With summer celebrations in full swing, you may be wondering: What should I do when faced with the challenge of how to elegantly handle inelegant foods in a social setting?
Have no fear, Etta Kate is here to advise you.
First, you should evaluate the setting in which the event is held, as well as what you have worn to the party. Scan for napkins. Is there but one beautifully embroidered linen square for each guest, placed atop a white tablecloth? Have you worn white linen as well? Is your host serving spaghetti marinara? Perhaps you can suddenly “discover” that someone near and dear to you has been hospitalized, which will require you to depart while uttering your apologies.
Other than that, consider the likelihood that you may encounter:
Fried chicken, ribs, or wings:
Your hosts are either relatives or close friends and this is a casual event, or they are malevolent fiends. Put a napkin in your lap, and hold another napkin in your hand. Use that napkin to wipe your hands. Discard and replace frequently. Never tuck one into your shirt (sacrifices must be made). Do not make the mistake of thinking you can manage to use your lap napkin as anything other than a shield.
Hot dogs, sloppy Joes, or burritos:
Use the same strategy as above. First line of defense: do not overload. Make a small circle of sauce or condiments at the center of the bread. It will spread to the edges as you eat. Hold the back side firmly and eat carefully from the other side. Swaddle your burrito with a foil or paper wrap, apply gentle pressure to the bottom and sides, and delicately take bites from the top. The key is to stop before you reach the end. Wrap the rest up and discard. There is no genteel way to eat it all.
Corn on the cob:
Serving corn on the cob at anything other than a family dinner, or a casual picnic with checkered tablecloths and a myriad of paper napkins, is a social don’t. But if there’s no avoiding it, butter a row at a time, use cob handles or skewers, and hope for the best.
Foods that require plastic protection should be limited to occasions featuring groups of people one knows well. When arming oneself with a hammer and chisel to dine, all concepts of delicacy go out the window. And that is fine because there were no windows in caveman times, when it was required, not optional, to beat one’s food into submission. When in Rome, eat as the Romans do, but when everyone has a bib and is brandishing mallets at their foodstuffs, you cannot possibly be the center of attention for that bit of clarified butter on your sleeve, so pound away!
Do not, under any circumstances, pick up the doughnut with your hands or people will wonder why you removed your powdered Revolutionary War wig. Place the treat on a plate, cut it in half, then cut that half into three pieces with a fork. Hold the plate so it will catch the powder as you lift small pieces to your mouth.
Fruit, ice cream cones, or jelly-filled-anything:
Cut sliced watermelon into small pieces and eat with a fork. Peaches, plums, apples and other small fruits may be eaten in the style charmingly called “out of hand,” which is just exactly as it sounds. The lap-and-hand napkin strategy will serve you well. Order your ice cream in a cup, or prepare to drip. There has never been a good outcome for a jelly-filled-anything at a party. Avoid such items and the resulting fight which you cannot win. Your waistline and dry-cleaner will both thank you.
And a final word – on toothpicks:
Because many of these fun foods are famous for getting stuck in your teeth, always excuse yourself and check your teeth in private. Tooth picking is between you and… you.
Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a business consultant who maintains anonymity to protect her clients’ privacy. She is pleased to be so warmly welcomed into the WFAEats family of contributors. If you have a question about food and dining etiquette, Etta Kate will be happy to help. You can post your messages in the comments section of this page.