‘Touch my plate and feel my fork’

The food-shar­ing craze chal­lenges din­ers who want their meals — the whole thing — to them­selves

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY STEVE HEN­DRIX

Sue Wil­liams has a thing about her french fries. She wants them. All of them.

She’s not stingy — she’ll hap­pily or­der you all the french fries you want. Those will be your fries. These are hers.

“She has an ex­pres­sion: ‘ Touch my plate and feel my fork,’ ” said John Wil­liams, her hus­band of 43 years, as the cou­ple faced each other over sep­a­rate-but-equal or­ders of cheese fries re­cently at a Shake Shack in down­town Washington. “It’s funny, be­cause she is a shar­ing per­son. But not when it comes to food.”

“And I used to do fenc­ing,” said Sue, 63.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” said John, 64.

These are hard times for the plate pro­tec­tors among us. Driven by a gen­er­a­tion that shares ev­ery­thing, din­ing out is be­com­ing ever more a mi french fry es su french

fry ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­tween In­sta­gram­ming pic­tures of the meal when it’s served and Yelp­ing a re­view once they’ve fin­ished, mil­len­ni­als are shar­ing more and more of the ac­tual food.

They are help­ing to fuel a small-plate model that has spread from a few fancy Span­ish eater­ies in big cities to Olive Gar­dens, TGIFs and Cheese­cake Fac­to­rys ev­ery­where. At bet­ter restau­rants, servers re­port that co­or­di­nated or­der­ing is nearly uni­ver­sal at ta­bles of food­ies who want to sam­ple as much of the menu as pos­si­ble. The group mar­garita with four straws is be­com­ing a thing.

“Shar­ing has been one of the big­gest trends in restau­rants in re­cent years, and as mil­len­ni­als get into their 40s, they’re not go­ing to give up on it,” said An­nika Stens­son, di­rec­tor of re­search com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Na­tional Res­tau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion, which re­cently re­leased a sur­vey mark­ing the con­tin­u­ing en­croach­ment of “graz­ing and small-plate shar­ing” over the tra­di­tional “Who-had the­cake?” model.

More than 60 per­cent of chefs sur­veyed by the group said plate shar­ing re­mains a hot trend in the in­dus­try. The con­cept has made that list seven of the past nine years.

“It’s moved from be­ing a hot

trend to a peren­nial fa­vorite,” Stens­son said. “Even where they don’t serve small plates, peo­ple are mak­ing a meal of ap­pe­tiz­ers for the pur­pose of shar­ing.”

All of this is a lit­tle hard on peo­ple who, darn it, just want a bit of alone time with the food they ac­tu­ally or­dered. For years, re­luc­tant shar­ers only had to fend off the oc­ca­sional fry filcher, or the girl­friend who vir­tu­ously passes on dessert — and then plants her fork in her com­pan­ion’s creme brulee. Now, whole menus are de­voted to so­cial­ist por­tions.

Dis­cus­sion boards, blogs and a bunch of ta­ble-side in­ter­views at Washington-area restau­rants re­veal an un­der­ground of those cling­ing to the one-per­son, one plate def­i­ni­tion of din­ing.

“We don’t even go to fam­ilystyle or ta­pas places,” said Ryan Phipps, a min­is­ter from Man­hat­tan as he fin­ished lunch with his wife and two young chil­dren at Washington’s Bistrot Du Coin. “If I or­der some­thing, then I want to eat it.”

Ev­ery non-sharer’s food thing is dif­fer­ent. Wil­liams, who was vis­it­ing from Lon­don, said she is a tad com­pul­sive about eat­ing her meal in a cer­tain or­der, with the fi­nal bite of some­thing al­ways the most de­li­cious.

“Please don’t ask to eat the last bite of any­thing on my plate,” she said. “That’s the best one.”

Phipps said he learned his de­fen­sive ways as an only child. “I al­ways got the whole candy bar,” he said. But oth­ers say it was grow­ing up sur­rounded by preda­tory sib­lings that made them share-shy.

“I’m fe­male and the youngest of a very large fam­ily (more than 5 sibs.). I can­not STAND shar­ing food off my plate,” ranted Col-Heights, a chat­ter in a re­cent Carolyn Hax online dis­cus­sion about food shar­ing for this story. “I re­ally re­ally de­spise the ‘ small plate’ thing.”

Renowned Washington chef José An­drés said over­com­ing share-re­luc­tance was one of the chal­lenges of launch­ing Ja­leo, one of the restau­rants that sparked the coun­try’s small-plate craze and his res­tau­rant em­pire.

He told his servers to make a of it with the early skep­tics. They en­cour­aged din­ers who didn’t want to join in the ta­ble-top bac­cha­nal to clear a buf­fer zone around their plates and line it with a bar­ri­cade of cut­lery.

“It was the 20-inch rule,” says An­drés , who still cites his strat­egy in his talks about cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing. “They could line up the forks and knives like weapons of mass de­struc­tion.”

Res­tau­rant work­ers say they see men and women alike wear­ing the icy glare of the non-sharer when in­va­sive forks hover too close to their plates. But clear gen­der dif­fer­ences emerge when it comes to group be­hav­ior, they say.

Ash­ley Bethel, a man­ager at Bus­boys and Po­ets on 14th Street NW, de­scribed a com­mon rit­ual at a ta­ble of fe­male pa­trons. As they mull the en­trees, a kind of com­mu­nal or­der be­gins to emerge from the chaos. “‘If you’re get­ting the salmon, I’ll get the pasta and we’ll share,’ ” Bethel said.

But a ta­ble of men? “You’ll have five guys eat­ing five or­ders of salmon,” she said.

At a nearby ta­ble, three long­time girl­friends have it down to an art, or­der­ing two en­trees and two ap­pe­tiz­ers be­tween them. But one of them said she al­most lost a boyfriend over his re­luc­tance to part with any of his pota­toes.

“I was taken aback un­til I real- ized that he wasn’t be­ing mean and he was happy to buy me my own fries,” said Kendall Isadore, 27, a mu­si­cian and mid­dle-school or­ches­tra teacher in the Dis­trict. “He just wanted all of his. Men love their food.”

And their drink. At the Mad­hat­ter, a ven­er­a­ble wa­ter­ing hole near Washington’s Dupont Cir­cle, guys are lead­ing the way in or­der­ing the $36 Hat­ter’s Punch. With ten shots of rum, Cu­raçao and melon liqueur, and as many straws as you like, it’s a drink built to be shared.

“The guys like to walk around and of­fer it to girls,” said bar­tender Ha­ley French.

LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Shar­ing a small plate in­Wash­ing­ton. Lay­ing a serv­ing of french fries on a ta­ble can open a win­dow into gen­eros­ity and stingi­ness.

LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Josh Havey and col­league Jenna Put­nam share lamb slid­ers and shrimp-cake ta­pas at Bus­boys and Po­ets in Ar­ling­ton. For oth­ers, the mere sug­ges­tion of shar­ing can lead to the bar­ing of tooth and claw.

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