Giving Miss Manners Her Just Desserts

Dear Miss Manners,

Recently you did dieters a great disservice, in my humble and inexpert opinion.  Because, while I am not an expert in anything relating to manners (and can commonly be found with my elbows resting on the table), I do unfortunately have a significant amount of experience with dieting and food issues, much as I wish my areas of expertise were reversed:(

You published a letter from a reader who wondered if it was rude for a hostess to not partake of dessert after serving it to guests.  She shared that she has experienced this twice recently and that “both women are thin and have no dietary issues.”

Your response to her query was to wonder why the hostess would feed that dessert to her guests if she doesn’t care for it herself.  You concluded that you would be “nervous about digging into a dish that is not touched by [the] hostess.”

Well, I have a bone to pick with you.  (Bad food pun intended.)

My rebuttal has three key courses points.

The appetizer:  How does anyone, you and your reader included, know that another person does or doesn’t have any “dietary issues.”  I’m outwardly very “normal” looking but if you read my blog it will become clear that inside I most assuredly am not.  But I don’t share my issues with people in my real life and certainly don’t make them the subject of dinner conversation.  Also, many people who have food allergies or sensitivities that they similarly don’t publicize.  And I even have a relative who suffered from a strange case of poisoning that meant she had to carefully avoid ingesting certain often-used food ingredients. “Dietary issues” of all kinds are extremely common and often kept private.  And what business is it of ours, anyways?

The entrée:  As to your wondering why the hostess may have intentionally chosen to serve a dessert that she herself didn’t care for…  Imagine for just a moment that she does have dietary issues.  Imagine that her issue is that she is sensitive to sugar in all forms.  Or, that she is actually a food addict who has learned to control her eating by abstaining from sweets.  She might have very consciously chosen to serve a dessert that she doesn’t find personally appealing so that she isn’t tempted to partake.  Rather than attempt to doctor a recipe to fit her own specific needs, she might instead be choosing to put the taste buds of her guests first, going with a tried and true tasty treat.  Imagine that!

The hotly disputed dessert:  Why is it even an issue what she ate?  Or didn’t eat?  Just because I don’t want dessert, should I make my dinner companions also refrain from a sweet ending to their meal?  Must I only serve things in my home that I myself plan to ingest?  If so, I’d never again graciously offer up a drink of soda or wine or even coffee, for example.

If I serve you a beverage in my home and don’t partake, would it raise eyebrows or make you wonder if I’d added some spit or arsenic?  Me thinks not.

There are many reasons why someone might choose not to eat a dessert she is serving.  Or any other food/beverage on her menu.  For example, maybe she is one who actually only eats when she is hungry and stops when she is full.  While I appreciate that a hostess should aspire to make her guests comfortable, must she make herself physically uncomfortable to avoid what might or might not be going on in their heads?  Maybe she has eating issues that are not obvious to others.  Should she forego her own healthy habits or needs to do something she doesn’t want to do all in the name of gracious hosting?

Where do we draw the line?  Do I offer nothing that I do not intend to partake of myself?  I don’t eat bread with my meals.  Should I never serve bread again?  I don’t put ketchup on my hot dogs.  Should my guests be limited to spicy brown mustard?

And, as a hostess, shouldn’t I have the right to say “no” as much as my guests do?  With no reason given?  And no judgement?  And no commentary?

I think you not only missed the gravy boat on this one, Miss Manners, but set back dieters a pound or two or three.  Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has never personally struggled with weight or food issues, who has no food allergies or sensitivities, and who actually likes the taste of every food ever offered.  I’m envious.  And I’m not inviting you to dinner any time soon.

Readers – I’d love to know what YOU think!  If you’d like to read the column in its entirely, you can do so here.

Photo credit [Ann Douglas]

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65 Comments

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65 responses to “Giving Miss Manners Her Just Desserts

  1. Tough question… I do not think I would ever serve dessert if I didn’t plan to have some as well. Having said that, I often do serve special varieties of vegetables or sauces I do not like (to the BF, mostly), and I see nothing wrong with that. Would do the same if we had friends over. Sauce hollandaise? Disgusting. Peas in roux? Makes me gag. French fries? Not if I can help it. We also do eat different things for breakfast, and when we had a friend over for breakfast on Monday I offered her free choice of everything we had at home, even though all I eat during the week is my trusted berry breakfast, and the BF goes with store-bought cereal. (She had a roll with strawberry jam, in case you were wondering.)

