The Introvert’s Guide to Group Dining
I’m in a restaurant dining with a dear friend, who is an extrovert on steroids, and nine people in her network of friends and family. Swirling about me and enveloping the table: discussion about what’s good, what’s been eaten before and how it compares to other dining experiences.
I study the menu.
My palate enjoys novelty: a pair of appetizers suggests a meal. I’d rather taste-test my way through dinner than consume one entrée. While table conversation ensues, I order the appetizers then ask the waitperson to bring the first with those of my dining companions.
Once the appetizers arrive, my friend and her tribe slide forks under all available morsels. She eyes my shrimp: “Ooh, let me try that,” and spears one of six crustaceans from across two other people. “Yum.” Offers a taste of shrimp to one of her adult children. Encourages me to sample everyone else’s appetizers. “That’s how we do it; put everything in the middle and try everybody else’s.”
Main dishes make their entrance. In front of me, the second appetizer. My friend asks, “Is that all you’re having?”
“Well…uh…I like to create a meal from two appetizers. The first part of my meal was the shrimp.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! We ate your dinner!”
Laughter all around. My sister-from-another-mother offers to pay for a second round of shrimp.
My extrovert friend is the youngest of four children who grew up around a dinner table where food not immediately consumed was snatched by older siblings. I am an introvert and only child. I got to sit in front of my meal all afternoon if I wanted, with no one else touching it.
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A therapist once told me something I repeat inside my head on occasions where I’m tempted to live in black-and-white instead of shades of gray: “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.”
How do I honor both the dining preferences of extrovert friends and me? Arrive 30 to 45 minutes ahead for an amuse-bouche, introvert style:
Leisurely absorb the menu without having to answer, “What are you having?”
Order and consume the drink of my choosing without having to explain, describe or defend it.
Tete-a tete-with the hostess, server, sommelier, neighboring table and anyone else with whom I feel connection; I enjoy engaging new people, one-on-one.
Order an appetizer. Eat all of it.
This takes the edge off the hunger that will ramp in the time it takes the group to place its order.
Ask the server to reboot the table setting so it appears I’ve not eaten. Otherwise my companions believe I’ve “started without them.” Queries follow that have no place in polite society. This is dinner, not an intervention.
I share this briefly with the server so s/he doesn’t publicly disclose that I’ve enjoyed in advance, a petit nosh.
Introversion is not synonymous with being shy or reclusive. Rather, the energy with which introverts enjoy engaging the world we cultivate from within.
When the group arrives, I’m hydrated and relaxed; the embers of social engagement adequately stoked.
Having first fed my energy my way, I now have the internal sustenance to embrace the group dining experience.