Etiquette, Food Allergies, and Being a Good Host

My parents now have Sirius XM radio in their car. Imagine my horror, when on a three hour trip home from a family wedding, my father discovered the Blue Collar Comedy Tour station. 

You said it, Hils.
(Courtesy of

So I did the thing any sensible young lady would do. I went to sleep. And when I woke up, I heard a joke about vegetarians. Because jokes about food are funny. And all vegetarians are militant and want only to convert you to their evil salad-consuming ways. Once you meet a vegetarian, you can never be truly happy again.

Somehow this passes for humor. I didn’t get it. But listening to the “joke” made me think, “What if you have a food allergy? What is the appropriate and polite way to convey your needs that would satisfy even the Jeff Foxworthy crowd?”

If You Have a Dietary Need

Maybe you have a severe allergy to peanuts. Maybe you are on a gluten-free diet. Maybe you’re a vegetarian. Whatever your food need is, it is your responsibility. If you don’t tell your host, you not only don’t get to complain about the peanut butter/pizza/steak that you can only look at with hunger, you could be putting your own health in danger by not asking the right questions. This is all part of being a good guest.

If you know you’re going to eat a meal in someone’s home, call or email about a week in advance to let them know what your needs are. This way, you have communicated your particular diet to that person before she has gone grocery shopping or even before the menu is planned. If you want to be a really good guest, offer to bring a dish to share, that way you know there is something on the table that you can eat. This is a really good idea if you have a dietary need that is hard to understand (shout out to all my GF-ers out there!).

If you have a very severe allergy or very strict limits on your diet, be sure to make it clear how serious an allergy you have. If your throat will swell and end the party because there was a little bit of oyster sauce in the dish, put your dietary needs in terms of hospital visits! Your host will thank you.

Also beware! Everyone in the world thinks you are just being picky or whiny unless you bring them a doctor’s note about your diet.

My thoughts, exactly, Stephanie Tanner.

Accordingly, now is the time to be extra courteous. When you notify your host, stay upbeat and positive, and use a phrase like the following: “Hey, I just wanted to give you the heads up that I can’t eat ____. I don’t want to put any extra burden on you, so maybe I can bring a dish for the table?” Most hosts at this point will say, “Oh! Thanks for letting me know! I’ll try to work that in. It would be great if you brought something; we really need ____.” Also, consider bringing a bottle of wine. Everybody loves wine.

If You Are A Host of Someone with Dietary Needs

The best thing you can do as a host is ask all your guests at the time of invitation, “Do you have any food allergies or dietary needs that I can accommodate?”

Now help me not accidentally kill you!

If the answer is no, start cooking. If the answer is yes, start asking questions.

  • “What can’t you eat?”
  • “What can you eat?”
  • “Is there anything tricky I should look out for?”
  • “Is there anywhere I can look for recipe ideas or helpful hints?”

Most people with a dietary need know what to look for and how to help you. If all else fails, go to the Internet. The Internet has great ways to expand your cooking repertoire while keeping guests safe and happy.

Finally, if you do make something in contravention of your guests’ dietary restrictions because you were unaware of those restrictions, do not feel bad, even if you have to take a trip to the emergency room. (Though do be helpful and take care of your sick guest once there. And maybe apologize a lot anyway.) Do your best to be a good host, and if you can throw something else together (like a nice salad), do so. Your guests should be gracious and forgiving on this point, especially if you did your best to accommodate their needs. It is not your fault if you did not know. There is no reason to feel guilty, and a good guest will not make you feel that way. (And you never have to invite a bad guest again.)

That being said, have a bottle of wine on hand. Everybody loves wine.

Yep. This should solve any problems at a party for four.

Got an etiquette question? I’ve got an etiquette answer. Leave it in the comments or
email me at

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

15 replies on “Etiquette, Food Allergies, and Being a Good Host”

It can be tricky when you’re a vegetarian if you have a rude host because, believe it or not, there are people out there who think being veg*n doesn’t count because it was a choice and isn’t an allergy and blah, blah, blah.

Kind of like the time my aunt told me I wouldn’t even taste meatballs in the Italian wedding soup. Granted, most of her cooking is pretty tasteless, but that was beside the point.

What I’m saying is, don’t be like that if you’re hosting people.

Once I started working with young people (being responsible for other people retrains your brain pretty fast!), I quickly learned how prevalent food allergies are these days. Then I had friends go from being omnivorous to vegetarian or vegan, and a few friends were diagnosed with Celiac’s. Because food and eating with people is so important to me, I make a point to find out what people can/can’t eat ab b4 what their food preferences are whenever I am responsible for providing food.

Currently, I’m preparing at least two large meals a week that have to accommodate gluten-free diets, vegetarian diets, dairy allergies, nut allergies, and egg allergies. For these meals, I’ve learned how to provide a variety of foods so that everyone can get his or her fill while cutting out dangerous ingredients altogether. It’s a challenge, but one that I think is worth it to make everyone feel equally valued and appreciated.

These are great tips.

I’ve been on both sides of this- navigating things for my daughter who had a brief stint with food sensitivities, and I’ve hosted many a vegan and GF-er.

With my daughter, I always brought food for her, and if there were things she could eat, great.

When I host others, I make things comply to the best of my abilit & ask questions along the way if I have to.

I have one friend who is GF, and she is sort of our “go-to food person” when we get together- she typically does the food at parties among friends so she knows for a fact she can eat it. We let her do so : -)

Also, as a host, perhaps best not to discuss Allergies You Have Known and Loved. Showing sympathy is good, “Oh, my cousin is allergic to peanuts, it sucks”; graphically describing the last horrible allergic reaction you heard about, bad (brought to you by my GP, who told me not to bother getting allergy testing while simultaneously describing the death of a friend from a shellfish allergy).

I do hate to mention, some people are allergic to some ingredients in wine. In which case, they should bring the booze of their preference:)

I was the one who introduced my BF to mangoes – the first time or two was fine, but then, when I gave him some of a particularly delicious mango I was eating one day, he got the worst allergic reaction I’ve ever seen him have – hives, face swelling up, wheezy breathing, the lot. That’s my fear now, him developing some random new food allergy that nobody knows about before it actually hits. Keeping antihistamines at hand, always.

I seem to be surrounded by people who are GF, but thankfully I live in a city where there is an ever increasing number of GF options in restaurants and grocery stores (Portland, Oregon). I do my best to accommodate them, and they’re all pretty good about it if I call and ask “does xyz count as gluten?”

I only had one friend who drove me INSANE with it. A few years back I lived in Phoenix, and she was coming to visit with a bunch of other friends. I did a bunch of research on the few restaurants in town that had good looking GF menu’s and picked them specifically so she could order without having to worry. When we got there, she proceeded to try to order off the regular menu and complained that they wouldn’t substitute virtually everything in that dish so she could eat it. When I pointed out the GF menu she said none of it sounded good. She was always rude to servers when quizzing them about the ingredients of their ranch dressing, were the fries cooked in the same oil as the fish and chips, and on and on and on. I get that consuming gluten would do terrible things to her, but she didn’t need to be so snotty about it.

My husband, before we got married, pre-warned his grandmother that I don’t eat pork and I’m lactose intolerant. She’s super-Catholic, and he said it was funny how she danced around asking if I was Jewish without trying to seem rude/judge-y. Internal scandalized gasps and all that. I’m not Jewish, but I’m betting for a long time, she thought I was. But the food at her house is always good, I will say, the things I can eat.

Leave a Reply