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Family Dining, Lazy Susan Style

I have a question about etiquette at Chinese restaurants that use a lazy susan in the center of the table.

For Mother’s Day, my sister and her husband invited family members to celebrate the occasion at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. There were a total of 12 of us seated at a large round table. at 12 o’clock and going clockwise, the seating was as follows: (this will be important later on). My brother in law, my sister, my father, my brother-in-law, my other sister, a 10 year old niece, myself, my aunt, my mother, a teenage niece, another teenage niece, and my 9 year old nephew. My sister and brother-in-law who hosted ordered 10 or 12 dishes. There was more than plenty of food for everyone. The restaurant served all the dishes pretty much at the same time, onto a lazy susan, which was centered in the middle of the round table.

As is customary, we each served ourselves a small portion, being careful not to move the lazy susan only until someone was finished serving themselves. So here is where the problem started. The lazy susan was being moved counter clockwise (yes, I am aware that the custom is clockwise, but my family beats to its own drum sometimes), and I would see my mom serve herself, then my aunt who was next to my mom. Since I was seated next to my aunt, I would obviously be next. However, my sister who was seated on the opposite side of my niece, who was to the right of next to me, kept reaching over me, just after my aunt finished serving herself, and taking the serving spoons from the dish in front of me, and serving my 10 year old niece, then serving herself, and then moving the lazy susan, back to me, finally allowing me to serve myself. When I was done, the lazy susan would skip along past my sister, who already served herself. Essentially the lazy susan would rotate to each person, my sister would jump the line in front of me, and once she was done serving her child and herself, she would either move the food back to me, or I would wait another full rotation until the dish was in front of me again. This happened over several rotations, before I finally called foul, and said something along the lines of, “Hey, the food will rotate to you, please just wait.” She got very angry at me, and told me the children should be served first, and her 10 year old daughter (my niece, who I love!), needed help, and of course I was being unreasonable and selfish, how dare I serve myself before the children.

We are a Chinese family, so it’s not like we have never used a lazy susan ever before. I don’t have any children, nor am I married, so my sister tried to further prove her point by pointing out that she is taking care of her children. Again, so obvious, and how could I not see this, except for the fact that I had no children of my own, and could not grasp this concept. Please help put this in perspective for me. What is the correct etiquette here? I feel that my sister not only displayed terrible table manners, but she is teaching my 10 year old niece bad table manners by allowing her to have a “me first” attitude, and not being accountable to customary manners that guide the entire table. Was I so wrong to put a halt to the herky jerky motions of the lazy susan my sister created? I tried not to ruin the dinner for everyone as the spat escalated, so I pretty much just stopped talking, and seethed inside.

(I also want to mention that my sister generally has decent manners, and her children usually say please and thank you, and are polite. Also, my other sister did not commandeer the lazy susan for her 9 year old son.)    0512-14

So you are at 6 o’clock position, niece is at 5 and sister is at 4 and the lazy susan is moving counter clockwise.   Your sister is reaching across her daughter to get to the food in front of you instead of waiting for the lazy susan to rotate to be in front of her daughter which what I would have expected to be done.  It’s fine for her to serve her child before herself and to do so when the food choices rotate into a position that corresponds to their seating location.   But had you considered that by her moving the lazy susan two spaces back and forth, it is actually imposing on everyone else at the table? It’s not just skipping you, that particularly dish at a specific position on the lazy susan is skipping others as well.  I don’t think your sister was specifically being rude to you and I suspect the rest of the family was inconvenienced by the erratic movement of the lazy susan but chose to just grin and bear it.


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  • BellyJean May 15, 2014, 11:48 pm

    I am so confused… It’s a lazy susan. Everyone’s served first. Your sister has logic issues. Full stop.

    • Lera99 May 16, 2014, 11:04 am

      I think what is happening is they are letting the Grandmother get first choice on each dish.
      So no one is serving themselves until the dish that was in front of Grandma first makes it to them.

      • BellyJean May 16, 2014, 2:36 pm

        Oh… OK. Now I’m getting it. Then, I don’t know why they bother with a lazy susan. Seems inefficient to me from the practice their implementing. But, there you go.

      • Kelly L. May 16, 2014, 2:46 pm

        Oh, that makes sense! So the rule they’re trying to go by is clashing with what the sister is trying to do.

      • Tana May 17, 2014, 12:34 am

        The issue is let’s call it dish one. That dish should go around in front of each person individually, they serve themselves from whatever is in front of them, but each dish should stop in front of each person. The problem is the person who isn’t waiting for the dish to get to the proper place to serve the kids from. Either the rule is, wait til it stops for you, or you make the rule, roll the thing around and serve the kids then roll it around again for the grownups. But it needs to be consistent or someone is missing some of the dishes.

