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Dining Etiquette: To Pray or Not to Pray in a Restaurant

Several years ago I met a man for lunch at Stephan Pyles. It was the first time we’d met. We sat down and ordered. When the food arrived, he grabbed my hand and asked me to join him in prayer over our lunch. I bowed my head but kept my eyes open. Diners all around us were watching us as the very nice man prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

I admit I was extremely uncomfortable. Not because he was religious and blessed his every meal and minute on earth, but, and I don’t know how to put this gently, because I felt he was imposing his beliefs on me. Now don’t go all crazy on me, I am being honest. Looking back at it, I realize it wasn’t that big of a deal. However, I would like to hear what you think about this situation. Should he have asked me if I would have liked to join in prayer or was it “fair” that he grabbed my hand and assumed it was okay?

45 comments on “Dining Etiquette: To Pray or Not to Pray in a Restaurant

  1. Praying over your own food is fine. Asking someone else to join you (touching or nontouching) requires approval.

  2. My husband and I experienced something similar to this when dining with another couple once. When the food arrived, my husband and I grabbed our silverware and our dining companions held hands and said grace out loud over their food. No one grabbed our hands, thankfully, but it did temporarily stop the beginning of our meal. No discussion was held ahead of time mentioning something about how they were going to take a few moments for prayer…it just happened. I’ve been out with grace-saying folks other times and they just skipped it for that particular meal, knowing that I don’t participate.

    I guess my question would be…would it have been rude for us to start our meal while they prayed? I have to assume the overwhelming response would be yes…but how would that have been any different from what they were doing to us? I guess social graces dictate that he who isn’t saying grace before a meal is an obnoxious heathen and therefore deserves to be denied the start of a good meal. LOL. I’m kidding of course.

    We just solved this problem by not dining with the couple again. No big deal, as all they did was talk about their kids all night anyway.

  3. Isn’t the whole idea behind evangelist religion to impose your beliefs on other people in varying degrees (although if you ask a member, he/she’s doing this for your benefit/salvation/to show you the light, the way, etc)…so on one hand, it would be surprising if he didn’t grab your hand and assume you’d appreciate his prayer. I agree, this isn’t polite decorum (grabbing people’s hands, making guests, other people uncomfortable) but such is the dilemma of a modern day evangelist Christian. Fear of God/fear for you won out and I’m sure most similarly-minded people would applaud.

  4. @ Stacy: when they are done, just tell them that you want to tell them a short story first, before anyone touches their plate. Eye for an eye, after-all.

  5. We live in the Bible belt. You just have to get used to people seemingly imposing their beliefs. Particularly if dining amongst older generations. They just don’t know any better and are not going to change their ways. I think praying, or appearing to pray is respectful. But the whole holding hands thing is an intrusion. Personally, I don’t hold hands when I go to church and I don’t hold hands at the dinner table.

  6. They shouldn’t force you to pray. Overstepping the friendship/ dinner buddy boundaries.

    I pray at every meal. I don’t tend to worry if anyone joins or likes it. It is a personal thing. Whatever someone else is doing at the time I am saying my silent pray is up to them.

  7. As far as I’m concerned, It’s an unwelcome imposition. Especially if other diners at the table are not religious or possibly, Jewish.
    I’ve personally experienced the same thing and found it to be quite awkward. Although I joined in, I was uncomfortable to say the least.

  8. When we were young we lived next to a church and they would go door to door to spread the word. One time when my mom was very busy trying to corral all 3 of us kids for a late breakfast a couple of the aforementioned church people came to the door and were very insistant on spreading the word. My mom very nicely asked them in and let them go on about their religion,when they finished she started in about all the Eastern philosophies and her understanding of them. To which they both stood up and left our humble abode, never to return….Ah the 701’s how I miss them.

  9. How come everyone will say it’s uncomfortable and rude and small-minded when it’s a Christian prayer, but God forbid if we had a Muslim companion at the lunch table and he wanted to pull out his prayer rug we would all say, “Why please!”…and then congratulate ourselves on being so tolerant, open-minded, progressive, etc. This will eventually be our nation’s downfall, I’m afraid.

  10. Since this was the first time you met this person he should not have assumed you wanted a prayer before dining. You handled it well.

  11. @Miguel, speak for yourself. I would be totally irritated and probably rude. I do not think this action is proper unless kept within your own family who are used to it. To put a guest in this position is extremely awkward and uncalled for. I have had it happen and it is uncomfortable. Nancy, you did absolutely right, but have a long memory!

  12. I would put up with awkward prayer to dine at Stephen Pyles anytime. Olive Garden, hells no!

  13. I laugh to myself when I see those nut jobs out in public. My favorite are the middle aged men with their bible study groups! Such fun to observe in their hypocrisy.

  14. Being Jewish I can say that it does feel a bit awkward. I am a native Dallasite though, and thus have seen this occasionally all my life. I can however bow my head and respect my friends if nothing else.

  15. Scagnetti=brilliant.

    Miguel I don’t think Muslims use their rugs for meal prayers. But if anybody pulled out a rug or a bible or a funny looking candlestick (that’s a joke irodguy) I’d have been gone. Oh, and I paid for the meal!! Forgot that tidbit…

  16. @Twinwillow Here’s a newsflash–even Jewish people pray, ask Christ, he and Tim Tebow have not cornered the market—-and when Christians impose their religiousity on me I usually pause, cock my head in mock curiosity and then ask them “what does the “t” on their necklace or wall stand for? That usually obviates their presence from my midst in the future. Take Kurt Warners advice Christians “take it down a notch”, the New Testament scolds overly overt gestures of prayer that garner others attention in public

  17. Wow! So its ok to be openly gay but not openly religious now – no wonder this country is going down fast.

  18. @David, I would be equally as upset if an openly gay man put his penis in my hand as if he grabbed my hand to pray. Is that what you mean?

