Manner Matters: Dealing with Dietary Demands

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[Image: Robyn Lee]

Dear Molly,

How far must one go to accommodate food issues with guests? I now ask people to let me know about preferences, allergies, limitations, etc. when I invite them over for a meal. I've chosen to do this after being contacted by a Thanksgiving guest two days before the feast to announce she was now vegan. While I did have a couple vegetable dishes which met her requirements, it was a little unnerving to have to find something suitable to modify or add to the menu at that late date. Not everyone responds so I assume they will eat anything. Do I need to follow up to be sure?

Signed,
Just Trying to Feed My Guests


Dear Just Trying to Feed My Guests,

Dietary differences can make these trying times for hosts, to be sure. A while ago I found out that when people invited us over and asked if we had any dietary restrictions, my husband was telling them that he was a vegetarian. He was (and is) eating much less meat than he used to, but he does/will eat meat and is most definitely not vegetarian. I was outraged. Outraged, I say! How dare you, I chastised him (not our usual dynamic, I assure you), put people to extra work when the fact is you will eat anything?

The importance of guests not making themselves more of a nuisance than necessary, though, is not your question.

How far must you go? Sounds like you're doing quite nicely. It is kind and considerate of you to ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences. Good guests will let you know. Good guests will, in fact, let you know immediately. They may even respond with something along the lines of "How kind of you to ask. I have been trying to eat less meat lately, but honestly, I eat everything. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party." Such a response allows the host room to cater to the guest's preferences, without feeling the pressure of actual restriction.

For actual restrictions, thoughtful guests will provide some guidelines. Something like, "How kind of you to ask. As luck would have it, I'm lactose intolerant and can't eat this specific thing and that specific thing. I'm fine with something-a-host-might-wonder about, though. Thanks so much for for asking, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party." Or "How kind of you to ask. I'm not sure if you already know, but Bill and I don't meat—beef, pork, or chicken. We do, however, happily eat fish and seafood. I appreciate you asking and hope this isn't too much trouble. Looking forward to seeing you on the fill-in-the-day-of-the-party."

While I completely respect someone's decision to eat vegan, I find the decision to do so two days before Thanksgiving difficult to understand (that's the nicest way I can think to put it). Sounds like you handled it with grace.

Do you need to follow up? If you're worried, it sounds like you do. You could send a note along the lines of "Hi Nate, I hadn't heard back from you and just wanted to check and see if either you or Naomi have any dietary restrictions (or even just preferences!). I'm planning the menu tomorrow, so please let me know a.s.a.p. If I don't hear anything from you I'll assume you guys happily eat everything!"

Let it be known, however, that if I invited someone to my house and specifically asked them if they had any dietary preferences and I heard nothing back I would 1) assume they ate everything and 2) think long and hard before inviting them again. We are all busy and we all get lots of email and voicemails, we also all have the 60-some seconds it takes to write one of those emails above (I timed it) to be polite to the people kind enough to invite us to dinner.

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About the Author: Molly Watson honed her ability to guide others in tricky situations by telling her little brother the best way to do everything. See what she has to say beyond dining at Ask a (Sensible) Midwesterner. Catch her work as a recipe wizard at Local Foods.

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