Our wonderful (and similarly food-frenzied) friends at Chow
asked a question
today that may have some folks bristling: Is it ever OK to ogle a stranger's meal at a restaurant and ask what she's eating?
Etiquette writer Helena Echlin posits that "though it's OK to look, staring at people while they're eating makes them uncomfortable. If you need help identifying a dish, ask the server (avoid pointing if you can). Don't ask the person eating it." She notes an exception in the case of ridiculously close tables -- common in places like New York City and San Francisco -- in which case it would be absurdly formal to summon a waiter. Echlin interviews a restaurant expert who declares he "would never cross the imaginary wall" between tables.
In a crowded eatery with tiny two-tops, it's true that an "imaginary wall" can feel especially important. When a noisy couple are inches away, your demure chatter about the weather quickly turns into an extended dance remix with their loud argument about his mother-in-law.
]Read more and take the poll after the jump.