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Guests who tell you what/how to cook?

Recently, I invited a good friend and the new man in her life over to our place for a relaxed dinner at home. I regularly throw weekend dinner parties, so no big deal for me. My friend says she suffers from gluten intolerance, and I've learned how to cook around that (though I often wonder when she eats gluten-containing foods if she is truly intolerant). She is ALWAYS grateful for my cooking and enjoys her visits to my home.
This recent invitation was met with a list of qualifiers on her response. I was so taken aback, I've neglected to answer her as of this time, and will likely suggest that we just go out to eat. How would you respond to this?
1. If you make XXX, plain with just lemon, herbs, no fat/butter/oil, maybe broth, hard to say. Plain rice and plain chicken with nothing on it.
2. We could bring our own food, no problem, and you just cook for you and your husband
3. You can order out and we can just bring our own food

Frankly, I invite friends over because I enjoy cooking and entertaining. I dont' want to be told how/what to cook (unless we're looking to do theme-style entertaining, a different story...) And I don't want to sit down to a meal in my own home where I'm segregated from my own guests. I'm leaning on recommending a local restaurant (and separate checks!).

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  1. Time to eat out, sounds like her new SO has some real food issues. I'm all for reasonable accomodations, but when they start suggesting they'll bring their own food, huge warning signs.

    1 Reply
    1. It may be less aggravation on your part to assume one or more of them is going through an elimination diet, perhaps to pin down their actual intolerances or food allergies. Elimination diets are exhaustive, and a pain for everyone involved, and suggesting going out to a restaurant may not really help them -- lots of things make it into a dish by force of the chef's habit, even when he's been explicitly requested to prepare without them. At the very least, I'd suggest going out as an alternative and letting them choose the restaurant. If they are not being giant asspains on purpose, it may truly be easier for them to prepare their own food.

      I say this because willfully picky eaters are soon left out of my social circle; if one isn't adventurous about food, you're not likely to be adventurous about anything else, and then we don't have much in common. But picky due to a genuine dietary restriction, that, I think is worth making allowances for.

      1 Reply
      1. re: themis

        Plain chicken and plain rice. It definitely sounds like elimination diet to me. There are people with real issues pertaining to food. Please don't assume that they're just being difficult. I went through an elimination diet before. It was not easy -- I tried not to accept invitations to dinner during that time. Well, I actually hardly ate out during that time. Under normal situations, I'll be a gracious guest -- except while I was doing the ED.

        And about the gluten-intolerant thing -- there is gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity. There are people who have fits of GI issues when they eat gluten. There are also those who don't react as violently, but have minor issues when they eat gluten. I'm not sure why you're suspicious that she's not intolerant, but she may have sensitivity issues.

      2. I would tell her that you will make it another time. Then either prepare a nice meal for you and your SO- or invite other friends. I frankly am apalled when I read posts like this.It is almost inconceivable to me that people can be so rude. If someone gave me a list of rules like that after I invited them into my home, I would tell them frankly that I was inviting them becasue I enjoy cooking meals for friends, that I had the menu planned, that I am aware of her gluten problem, and leave it at that. I think it rude to even ask what is for dinner when I accept- or extend-t an invitation. ( and I am not talking about ignoring food allergies- one of my brothers is allergic to nuts that grow on trees, and i make sure he is safe when he eats at my home.)

        1. I am fortunate that I do not have friends who are picky eaters. However when I do have invite people over for the first few times at least always check that there are no alergiees or aversions and am happy to provide vegetarian options if needed.

          In this case I would have to agree that, assuming you could find a suitable restaurant, going out would be the best option. Otherwise what would be the point of having them over for dinner if your cooking is going to be such an inconvenience for them. It might lead to resentment on your part. By going out to dinner, on neutral ground, might give you a better understanding of their dietary 'requirements'. This might make it easier for you cook; and invite them over once again.


          1. My fiance and I have dietary issues (some by choice). When going to a friend's for dinner, we ask what the main dish will be and, if necessary, bring a separate one for us (assuming they are cooking for a group, not just us). The sides are generally fine. We let the friend know that we are doing this and it is meant to keep her/him from having to do something extra for us (one example-they served ham, we brought fish) and provide the ability to enjoy time together. So far, no one has had a problem with it. If it was just the two couples, we'd explain the issues and suggest a restaurant might be better so THEYdon't have to jump through OUR hoops.

