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Double Dipping 

Sharing a bowl of olive oil is just, well, gross

Wednesday, Nov 9 2005
Dear Social Grace,

Whenever I'm in a restaurant and any kind of dip is served, I spoon some onto my plate in order to avoid problems with "double dippers." Last week, I went to an Italian restaurant where bread was put on the table with a bowl of olive oil. The server left before I could ask for my own bowl. Sure enough, my dining companion started double dipping her bread (taking a bite and then sticking the piece that had been in her mouth back into the communal bowl). When the waiter returned, I requested my own bowl.

My dining companion inquired why, and I told her she had been double dipping (no doubt rude on my part). She replied, "It's not as though I am sick. Is it really such a big deal?" I could think of no reply. Another friend will frequently put his used spoon, fork, or fingers in communal bowls of food, even when there is a serving spoon sticking out of it! Once someone tried to foil him by quickly offering, "May I serve you?" as his spoon approached the rice pudding, but he replied, "No, I only want a bite." The only option seems to be to stop eating the food in question, or to eat it anyway. I know it is not polite to point out bad table manners, but must everyone allow their food to become a petri dish of bacteria just so as not to offend one person?

Via the Internet

Dear Inoffensive Madam or Sir,

You're right that when a person's table manners are less than they should be -- especially if he is merely ignorant of a custom -- pointing that fact out is, itself, rude. The ability to overlook unimportant etiquette slip-ups is a true mark of a courteous person.

A well-known (and almost certainly apocryphal) story nicely illustrates this principle: At a dinner party hosted by a famously gracious lady, a guest unfamiliar with formal table service picked up his finger bowl and drank from it. So that her guest wouldn't be embarrassed by his error, the hostess then picked up her finger bowl and drank from it, and other guests followed her example.

The average person needn't go that far -- and anyway, your problem presents an exception to this principle. The people you describe are not just committing an error of etiquette; they are also, you feel, endangering your health. And at least one friend is not merely ignorant of this very basic tenet of good table manners: She is intentionally flouting it (and I agree that double dipping is sort of gross).

Asking a food server for another bowl of sauce is a fine way to resolve the problem. If the double dipper demands an explanation, you could respond with a forgiving, "I'm sure you didn't even notice what you were doing." My response to the "I don't have a cold" comment might have been, "Well, I'm worried that I can't say the same with 100 percent certainty." (You can have a cold for days before you show symptoms.) And my response to "I only want a bite" might have been, "Well, I don't think everyone else is finished yet, so let me ask the waitress for a fresh spoon for you."

You may get the message across. Going further than that would be inappropriate, I think, unless you have been hired as an etiquette instructor. If you must continue to dine with people who are incorrigible double dippers, I suggest always ordering individual servings or always making clear, when you order, that you prefer your own bowl of dipping sauce. If some Nosy Parker presumes to ask why you need your own bowl, you can say, with a serene smile, "So I can double dip without bothering my dinner companions."

Dear Social Grace,

I feel that you are absolutely wrong about the necessity of tipping massage therapists ["Someone's Gonna Pay for This," Sept. 28]! A massage can be a medical necessity. You wouldn't tip a nurse or a doctor!

Via the Internet

Dear Exclamatory Madam or Sir,

You're correct that should you get a massage as a medical treatment (at a hospital, say), tipping is probably wrong. However, when a massage is an enjoyable treat -- for instance, at a spa, or at a party (the original letter writer's situation) -- a tip of about 15 percent is appropriate, unless a service charge has been built into the fee. (You may have to ask when you make your appointment whether a gratuity is included.)

In this case, as is frequently true, etiquette differentiates between "necessary" and "luxury" personal services; the people who provide us our luxury services often earn a relatively low wage because tips are customary.

Dear Social Grace,

Your recent column about tipping massage therapists at a party recalled this question I have had for a long time. At an event such as a wedding where there is a hosted bar, are guests obligated or expected to tip the bartender? If so, what would be a proper amount? Or is tipping strictly the responsibility of the host?

Via the Internet

Dear Questioning Madam or Sir,

The answer to your final question is yes: If you hire bartenders to serve your beverages at your party, you are responsible for paying and tipping them. However, many people do seem unaware of this fact: I've volunteered as a bartender at fundraisers and had guests leave unnecessary tips in empty glasses while I wasn't looking. People have become so habituated to tip jars that they see one even when none is present.

So there's no need to tip at a hosted bar. But if I do see a tip jar at a private party's hosted bar, I try to ignore its unseemliness, and I assume the best -- that is, that the host is innocently ignorant of this aspect of his hosting duties. Then, rather than let someone be underpaid, I toss a couple of bucks into the jar.

About The Author

Social Grace


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