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Why slow food was invented in Europe and fast food in North America

Updated on May 18, 2012
Food is not only for your stomach. Food is also for your eyes and your soul.
Food is not only for your stomach. Food is also for your eyes and your soul.

How to spot a European tourist in an North American restaurant

Although Europe and North America share similar cultures, the different restaurant etiquettes are not only continents, but worlds apart. Not being familiar with the local customs can easily confuse the average tourist and give him the feeling of being treated unfriendly or even rudely. Having been born and raised in Switzerland, my native eating etiquette is so ingrained in my brain that I will probably never get used to the North American customs, no matter how hard I try. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, there is a short but down to the point explanation to the problem: EUROPEANS EAT FOOD WHILE AMERICANS GUZZLE IT!

So next time you are happily guzzling down your food see if there are any European tourists. They are easy to spot: Scared patrons hanging on to their dinnerware for dear life with an intimidated look on their face, while the frustrated waiter is circling them like a hawk.

If you don't understand what I am talking about, here is a simple scenario:

North America

A group of four people enters the restaurant. Two guests order the daily special which consists of a soup and a main course, the other two order different main courses.

After a few minutes, the waiter brings one of the main courses. The guest immediately starts eating once the plate hits the table and is already half finished when his friend’s meal arrives. Number two also starts guzzling his food, after all he is hungry from watching his buddy. When the waiter finally brings the two daily specials, number one is already finished and number two is almost done. For them it’s now time to order dessert. Since the special consists of soup and a main course, quite often both courses arrive at the same time. (In Europe, this would be totally unacceptable). So now the real guzzling begins, after all nobody likes to eat cold food. Each time the waiter comes close to the table, he quickly removes any unused utensils. If the two late eaters wish to join in the dessert orgy, they will probably wolf down all three courses in less than 30 minutes. Before they lick the last crumbs off their lips, the vulture-like waiter hastily grabs their dinnerware and presents them with the bill. After all, this is the proof that he is efficient and doing his job well and it will increase his chances of a fat tip. Within less than an hour our four friends are happily heading for home. Their tummy is full; mission accomplished.

In North America, the scenario described above is absolutely normal. In Europe however, the patrons would feel totally intimidated, the chef would be fired due to lacking time-management skills and the waiter would be considered rude and unprofessional. This restaurant would go out of business in no time.

So that you can better understand what I am getting at, I will now tell you what would happen on the other side of the Atlantic:

This is what a European table looks like. The cutlery across the plate means the meal is now finished and the waiter can remove everything.
This is what a European table looks like. The cutlery across the plate means the meal is now finished and the waiter can remove everything.


A group of four people enters the restaurant. Two guests order the daily special which consists of a soup and a main course, the other two order different main courses.

To pass the time they order an aperitif, after all this is a social gathering and not a feeding frenzy. After 20 minutes or so the waiter brings the two soups belonging to the daily special. The other two patrons who haven’t ordered a starter don’t get anything yet and patiently watch their friends eat while they are having another aperitif. Nobody is rushing. After approx. 20 – 30 minutes the waiter brings all four main courses - TOGETHER! Now the whole group is eating and once again, nobody is rushing. When they have finished eating, they put their cutlery on their plate. This is the official sign that the waiter can come and remove the dinnerware. Please take note that it is the height of rudeness to remove anything from the table until the last person has finished eating! (Now, maybe you get the hint why the unsuspecting European tourist will feel threatened by a North American waiter who stalks his dinnerware like a vulture).

While digesting the food, our four friends tackle the rest of the wine while discussing the topics of the day. This might lead to ordering another bottle of wine, after all the night is still young. Dessert is never mixed with wine, unless it’s a sweet dessert wine. So the waiter will patiently wait until the drinking is finished and the patrons are ready to order the last course, accompanied by coffee. He may “discretely” walk past a few times but not push the clients into ordering. Once again the dinnerware is only removed when the last crumb has disappeared. The patrons will usually call the waiter over when they want the bill. It is rude to bring the bill without asking the customer if he is ready. (So if a European gets his bill in an American restaurant while he is still eating, he thinks that the restaurant wants to kick him out). Our four friends leave the restaurant after several hours of socializing and enjoying food, wine and good company. The restaurant visit probably cost a fortune but who cares, after all this was the evening’s entertainment. Money well spent, nobody is rushing home.

Now while the European patrons are totally happy, the average American tourist will probably leave the restaurant complaining that he was starved to death, that the service was absolutely lousy and the chef is a slack rat who can’t multitask. A restaurant like this would probably go bankrupt in no time at home.

Maybe now you will understand why slow food was invented in Europe and fast food in North America.

In Europe a restaurant is the place to sit, enjoy and socialize
In Europe a restaurant is the place to sit, enjoy and socialize

International restaurant culture decoded

Of course North American restaurants also have their perks. One of them is, that your water glass will always be filled up automatically and at no cost, saving you a lot of money. In Europe water is sold by the bottle and quite often costs more than a beer. Of course you can try your luck at ordering tap water but you will probably get dirty looks from the waiter and get charged anyway, that is unless you pretend to be an American tourist. Also in Europe, a cup of coffee easily costs between 4 - 5 bucks and there is no such thing as a free refill. In North America, only the mafia would dare to charge you for eating utensils. In places like Italy, you quite often have to pay a cover charge of approx. 3 - 4 Euros. Strange enough this is for your tablecloth, napkin and dinnerware, but also includes some stale bread sticks. In any case, this extra cost should always be listed in the menu. In most European countries the price you see on the menu is the price that you actually pay. Sales tax is generally included, unless it is specifically mentioned. Also in many countries tipping is not necessary, as the service charge is already included in the price. If in doubt, inquire locally.