            3 Replies
            1. re: NewSushiFiend

              If your host wants to serve ham, and you don't eat ham, why come for dinner? Eat elsewhere and come for dessert or drinks, or get together with them another time.
              At restaurants everyone eating something different is OK. At a home dinner party it seems weird. Would you share your fish with other guests who say, "Hey, that looks good, can we try some?"

              1. re: Covert Ops

                My partner has very strong feelings about eating ham mostly based on slavery times when the slaves had to figure out how to make a meal out of pigs feet, tail, etc. (her ancestors were slaves). Our friends understand and don't bat an eye (especially since we told them we would have to do this and said ok). Other people accept the idea of dietary restrictions.

              2. re: NewSushiFiend

                I don't like ham, but I've adapted a way of eating when it's served. If plated, I eat a little of it, so as not to appear rude. If it's "family style," then I just don't eat any of it. The only one who really notices is my husband. Some of my extended family have gone out-of-the way to accommodate my dislike of ham, but I always tell them it's not necessary. I'll generally eat what is put in front of me.

                On the flip-side, I'm allergic to peaches, mangoes and the like. I have to ask people if certain foods have these ingredients, especially since they tend to be common flavoring agents in foods in Florida. I have to be careful. I offended a friend once because she served barbecued pork with a peach sauce, and didn't understand why I wouldn't eat it.

              3. Invite her for drinks and then go out to eat.

                I'm totally sympathetic to people with food allergies, but they don't have a right to accept invitations and dictate terms of their visit. It's not the royals, for goodness sakes!

                1 Reply
                1. re: brendastarlet

                  I think this is right. Going out will give you a chance to find out if they have food issues or just a whole lot of issues. Besides, this SO or whatever may not be around long enough for you to have to ...

                2. Since your friend is a "good friend" I would just accept her qualifiers as an enjoyable cook's challenge. I would also cook some other things (or the same things but done with real flavors) for you and your husband.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Honestly, it sounds like she has gotten so used to dictating menus because of her intolerance, real or imagined, that she's confusing preferences with necessary measures.

                    This is what gives people with legit dietary problems a bad name--someone who can't eat peanuts can't resist adding 'oh yes, and make sure you remember I hate Swiss cheese...'

                    Sounds like she has major food issues, though, and is on an elimination diet--you could ask her point blank if this is the case because if so there probably aren't many places she could eat out, either.

                  2. Wow. That's weird...

                    Either she is completely psycho or she has a genuine eating problem. Is she really a "good friend" as you say? If so, you surely trust her, so it's probably good to be accomodating.

                    If her problem is real and serious, number (1) in the list is still ridiculous, but (2) and (3) seem reasonable to me.

                    If you think her problem might be fake, then she probably isn't much of a friend. Just tell her what you're making, and if she doesn't like it, go out. And if you find out for certain that the problem is not real, for goodness sake, get some new friends.

                    1. If she is a close friend,is there anything wrong with the OP calling to ask a simple "what's up?' By offering different alternatives, the guest appears to be trying to mitigate a difficult reply. In essence what I see the guest is saying.... look, I know this is a pain, and would love to dine with you, but don't want to put a burden on you.

                      The only way to find out how reasonable the reply is would be to have a short conversation between the OP and the guest. And no, the guest doesn't have to have an answer, but the OP can always say... perhaps another time would be better then.

                      1. jfood would have the following reaction to the request.

                        "Sure, glad to make this so you can join us. Is there anything else jfood can make so you can keep on track."

                        OMG many of you have gotta be kidding. Do you see the ALL CAPS "ALWAYS" followed by the word grateful. And your reaction is totally self-centered of how dare she "dictate" what is serve. please get over yourself, enjoy the food and better yet enjoy the company. It's called empathy and its called consideration and its called friendship. so while your making a meal that you can eat throw a chicken breast in a pan with some nice broth, some lemon and herbs and make some rice. If your that good a cook, this should be a no-brainer.

