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Vegetarian invited to a BBQ - Should I offer to bring something for my entree?

I've been invited to a BBQ. Only a few people will be there - 6 adults and 5 kids. 3 of the kids (6 YO) are friends at school so the get together is a play date for them with the opportunity for the adults to get to know each other better.

The invitation mentioned the possible menu: "We'll probably be cooking shrimp, chicken and hot dogs on the grill."

So, here's my dilemma: I don't eat chicken or hot dogs. I do eat shrimp. None of the above sound like a given. Normally I would certainly offer to bring something (with the expectation that they might decline) and normally I would not expect there to be something at a BBQ that a vegetarian would necessarily eat (especially as they don't know that I am a vegetarian) and normally I wouldn't give it a second thought...I would just load up on salad or sides and not draw attention to the fact that I'm not eating anything off the grill.

But, I feel like this gracious invitation deserves a different response for a few reasons:
1. The group is small (so everyone's eating or not eating is likely to be noticed)
2. As she mentioned a possible menu I would feel very strange to show up and not eat. I envision the conversation: "Oh, I told you what we were having...why didn't you say something?"

Here are the options that come to mind: All of the below are preceded by a gracious acceptance of this invitation and expressing our delight at attending.

1. Ask if she would mind if I would bring veggie burgers to share. The downside I see to this is that this creates additional work for the host and also that it doesn't sound like she's serving hamburgers so perhaps I should offer to bring buns too? But then it seems like I'm taking over the menu.

2. Offer to bring a main dish sort of salad or maybe something like hummus. I guess I would preface this by saying "I don't eat meat. Would it be all right if I brought some veggie items to share?"

3. Say nothing other than my usual offer to bring something nonspecific.

4. Your thoughts?

I do want to reiterate that if the situation were different I would be delighted to go without any fuss, flying under the radar screen and enjoying whatever food was offered that I eat. I'm not a big fussbudget in that regard (other ways to be sure!).

Your constructive ideas are appreciated.


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  1. I've found myself in similar situations, albeit with people I knew better than you know these people. I do offer to bring vegetarian burgers or hot dogs, and usually the host tells me not to bother and just picks up a package. If the barbecue is more pot luck-y, you could certainly suggest bringing a salad or something. It sounds like a pretty informal gathering, so your contributions would likely be appreciated.

    1. I always offer.

      My offer usually goes something like, "I'm so excited to come to the party, and can't wait to see everyone. Being a vegetarian, I absolutely do not want to put you out or be a pain and ask you to cook something specific for me. So, I would love to bring something that I can eat, and share with others- do you think x, y, or z would fit better with everything else? Again, I don't want you to feel like you need to do anything special, so I'm excited to bring something good to share!"

      2 Replies
      1. re: erin_grogan

        This is a great way to do it. If I know I have veg folks I plan the rest of my menu accordingly. Usually the only non veg item I will do is the main protein and at least one of my sides pairs well as a main too.

        I would offer and let them know you do eat shrimp in case that helps but that you would love to contribute anyway.

        1. I would be REALLY annoyed if a vegetarian guest didn't let me know her diet. Offering to bring something IMHO a gracious way not to be an undue burden, but I agree, I'd probably decline the offer and pick up extra shrimp or a package of vegetarian burgers. At least I'd know not to put bacon in the salad.

          2 Replies
          1. re: sr44

            Absolutely. You must let the hostess know that you have certain dietary restrictions and it would be reasonable for you to offer to bring something that you know you can eat. If you were going to be my guest, I would feel awful if I wasn't able to ensure that you would have a good time.

            1. re: josephnl

              and that's the key. if you say "i'm on a diet, so don't fuss over me" and just eat sides, it'll be fine.

          2. It sounds like they're doing the grill and that usually means other people will bring sides. So you could bring a side that could be your main or just bring along a package of veg burgers and matching buns. I don't see that as "taking over the menu" and if they don't get eaten I would feel free to take them home.

            1. As a host I would want to know about allergies, food preferences, etc. A diplomatic way to bring it up would be a variation of your #2, except I would offer to bring something like ceviche prefacing it with the fact that you are pescatarian (not vegetarian). A good host will pick up on that and probably make sure she's got some extra shrimp and/or veggie burgers.

              1. I like #2 and I would offer to bring the shrimp or other fish/seafood dish. That gives the host the option of 1.) uping her shrimp offerings or 2.) taking you up on the offering to bring a dish that she knows you will be able to eat.

                I have been blindsided by a guest knowing the menu but waiting until we sat down to eat to tell me she only eats "XYZ" I was baffled (and told her so) why she didn't speak up ahead of time and her reason was she didn't want to create extra work for me.

                1. Why would you not just ring the folk hosting and tell them you're a veggie? Take that as a starting point for the conversation and ask if they were planning anything themselves for veggies.

                  5 Replies
                    1. re: viperlush

                      Yup. If I'm hosting I really appreciate knowing what guests may or may not eat. If I know, then it's not extra work, it's just being able to prepare something everyone can eat (and with any luck enjoy) with some guidelines in place.

