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.
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.
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?”
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.
Got an etiquette question? I’ve got an etiquette answer. Leave it in the comments or
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.