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What's the 'best' way to navigate guests food preferences when hosting?

I finally have space to entertain and am starting to throw dinner parties for 5-6 people. Sometimes I know what food preferences people have (vegetarian, no dairy, no pork, no beef, etc.) but I'm finding it a bit mind boggling to create a menu I'm excited about and also make sure my guests are satiated and enjoy themselves.

When you host a dinner party, how do you accommodate varying dietary needs and/or preferences?

Do you inquire ahead of time (for those guests you are not aware of), or do you generally serve enough variety so that all guests will be able to eat some component of the menu?

I'm also playing around with creating the guest list BASED on the menu (for instance, if I'm in the mood to do a short rib braise, invite those that I know would appreciate the hearty meat dish). Although, this method is not as inclusive as I'd like.


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  1. I plan my menu based on what I want to serve. I invite my guests. If any guest has issues (Vegetarian, Celiac, Lactose Intolerant) it is up to them to let me know when replying and I discuss the menu with them and if a simple accomodation can be made.
    Issues are different than preferences. I would try to accomodate soneone who IS vegetarian as opposed to someone who prefers not to eat meat.

    That said, if the meal is something such as a standing rib roast and we'll only be 6 at the table, I might suggest to the responder that he/she join me on a different date when I serve a different menu.

    Your dinner party is not a catered wedding reception. Your guests do not get to check off Beef, Chicken or Fish on a reply card.

    That said, my nephew's wife is both vegan and Celiac. She is always welcome, eats before she comes, munches the crudites and drinks, always has a great time. i would cook special to accomodate her ethical and medical issues, but she doesn't want anyone to bother, she makes it a non-issue.

    19 Replies
    1. re: bagelman01

      Yay! Too many people try to be a restaurant when having people over. Yours is a good way to do it.

      1. re: bagelman01

        when i invite guests, i usually will be serving several dishes.

        i make sure that every guest has at least one dish that can honestly be seen as a "main" even if the others are having it as an appetizer.

        last friday night, i was invited to a friend's house and she had made some vegetarian enchiladas for the one vegetarian guest.

        as it turned out, the enchiladas were the hit of the party. none of the other guests were vegetarian, but they ALL loved those enchiladas.

        normally i look at accommodating my guests' dietary preferences as a way to expand my repertoire.

        to me, no biggie.

        1. re: westsidegal

          100% agree -- I just ask -- it's easy.

        2. re: bagelman01

          Just curious if you disclose the menu when you do the inviting... or do you simply say something like: join me for dinner.

          1. re: The Oracle

            No, I don't disclose the menu when inviting a small group of friends to a dinner party at my home. My home is NOT a restaurant, you can't view the menu on line and then decide.
            If you have questions/issues, etc., you discuss them while RSVPing.
            The only exception would be if I host a dinner party in honor of someone, such as a birthday, then I would ask the honoree in advance if there was a special meal they'd like me to serve in their honor.
            A small dinner party hosted at home as the OP describes would be mostly made up of friends and relatives. They would probably know that they wouldn't be served pork or shellfish in the B home.................

            When I serve a FORMAL dinner party, it is likely to be multi course, but not multipe entrees, it isn't buffet, pick and choose.
            It will be in the formal dining room, on fine china, with crytal and sterling, an intimate, elegant evening.

            If I invite guests to a cocktail party, then there will be many dishes available that can satisfy most food issues and no one would go unsatisfied or hungry.

            It is time for guests to take responsibilities for their food preferences and issues, the host should not be guilted into cooking multiple menus.

            1. re: bagelman01

              I like your approach. How many times a year do you have formal dinners? We do that maybe twice a year and its quite a bit of work. Much easier to do a casual meal once a month or so.

              Bagelman, curious to find out if you find yourself hosting more than being hosted. That's definitely the case for us. We like to entertain so its a fun thing to do. I get the feeling that's not universal.

