DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there ever a meal casual enough to allow the host to plate meals for guests at the stove, rather than putting serving dishes on the table? I got into the habit of doing this because it is how I feed my immediate family, and I usually only have one or two close friends as guests.
When my in-laws are over for a formal meal (or, as formal as they get in my home), I do put out serving dishes. Is it ever acceptable to fill a guest’s bowl with a stew or chili and place it on the table that way?
GENTLE READER: It may surprise readers to learn that Miss Manners does not object to informality, only to cheapening it by applying it universally.
Formality and informality can both be signs of respect to a guest: formality, by demonstrating a willingness to do more; informality, by demonstrating intimacy. Family-style with intimate friends is justified when you think of them as family.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)