Sometimes I Don’t Eat. Is that Rude?

out to dinner recently - an evening when I DID order a meal!

On Sunday, Kyle and I were invited to go out to dinner with about a dozen other people to celebrate a friend’s birthday on Monday.  Kyle had a volleyball game scheduled near the start of the dinner so we RSVP’d that we would be coming late.  Kyle stayed at school to be there for the game and I went home to have dinner.  Because of a torrential rainstorm, his game was canceled, so we were able to make it to the dinner more or less on time.  Kyle ordered an entree and a soda, but because I had already eaten dinner, I didn’t order anything.


I actually do this pretty often – go to a restaurant with friends and don’t order anything.  It started last year when I was very strictly following a diet plan.  If a restaurant did not offer nutrition information and provide a diet-compatible dish, I wouldn’t eat anything there.  (I would not choose a restaurant that failed to provide that information, but we mostly go out when invited by friends so I don’t usually choose restaurants.)  Since I don’t drink anything other than water, I often do not spend any money whatsoever.  I also found that this strategy saves us a lot in our eating-out budget category so that has been a reason to continue doing this occasionally even when I’m not being as strict with my eating.  I used to find sitting in a restaurant with other people without any food or drink in front of me awkward, but I don’t any longer.


The only time this has caused me any trouble was when we went to a boba joint once when we were out of town with a large group of people we had just met.  It turned out that the shop had a one-drink-per-seated-person minimum.  Like I said earlier I never order beverages, so I explained to the server that I would not order anything but I would pay for my presence with an equivalent amount of money if necessary ($3 or $4).  I was having some problems communicating this and she seemed very perplexed.  Thankfully one of the other people in the group said he would order a second drink to go for his girlfriend and that seemed to resolve the situation.


I want to make clear that I do eat in restaurants sometimes – either full meals at a mealtime or an appetizer at off-hours – but I’m not going to break my no-beverages lifestyle or order something I don’t want or that I believe is unhealthy just to make someone else more comfortable.  And I don’t do this when I’m out alone with Kyle, only in large groups of people.  And if the waiter gives me water and refills it and I’m not with Kyle I leave a small tip (usually I just refuse any service, so this has only come up once).


I’d love to hear what you think of this behavior, especially if you work or have worked in a restaurant.  I’ve never seen someone else do this on a consistent basis so it’s definitely possible that I’m committing a huge faux pas or something.  If I’m not I’m going to keep doing it because I am retaining the wonderful social interaction I get with my friends without taking any hits to my waistline or wallet.


Do you think that entering a restaurant means that you must order something – am I ripping the restaurant or waiter off just by taking up a seat?  Do you ever go out without buying anything or have you seen your friends do it?  Do you reject any social norms on a regular basis?


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54 Responses to "Sometimes I Don’t Eat. Is that Rude?"

  1. Jason @ WSL says:

    I definitely feel a server would get slightly annoyed because they see a 2-top (or however many people) and automatically assume a certain amount of tip before they even serve you. However, when they find out that only one person is eating then they realize they just lose half of their expectations.

    I don’t think it’s a big deal though. My wife and I do it: she’ll have already eaten and just go to a restaurant with me to sit down and chat.
    Jason @ WSL recently posted..Recipe: Tacos With If You Can Cook, You Can Read Taco Seasoning

    1. Emily says:

      That seems odd to me. Why would you go out with just your wife if only one of you is eating? Why wouldn’t you just eat at home with or after her?

  2. Daisy says:

    Yeah, I agree with Jason in that it’s pretty annoying to the server and the restaurant in general, but I don’t see a problem with it.

    If I was out for dinner with less than say 3 people, and one person wasn’t eating I would be a little weirded out though.
    Daisy recently posted..Save Money on Alcohol This Summer

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, I think it is more strange with smaller groups. I think the fewest people I’ve ever done it in was five.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with what you did. Most of the other people were eating, so there shouldn’t be an issue if one person isn’t. If someone has an issue with it, that person is too touchy. W

    Why eat when you’re already full, and if the bulk of the group is spending good money at the place as it is. Seems like nobody gets impacted negatively in this case.
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted..Avoiding Gold Diggers Who Marry Primarily For Money

    1. Emily says:

      No one in my party has ever said anything to me but I wonder if I was making them silently uncomfortable. Thanks for the support!