              1. re: Bkeats

                Formal dinner parties, about once per month October thru May.
                I actually find a formal dinner party to be less work than a casual meal, as I'm only making one item for each course.

                Formal Holiday Dining (20-30 guests) for Jewish New Year and Passover.

                Formal Sabbath Dinners (4-12) about 3 times per month.

                All of this gives us a reason to use the good china, crystal, silver and formal dining room.

                Wife is a builder/designer, and kitchen and dining room were designed and equipped with formal dining in mind.

                We definitely host more than we are guests. Many of our friends have already downsized and don't have the space, or are stuck in McMansions (popular in the 90s and early 2000s) that have kitchens and great rooms, but no formal dining rooms. These are not condusive to adult dinner entertaining.

                Not everyone has confidence in their ability to entertain and put out a complete meal on time (hint, try using the stove, not the microwave, the stove has multiple burners for a reason).
                Lastly, in this economy many people can not afford to host a formal dinner party-wine, liquor, food, linens, etc.

                1. re: bagelman01

                  That's an impressive entertainment calendar.

                  1. re: Bkeats

                    we enjoy it.
                    With the death of area country clubs and the closing of many city clubs, it is no longer possible to spend an evening dining (out) with friends. Restaurants need to turn the tables in order to survive and one may not camp out all evening.

                    When we belonged to the private clubs, there was only one sitting per table. If we made a reservation for 7:30 or 8 on a Saturday night, we knew the table was ours all evening. In fact the orchestra/band generally didn't start playing until about 10 for after dinner dancing. Around 1:30 am coffee, danish and after dinner drinks would be served and all would end by 2. BUT, as the clubs were member owned, they had to merely cover expenses, not turn a profit for investors.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      We belong to one of these old school athletic clubs in the city. One of the last survivors in the area. I would never have joined it on my own but the wife insisted and said it would be great for the kids to get them involved in some sports.

                      They have a small but formal dining area. No jeans or t-shirts for the kiddies permitted. You make a reservation and you have the table for the evening. No band, but we get together with friends and there is no rush to get out. Very pleasant. The bartender can make a mean martini too. The bill for the evening is pretty reasonable for the quality of the food and wine. As you say, no need to turn a profit. My dues take care of the real expenses of running the place.

                  2. re: bagelman01

                    Before the "recession" and I had to return to work, we hosted a dinner party at least once a month, with formal dinners probably on holidays only. However, with encroaching age, reduced energy, time and resources, our dinners are seldom, and I'm not sure but it seems to me that we were the primary dinner hosts because invitations are few and far between. Maybe the same issues are the culprits. I don't think I've broken out the china and crystal in a couple of years!

                    I approach informal dining the same way as I do formal, except the preparation is simpler because I'm not polishing silver, ironing tablecloths, etc. With formal, when selecting the menu I have to consider the fragile finish of the dishes (no steak knives, please) and serving dishes and flatware (careful about silver plated knives & acids). With casual, I still think about coordinating appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts, wines, textures & colors, decor & timing of all.

                    These days I ask about dietary limitations. So many of our friends have developed health issues that I'd feel terrible if someone came over and I served something that caused them distress. I also always make sure I have something non-alcoholic available!

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty traditional menus, and most people know what to expect with a few permutations. Our table seats 10, 12 gets pretty crowded, but we can have 30 if we spread out, so we tend to do buffet and casual, mixing all the dishes and utensils. For holiday meals, I pretty much serve the same thing every year on those days and only those days--for me, kinda boring, but then the kids ask are we having mashed potatoes, or green beans/whatever, so I wind up making what I am interested in and then more to satisfy them. But only family makes those requests, most folks are just happy to come to your home for a meal. I have a friend who just gave up on holiday meal variety, as she said, "everybody wants the green jello."

                  3. re: bagelman01

                    I'm waiting to hear what happens when you invite someone to a cocktail party and they go all Carrie Nation anti-alcohol when they get there.
                    Some people, I truly believe, really enjoy the attention they get when they act like a pain in the ass.

