Etiquette is a strange concept. While some would think that there was a right way of doing something, based on their own notion of manners or social niceties, others will have an entirely different point of you and will act accordingly. Driving is a great example, and the rules of the road govern how we should manage our vehicles whilst on the road. Driving etiquette though, is something entirely different.

Should we thank other drivers for letting us into traffic? I’d say yes, but based on experience – there are many who find that small act quite difficult. Even though signalling or indicating, is a mandated part of driving, some find that motion incredibly challenging. In reality, indicating is a safety requirement to allow other drivers to know what a driver is intending to do. It’s also an etiquette, a courtesy, that works to allow traffic to flow.

“I thought the whole point of a smorgasbord was to choose and consume whatever one wanted to.”

For that reason I was taken aback by a recent story, reported in the New Zealand Herald, concerning a gentleman who was chastised by eatery owners for supposedly going against the norms of ‘smorgasbord etiquette’. When I say I was taken aback, what I mean to say, is I had never really considered that there were a proscribed set of manners that dictated how one should act at a smorgasbord. I thought the whole point of a smorgasbord was to choose and consume whatever one wanted to.

Well, it seems that I am wrong. Amelia Georgina Harrison and her partner Brad Guildy found at that there is a certain amount of meat that can be taken from dishes whilst dining recently at the Rice Canteen in Marewa, Napier.

“The woman began to raise her voice, saying ‘no more meat! You have to have the veges too!’ My partner explained he couldn’t eat the broccoli because of his teeth, but she wouldn’t hear of it.”

As reported in the New Zealand Herald, “it all went wrong at the black bean stir fry, as Guildy avoided the large ‘hard’ chunks of broccoli, only picking the meat while a staff member ‘watched him like a hawk’. ‘He has false teeth, so he’s not actually able to have hard foods, so a majority of the food he was selecting was soft. The woman began to raise her voice, saying ‘no more meat! You have to have the veges too!’ My partner explained he couldn’t eat the broccoli because of his teeth, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said if he just wanted meat he’d have to order ‘just meat’ off the menu.’ Harrison said the woman began banging the spoon on the tray, ordering Guildy to add more vegetables to his selection. Shocked by the service, Guildy changed his mind and asked for a refund, which he was given.” (Source: “Smorgasbord etiquette fight: Restaurant owner confronts man taking too much black bean stir fry meat,” New Zealand Herald, July 5, 2019).

“‘That’s rude considering you bloody pay,’ one woman said. ‘You pay to eat what you want at smorgasbord, too bad if he was allergic to anything that she was trying to force him to grab.'”

While the owners explained that taking meat only has its own particular menu choices and prices structure, the even created divided opinion from erstwhile social media commentators, as one would fully expect. “One woman said: ‘If someone picked out just the meat I would charge them extra or tell them to order a meat only dish. If the broccoli is too big … well then chop it up when you get home.’ But others pointed out one of the more well-known rules of hospitality – that the customer is always right. ‘That’s rude considering you bloody pay,’ one woman said. ‘You pay to eat what you want at smorgasbord, too bad if he was allergic to anything that she was trying to force him to grab.'”(Source: “Smorgasbord etiquette fight: Restaurant owner confronts man taking too much black bean stir fry meat,” New Zealand Herald, July 5, 2019).

It just goes to show that it’s best to work out what the options are before choosing, and in this instance the diners asking for, and receiving a refund, was probably the best result in the end. I have been to the occasional all you can eat buffet and the etiquette there seems to be universal – a veritable free for all, to eat as much as one likes and to return to the table, over and over again. But perhaps there are social niceties to be observed there as well, time will tell