  4. Michelle says:

    I’ve done this before, but not often. If I’ve already ate then why buy food?
    Michelle recently posted..Could you live on minimum wage?

  5. Jessica says:

    I do this every once in awhile, though usually I try to at least order a beverage. I’ve never been a server so I’m interested in their point of view too.
    Jessica recently posted..Saving Money with a Scooter

  6. I do this more than I’d like. Sometimes I just don’t want the $7 side salad, and sometimes, that’s the ONLY thing on the menu I can eat. Last time this happened, I was in a huge group, and my friend walked with me to Whole Foods where I ate dinner, and when we got back to the pizza place, no one even noticed we were gone. It helped that there were 15+ people and they were drinking. Every time I go out with my boyfriend, we split a meal, and the servers seem not to mind.

    Though, if a friend asked me to meet up at a pizza place, I would suggest she come to my house for dinner instead.
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    1. Emily says:

      Hmm good point that splitting a meal with someone is basically the same as one person eating and one not. I definitely think the former isn’t awkward or cheating anyone, so I shouldn’t think it of the latter.

      We do prefer to invite people over than to go out if it’s just another couple or two, but these outings are almost never by our instigation.

  7. I know some people that do it, and i’ve done it a few times myself, but I have pretty much stopped. I dont see a problem with it, but usually if i’m not going to eat there, I dont really see the point in going – I’d just prefer to invite friends over in that situation.
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    1. Emily says:

      When I’m the hostess that is what I prefer, but I’m not the hostess in these cases! So I do choose to join them out.

  8. Richard says:

    I think it is largely situational, based mostly on what you already mentioned. If you’re in a large group, nobody will care. If you’re sitting at the bar taking up a stool on a busy night, servers will get mad. If anybody in your party is ordering alcohol, the restaurant is already making money, so don’t worry.

    Tipping for water reminds me of this old study:
    Effects of a Favor and Liking on Compliance, DENNIS T. REGAN

  9. Michelle says:

    I do that ALL the time, so I don’t think it’s rude! First, I have dietary restrictions. Second, I have debt and think it’s irresponsible to spend money at a restaurant when you can’t pay your bills. Third, I do what I want! Why would anyone care that you’re not eating? Who cares? I sometimes order water, but contribute to the tip because the waiter *is* still refilling my drink, but I don’t think anyone has ever commented.
    Michelle recently posted..What Would You Pay For A Good Night’s Sleep?

    1. Emily says:

      I think that’s what it comes down to – “I do what I want!”

  10. Rude? I’m not sure. Akward? Very? I hate eating in front of somebody who isn’t. I feel like a pig and am constantly offering my food to those around me if they aren’t eating at the same time. Would it be possible to order a house/garden salad? Those are usually pretty cheap compared to other menu items and low calorie (if you chose the right dressing or go without)
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    1. Emily says:

      I’m sorry that behavior makes you so uncomfortable! I haven’t had any of my companions offer me their food so I hope they don’t have the same reaction. Unfortunately a house salad usually doesn’t meet my dietary guidelines. I eat low-sugar/low-carb, not low-calorie, and there is actually a lot of sugar in iceburg lettuce and tomato and other typical components, so I don’t usually eat salads unless there is a lot of fiber, protein, and fat, which makes them more expensive. Basically all the low-cost items on a typical restaurant menu are cheap carbs, unfortunately!

      1. According to the nutrition source I use, iceburg lettuce only has 1g of sugar per 1c serving. ( That seems pretty low carb to me.