  19. usually (but not always) if i am out to eat with someone i want them to feel comfortable and happy, so when this happens to me (and it has a few times), i go along, whatever the denomination.

  20. I am a former Catholic turned Atheist. Oh the irony when my son announced in his freshman year of college that he wanted to transfer to a Christian school. He has chosen to be a Baptist minister. When he comes home from school and I serve him a meal he says grace. We respect his beliefs and bow our heads out of respect. My Austinite daughter gets pissed. But as I tell her being religious is not the worst thing on earth. Seminar all co-exist.

  21. As a right wing evangelical minister, I admit your friend was out of line, not by praying, but in his etiquette. He should have informed you that he was going to pray for his food. He should have not held your hand, and his prayer should not have went on and on. A simple, sincere, “Lord thank you for this time together, bless this food in your name, Amen” is sufficient. I would say he was more out to prove a point than he was trying to get the Lord to bless his food.

  22. Shut your pie-hole and keep the praying at home! These pious donks that want to pray everywhere – they are the worst.

  23. I have never liked prayer in the restaurant. I spent a decade paying my bills behind the bar and as a server, so I’ve seen it quite a bit. I think it is an overly ostentatious display of religious-ness, but it doesn’t always come along with God-fearing action. I’m a Christian, and every time I’m in a restaurant as a patron, I thank God for my blessings (to myself) and I am mindful of those who struggle to put food on their family table while I sit there eating sea bass.

    I’m sad to say I found that prayer at the table usually translated into an attitude of entitled superiority when it came to the interaction between diner and staff. The best prayer you could offer in a restaurant is simply to treat staff with dignity and grace, tip well, be kind to the people who clean your table and refill your water glass and don’t be a whiny a-hole. How would Christ treat a back waiter, server assistant, or bartender? The least of His brothers are right there in front of you, so proceed accordingly. Save the hand holding and grace-saying for home, and don’t make your dining companions and fellow patrons uncomfortable.

  24. It’s not a big deal to pray in public, but it is very rude if him ti just force you into his religious practice like that. To each his own, and that means we should all respect each other’s choices whether that means praying in public or keeping it in the home. People make choices based on what they feel is best for their lives. I wonder how he would have felt had I been his lunch guest and immediately after his prayer I didn’t release his had, but began calling the corners and thanking my pagan gods for the meal before he could beg refusal. If the man had manners and respect, he would instead of grabbing your hand have said “excuse me a moment while I pray, would you like to join me?”

  25. What nobody has so far mentioned is that praying in public violates Jesus’s own injunction against… praying in public. Therefore, it is not only rude to impose such a Pharisaical public display on others, but for a Christian it is sacrilegious.

  26. OMG, I’m actually going to agree with Wick (maybe he’ll stop moderating my comments now?) the Big Guy pretty much says don’t do it:

    Matthew 6:5-6 Jesus teaching:

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. ”

    To many people don’t actually follow Christ’s teachings: love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, help the poor, widows, sick, orphans, etc. Much easier to engage in public displays of piety.

    FYI, me agreeing with Wick is one of the signs of the End Times. Is that one of the Horsemen I spy?

  27. A few years ago we took a priest out to a restaurant, socially, and he said grace before the meal.

  28. Hello Nancy,

    What a strange entry this is.
    Your position with D Magazine is to review restaurants food and service,
    not the moral beliefs and behavior from those you choose to have lunch with.

    Thanks,

    Lea Mallison

  29. Well, in an ideal world, each diner would act in a way that would their company feel comfortable. Your friend did not and may well have been negligent in doing so. But truthfully, I have had company that wrongly assumed various political, social and sexual opinions about me–one of my favorite being a near stranger who said, “well, I know YOU’Re the kind to teach your second grader all about sex ed.”. Apparantly I radiate sex ed. Usually people don’t have bad intentions and frankly people on both sides screw up. Let it slide.

  30. The biggest problem I have is the germs transmitted from the hand holding.

    Next time it happens, end with a “praise Allah” and see what happens.

  31. I can see why Stephan Pyles might be confused with a SACRED Space in which to break out in joyous prayer and thanksgiving. I might have a prayer to add here “Thank you God for giving Stephen the delicate senses and knife skills in which to provide such a transformation of your good wheat…Ahem…I mean “Amen” :)

  32. Praying in public before meals in a brief way is fine. Not explaining, going on and on and grabbing hands – not so much. I don’t think we should be villefying expressions of religious belief; however, as Christians we should also not forget to practice good manners. @ Lizzy – that is a prayer that should be made when dining at Stephan Pyles!

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  34. I believe that the gentleman should have asked if you would like to join him in blessing the food and if you declined, he should have said his in silence and kept it brief.

    Sometimes as Christians we get caught up in making a godly impression to others and forget to be courteous and respectful while trying to obtain our goal. Christ never imposed himself or His beliefs on anyone. although, His presence and practices made people, and still to this day, make people uncomfortable but in a good way:-)

  35. After the prayer I would have left the table to wash my hands. What would have been the prayer’s response if you threw in a Ha-Motzi in Hebrew? Being Jewish I am uncomfortable with prayers referencing Jesus Christ. He could have just bowed his head, thought his prayer silently, and avoided a spectacle.