    So, nothing wrong with what the hostess did, in my opinion. Although I would really just make a dessert fitting my needs/tastes. I love desserts. ^^

    • That reminds me that when we have house guests, I always give them something for breakfast that I don’t eat! (I am weird with my morning meal and would not subject anyone to that.) Most of our guests get bagels (which I’ve shared are a major trigger for me) or pancakes/waffles (which I also avoid). And coffee and OJ, neither of which I drink!

  2. Hmmm…interesting. My first thought was that perhaps the hostess got to the dessert course and realized she was too full or too tired to eat it herself, but of course still wanted to offer it to her guests. That has happened to me — and actually, as I’m thinking about it, there were many times I sent desserts home with everyone because almost everyone was too full for dessert. Then I read the column. I can understand the person who had the glass of wine — maybe she felt it was appropriate to offer dessert but was not really a dessert eater — I’ve known a couple of people like this, and I always found it very nice that they still wanted to offer a special treat at the end of the meal although that was not their own preference. And perhaps that’s all the other person meant, too, when she said she did not care for the dessert. But I’m with you, Karen, people should not be compelled to partake of anything just because of someone’s dumb idea of etiquette. I won’t invite Miss Manners for dinner either.

    • That is another good point that I missed. I know some people who are just not dessert eaters! I’m related to a few; wish I’d gotten THOSE genes!

  3. My reaction was that the person asking the question was a bit sensitive about what she, herself, ate and too honed in on what others ate. Maybe the hostess was diabetic and didn’t care to share that information. I guess we’ll never know unless one of those ladies decides to answer the question herself. 🙂

    • I think you are smart to wonder about the person asking. She did seem rather sensitive to it all. And there could be many reasons for that we’ll also never know. I actually find it harder to say “no” when someone else provides food because I don’t want to offend them, than when I provide it.

  4. I totally agree with you! Im dealing with ww points – If Im having guest over, I may decide to enjoy the steak Im making then the dessert… I dont get both, I just dont have the points for it but I if I know that particular guest or my son or my husband really likes a certain food I will definately make it, just not eat it. That doesnt mean I dont sit there and chat when they eat. Maybe those two seemingly healthy “skinny” women were that way because they exercised self control!

    • True! I went on vacation once with two skinny women (and our husbands). It was interesting to see how they ate. One said she just didn’t like sweets. My husband and I actually thought “that’s a great excuse if you are dieting and don’t want to say that.” And your idea about rationing points makes great sense.

  5. I think it’s a person’s choice if they want to eat something or not. I know whenever I go visit my parent’s my mom is a “pusher” of food, and will even go as far as making a face if I say I don’t want something! (She did this when I didn’t want milk with my dinner– I’m 32 years old!!) My mom equates with food with love (though she doesn’t know this), and she likes/loves to cook (and also doesn’t struggle with food/her weight). And to her when I don’t want something that she made, it’s seen as me not loving her. (This I learned after many years)

  6. Miz

    Great post and points.
    I know I do serve stuff I cant eat (cake) because why should others not have it 🙂
    It’s this:

    Just because I don’t want dessert, should I make my dinner companions also refrain from a sweet ending to their meal?

    ESPECIALLY ON BIRTHDAYS.

    Im also just not a sweet person–Im salty.
    Should I punish my guests and serve jerky for dessert?
    hmmmm….

  7. I think I saw that book on my mother’s bookshelf!

    That explains a lot 🙂

  8. Honestly a lot of times I disagree with Miss Manners, sometimes VEHEMENTLY disagree. This is one of those cases, me personally I’m not a dessert person, so if I do serve dessert I don’t always eat it, and I’ve NEVER thought twice about it. If my guests don’t eat it either I also don’t care. I’m not forcing food down people’s mouth. I don’t know their diet, their allergies, likes, dislikes. Either way, I think it’s silly to assume that if the hostess doesn’t eat the dessert then the guest will question why.

    • Yes! That’s what I thought. And as for Miss M, seems to me she is often rather flippant about things without really giving a cut and dried answer. Or one that makes sense taking into account the changing world instead of only considering traditional etiquette.