        I worked up some numbers on a typical house salad and this is what I got. (First number is sugar, second number is total carbs)

        1c iceburg lettuce – 1g, 2g
        1/2 c. diced tomato – 2.5g, 3.5g
        1/4 c. sliced cucumber – .5g, 1g
        1/4 c. shredded carrot – 1g, 3g
        1/4 c. sliced red onion -3g, 6g (I ask for on side because I don’t like them but my wife does)
        shredded cheese – 0 (an entire cup has 1g, but a salad has at best 1oz, so .125g)
        1/4 c. croutons – 2g, 6g (same as onions)

        Totals 10g sugar, 21.5g carbs
        Total without onion or croutons – 5g sugar, 9.5g carbs.

        Hope this helps

        1. Emily says:

          The diet I was on limits me to 5 g of sugar in any given meal and 15 g of sugar total per day. So when I was closely following it (and even now) I am VERY stingy with foods that have any sugar – they have to have a lot of benefits to be worth taking up so much of my sugar allotment. I do eat small amounts of berries and tomatoes because I think the antioxidants and fiber make up for the sugar. Iceburg lettuce, though, (any many other mostly-water vegetables) doesn’t make the cut – I prefer spinach.

          1. Wow. That’s a pretty strict diet. Personally, I don’t buy the benefits of ultra-low carb diets. Our brains need glucose!
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          2. Emily says:

            The diet I mentioned is actually moderate-carbohydrate – the cap is 120 g/day. It’s just the sugar that is super strict. Anyway I don’t want to get into it because this isn’t a food/diet blog but I assure you my brain has been running fine. 🙂

  11. I had an ex who would do that ALL THE TIME. It used to bother me, but I stopped caring. If you don’t want to eat, then don’t eat.
    I might be a bit annoying for the server, but if there are enough people who are ordering at a table, they get over it.
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  12. I totally see your point and understand your reasoning Emily however you clearly recognise that you are taking up a seat in a restaurant that could otherwise be taken by a paying customer. Whilst I recognise that most restaurants aren’t full it is a symbolic gesture that if you are in a restaurant surely you should pay for something? If the restaurant suddenly became full would you get up and go to make room for a paying customer? Of course not. That would be ridiculous but I think to save face and for the sake of the profit-maximizing restaurant you should always order something even if it’s sparkling water.
    I want to reassert that I totally understand your reasoning and don’t blame you for doing it but don’t your friends feel a little awkward chomping away as you sip at your water? If you’re not going to eat in the restaurant why not do something that wouldn’t involve eating?
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    1. Emily says:

      I guess it doesn’t bother me that much about taking up the seat because I’m out with groups so the size of the table probably wouldn’t change without my presence. Unfortunately (for the restaurant) I don’t drink sparkling water either – I can’t stand carbonation! I literally only drink water. I take your point though – if I was just being cheap I wouldn’t be able to stand up against the social norm, but combined with my rather picky food choices I feel OK about it. I honestly would be more inclined to buy food if more restaurants provided nutritional information so I have been “voting with my dollar” by preferring those that do.

      I’m not sure if my friends feel awkward – that’s sort of why I asked here! No one has ever said anything about it. Is it much different from being at a party where snacks are served, where I also sometimes don’t partake? And believe me, there are activities I’d rather be doing with my friends than not-eating in a restaurant, but the occasions to which I am referring are all by the invitation of our friends.

  13. SWR says:

    I’m curious- have you ever been the person that made gratuity included, and did the restaurant include it? Do you throw a few dollars down to add to the tip?

    I’ve ordered just an appetizer when I was out with L and he wanted a full meal, and I think I’ve ordered just a drink once or twice in large groups…but I would never order nothing. Personal preference. However, I don’t have any food sensitivities. My nephew has TONS of food allergies, and his mother will often bring him his own food to eat in a restaurant. His parents always leave a few dollars for the time his butt spent in the restaurant chair, even if he wasn’t served anything.
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    1. Emily says:

      I can’t recall a time when I was the tipping-person on the added gratuity, but I might not have been aware if it did happen. I guess I never thought about it because I always tip about 20% so the added 18% wouldn’t cost me any more than usual. That’s an interesting point though – I wonder if the server counts bodies or people served.

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  16. I’m a server…drum roll please!