You will find hundreds of good restaurants in Quebec.
You will find hundreds of good restaurants in Quebec.

Quebec, the best of both worlds

If you want to experience gourmet slow-food culture without having to fly to Europe, simply go to the Canadian Province of Quebec where they still cook food from scratch. The main gourmet capitals are Montreal and Quebec City. For the truly European experience, go to Quebec City's Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only city in North America outside Mexico with its original city walls. Order a “table d’hôte” (3 to 4 course meal) along with a good bottle of wine and relax. Since French is the official language of Quebec you will even forget that you are not in France. And as this place is in North America you will even get plenty of iced water and bottomless coffee. If you are worried that all this food will make you fat, relax and look around you. The obesity rate in Quebec is low compared to the rest of North America. Why, because people eat their food, they don’t guzzle it, and it’s cooked, not fried. Now, isn’t this a perfect world. I bet even Anthony Bourdain would agree. BON APPETIT!

The beautiful old town of Quebec City
The beautiful old town of Quebec City


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I grew up with an Italian father who always kept us at the dinner table for at least an hour while he enjoyed his dinner. My American mother humored him, but usually let my older brother leave the table early (after sucking down his food in 10 minutes). To this day, if I'm out with friends at a restaurant, I'm usually the last person to finish up. Often I end up sucking down the end of my meal because my companions are getting grumpy and fidgity as I graze on my dinner while they're ready to leave. Most wait staff are incredibly rude, and don't have a clue about the signal of silverware on the plate... if they haven't already swiped my food without asking first. (How many times have I had to grab for my exiting plate of food?!) But they do stop hovering after I've shooed them away for an hour or more. Then good luck finding them again to get a coffee, dessert or bill. It's even harder to find friends who will dine with me this way.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Hi! I enjoyed reading your article. It is very funny for me since I have not been to North America. I love the way how the dinner is serve here in Europe as going out for dinner with friends is a kind of socializing and enjoying the meal that is serve. Thanks for sharing. Voted Up.

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      James, you'll get a raincheck. Keep me up-to-date about your travel plans.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      It looks like I will not be able to make it up there this year. But I very much appreciate the offer. Spaghetti and wine are two of my favorites: simple but good.

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      James, I am truly flattered about your compliments. To me you are a hub guru. One downside of the european habit to make dinner a social event is, that it takes people months to find a suitable date, especially when it's a dinner invitation at somebody's home. The preparations take hours if not days. I sometimes miss the good old days where people would spontaneously pop in and just cook spaghetti and enjoy a good glass of wine. By the way, have you visited Nova Scotia yet? I could offer you some spaghetti with our home-made wine (not the best but it's drinkeable).

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this fascinating and humorous Hub. I enjoyed it thoroughly. You are spot on target. I prefer the European style of making dinner a social event rather than just a brief respite to wolf down food.

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Cardisa, I totally agree with you re. intimidating shop assistants. But I guess that's a sign of good service, like intimidating waiters. Their bosses probably make them do this.

      Simone, I'm absolutely thrilled about winning a prize in your contest. What a great surprise.

      Wesman, don't get me wrong. The average European doesn't eat like this for lunch. Usually they only have a one hour lunch break (except for southern Europe where it gets very hot and they take a looooooooooong siesta). Unfortunately, most of these countries are on the verge of bankruptcy due to their relaxed behaviour. I guess the best thing is to find a happy medium and to try to eat when you have time without rushing and distractions like TV etc. In this material world we live in people always multi task and rush around, so why not sit down and enjoy some good food.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      7 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      This is a wonderful hub! I've never been to Europe, but by golly, I sure intend to go!

      I think America has had too much focus on work and materialism, and not enough on enjoying what should be enjoyed in life.

      Hats off to Europeans, and their appreciation of a good meal! To hell with that half hour or one hour lunch break - it's not enough time to eat well.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the very interesting discussion, novascotiamiss.

      And I want to send you a (slightly belated) congratulations! This Hub won the Day 10 Daily Drawing prize in the HubPages Share and Share a Like contest! Well done!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      7 years ago from Jamaica

      This is very interesting. My Aunt whom I grew up with, lived in England for over thirty years. She handed down some of her social skills to me. Not only for a restaurant but entering a store. I find it intimidating that you are not allowed time to look around before someone pounces on you, as soon as you enter.

    • novascotiamiss profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      Thanks for your comments. I hate being rushed, especially in a restaurant, after all you pay a lot of money for it. Unfortunately I notice all the time that people don't realize at all what they are eating, they might as well eat cardboard. I mean, they don't even chew - and gulp - it's gone. May be this culture stems from watching TV while eating? In my eyes, food should be eaten at the dinner table and enjoyed (see, smell, taste). Also, it's a proven fact that people who chew their food are slimmer. It helps your digestive system. David, I'm aware of the slow food movement but unfortunately the nearest chapter is too far away. However, I love watching cooking programs and browsing through recipes as well as growing my own veggies and berries. In winter my husband and I have a "Chef's evening" once a week and we both enjoy it. At last he is no longer moaning about all the dirty pots and dishes in the kitchen. Good food requires some time but it's absolutely worth it.

    • Kingsthorpedavid profile image


      7 years ago from Toowoomba Queensland Australia

      There is a multi-national organisation called "Slow Food".

      They encourage back to basics SLOW cooking.

      Google it!

      I am a SLOW eater and hate FAST eaters!

      David - Queensland Australia.

    • Philpott Online profile image

      Philpott Online 

      7 years ago

      I wish that I lived in Europe. I hate being rushed when I eat and enjoy taking my time. Even at home my husband "Guzzles" his food and I feel like I need to eat faster. Tonight I am going to tell him to pretend like he is in Europe and slow down.


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