Polite Way to Ask Someone to Stay Seated When Not Needed
August 15, 2016 5:44 PM   Subscribe

You're cooking dinner for someone, in your tiny kitchen. You're a pretty good cook, and they're not, so you are occasionally asking them to do simple tasks ("Can you put this in the fridge for me?") but you're doing most of the work. What is the nicest, quickest, least irritable way to say "Can you please sit down, because when you hover by the sink or the oven you're in my way?"

This always comes up when I'm like, steaming my face off with hot pasta water and I should have used a potholder and I need to flip something and check on the oven, so it comes out incredibly bitchy EVERY SINGLE TIME. Should I explain "Kitchen Rules" casually in the beginning of the hangout? Should I frame it as "my little quirk?" Do I need to cop an apologetic tone?

Please explain how Ina Garten would handle this, because literally every time I end up snapping "Can you....ugh, can you just sit down?" at someone with wide eyes who just cut up a tomato for me and was washing their hands.
posted by Juliet Banana to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Don't ask them to do anything, even a simple thing. Just tell them to relax with a glass of wine, and carry on with your work.
posted by zutalors! at 5:48 PM on August 15, 2016 [58 favorites]

You could frame it in terms of their own safety: "Oh hey, why don't you sit down and that way I don't have to worry about whether I'm going to hit you with a knife or a pot of hot pasta?" Or just "It's such a tiny kitchen, why don't you have a seat."

Also - altogether avoid giving them tasks that require them to come into the kitchen, and only give them tasks that they can complete seated. It's pretty reasonable on their part to think that if someone asked you to complete a task in their kitchen, it's okay to linger there. I think you know that or you wouldn't be making this post (I mean that nicely, I have similar cooking frustrations).
posted by bunderful at 5:49 PM on August 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

Is there a spot for them to sit that's close enough for you to chat but not in your way? Then enthusiastically ask them, specifically, to just sit. "Oh good, someone to chat with me! There's no room for more than one person to actually work in here but I'm glad you came in to keep me company. Can you open this bottle of wine and pour us both a glass? How is the new job?"

If you just want them the hell out of your kitchen because there's no room for someone to be nearby, then just say "I can't wait to catch up with you, let me just finish up in here first and I'll be out, yeah unfortunately there's only room for one person or else it gets really crowded and kinda dangerous, I'll be out in a sec! Can you take this wine into the living room?"

Edit - if you don't want them IN the kitchen then don't give them any task beyond Sitting Over There. That's not fair.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:50 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Have some seating nearby that both permits socializing and is out of the way of your kitchen flow. Say 'Grab a drink and a seat!' or whatever similar. Beware giving mixed messages of 'Let's hang out' and 'stay out of the place that I'm currently in' - asking for assistance in the kitchen and then getting mad that someone is in the kitchen with you is definitely confounding, in a 'pass me the wrench, now get out of the garage' kind of way.
posted by FatherDagon at 5:51 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "I love company when I cook, but the space is so limited with all the hot and sharp things in here, can you sit there and entertain me while I do my funky thing? I might ask you to do some seated stuff like chop a carrot or pour us wine if you don't mind? You're an angel. Thank you!"
posted by taff at 5:52 PM on August 15, 2016 [19 favorites]

Seconding zutalors!'s suggestion.

I say to my friends, "here, sit and talk to me while I..." then I pour them a drink and give them a bowl of olives or whatever and basically i have set them a place to stay put. They are eating and drinking so they are occupied. People probably feel more inclined to try and help if they are sitting there doing nothing.
posted by stellathon at 5:53 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I mean, in the example you gave, I would say tomato chopping and hand washing is all part of the same action, so it's like you told them tl do something and then are telling them to stop doing the thing. I think you probably have to either let them help with minor tasks and accept a few awkward shuffles, or just have them sit and hang out while you do it all (this is, I think, what Ina would do in your situation).

When my husband and I cook in our small kitchen the prep person usually sits at the table to chop or peel, so you might have more luck bringing over the chopping board or whatever and asking them to do seated tasks.

In the moment, it might help to rephrase what you say in terms of what you are doing rather than them being in the way. Saying something like "Sorry, I just need to get to the sink" is preferable to "can you move," you know?
posted by cpatterson at 6:01 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you want their assistance, is there any way you can make the dining area a space where they can do a few things and then make sure a) all tasks can be completed entirely in the dining room and b) they will not need to wash hands afterwards?

So, for example, a display case of dishware and silverware in the dining room and you ask them to set two places.

Or a small prep area where you can ask them to do non messy tasks, like stir something, crack fresh nuts or peel chocolate kisses for a cookie recipe?

Otherwise, yeah, give them a drink, maybe let them refill your drink occasionally and just gush about how wonderful it is to have company while you work. If you cannot keep up running dialogue while you work, get good at asking questions to draw then out, then be a good listener and make sure to reply enough that they know it is real interaction happening, but let them do most of the talking.