  9. I’m with you on this one. I hadn’t seen that article.

  10. Well said! I agree on every point. I believe Miss Manners is getting long in the tooth (as they say), maybe you could take on her column and give more sensible advice!

    • Did you see or read “The Help?” Your suggestion reminds me of the main character taking on a housekeeping column. She at least had maids to turn to for advice!

  11. I love manner discussions! I missed this Miss Manners article.

    I agree with you that just because someone is thin, you don’t know what dietary issues that person may have.

    Having said that I think it is a bit weird to serve dessert but not eat it yourself (the dinner guest felt uncomfortable enough to write Miss Manners).

    If I were in the hostess’ place, I would serve a dessert that fit in with my dietary needs (perhaps fresh fruit with some sort of topping?) and give myself an appropriate sized serving.

    If for some reason I was beyond stuffed, I would talk to my dinner guest (presumably we are friends) and explain that I’m too full to eat dessert, but encourage guest/friend to partake in the dessert. This will give said guest/friend the opportunity to politely decline or comfortably eat dessert.

    What I don’t quite understand is the need to serve calorie-dense, anxiety-provoking desserts such as cheesecakes, ice cream, creme brulee etc. I’ve recently started bringing/serving lighter desserts and found that friends and dinner guests are thankful for a lighter dessert choice.

    • Yes, she clearly did feel uncomfortable enough to write. Maybe that discomfort came from her own eating issues and having temptation served to her on a plate. Or maybe she was envious of the “thin” women and choice not to partake? I guess we’ll never know.

      But I admit that most times I totally cater to my guests, knowing some are very much into decadence or chocolate, for example. And this reminds me of one Thanksgiving where I tried to bring a healthy dish and NO ONE ate it but me!

  12. I agree. Manners will never be out of date, but the particular ways of expressing those manners must adjust with the times. The response Miss Manners gave seems like a very 1950s response to me. These days, individual differences are recognized, and people take more pride in doing what’s best for their own life and body.

    There’s a big difference between hosting a dinner party and choosing not to eat dessert and hosting a dinner party and not eating anything your guests eat. It shouldn’t ever raise suspicion of the safety of the food; if it does, you probably shouldn’t be having dinner at that person’s house.

    If you can not eat something without making a scene, that’s totally fine. It’s the people who deliberately draw attention to themselves and their eating requirements that are rude. Take care of yourself, but don’t make it a huge issue.

    • I actually find it harder to NOT eat something that is provided by someone else. I agree that times are changing and etiquette might need to adapt. But I also miss some of the old “manners.” I love it when I see someone give up a seat on a bus, for instance. Or open a door for someone. And we really need to do something about cell phone manners!!!

      • Oh yes, some things are quite timeless, such as giving up a seat for someone. That’s just common courtesy… or should still be common. I do find that most people still open doors for others; in fact, when it doesn’t happen, I find it kind of shock to my system (I’m so delicate, you know).

        Cell phone!!! Yes, atrocious manners… and it extends from in public to at home to professional meetings small and large. Me of course, a show tune for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eDsRWubPV4

        🙂

  13. I’m on the fence on this one. For me, I think it would depend on the setting and circumstances and whether or not the hostess called attention to the fact that she wasn’t having dessert. Some people like to call attention to their (perceived) virtue.

    • I imagine that you would not have any issue with most politely serving cake balls to your guests and then just chatting away instead of eating them yourself:) Of course, I can also imagine you eating just one. Or just a sliver of cake.

  14. I agree with you 100%. I eat very healthy verging on weird. I wouldn’t feel comfortable feeding my guests what I eat, so I make a more friendly versions (aka normal).

    I never make guests feel obligated, and I shouldn’t feel that way either.

    As women we have so many issues with food, why does Miss Manners have to dish another one onto our plate?

    • The other day we had guests and we grilled beef, had a salad, rice (with the young men in mind), bread, and asparagus. I knew that I wouldn’t eat the rice and bread. I didn’t. The guests brought dessert. Cake. She dished it out to us all and I found it uncomfortable to decline. Hmm.

  15. I love how that old book in the picture says “for Canadians” in small print! Too funny!!! 😀
    I totally agree with you. I often make dessert for guests and don’t eat any. I sometimes purposely make one I don’t care for so that I won’t be tempted!!

