Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

What do you do when a restaurant owner sat at your table, ate soup you didn’t order and then charged you for it? Dating a “judgmental” vegan and you’re a meat eater?

DEAR NATALIE: My friend and I recently visited a small ethnic restaurant. The restaurant owner himself took our order: a large appetizer platter we intended to share. My friend asked if she could also get a small soup since only a regular sized bowl was listed on the menu. He said "yes." I clearly stated I was not interested in anything additional. Shortly he returned with two bowls of soup and placed one of them in front of me. I reminded him that I had declined any soup. At that point, he sat down at our table, moved my soup in front of himself, and ate the entire bowl. When we received the bill, he had charged us the full menu price. I thought this was highly objectionable behavior for a restaurateur. I usually am not uncomfortable speaking out if I am not pleased with restaurant service, but my friend urged me not to say anything. Not wanting to ruin our night, I kept my mouth shut. What are your thoughts, Natalie? How would you have handled this situation?-- UNAPPETIZING

DEAR UNAPPETIZING: I would have definitely said something. Your friend might be one of those “let’s not rock the boat” types, but that’s how you end up getting walked on and paying the price for it. His bizarre behavior is what concerns me more than the extra soup, to be honest. The fact that he sat at your table, ate soup you didn’t ask for, and then charged you for the soup that he ate is unacceptable. This isn’t how a restaurant owner should act. Maybe there was a miscommunication about the soup, but the fact that he  sat at your table to eat it is incredibly awkward, strange and inappropriate. I definitely would have told him that I was not paying for the soup. I also would have told him that we didn’t feel comfortable with him interrupting our meal by sitting with us and eating food we didn’t order. Moving forward, I would post a review about your experience on a restaurant feedback site and never dine there again.

DEAR NATALIE: I’m dating someone new and things are going great except in the food department. I am a meat eater. I love meat, I eat meat, I hunt meat, it’s my thing. My new partner is vegan and gluten-free. Going out to dinner has been quite a challenge. He came over the other night and we got into an actual fight about where we should eat. I feel as though he is judgmental about food and he feels as though I’m inflexible. I don’t want this to cause a rift between us, but honestly, the thought of cooking dinner for him makes me break out in a cold sweat. Is there any way through this without one of us ending up on the chopping block?  -- LET’S “MEAT” IN THE MIDDLE

DEAR LET’S “MEAT” IN THE MIDDLE: The word “compromise” comes to mind here. The truth is your diet is more flexible than his. If he doesn’t eat gluten, dairy and meat, respecting that is key. You both will have to research restaurants where there are foods for him. You eat meat, but you can eat vegetables and grains and other items, so your choices will always be more varied wherever you dine. If you have to sacrifice eating meat once in a while when you go out to dinner, is that so bad? Now, when you eat in, he should be more proactive in cooking for you and to make foods that you can both enjoy. If he doesn’t want to cook meat for ethical or health reasons, you can always do that part on a separate skillet and then incorporate it into whatever dish you are eating together. Veganism is a lifestyle for many people. It isn’t just about animals or health, but it can be about the environment and the way you look at the world. Being with a hunter who enjoys meat may really be a struggle for him. You may feel judged because he is trying to figure out how to date someone whose beliefs are so different from his own. Both of you can work on being more flexible by reading literature outside of your personal belief systems, discussing ideas and, more importantly, trying new foods together. Have you ever made a gluten-free, vegan dish? You may love it! Think of something that you really enjoy and then find a way to do a version of that so he can try it as well. There is a way to “meat” in the middle, so to speak, but it will all be based on mutual trust and understanding. Take baby steps forward, communicate your feelings and keep an open mind.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Be aware of your body language. Are you slouched and looking uninterested? Have your arms crossed or appear agitated? People react to your physicality before they decide to approach you, so remember: Smile, engage in conversation and keep your body language open and positive!

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)