Entertaining

Asking for a Friend: Is It Offensive to Season Your Food Before Tasting It?

To salt or not to salt, that is the question
Is It Offensive to Season Your Food Before Tasting It?
Photo: Kristen Loveleigh Moore/Twenty20

Welcome to Asking for a Friend, ladies and gents! As the only member of TT's editorial staff to have suffered through cotillion classes (here's to you, Texas), I'll be weighing in on our readers' toughest and most puzzling etiquette debacles. Should you be debating whether or not to slip that cute waitress your digits or count yourself among the painfully silverware-inept, I got you, friend. Just call me . . . Miss Conduct.

For our very first question, we dove into the depths of the Internet—aka we leafed through a few Quora feeds—to uncover an all-too-common debacle: the politics of pre-seasoning.

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Growing up, my grandmother expressed frustration over my grandfather salting his food before he had a chance to take a bite. He’d even sprinkle a bit of salt on a sliced tomato resting on a salty strip of lox on an “everything” bagel!

Decades later, I’m constantly rebuking my husband for placing a thick veneer of coarsely ground pepper on everything I cook, whether it be pungent green curry, delicate clam sauce, fresh salads or salmon spread.

I feel it’s rude to add salt and pepper before trying a dish. What are your thoughts?

We've all heard the story. A business tycoon takes a worthy applicant out to lunch at a nice restaurant. If he catches the job seeker salting his food before tasting it, he immediately cuts the poor chump loose. Why? Because the big wig sees this practice as a sign of impulsiveness, untrustworthiness and disrespect. And while the story's true origins are unknown—it's been attributed to IBM's Thomas J. Watson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, J. C. Penney and even General Douglas MacArthur—the message is clear: Those worth their salt should never pre-salt.

Well, almost never.

The truth is it all depends on the circumstances: what kind of restaurant you're in, what you're eating, what time of day it is, whether or not your dinner date is a Virgo, etc. Here are six simple rules of thumb you can use to gauge your overeager seasoner's level of appropriateness.

① If your spot has salt and pepper already on the table, it's usually a good indication that no one minds you doctoring your meal to your liking. You run the risk of offending your dining companion, but your server surely won't blink an eye.

② If you find yourself at a greasy spoon, fast-casual joint or any place with an all-you-can-eat buffet and/or drive-thru window, feel free to pass go, collect your $200 and OD on sodium.

③ Conversely, if you're at a white-tablecloth establishment (and there's no salt and pepper shakers on said tablecloth), it's best not to DIY season at all. Asking for additional accoutrements at any point during the meal tells the staff—and, more importantly, the chef—that you're not only unsatisfied with the way your dish was prepared, you also think you know better than the trained professional preparing it.

Breakfast is generally a free-for-all, seasoning-wise. There's only so much you can do with breakfast foods, and they're generally more casually prepared, served and eaten than other meals, so go to town on those sunny eggs.

⑤ If your meal is being prepared at home by your loving partner, go easy on the pre-season. Otherwise, it'll make them feel bad, and you darn well know it. Plus, the only thing worse than that fancy hopped-up chef from your fine dining fiasco is a knife-wielding SO.

⑥ Lastly, if you're out with a potential employer, err on the side of caution and leave that flank steak be. Odds are they've also heard that pre-salt parable, and in this economy, doing anything to limit your chances job-wise is dumber than demanding ketchup at a two-star Michelin.

And there you have it. Until next time, stay proper, stay hungry and stay gold, propriety boys.

Got a pressing question about food and drink etiquette? Drop us a note through our handy Google Form.

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