DEAR MISS MANNERS: I joined a committee at work that meets quarterly to decide where our company's charitable contributions will go. A group (usually six people) meets off-site at a restaurant, has lunch that the company pays for, and then meets.
At the first meeting I attended, I placed my order and, like most everybody else, it was a burger or other sandwich and fries. The food came, and after everybody got their plates I started to eat.
Within moments, I heard a throat-clearing noise that got louder quickly. I then noticed nobody was eating. A co-worker had sent her food back and we were supposed to wait until her food came back before we ate, as she said it would be rude to eat in front of her while she had nothing to eat.
So while her food would be fresh and hot when it came back, my burger and fries, and everyone else's food, would be lukewarm at best. Later, another co-worker told me not to worry about it too much, as at about every meal when they go out, this lady finds something minor wrong with her meal, sends it back, and expects everybody not to eat until after she has her remade meal.
What is the proper etiquette? Wait until the fellow diner gets their food and risk my food being cold/unappetizing because of the wait, or go ahead and eat while my food is hot and have the fellow diner eat while we are finishing up our meal and possibly be eating when everybody else is finished?
GENTLE READER: A solution that comes to mind is to do work -- and this is still work, in spite of the topic -- in the office. But Miss Manners realizes this is nowadays considered too radical an idea.
Since you were the only one eating, she infers that the more experienced co-worker who told you "not to worry" was advising you to get used to tepid food, not to having your manners corrected while you ate. This is not a dinner party where it is rude to eat before everyone has been served, unless the habitually critical lady had, as she should have, asked everyone to go ahead.
Since the person in question has herself pushed the boundaries of politeness, Miss Manners will provide an alternative solution. Salads and bread are exempt from the ban on starting before others. This does not apply to main course salads, but Miss Manners is willing to overlook that point if you are willing to eat greens instead and order your hamburger and fries to go.
The inevitable throat-clearing could then be answered with a question expressing concern for the lady's health. If she is so rude as to say that you should wait for her, you may explain that the rule does not apply to salad.