                        if the guest just had some surgery that required a special seat would you have the same reaction to how dare they tell me how to place my chairs, or if they had an arm in a cast wouldn't you help cut her meal so she can eat along? The guest has some food issues, help her don;t fight her.

                        sorry for the aggression in the response but when food is more important than friends then people need a complete self-reassessment.

                        17 Replies
                          1. re: jfood

                            Thank you, yet again, jfood for saving me the time of writing out a full response. I couldn't agree more. This is a good friend, I'd think the first response would be concern that something about her health has changed and I'd ask what's going on. Beyond that, as jfood says, friends are more important than food.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I don't understand the need to question if a person's allergies are "real" or not.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I couldn't agree more with Jfood (or his alter ego). I have a very dear friend (most important words being very dear friend) who is the pickiest, fussiest eater I have ever known. Before she comes to my home for dinner, I ask her for a list of her 5 favorite meals (which she usually has trouble coming up with 5) so that I am sure to have food that she will eat and enjoy. I love to cook anything, I love to eat anything, but mostly I love to make the people important to me happy, even if their culinary requirements aren't compatible with mine.

                                1. re: Marge

                                  As a frequent host, I think jfood has it backwards. Dinner party is a privilege for BOTH the host and the guest. Extremely fussy requests from guests are self-centered, lacking in empathy and consideration.

                                  1. re: Maple

                                    jfood thinks the key word is "extremely". The OP states:

                                    "If you make XXX, plain with just lemon, herbs, no fat/butter/oil, maybe broth, hard to say. Plain rice and plain chicken with nothing on it."

                                    Not sure that qualifies as "extremely" but we can differ on that.

                                    As a host, jfood thinks it's the host's rules to do everything possible, within reason, to make sure the guests have a good time, are comfortable and enjoy themselves. That's what makes a good host.

                                    Jfood also agrees that there are good guest niceties (notice jfood does not use the term rule here, on purpose). Not to be extremely demanding is one of those niceties.

                                    Many years ago mrs jfood's cousin and husband visited for a weekend. we all decided on chinese take-out. Cousin-in-law and husband were veggies and insisted on no meat/fish/chicken be served at the table. so M&M jfood sucked it up and ordered all veggie stuff. Left the table fairly hungry. But later jfood sneaked into the kitchen and made himself a dagwood sandwich. :-))

                                    The host bent waaaay over backwards in this case and even years later that was the right thing to do.

                                    so hosts have rules and guests have niceties. we may have to agree to disagree.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Scrapironchef is wondering if there are two jfoods or is referring to yourself in the third person something you picked up as a Bob Dole supporter?

                                      While not wanting to wander into the are of TMI, it behooves a guest with strict dietary restrictions to explain them so that they can be complied with - " If you make XXX, plain with just lemon, herbs, no fat/butter/oil, maybe broth, hard to say." - seems a little hard to parse and a bit nebulous. Either broth is ok or not, if you're capable of articulating all these rules, what's so hard to say?

                                      All of these things are situational, we all have our heirarchies of guests and how much we are willing to do for them. For you these requests are within reason, for me I would feel all these restrictions might make others uncomfortable and keep them from having a good time. It might also put the guest into an uncomfortable spotlight over their food issues.

                                2. re: jfood

                                  I think this is a total overreaction! Good friendships depend on respecting each other's boundaries and not knowingly hurting each others feelings. The OP is well within her rights to simply state that given the parameters, she would rather go out to eat. Her friend will probably get the hint that she crossed a line, or provide an explanation that may or may not mollify the OP. If not, maybe a discussion is in order. I doubt it will make or break this longstanding friendship. On the other hand, years worth of acting as a short order cook limited to poached chicken breasts and plain rice could lead to a lot of resentment.

                                  To the OP, you could also try entertaining this friend after dinner. Maybe, due to her own issues, she just enjoys the company and the comfort of your home more than the cooking. "Drinks and light snacks at 7:30". Buy some generic snacks and if you want prepare something YOU want to make that YOU will enjoy.

                                  1. re: julesrules


                                    it's very hard to figure out which post you are saying is an over-reaction, but if it's jfood response to make a simple poached chicken breast with some rice, the jfood respectfully disagrees and pleads guilty.