  16. I think the person who asked the question was out of line … and I would have told her to get a life. But then maybe that’s why nobody’s asked me to sub for Miss Manners.

  17. Roz

    I’m on the fence with Cammy on this one. (Hi Cammy!!) I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, it’d depend on who you were with, and the circumstances of the dinner. There are ALWAYS other options too, serve fruit – with some strawberries dipped in chocolate for those with a sweet tooth. The way I see it, when people come to my home, I don’t want it to be torturous in any way, for me or my guests. I want to enjoy good healthy food, with good people in a relaxed atmosphere were ALL are comfortable. Personally, I wouldn’t serve anything I wouldn’t eat myself. BUT if I DID have dietary restrictions, I wouldn’t have people in my home that I wasn’t comfortable enough to share that with. Certainly food for thought Karen. THanks as always for your wonderful posts.

    • Believe it or not I can see the other side too. Particularly since I have a hard time saying “no” when someone else is dishing out food to ME. But I don’t at all mind serving things I don’t eat. Recently with guests we had meat, veggies, salad, rice, and bread. I knew I would not eat the latter two at all. Oh, yes, dessert.

  18. I eat what I want to eat & do not let others “push” me to eat or not. It is an individual choice & that is that… nuff said from me. I think it is fine for a host/hostess to serve but not eat. We all cna’t like or handle the same food but does not mean guests don’t want it…

    • Amen, sistah! And I think it comes down to us making our guests comfortable in every way possible without compromising on our own needs too. Oh, that sounds a bit selfish. I hope you know what I mean.

  19. I saw that column, too and thought it was a bit excessive to suggest that she wouldn’t eat anything the hostess didn’t! Like she was going to be poisoned!

    If I am being strict and still want to serve desert, I might offer a couple of choices so I could appear to be indulging. Maybe have fruit as one option.

    I frequently refuse dessert at events and so far, except for being urged to just have a small portion (which I decline)no one seems to be disturebed by it – then again, I am very large!

    • I think you have a great idea for us all, Susan. Include the healthy alternative with the “not so healthy.” You raise an interesting point with your comment on your size. And the person saying the hostess was “thin.” Maybe there’s some baggage there.

  20. Bravo! Well said, and you are absolutely right!

  21. I agree with you Karen…and we all know what happens when we assume…

  22. Patrick

    If I serve dessert my guests better know that I myself like it and will eat it, and if they’re bad guests they won’t get any!

  23. Once again, people (Miss Manners) have come up with things, and made issues out of them, that have never crossed my mind. We had several dinner parties during the holidays and not once did I eat dessert. No one seemed to notice or have a problem with it and it never occurred to me that I was doing anything odd or unusual.

  24. I agree it’s a difficult one and I think it very much depends on the occasion and the guests. I often buy things that I don’t like when good friends are visiting… eg. I have a friend who LOVES antipasto, but the notion of olives and semi-dried eggplant etc makes me want to gag – so I can imagine having something like that but with some other stuff that I might want to eat.

    I would often have white wine for guests even though I don’t like it. And… as coeliac, I’m always catering for non-coeliac guests by having normal bread etc.

    I see your point that the host shouldn’t have to explain what they do or don’t eat, but perhaps a ‘I’m too full!’ Or ‘I’m allergic.’ etc might have helped. Hmmmm…..

    Deb

    • When my husband was experimenting to see if he was gluten intolerant, we happened to have guests over. We served bread. Neither he nor I ate it. We had not intended to say anything about what he was doing but they wanted to bring dessert and we tried to talk them out of it so ended up having to explain. They showed up with gluten free cookies. That were actually quite yummy. I think most people are very respectful of things like that. But maybe the issue here is that the hostess gave no reason?

  25. I have done this at my home and this is what I do: I serve two desserts. The first one is one that would satisfy any sweet tooth (but I do still bake responsibly, making healthier substitutions when appropriate). The second dessert usually consists of fresh fruit in a small bowl with sugar free whipped topping on the side. This way, everyone gets their choice, I get my fruit and no one is looking at what everyone else is eating because they’ve decided for themselves what they want to eat.
    Miss Manners is off her rocker.