  • Angel May 16, 2014, 12:25 pm

    Reaching across someone is rude as hell. I don’t care if you are serving the kid first–it is RUDE, plain and simple. The OP was right to say something–but you say something once, then let it drop. Also I would try to model polite behavior for your niece–Lord knows someone has to!

  • JD May 16, 2014, 2:47 pm

    In my parents’ early days, at large gatherings, adults ate first — first men, then women (if all couldn’t sit down at once) then kids. My parents hated it (my dad always said he thought chickens only had necks and backs until he was 13) and so they served us kids before themselves when they became parents, BUT they waited for the dish to come to them, never reaching past someone to get it, or insisting we get fed before the other adults. Once we got big enough to put food on our own plates (albeit with our mother’s watchful eye on us), say around six or seven, we waited like everyone else for our turn. The exception to that was when all the adults said, “Let the kids fill their plates and then we’ll get ours.” That was usually because the kids were eating at card tables in whatever rooms the tables were set up in, while the adults sat together at the big old dining table where the food was. The sister’s argument doesn’t explain why she fed herself first, and at a family gathering, you can bet I’d tell sis to quit it. That “you don’t have children so you don’t understand” remark was hurtful and arrogant, and I hope sis regrets saying it. All the women in my family had trouble conceiving (thankfully, we all managed to have at least one child, finally), so I can’t imagine one of us saying that to another.

  • Vicki May 16, 2014, 8:20 pm

    It’s easy to say “this is no big deal” (though if I felt that way I wouldn’t bother commenting on a post), but the “oh, there will be something to eat” attitude can easily lead to one or two people getting lots of the most popular dish, and the slowest eater having to settle for the least popular.

    I know someone who used to hate that sort of family-style meal in a Chinese restaurant, from years of being involved with someone who took the “first come, first served” attitude to a ridiculous extreme: she would take seconds of the nice things before he’d had a chance to get a first serving. And then tell him it was his fault for eating more slowly.

    It takes a bit of genuine concern for others to make sure that everyone at the table gets some of the roast duck, or prawns with walnuts, or whole fish in ginger sauce, or whatever is particularly desirable, or that there’s less of. Yes, everyone will get something to eat, but the way OP’s sister did this, OP could easily have wound up without any of her favorite dishes. All that has to happen is for Sister to grab the plate, serve herself and her child, and then rotate the turntable away. When the roast duck came back to Grandma, she might think “everyone has had a share of the duck, and there’s some left, how nice” and take the rest.

  • NostalgicGal May 18, 2014, 12:23 am

    Out of line, I would have removed the sister’s arm from in front of me the first time it happened. She could wait until stuff came to her, it sounds like she and her children were NOT the end and there would still be plenty. It is a big deal. Teach the kids disrespect while you’re at it… I so agree there.

    I had a roomie and we would travel to another’s house (in another city) to get together with mutual friends every other week. This roomie could eat and she had no concept about others…

    I worked parttime at a restaurant that served grilled chicken on skewers, a medley of steamed veggies, and rice. Simple but good. I brought enough for what we considered serves ten, for ten people. She gets in line first saying ‘I’m really hungry tonight’ and takes four servings of meat, three of veggie three of rice… and would have taken another serving of meat if she could have. I’m in shock; the others are trying to be polite, I herd them first, and end up with some rice. She sits there with her piled high plate, scarfing away as we are trying to be polite about this; and finishes her plate off about the time I get to sit down….goes back in the kitchen and looks for what’s left, and is disappointed there isn’t anything left.

    Next time I bring food again; this time for twenty five. (according to our menu selections-4 bags of to go food containers). EVERYONE manages to get ahead of her, fast. Most take one to one and a half servings of everything, we are at about 13 servings gone other than the meat, that is about 17 servings; gone. I don’t blame the others for loading up. She managed to get the rest of the meat (pulled the skewers so it didn’t look so bad, and about four servings of everything else) and still managed to finish with most of us, then was the only one to go for seconds and left half a serving of rice–and said she was disappointed all the meat was gone. She was about a size 16 but where she put it I still don’t know. Nope, no comprehension about ‘anyone else but me’….

    After that I started bringing stuff I had to ‘finish’ at the host house kitchen, and would plate up. You got handed your plate full so everyone got some and she had to wait until the cook served everyone else once and I kept claim on my own plateful. And for some reason, I never had any more than one good pass for everyone….