    This actually happens from time to time and I really couldn’t care less. I don’t look at a table and guesstimate a tip and if some people aren’t eating, it never really crosses my mind that the total bill is lower. To each their own. I try to be frugal so I would probably do the same if I wasn’t hungry! Plus you do it in a group which makes it even less of an issue. Once I had lunch with my cousin and she didn’t eat anything because she had just eaten at work. I found it incredibly awkward!
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for weighing in! I’m glad this practice doesn’t bother you. And I hope every other server shares your opinion. 🙂

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  21. Peter says:

    Every once in a while is fine. But all of the time? That gets kind of annoying. I have a friend that does this a lot and it’s pissing me off. It’s hard to keep a strict diet when you go out with friends, I get that. Even as a health freak, I understand that if you want to go out then you’re just going to have to suck it up. If you don’t want to spend any money, then stay home.

    1. Emily says:

      I generally only do this when the restaurant we visit doesn’t have any acceptable menu options for my eating plan (and I always check out the menu in advance). I’m not sure what you mean by “suck it up.” You mean suck it up and spend money you don’t to spend on food you don’t want to eat? That doesn’t add up for me! If you friend does this habitually, maybe you should hang out more outside of restaurant contexts.

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  25. Yuchvarin Xang says:

    Uugggh….I personally do NOT like going to restaurants just to sit without food or drink. I find it awkward and rather trolling to have people munching on delicious shit while I just sit there and stare. Probably cuz I’m not on any strict diet. The only time I’d ever do that is if I’m literally out of money and in a sense “forced to go” and my friend decides last minute “hey let’s go to this restaurant!” though I just look for other options and ways to blow off my time than just sit there and watch people munch on food. Often times, I’ll come home pissed off if and when im ever forced to sit through all that. Obviously it’s just my personal preference, not saying it’s right or wrong. I get this article too, my cousin went on a strict diet too and in that process, he always either ordered a water, salad with no dressing that he never finished (probably cuz I’m sure he so enjoyed the taste) or just nothing at all. He even faced hell in the Philippines, a country where people around you non-stop are eating good unhealthy stuff.

    1. Emily says:

      Wow, it definitely seems like you would be better off skipping those meals out if you’re not going to order since it puts you in a bad mood! (But good for you for sticking to your budget!) Maybe you can suggest more social gatherings that don’t occur at restaurants?

  26. Matthew Kenwrick says:

    As a restaurant owner with limited number of seats (under 24) if it’s a busy night then yes it is rude to take a seat and not order anything. A quiet week night then not a drama or if you and your friend are a regular than no sweat. The restaurant business is exceptionally difficult and that seat your sitting on is for paying customers. You can’t go to a cinema or sit on a bus to keep give your friend some company for free. If you shared the meal and moved on pretty quickly though then I would certainly have no issue. Just some perspective from the other side of the table.

  27. Anon says:

    The last time I attempted to sit in a restaurant with a group and just order a drink they caused havoc thinking I didn’t like the menu, which upset the chef who consequently came from the kitchen to ask what he could make for me, ignoring the menu. In the end I was presented with 5 plates of food because everybody had different suggestions for me. One guest even thought I must be having money problems and took me aside later to offer me everything from money to a bed to sleep in.

    Made me realise – people (staff and guests) aren’t so much being fusty for preferring those they dine with to dine too, but polite, courteous and proper. Hence, I try to show respect in turn now and at the least I order a side dish wherever I go that I can ‘pick at’ whilst others eat when I am not hungry.

    I figure if the company I am with arne’t worth the expense of a plate and the place isn’t worth at least trying there food, I’ve no reason to go along. So, I order something light as a show of respect and thanks for both the company of those I am with and to for somewhere comfortable and pleasant to be whilst e socialise or work.

  28. Erica says:

    My friend does it all the time, it is really annoying. We go to the bar and she orders nothing, she asks for a glass of water and she does not tip. To be honest I am not craving to drink alcohol either, but I would still order a Perrier, a bottled water, juice at least something. One time I decided to order nothing as well so we were just walking from one side of the bar to another and then I told her that I want to leave. People don’t tell her directly but everyone notices and makes fun of it.