  26. I guess I’ve been around so many people with food issues of one kind or another. From my dad with celiacs disease to friends with all sorts of dietary issues. From self chosen ones like vegans or kosher, to bodily enforced ones like allergies and my own weird food poisoning issue. Our parties often have labeled food with ingredients since we have so many food issues in our groups. When I make things to bring to a party I’m often think of so many food issues. And I don’t always eat what I bring. Most of the time I do, but not always. But then our parties tend to be large and not small dinner parties. So the dynamics are very different. I put out several things at my last party that I couldn’t eat. But why shouldn’t my friends get to enjoy things that I couldn’t?

  27. Ohh, and Karen speaks. Love it. I read that, too, in the paper, although my opinion weakens when compared to what you said.

  28. Considering I am a self-admitting food addict…I often serve desserts that I have no intention of indulging in myself. Of course, people could probably look at me and know I have issues with food. Even if they couldn’t, though, who are they to secretly judge me for not partaking in dessert. How icky that is!

    I completely agree with you on this one, Karen. 🙂

    -Erica

  29. Jan

    Godd call on Miss Manners making (up) a big deal out of nothing. We serve shellfish to guests – I am horribly allergic and eat something else. We pull out sweets at the holidays, and I don’t (usually) partake. I will make veggie burgers gor vegan friends at bbqs while gleefully eatimg the real thing. If someone is so paranoid as to think I am serving bad food, they can have the dogs taste test it…

    • I’m impressed you serve shellfish then! I have a vegan niece who visits and it can be a challenge for meals sometimes but we all just work around it.

  30. I think you are right.

    I think the kind hostess might tailor her meal to the KNOWN dietary needs of her guests.

    I think the hostess can eat/not eat whatever she pleases. I have made things I do not care for for guests. I make another thing to please me.

    Just as the hostess can refuse something so should a guest be able to decline… without be hectored.

  31. I saw the column and was uncomfortable with it, but you really captured good reasons why. I hope you send it to her!

  32. Oh my, Miss Manners is going to hate me. I serve dessert to guests all the time that I don’t eat myself. I sometimes purposely make a dessert containing peanut butter (which I hate) so I’m not tempted. Who cares? I’m offering my guests dessert without having to mess up my diet. I also never push food on my guests if they don’t want and would never be offended if a guest turned down dessert. Also, the writer’s point about the lady being slim – maybe she is slim BECAUSE she doesn’t eat dessert.

  33. I’m with you.
    And this whole topic is so funny. But why are people even thinking and worrying about these things.
    Live and let live, right?
    Eat and let eat or not eat.
    As long as the hostess can cook or bake it well without eating it…

    • It does make me wonder. Someone else got me thinking that possibly the “guest” has her own issues so that’s why she was so bothered by it all.

  34. Oh my heavens. I agree with you and this makes me angry on several different fronts. Why are people so concerned about what everyone else eats? I constantly have people telling me I need to eat more and that I’m not eating enough. Well, I’m 195 pounds…so clearly I’m eating plenty. I’m not going hungry. Focus on your own damn self!

    And I agree with you..I don’t advertise that I’ve had gastric bypass or that I have food sensitivities/allergies because it’s none of your damn business. My immediate family knows and my blog world knows, but other than that, nope. I don’t feel the need to share that with people. If people were coming to my house for dinner I would serve dessert and I may or may not have some. If I did, it would only be a couple of bites because I’m now sensitive to sugar (thankfully!). But I don’t need to explain that to you. I’m being a thoughtful host by providing you with a yummy treat. But you should not feel obligated to eat it if you are on a diet or have food issues. Or, if you’re full. It’s ok. It won’t hurt my feelings.

    Her answer makes me cringe. So wrong!!

  35. What a great discussion! I like your points.

    I think I agree. I have a “special” diet (I count my calories, I try to avoid certain trigger foods) but I’d never impose MY diet on someone else. I’d provide food and treats that my guests would like! I wouldn’t be obnoxious and eat only a salad while everyone else was eating something super fattening (that would just piss people off I think) but my diet is my choice.

  36. What a great post!

    I can’t eat sugar at all. I get so tired of people asking if I’m a diabetic or even worse – an alcoholic (alcohol is sugar and I don’t drink).

    I serve normal food to our guests and you’re right – if I listened to Miss Manners the only thing they would get is grilled chicken or salmon with steamed vegetables.

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