    • Anonymous May 18, 2014, 7:41 pm

      @NostalgicGal–I’m not trying to blame the victim here, but why did you continue to invite your roommate for communal meals after the first incident of greed? I can’t help but think that buying more than twice as much food as (should be) necessary for the number of people, wasn’t really the solution–it’s kind of enabling, because it tells the greedy person, “Load up, there’s plenty for everyone,” except there isn’t really plenty “for everyone” if the greedy person just takes it as a license to take more than his or her share of the gargantuan amount of food that’s been purchased in order to mitigate/accommodate his or her greediness. Was your roommate a nice person otherwise, or was she selfish in other ways? If her selfish behaviour was just with food, then maybe it would have been better to either invite her only to non-food activities, or have everyone pay their own way at places where all the food is obviously single servings, like a hamburger restaurant or something. I know you worked at the other place that served communal servings of chicken and rice and vegetables, and you probably got some kind of employee discount there, but maybe that would have been a better restaurant to invite just your non-greedy friends to. That probably would have been difficult, though, because in college or university settings, people tend to run in packs, and if one member of the friend group is “missing,” then others will ask about it, or even invite that person along themselves, and then you’re back where you started.

      As for the “size 16” thing, though–tiny issue, but I’m about that size myself, but I don’t pig out in communal food settings, and take more than my share. Actually, I don’t usually partake in communal food events, because I’m vegan, but just because someone is a certain size, doesn’t mean they’re greedy. My brother’s always been skinny (save for a few years of infant/toddlerhood), but he went through a phase where he’d eat everything in the house, and he was still skinny then.

      • NostalgicGal May 18, 2014, 11:11 pm

        It wasn’t my house. It was a communal gathering of friends. I didn’t invite her specifically. She was part of the group that met at someone else’s place in another city, about an hour drive. We would take turns bringing food to share. She didn’t always go; though she was the one that invited me to join them with the host’s permission; and I hit it off with them and was welcome and did continue to go to the gatherings for about two more years past when she decided not to go anymore.

        The size 16, dear, I wish I could get to again. It was just to point out, she had the appetite of a grown linebacker in an average size body. I have seen size four waifs eat like that, and I’ve seen linebacker sized people eat a snack three times a day.

        I am a medical vegan, not a moral one, I understand the diet totally. I have had religious dietary restrictions, then a whole slew of medical ones plus allergies. If I am totally not certain there will be stuff I can eat, I bring my own… in a group gathering where I am out with others, I tell them to ‘choose where to eat’ and I will cope. No hard feelings.

        I have seen size 4’s be able to outeat me. Just that she didn’t seem to show that she’d swallowed that much.

        She had other ‘me first and only’ issues I found out, but the major wakeup about the food stuff was that meeting.

        The restaurant I got zero discount; we sold meals by ‘size’ in that you chose how many skewers of the grilled chicken for example, and if you wanted rice, veggies, or both; common combinations. They also sold it ‘bulk’ as in so many skewers of chicken, and full containers of rice or steamed veggies. Usually the long half sized to go container meal of half rice, half steamed veggies and one skewer of the chicken was what the average person ate and had leftover-dump it out onto a dinner plate and you had a plate full; I had brought equivalent food then for 10 people based on that the first time, then the second time 25 people based on that. I would bring food from the restaurant because it was good food, not horrendously expensive for back then; quick and easy, and it kept well for the hour transport. If it was bulk packed it was vegetarian and vegan safe; as the foods were cooked and kept separate, separate utensils to cook and portion it out, and packed separately.

        What amazed us was her lack of comprehension about she wasn’t the only one eating, and was oblivious to the fact she took close to half the food on the first pass and went back to see if there was more; that first time.

  • Elizabeth May 20, 2014, 3:30 pm

    The child is 10 and not 2. Old enough to wait her turn like everyone else.

    Sis was being impatient and used her child as an excuse. It would have been nice if someone else had spoken up in your support since everyone was being inconvenienced.

  • Jamie May 28, 2014, 3:06 pm

    In my mind’s eye, there are several dishes on the lazy Susan, so at any given time there *is* a dish already in front of your sister from which she can dish out food for herself and child. There’s no need to jump in front of you at all. She simply needs to take what’s in front of her until the Lazy Susan is turned for the next menu option. Seems, if anything, she should be asking for more time with what’s in front of her (to plate her dish as well as her child’s) rather than being all jumpy for the next thing.

  • Debs G July 1, 2014, 4:23 am

    I have no idea how things work in your family, but in my (also Chinese) family, after putting food on the guest of honour’s plate, the lazy susan goes round and you always serve the family members next to you while you serve yourself. That is, if the lazy susan reaches me first, I will take this opportunity to serve the relative sitting next to me before dishing food out to myself as this is a sign of affection, also, if I know that there are hungry children at the table, I would serve them a portion first.

    I don’t see why you weren’t given the opportunity to offer to dish out for your sister and her kids if the lazy susan reached you first.

    • Debs G July 1, 2014, 4:25 am

      Something informal like ‘Haiyah haiyah wait for me to serve you haiyah you’ or ‘Aiyoh let me do it, it’s my turn to dish for you’