bad sense of time. It's no different than people who are always telling you how busy they are. Everyone's busy, get over it.

And everyone has a cell phone. How hard is it to call ahead if you are going to be late? That said, when entertaining friends and expecting to have some fun, who wants to get angry or resentful? One thing I find helps my guests is to suggest a time to come, but also tell them when you expect to eat. This can help people who have some sense of time but also provide a little flexibility.

If talking to your friends honestly about their tardiness hasn't worked, tell the chronically late to come half an hour earlier than everyone else. Or eat as planned without them and hope they get the message if they walk in and you are serving dessert. If children are involved (your own included) even more reason to set some boundaries. If they bring their children when you are slicing the pie tell them you are so sorry you've already eaten, but you would love them to sit down and have dessert.That should make the kids happy and put the late parents off balance. After all, they weren't invited because they were busy and couldn't get it together to feed themselves. In the end, there are chronically late people who never get it, so do whatever doesn't make you (or your other guests) annoyed.

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Whether they can be reconditioned, is an individual matter.

Well you know, it's not just about "reconditioning" someone - it's about hopefully saving a friendship by not keeping resentments bottled up inside. It may be hard to believe, but a number of people are very unaware of the effect their behaviour has on other people. I think it's much better to be straight forward and honest about how the situation makes you feel, and you have to assume that the other person involved may be unaware of your feelings.

Let's say you have a friend who is otherwise a wonderful person, but who consistently ruins your dinner parties by showing up an hour or so late every time. Now you can try to "retrain" him through methods like telling him dinner is at 6pm when really it's at 7.30pm, or by starting without him and leaving his portion on a plate to get cold, or some other way. Or maybe you'll just continue as if everything is ok, waiting for him with increasing irritation and serving the meal when he finally shows up.

All that's likely to happen in this situation is that you're going to get increasingly irritated with a person who you were once rather fond of. Dinner parties are going to be hard work and unpleasant rather than enjoyable. You may end up being short tempered and moody towards the other "innocent" guests or your family members. And the stupid thing is that the other person or persons involved might be completely miffed as to why you are so annoyed with them! Everyone loses.

The alternative is that you talk to them and make it clear that the lateness issue is driving you up the wall. It may be that the friend in question can never learn to be on time. You may have to ban him from dinner parties completely! But at least everyone will know where they stand, and with a bit of luck you can find a way to get around the difficulties and continue the friendship.

Oh, and I thought of one aspect of this issue that seems particularly relevant to eGullet: In my experience, people who are good at and care a lot about cooking can often be perfectionists when it comes to hosting food events. There seems to be a feeling that every single aspect is going to reflect on your culinary skill, and the temptation to be overly controlling is very high. God forbid if someone isn't sat at the table in time to receive their broth at exactly the right temperature! And what a catastrophe if they mix everything together on the plate instead of eating it in the prescribed order! Not to mention those heathens who want to add salt/pepper/ketchup/chilli sauce! I understand, because I sometimes struggle with this a little. There is a temptation to want to control every little detail.

But believe me, there is nothing less enjoyable than a dinner party with a host who behaves in such a way - as if the food they have prepared is somehow worth more than the people they invited over to eat it. If you've invited people over to eat, it's not all about you. You cannot control people's behaviour absolutely. Sometimes people are late. And sometimes those people just don't understand why that is such a catastrophe for you. They thought they were coming over for an evening of good food and wine and they really are sorry that they were late but that's how it went, and yet now you're stood there frothing at the mouth and shrieking something about overcooked fish! I think if you're going to host people, you have to open yourself to the fact that things wont always go to plan. Try to relax and enjoy things no matter what. I understand that it's a different situation if you are dealing with someone who is chronically late, but personally I still think a healthy dose of tolerance is still beneficial.

Edited by Jenni (log)
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This only really upsets me when the invitee is very late (like, 2-3 hours) and hasn't called me to let me know, and even then it's less upsetness about the food (which I serve when it's ready, and everybody at my dinner parties knows this) but more that I worry about what might have happened to the absent guest. I generally talk to that guest the next day as well, to find out what gave.

I don't try to plan for late guests, obviously. I simply serve the food when it's ready - the party is normally more about getting friends together than it is about anything else! There are a couple of times when there's an exception - when I'm planning setpiece food, for example - and in those cases, I'll also talk to the inexcusably tardy guest the next day. Food is absolutely not worth losing friends over.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Interesting. We don't do 'dinner parties' very often because normally we eat our big meal at noon. Also we live very casually and are dog ridden, way out in the country in the middle of nowhere, with no traffic between us and most people...just country roads. Friends often bring their dogs for a walk and then a meal.

My problem is with folks who are already at the house.

I am announcing that dinner is served. But I have already announced five or so minutes earlier that dinner will be served in five or so minutes.

So as I am serving, either buffet style or from the table or directly from the kitchen onto the table...then the 'offenders' go off to the bathroom to do their ablutions, etc. Sometimes this is family & relatives (none of whom live at our home), sometimes friends.

Frustrates me and I'm not sure what to do about it.

This really struck a chord with me. I used to date a fellow who would ALWAYS choose the moment I was serving dinner to go out and have a smoke. I jettisoned him but am still often frustrated when we all sit down to dinner but someone has chosen that moment to go to the bathroom or freshen a drink. Everyone else is sitting there awkwardly waiting to make a toast or start eating. Drives me nuts. I've decided that the next dinner party I will not just announce that dinner will be served in five minutes but say, dinner will be served in 10 minutes so if you need to take care of anything before sitting down to dinner, please do so now.

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Sorry, I don't buy any of it. If you're a friend, you respect the invite and show up on time. And if you have any manners at all...you show up on time.

Why should someone's alleged chronic lateness dictate what I cook?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Come on now people!! The solution is obvious.

Use social engineering to get habitual tardy to arrive on time.

If someone is always a hour late, tell them dinner is being served one hour earlier than actually planned.

In my experience, this works remarkably well

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What he said ^^^.

I do this to my chronically late in-laws, especially when we all have dinner with my own obsessively on-time parents. Works amazingly well & has the added bonus of keeping the peace between two sets of parents.

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It only works if they're always late by the same margin, though.

Which is why it doesn't work. I don't actually know anyone who is predictably always late by the same amount of time. We have occasionally tried the strategy of lying about timing, and it sometimes works, but then there's the time that the target of the lie actually shows up an hour early. I think, if you're going to deal with people who are chronically late, the better move is to cook food that can tolerate large margins of error. Some of my friends are simply never going to be served risotto in my home. I've also been trying to be more proactive about avoiding situations where the margin of error matters. The chronically late people don't get invited over on school nights, and I've bee trying not to invite them in combination with reliably punctual people who deserve risotto.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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