                                    jfood finds nothing wrong with this type of dietary restrictions being met to have some friends over. if it's an issue with others then they can do as they see fit, but would rather have the friends and a couple of extra dirty pots/pans then the other way around.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      How about making plain chicken and plain rice all around, and then making some kind of great sauce that can be added at the table by anyone who so desires?

                                      1. re: revsharkie

                                        wouldn't be the first time rev.

                                        when m&m jfood decide on a menu the discussions centers more on what would our guests like versus what we want. jus a different perspective. if your a good host that's what you do. others on this site may disagree and that's cool, but at the end of t he night if the guests have a great time, we have a great time. the opposite is not always true.

                                      2. re: jfood

                                        Definitely think your post was an overreactionm, jfood. Not so much the suggestion to cook the food but the whole tone. Your posts are usually more considered, of both sides of the story.

                                        To me, the guest crossed a line where her friend is no longer happy to host her. The host can be upfront about it or simply change the plans.Frankly I think the guest needs to "get over herself". If the OP isn't the one to stop inviting her, someone else will be.

                                        I have lots of friends with dietary restrictions (vegetarian, kosher, lactose intolerant) and none of them would ever behave in such a way.

                                        1. re: julesrules

                                          I agree with jules. Normally, I think jfood's "friends over food" approach is best, but the issue here isn't the food - it's that one friend is making the other jump through all sorts of hoops.

                                          I'm sure the OP doesn't mind eating poached chicken and plain rice for one meal. But the fact that the guest treated her like a short-order cook (and without any explanation for the added restrictions)... not cool. It's disrespectful, and may reflect the guest's overall attitude in the friendship.

                                          1. re: piccola

                                            jfood just does not find this request as over the line. if there was a long list of things requested jfood might go the other way, but a poached piece of chicken just does not qualify.

                                            This is a normal SOP in the OP-friend relationship and the OP has never minded in the past. Now all of a sudden it's a deal breaker. Something else might be going on here.

                                            But jfood still does not think this demand is over the line but if the OP is beginning to feel that this is heading in a bad direction, then a quiet chat is inorder.

                                        2. re: jfood

                                          But don't you think it's weird in the extreme to suggest that you come to dinner bearing your own foodstuffs for yourself only?

                                          Whenever we have new people over, I always ask if there are any food issues of which we should be aware. But I'd really think it was weird if they said, we'd love to join you but we'll bring our own food for ourselves and you just cook for yourself. Although I think tactic this was suggested on another thread about people who can't cook but keep inviting you to dinner! :)

                                          1. re: Alice123

                                            I think I may have ben the OP on that thread. Yeah that idea didn't really fly with me. I know it certainly wasn't going to fly with the culinary/challeged hosts. Like the OP it was about their enjoymnt of 'cooking' for friends.


                                            1. re: Withnail42

                                              Oh, I really felt for you. I think the whole "suck it up" attitude really didn't address the problem. If every time you go to their house you half dread it, that can't be good for the relationship! (We had a sort of similiar issue with friends. Loved them. Found their child UNBEARABLE.) If you ever come up with a solution that worked, please post it. I'd be very interested.

                                    2. I think the first step should be simply asking them- you say the woman is a good friend, so why not ask? From her response you will be able to gather if this is really a medical issue or her or her new beau are just being extremely picky.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                        i have cooked separate IC diet recipes for relatives for months until they recovered, and caring for people with incredibly painful, real & actual diet issues makes me have little patience for people who have food-related hypochondria or other issues, which is honestly what it sounds like-- (note that the guest is apparently gluten intolerant, but only when it suits her to be so) if they're good friends and there is a health issue, why in the world wouldn't the guest say something, especially since she's enjoyed the gluten-free grub at her friend's house before and knows that the friend both enjoys cooking and has enjoyed cooking special meals to accommodate her in the past? there are all sorts of medically mandated diets that can be referenced by a cook preparing an ill person's meal-- the menu mandates put down by the guest don't jibe with any i've encountered. any mds reading who could help us out?