  29. Ben says:

    I am ok with this when I may want to go someplace to eat and Asia friend if they want to come along for company I’ll be flexible with them not eating as well. Where this does bother me sometimes is when someone has been invited in a relatively small group to come to dinner and they have always and I mean always said they have already eaten before hand. It really does feel rude in these pre planned situations especially when it happens all too often from an individual vs it just being some spontaneous where I ask someone to join me.

    1. deb says:

      Maybe the person really does not have the money to eat out or another reason they don’t want to share and it is easier just to say they ate. Or maybe the person is rude. But I would think there is a reason behind it.

  30. deb says:

    I dread being asked to go out to a resturaunt with a group of friends or anywhere that involves socializing with food because I have so many food allergies and other diet restrictions. I don’t know if my friends feel uncomfortable but I sure do! It is embarrassing for me I think. Especially if I do bring food- and I have to if its for the day. I wish I could be normal and eat what everyone else does. Why is it pretty much every social event revolves around food? And I get tired of explaining every time I go out.

  31. Just happened today: 4 of us met at a standalone cafe in a mall mid-afternoon. We sat at a table under an umbrella with the eatery’s name. Therefore, not a free open food court type of rest area. The 4th person said “I just had a large lunch & I am meeting my spouse for a restaurant dinner in 2 hours time.” The rest of us ordered coffee, tea and 2 pastries. Even if there were dietary restrictions, it would be decent to order water, tea or coffee. At the last get together a few months ago, this person brought their own bottled water. This person prides themselves as being a “foodie” who travels the world. I agree with previous comment Ben. It felt rude & cheap in a pre-planned coffee (not happy hour, lunch or dinner) get together a second time.

  32. Keoni says:

    Why do some people think that restaurants are extensions of their homes? They are businesses located in spaces that the proprietors pay rent (often extravagant rent) on. When you sit at the bar or at a table, the restaurant expects, and rightly so, you to order and pay for something that you order. I think it’s rude to occupy the space and not order anything – regardless of the circumstances.

    As for tipping – I don’t agree with tipping at all except in the case of exceptional service. However, if a non-ordering person is with a large party, the server does have to periodically check on the table, ask all people (including the non-ordering person) in the party if they need anything, bus the table, fulfill requests and generally work around the non-paying customer. Handle tipping the way that you personally feel is appropriate but keep the server’s tasks with large parties in mind.

  33. Becky says:

    I own a restaurant. First, at the bare minimum you should order a drink and not just water. We had a group of 22 people come in last week and 18 ordered just water and no food. The other four had soft drinks and appetizers. They stayed in my restaurant for over two hours because they were having a meeting. In the meantime, one of my servers had to go to the table several times to keep giving free water and free lemon slices and of course the cost of this was “on the house” — free ice, water, straws and lemons. Once they were gone then I had to pay a buser to clean up their table and we had to load the dishwasher with their glasses which of course was an additional cost that I absorbed. That whole experience was not one bit fair to my server or me. My server only received six dollars in tips for two hours of work. Also, please be aware if you come into a restaurant and and just drink water then you are being talked about. I have listened to many conversations amongst my staff when customers do this. The customers are truly viewed as cheap, inconsiderate and apparently raised with poor manners. I have spoken with a few other restaurants in my area and we are all thinking of only offering bottled water which of course will be at the customer’s expense. This will more than likely take place because we are all tired of being taken advantage of. If the customers don’t like it then they can go home and drink their own water and they can also wash their own glasses. What do you bet though that they don’t have a lemon in THEIR house but they most certainly want mine for free.

  34. kelly says:

    i think it’s not ok to just sit there and not eat anything, while everyone else is. either people are just CHEAP or it happens once in a blue moon, just DON’T go at all. It’s better you meet with your friends for some drinks if you had dinner at home already. If you even question yourself on this, you know it’s not really 100% ok to show up at a restaurant and not eat.

  35. D says:

    I hate when my friend does this

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