                      1. re: lsmutko

                        Exactly. Iwould rather be prepared for all guests than have someone not eat. But then again I live in close proximity to multiple grocery stores and don't work so last minute changes or additions are not that hard to handle. It would be easy to run down the street if necessary.

                    2. re: Harters

                      That's what I would do, and just offer to bring a vegetarian main dish (not something to put on the barbecue, but a substantial salad, such as lentil-walnut or something.

                      1. re: Harters

                        yes, that and #2 and say how excited you get about grilling marinated vegetable skewers and can you bring them? (or whatever)

                      2. I have been in the position of hosting an informal outdoor dinner party for 14 people and it was only when we sat down to eat that I was told by one person that she was a "strict" vegetarian. That embarrassed me considerably because if I had known before hand it would have been an easy matter to accommodate her. It was quite by chance that I had made a simple pasta with marinara sauce, grilled chicken, and tossed salad with a large fruit salad with cheese on the side for dessert so she was able to eat a complete meal... But, I say do let your hostess know that you're a vegetarian and work out the details, then both of you will breathe a sigh of relief.

                        1. Let your hostess know that you are a vegetarian! If this seems awkward to you, maybe have one of the others put a word in the hostess' ear. I, as a host, would feel terrible if I'd planned a meal that was meat based and I didn't know that I had a vegetarian on board. When I plan a party, I make sure I ask about food preferences or allergies, too. I'd hate to make almond cake for dessert and serve it up to someone with nut allergies!
                          A simple word would work.

                          1. First, I would talk to the host/hostess, and express my needs, and then see what they have to offer.

                            I have accommodated Level 5 Vegans, with but a few days of notice.


                            1. I love option #2.
                              #1 seems ok at first, but you don't really know these people, how they cook, or the size of their grill. As a result, you could upset their cooking plan, cause delays in when some things are done, or end up with badly-cooked veggie burgers.
                              As a frequent host and a very frequent griller, I would probably offer to provide veggie burgers, or to guarantee the aformentioned shrimp, but that is not what you asked. Therefore, I would very much welcome the thought of a different, maybe new, "non-meat" dish at my cookout. I may be a meat lover, but I want to try what you bring to a party! And I agree with others, don't "say nothing". I think any decent host would rather know ahead of time, rather than be surprised. I would assume that an invitation means "I want you to feel welcome", not "have all the carrot sticks and celery you can eat, sorry about your luck".

                              1. If you eat shrimp can you really call yourself a vegetarian?

                                Technically, vegetarians would not only not eat shrimp but they also wouldn't offer to bring along vegs or veggie patties to grill on the same grill that meal will be grilling on.

                                Still, you sound like someone who's flexible. Just call the hostess and offer to bring a few veggie burgers. I'd be shocked if she nixed the idea so I wouldn't expend effort worrying over this.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                  oh Roland, (first 2 paragraphs) not now, I get it, but...

                                  1. re: Roland Parker


                                    You are absolutely right. I should have been far more careful in my post. I don't identify myself as a vegetarian in "real life" for exactly the reasons you state. I thought I was being more efficient in my post to just cut to the (wrong) chase but I can see now that was the wrong idea.

                                    I hope I did not offend any true vegetarians in the process! My apologies should that be the case.


                                    1. re: Roland Parker

                                      "they also wouldn't offer to bring along vegs or veggie patties to grill on the same grill that meal will be grilling on."

                                      Not any vegetarians in my circle of friends.

                                    2. I agree you are a pescatarian, not a vegetarian, but some people might not know what that is. I would keep it simple and email or call and say, "I don't eat meat but I do love shrimp, am looking forward to this. Shall I bring a side dish to share?" This way you've tipped her off that you will only be eating the shrimp (so she can pick up extra), that you don't eat meat (so she can keep it out of some other dishes or give you a heads-up as to what has meat in it), and you're planning on bringing a side to share. I don't like the idea of offering to bring veggie burgers because burgers is a whole thing and then I would feel like I needed to get buns and set out all the condiments and pickles and tomato slices and everything. She may already be doing this for the hot dogs, but you don't know that.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        Very thoughtful and, as a host, I think this is the best example of graciousness from a guest.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          r&roller, sorry but so disagree...
                                          shrimp is not inexpensive and telling the host you "do" eat shrimp could put an extra burden on possibly an already tight-ish budget. sheesh my reaction would be (to myself of course) 'then bring your own dang shrimp'.

                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                            we can agree to disagree. I think offering to bring more shrimp implies that the host doesn't have the money to buy enough mains to accommodate all guests, and it's insulting. If they don't want to buy more shrimp they don't have to, but if they can afford to buy hot dogs and chicken and shrimp for everyone but can't slightly increase the amount of shrimp to account for it being someone's only main dish, I would be surprised. It's not like she said she's not going to eat anything BUT shrimp so geez, I hope there's plenty because I really like to eat it and nothing else! I'm being facetious of course, but I don't see the problem with my approach but do with being told to bring your own shrimp, I'm only providing enough for everyone except you.

