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Food & Drink

Civil Dining: A proposed menu for Baltimore diners

What is Civil Dining? Inspired by the work of P.M. Forni, the director of the Johns Hopkins Civility Initiative and, in particular, his book Choosing Civility, Civil Dining is an ongoing discussion that will culminate in a novel list of rules for civil dining in Baltimore.

The subject of how people behave in restaurants comes up a lot. I hear often about the behavior of other people – inconsiderate waiters, obnoxious diners and even the thoughtless cheapskates and skinflints sitting in the same booth with us. I hear much about rudeness and seldom about good behavior.

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Finding examples of rudness is easy. Changing the world is hard. But we're going to try.

Civility, Dr. Forni says, is a choice we make, and he suggests we choose it. It isn't always easy, but  I think it's worth it. The Civil Dining conversation will focus, at least at first, on the behavior of diners, and, even more narrowly, on our own behavior.

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In Choosing Civility, Dr. Forni presents 25 Rules for Civility. In future posts, Civil Dining will use some of them as blueprints for mapping out a conversation on Civil Dining.

Take a look at Rule #12 is – Be Agreeable – which you can read on Dr. Forni's website.  Interestingly, the phenomenon of disagreeability is first illustrated with a restaurant anecdote. I asked Dr. Forni to give me an example of something an individual diner can do to enact the Be Agreeable rule. I suggested that diners should look up and acknowledge the waiter when he first approaches the table.

"Yes," Dr. Forni said. And he added, "And they should smile."

He didn't mean we should grin idiotically but rather smile with our eyes, an acknowledgment of the waiter's presence and basic humanity. I asked Dr. Forni if the simple act of looking up would help to ensure diners a better served meal.

"Yes," Dr. Forni said, "It's not a 100% guarantee, but very high."

I'll have more on my conversation with Dr. Forni later this week.

What else can a diner do to be agreeable?


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