Being a gracious dinner guest means finding polite ways to navigate prickly parts of the event — whether that’s minimising awkward conversations or finding the right way to pass on a dish that makes your stomach churn. If you’re headed to someone else’s home for holiday feasts this year, here’s how to turn down food you don’t want to eat without coming across as rude.
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Last week, the entire US Lifehacker staff convened in New York City. Our writers travelled from all over the US to come together as a team, bond over meals, ignore my efforts at team-building exercises (no one wanted to do trust falls), and share their thoughts and wishes for Lifehacker's future. And while we had everyone in one place, we brought them into the studio to answer your etiquette questions.Read more
The following may seem like overkill to some: why not just say no and pass the dish along? Well, you’re lucky you’ve never had someone try to push their favourite dish on you or try to guilt you into trying “just one bite”.
To be fair to the host, they have often put a lot of effort into cooking and want everyone to get enough to eat, but that doesn’t mean you need to pile your plate with food you don’t want.
Talk Your Way Out of It
The best case situation is that you don’t have to eat any of the offending dish. Try using these phrases to move the dish onto the next person while keeping yourself on the host’s good side.
- “No, thank you, I want to save room for [other dish].”
- “I can’t wait to dig into [other dish]!” Say this while passing to the next person.
- “[Ingredient] bothers my stomach, so I’m going to pass on this one.”
- “This looks great, but I really want to enjoy what’s on my plate now.”
- “Oof, I’m so full I couldn’t eat another bite! Thanks for the amazing meal!”
- “I’m going to save this for round two!” Then mysteriously forget to get some when you refill your plate, or claim you’re too full for a second round.
The key to successfully using these phrases (or your own version) is in the delivery. Keep your tone light and cheerful and smile as you refuse the dish.
Take a Taste
If you’re feeling the pressure and need to take some of the dish, try what the Emily Post blog calls a “No thank you” portion.
You put just a taste of the item that is not so appealing on your plate rather than saying “No thank you”. Whether it’s a food you’ve never tried or it’s a food you haven’t liked in the past, this gives you the option to try it and at the same time shows respect for the person who has taken time to prepare it.
Of course, taking a single piece of potato or a drop of sauce is ridiculous, but you can take only one spoonful to give the dish a small try. Think about it as the amount you can take that puts you just above taking none and saying, “No thanks”.
If you end up not liking your small portion, but feel like you need to finish it, try eating it with something else you do like or that has a strong flavour. Gravy is a good option.
No matter how much you like, or don’t like, the meal, being a gracious guest is important to getting invited back. If your host asks you whether you like the offending dish, focus on the positives and things you do like with a little bit of redirection. A few phrases to get you started:
- “You know, this meal was just amazing! Thank you so much for hosting.”
- “Oh! My favourite part of the meal was [your favourite dish]. I’m so impressed you made that! I can never get it right.”
- “I really appreciate how much effort and thought you put into dinner. Thanks!”
Basically, move past (or don’t even address) the dish you didn’t like and share what was great, while acknowledging the hard work your host put in.
This article has been updated since its original publication.