There's no way around it — it's downright awkward when your dinner host asks what you think about the dinner he or she just served. The one they proudly spent the afternoon slaving over; the one you did not enjoy in the slightest. You don't want to lie, but at the same time, your honesty would crush them.
How do you skillfully handle this situation?
You've got a delicate situation on your hands.
Your host is beaming, clearly proud of her work in the kitchen, but you can barely manage a second bite. She's dying to know what you think of her cooking; meanwhile, you're trying to think of something, anything to say. It feels like you're coming up empty; you're starting to panic. Is it getting warmer in here? Think, think, think.
You didn't love whatever it was you were served, so there's no reason to gush over your host's meal with praise. But at the same time, it's probably best to keep your truest feeling to yourself. There's no reason to be rude or hurt anyone's feelings.
As your host gazes at you even more expectantly, waiting for your reaction, here are four helpful things to say when you just don't know what to say about someone's cooking.
1. "I've never had <insert name of food> prepared this way."
Think about what you just ate. Was it prepared in a way that's new to you, or that you're not that familiar with? Forget about talking about how good (or bad) the food was, instead talk about how it was prepared. Ask for their tips on how to prepare this for yourself. Your host will appreciate your interest, and maybe you'll learn something new.
2. "There was a flavor in there I couldn't quite put my finger on. What herbs or spices did you use?"
Okay so maybe you didn't enjoy what you just ate, but what was it specifically you didn't enjoy? Were there strong or interesting flavors that dominated the dish? Find out what it was, even if you think you already know.
3. "Is this one of the recipes from that new cookbook you just bought?"
Has your friend been lusting after a certain new cookbook? Maybe they finally snagged a copy. Maybe you were with them. Either way, they'll be thrilled you remember this book they were so excited about. Ask about how they've enjoyed the book, or if there are any other recipes they've tried.
Alternatively, something like this would also work if they've been learning a new style of cooking, or if they just got back from a trip and cooked a meal inspired by their travels.
4. "Those green beans were just the right pairing with your chicken."
Perhaps the flavors were totally off and the food was overcooked, but look deeper at the overall planning of the meal and the food (or cocktails) that were paired together. Instead of the main course, talk about the side dishes, or even dessert. Steer the discussion away from what you didn't like about the meal, and in the direction of something you did enjoy. Anything. Even if was just a little bit.
How do you handle situations like this? What do you say when placed in a tough spot about giving feedback on someone's cooking that you didn't quite care for?