                                          2. re: rockandroller1

                                            rockandroller - I am with your approach. And I have been on both sides of the situation!

                                            Granted shrimp isn't dirt cheap, but the host simply has to buy a bit more of ONE thing, everything else works. Having had to throw together a last minute complete veggie entree (and another night, a red meat one!) I can confirm, it's extra expense AND extra stress. Just adding more shrimp is less stress, and less stress is always better : )

                                          3. Thank you to everyone for the suggestions. I will be responding to her today with a modified version of option 2.


                                            1. owen_meany

                                              many great responses plus your concerns and thoughts are legit as well.I'd be forthcoming with a pasta salad that I'd make and bring. that way it could be shared, you have the knowledge there'd be something there for you, you can load it up with your favorite stuff. forgive me for possibly being wrong here about assuming you eat fish, didn't read otherwise. a favorite to me that I've often brought as my contribution is pasta salad with tuna.

                                              let's face it, this is a small gathering and I don't think it's a big deal one way or the other. who cares if you bring something? to me you're just being thoughtful.
                                              I'd not ask or tell I'd just show up with my inclusion to share.
                                              what can they say or do? ask you to leave? tell you to go home and take your offering with you? nah...

                                              1. "Mary, I'm really looking forward to the barbecue. You know, I'm a vegetarian. Would it be OK if I bring some eggplant and corn to put on the grill since i don't eat meat?" (And I would bring extra since others may want some.)

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Please let us know what you decided after your call.

                                                  I would have let her know, offered to bring a hearty pasta salad (that the kids would love too), and maybe some hummus and toasted pita or a vegie dip with some vegies (also very kid friendly) which I'm sure she would appreciate. That's a more than generous offering.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Jeanne

                                                    Here was my response:

                                                    "Thank you so much for the kind invitation. We are all looking forward to coming so count us in!

                                                    Please let me know what I can bring. I don't actually eat meat or chicken (<Husband> and <Child> certainly do - I'm to odd man out!) so I was thinking I could definitely bring a hearty but still summer dish to share with all. Would that be ok with you? I'm happy to bring as many things as you'd like (entree, side, dessert, drinks, you name it!). I love to cook (and eat!)."

                                                    She responded that it would be great if I brought a main and a side (so as someone pointed out, that was likely her intent - she'd provide the mains and guests would provide the sides).

                                                    Thanks for the advice everyone!


                                                      1. re: owen_meany

                                                        Graceful, to the point, with a great outcome!

                                                      2. I found myself in a very similar situation this weekend. We were going to a barbque at a house of a new friend. We knew some of the folks there, but not all. Since the get-together was somewhat business-related, I didn't want to rock the boat too much and was afraid to do what DH had suggested: which was to ask if we could bring some veggie burgers we have in the freezer for my husband to eat (since he doesn't eat meat, and no fish items were on the pre-stated menu). For one thing, the stated menu (ribs and someone's special greek meatballs) didn't include any burgers, so I felt that if he brought the veggie burgers he would have to either bring all the accoutrements (ketchup, lettuce, tomato, buns, etc) or make the host feel obligated to provide them. And since everyone was bringing side dishes, I figured he could just load up on those (including the hearty and vegetarian side dish that we contributed). So of course when we got there the host was grilling burgers and dogs along with the ribs, and had all the necessary buns, garnishes, etc. And of course when he offered DH a burger and DH declined with a polite "I don't eat red meat; I'm fine with all the other food" the host said something to the effect of "Well, I wish you had told me; I would have grilled some veggie burgers!" So I guess the moral of this story is that there is nothing wrong with politely offering to bring an alternative....I was worried about the impression DH and I would have made by asking to bring the veggie burgers...and I shouldn't have been. Most good hosts want to accommodate your needs.....and DH decided that if they were people we choose to spend time with chances are they are going to be considerate of others' needs....

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          New friend I think you have two choices. Either tell ahead/bring something or take the burger, load up on sides and then don't eat the burger. If the friendship continues and you did the second, you can always say you're now vegetarian and then a year from now tell them the whole story--at that point you'll be able to laugh about it.

                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                            lol...just don't happen to mention in the middle of a meat dinner that you absolutely won't eat something (such as meat). Better to hide the fact by eating everything else. I once was eating at a friend's house for the first time (no, not the last, fortunately) and we were talking about food. Anyway, I happen to mention that I abhor bananas and won't eat them. As I was talking I noticed the hostess turning somewhat pale. Yes, she had made her special banana tart for desert....:-( Lesson learned: I now make a point of asking anyone who will be a guest at my house if there are foods they can't/won't eat. You can ask about allergies, and folks will be polite and say the truth "no, I can eat anything" but won't tell you "but I hate bananas" So I try and ask the " is there something you just don't like" question when I invite folks...

                                                          2. re: janetofreno

                                                            If there are plenty of other things to eat such as sides...why feel the need to say " I dont eat meat" at that point? Why not just say no thanks why add the rest if you didnt bother to say anything before the party...it comes off as poor me.