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          That reminds me of a friend I had in high school who claimed to be allergic to nuts and seeds. I baked brownies once (without nuts) and she refused to eat them because she "couldn't trust" that I put no nuts in the batter....I should have realized then that this was not a great friendship:} Also what got me- she ate honey nut cheerios! (In her possible defense though, I unfortunately have some food allergies, though none that are deadly as she claimed- and sometimes I'll have reactions depending on the amount/preparation of the allergic food but still...she claimed that her nut allergy was of the deadly kind...if that was true I do not know why she or anyone else would risk it because certain allergies can kill you) I also pointed out that her miso soup contained broth made from fish (she also was allergic to fish) and that pesto has pine nuts or some other nut in it- she still happily ate both, but would never go to an Indian or South Asian restaurant because of her allergies. Looking back I'm sure she did have some food allergies (she did have asthma) but obviously this was compounded with control issues and simple food fears.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Those with gluten allergies can sometimes consume small amounts of gluten without having pain or symptoms. However, even these small amounts can cause severe intestinal damage, especially over time. So she may be able to eat gluten sometimes, but it is recommended that anyone with gluten allergies avoid gluten at all times.

                                            However, I do agree it seems a little silly and obviously have no idea if she has a real allergy or not (probably not though). I have had my own food issues but would never ever request anyone to cater to them. I would typically deny an invitation to eat at anothers place, or pick at what I could when it was served to me. I would also have the common sense to check a menu online before going out with a group to be sure that I could find something appropriate beforehand, and if not have salad and a drink and eat at home. This seems like common courtesy.

                                        2. Have to say IMO people are putting too much emphasis on the needy freind. Yes friendships are important, need to be nurtured and worked on. And the rest of the stuff you get from Oprah and bad greeting cards. But frendship is a two way street. From the posting it's hard to tell the nature and depth of the friendship. Perhaps this friend is always trying to get more control or attention. What I got out of the posting was a sense of exasperation from OP.

                                          It is clear that the OP wants to see her friend. However the pleasure she gets from cooking for her has been greatly diminished by the apparently ever growing list of special requests. No doubt the friend does appreciate the OP's cooking. Who wouldn't appreciate someone bending over backwards to me ones 'needs' real or imagined. If she does something she really resents out of a forced sense of obligation the friendship will ulitmatly suffer

                                          -If the friend is a close one call her up and ask what the deal is. If this clears things up for you then you might feel like cooking for them again.

                                          -If your still put out by the whole thing and don't want to call. Meet at a restaurant (it'll probably have to be one of her choosing.)


                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Withnail42

                                            I agree. This is why I asked whether she really is a "good friend." If someone was a true friend of mine, I would trust them. In that case, I would agree (more or less) with jfood and jfood. However, from OP it's unclear how good the friends/friendship really are.

                                            1. re: don giovanni

                                              I disagree. To begin with, if someone is a really good friend, I can't imagine I wouldn't already know what's up. Food is a relatively important part of my friendships to begin with, so if someone was on a special diet for health reasons or anything else, it certainly would have come up before, and it wouldn't have come up as "could you make something like plain chicken"( which would taste awful, by the way). If someone was a 'sort of' friend, then it might make it awkward to ask, but on the flip side, I would never respond to a dinner invitation from a 'sort of' friend with such a request. I think part of what makes this so irritating is how unapologetic the request was, and, as far as I understand it, the fact that it didn't come with an explanation of why such an onerous request was necessary. Probably, the most polite thing for the guests to do would be to explain that they were going through some dietary issues, and offer an invitation for dinner at their house, which they could cook according to their own needs and preferences. I would suggest going out to dinner and talk about what kind of place you would both like. Maybe in the course of the conversation some kind of explanation will come out.

                                              1. re: dinnerbell

                                                Well, I sort of agree with that. It's just that I have seen many things like this happen in good friendships and families, just because someone said something crudely or in a hurry or whatever and it got misunderstood. I would guess that the friendship is mediocre at best (probably in agreement with you), but we just can't be sure from OP (contradictory statements).

                                                On a lighter note, you're absolutely right that the chicken would be dreadful. Maybe that's the problem. The friend has been eating plain chicken every meal for a month and has started to lose her marbles.

                                          2. I hope the OP will drop us a line and let us know how things worked out.