As a personal chef, I’m fortunate to be treated to a new food adventure with every client or project. No two days are ever alike. Recently, I was hired by a company to manage a cooking demonstration at one of those ginormous retail stores where everything comes in bulk (because who doesn’t need 500 Tootsie Rolls, right?) making sure the store employees prepared the client’s product and distributed it to customers for sampling.
At the end of my long day, my feet were tired, my back sore and my Yes-We-Can-enthusiasm about the resurgence of American civility had morphed into an indignant Oh-No-You-Didn’t (neck roll and finger snap optional)!
Never in my professional life had I witnessed such bad behavior (and I think it’s worth noting that pre-chefdom, I worked for members of Congress, in a restaurant kitchen and for a boss who once threw a bag of coffee beans against the conference room wall in a fit of rage.) But that’s a story for another time.
What I learned that day is that my fellow Americans need a crash course in EAT-iquette – the proper way to eat and behave at a consumer cooking demonstration.
1. Respect the line. Don’t stroll past dozens of people in front of you with your hand out and then feign surprise that those same folks aren’t standing there for sport. Seriously.
2. It’s called a sample for a reason. Companies want to introduce you to their product, not buy you dinner. Revisiting for a second bite is flattering. Swinging back around for thirds, fourths or even fifths is just plain wrong. And yes, the people handing out the food recognize you even when you pretend every time is your first time.
3. Check your kids. Don’t send your little ones to grab a sample alone. The staff have no way of knowing if your child is allergic to wheat, peanuts or polysorbate-mono-blah-blah-blah and it’s never in good taste to let your kids run around willy nilly. You might not be bothered by Little Timmy kicking the shopping cart of the person in front of you or playing touch-every-piece-of-food-on-the-tray, but I can assure you other people are. Really.
4. You don’t have to buy to try. Don’t pretend to buy the product, dropping it excitedly into your cart only to abandon it in a nearby and usually inappropriate aisle. Hiding food in the sock bin is completely unacceptable.
5. Keep your hands to yourself. Never, under any circumstances, put your hand in a serving dish, no matter where you are. (I can’t believe I had to write that either.)Most samples are distributed in individual cups or plates. Wait for the staff to pass one to you or pick a pre-portioned sample from the serving tray (that would be the tray holding all the tiny plates or cups filled with food).
6. Tell your story walking. Once you have your sample in hand, step away from the table or counter to enjoy it. Under no uncertain terms should you stand and eat while leaning over the other samples or food on the table. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the rest of the General Public isn’t interested in eating a sample garnished with the crumbs that fall from your mouth. And whether you’re sampling or not, chewing with your mouth closed is a good thing.
7. Mind your manners. Last, but certainly not least, remember that the beings handing you the food are people. A simple please and thank you will go a long way.
So, next time you’re shopping and you see people handing out samples of food, resist the temptation to act like you were raised by wolves and mob the table while barking at the attendant to put more on your plate. Make America proud. Check your EAT-iquette.