You could also come up with some cute sign that somehow nicely talks about how it is a one person kitchen and the most helpful things guests can do is stay out of it.
posted by Michele in California at 6:11 PM on August 15, 2016

Nicest thing is to not ask them to do anything if you can't not snap at them. It's ok if your kitchen is just not built for teamwork. I used to know this lady who when I asked if I could help in the kitchen said she doesn't do kitchen helpers because in her kitchen she has a flow. I had never heard someone say that before but I was equally impressed and relieved. It was honestly really nice to just relax and be a guest.
posted by bleep at 6:11 PM on August 15, 2016 [15 favorites]

I tell people to have a seat and pull up a chair to a spot where they aren't in the way. I serve them a drink with the words, "I'm not really great at sharing this kitchen with a helper." It works with everyone except my spouse.
posted by advicepig at 6:14 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agree with zutalors. You're giving them mixed messages by giving them a task but expecting them to not be in the kitchen. Just park them with a snack, and explain 'I need my space, and it's tight in here, so. But talk to me, how was that movie you saw last week?'
posted by Dashy at 6:16 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh hello my Doppleganger. This used to happen to me so often in my tiny kitchen (aka My Territory). Agreed on the "hey you, take a load off and here's a glass of whatever" approach.
posted by pipoquinha at 6:20 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sit my guy in a part of the kitchen that is not my part of the kitchen and then I bring tasks to him. And then if he stands up and tries to help (because I can sometimes look like I am in distress in the kitchen even though I am fine) I say, in a friendly way "Hey no, I am good, thanks so much but it's more helpful if you stay right there because I'm used to careening around here without someone else here. Can I get you a drink/snack?" We've had this conversation enough that I mostly just say "Hey bud remember the STAY PUT thing? I love you. Thanks"
posted by jessamyn at 6:21 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

And for friends, I find it's useful to let them know that I am like this BEFORE I'm trying to heft a blazing hot cast iron pot towards the sink right when they've decided they'd help by doing somethingorother. Some people are actually, for whatever reason, spurred to move around by you moving around. So you pick up a pan and start walking and they're like "Oh hey I just remembered I have to use the bathroom" so it's always a good idea to just let them know "Hey it's a little tight in the kitchen so if you could stay put while I run around that would be helpful."
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yes, own it. I have a "guess culture" acquaintance who is always very wishy washy about what they actually want you to do, but I realized over time that they DEFINITELY want me seated, possibly in another room, out of the way, unless they specifically ask for something. I am pretty much absolutely fine with someone cooking for me while I veg out and watch HGTV, so I think taff's answer is perfect.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:02 PM on August 15, 2016

I usually just warn people that my politeness is the first thing to go when I'm busy and time constrained, but if they don't mind being yelled at they're welcome to help. Or they could just sit and keep me company. Most people take the hint. And I do often say to a seated guest, "if you're still willing to help, I need X" and they can do the specific thing and then sit right back down.

Also if I'm trying to land a bunch of dishes at once (say, Thanksgiving) I usually have an actual checklist with times on it, so the people who are okay with me maybe accidentally being short with them can also see what's about to happen next and, y'know, actually help with the thing and not be helplessly in the way because I am no longer using words ("I need the thing. No, the thing! The … the … colander!")
posted by fedward at 9:12 PM on August 15, 2016

"Hey, have a seat, you're making me nervous."
posted by the marble index at 9:47 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

My partner tells people we have a "one-butt kitchen." It gets the point across in a gentle, amusing way.
posted by thetortoise at 10:44 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeh, I would probably be hovering about after I was asked to do a task because i'd be waiting for 'the next thing you ask me to do'. I'd feel selfish if I sat back down. Like others have said, if you don't really need a hand in the first place, it's best to not ask. If you snapped, i'd feel devastated. Maybe you could try 'Thanks. I have everything under control now - you can just relax on the sofa. I'll let you know when dinner's ready'.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:13 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agree with everyone upthread to not have them "help" with anything, otherwise you send mixed messages. In my kitchen, the linoleum has a black line around the island, so when we have a big family gathering and everyone is hanging out in the kitchen and I need to get something done, I just shout "everyone behind the black line!" - which clears out my work triangle.
posted by sarajane at 5:14 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe your guest is nervous too, being in someone else's house and feeling pampered and useless, and trying to be constructive and helpful is how they cope. I've been known to hide in a kitchen chopping and stirring things when my first pass at socializing fell flat.
posted by jayCampbell at 10:17 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've also had people scold me later for not having helped, when I thought my helping was staying out of the way. So like, just tell people what you prefer.
posted by zutalors! at 10:56 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your kitchen is NYC-apartment tiny, put the guest seat outside the kitchen itself, in the hall. "Nobody can come in. Not even you, baby/old friend."

If you're having a dinner party, then it's "OK, folks, only Miriam can come in, since we already know each other."

To put this in perspective, my own mother will not let me interfere in the kitchen except for washing vegetables or something. I learned to cook literally by watching her, not by doing anything with her there. So feel free to just say no to helpers.
posted by 8603 at 8:53 PM on August 16, 2016

My guy looked lonely sitting in the kitchen so I gave him an apple to cut up and then everything fell apart and he tried to put the cutting board in the sink (usually a great idea!) when I was cooking some stuff on the stove and getting something out of the microwave at the same time and so I just said "AAAAA I JUST TOLD METAFILTER I KNOW HOW TO DO THIS. SIT DOWN." It takes time.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

My mother is the queen of finding the exact spot I need to be a half-minute before I need to be there. To counter this, I put a couch that's kind of hard to get out of in what's supposed to be the breakfast nook. I guide her there with a glass of wine, and she's pretty much stuck for the duration. Works a charm. You probably don't have room for a couch, but anything that's slightly out of the work space, comfortable and/or hard to get out of, and convenient for casual conversation works without you saying a word.
posted by Capri at 10:39 PM on August 17, 2016

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