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      If that ever happened (not in my social circle!) I'd tell that person to take a hike.

                      I'm of the belief that many people act like jerks because others enable them to. Not in my house!

                      1. re: EWSflash

                        I once had a party for 36 in my 900 s.f. apartment. A dear friend brought a date, who asked if I had any Perrier. I told her I had water, wine, beer, and if she preferred I could probably dig up a bottle of club soda. Puh-leeze. I don't remember ever seeing her again. Hmmm, must have been the club soda crack.

                        1. re: blaireso

                          we had a Crawfish boil. ..in fact went out of the way having two pots..one spicy one mild...which is kind of untraditional..went further out of the way and had a table inside with some kid friendly food...popcorn shrimp and cornbread muffins vodoo chips and praline... Well, some date of a guest in a squeakkkky loud voice complained the whole time " THIS IS BARBARIC THERE IS NOTHING HERE I CAN EAT!" I even fixed her a salad.

                          1. re: girloftheworld

                            I'd have handed her $5 and told her to go to McDonald's.

                  4. re: bagelman01

                    Bless her heart- she sounds like a keeper

                  5. I always accommodate medical needs and religious requirements. Beyond that, not much. I always have plenty of vegetables, so anyone can skip the meat and seafood if they wish. And I can always do an omelet.
                    But they cannot dictate my menu----take it or leave it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mwhitmore

                      +1. The host should never be confused with a short-order cook.

                    2. I'll ask for dietary accommodations when I send the invite. For a group of 5-6, I'd probably create the guest list based on what I feel like cooking. OTOH, we have a family member who is allergic to black pepper, and someone else who doesn't eat dairy. So, when they are both coming to dinner, some accommodation is made. But not everyone will eat every dish served.

                        1. re: MGZ

                          Yes, I confess, I have no idea what this means, can someone please explain.

                          1. re: BeefeaterRocks

                            Just writing a period (or other random mark) just means the poster wrote something, posted it, changed their mind about what they wrote, and edited it to say just a period. It's delightfully mysterious.

                            1. re: BeefeaterRocks

                              It means that after MGZ posted something he had second thoughts about what he'd said, deleted it, and replaced it with a period. Although how he was able to do that after the two-hour editing window expired, I have no idea. He must have some good connections. And now, of course, Jon Parker's comment below makes no sense to anyone reading along.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                Just as an FYI, you can then self-Flag these things and leave us a note, and we'll delete them.

                                1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                  Yes, I understand. But it doesn't seem quite fair to me to agree to it when there's another post that makes no sense after the deletion.

                                2. re: JoanN

                                  Ah, thank you Hobbert & JoanN, mystery solved?

                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    It's better to delete the more likely to be misunderstood comments than have 'em continue to be misunderstood.

                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      This is really off-topic here, so if you want to discuss mods deleting posts on request, we'd ask that you please start a thread on Site Talk so we can discuss in more detail there. Thanks!

                                      1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                        Wow. I love you guys and think you do an amazin' job.

                                        I was talkin' about self deletin' so you guys need not get involved.

                              2. It all depends.

                                For one friend who has celiac disease and a rather long list of other foods she's medically restricted from eating, I invited her to my apartment about a week before the dinner and not only showed her the menu, but the list of ingredients in each recipe so I'd know exactly what substitutions I would have to make. This was more than a year ago, and she's still talking about how much she appreciated it. By the way, this was a small Chinese banquet, and none of the other guests were aware that the dinner had been planned that way.

                                As far as creating the guest list based on the menu, I do that all the time. If I want to prepare a big, honking pork shoulder, I'm not inviting friends who keep Kosher.

                                For me, it's all about making my friends comfortable and happy. And catering to their preferences makes me happy. Win/win.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: JoanN

                                  I much prefer your approach to MGZ's.

                                2. We host parties pretty often but formal, it's rare these days. We're casual hosts and what I mean by that is if our guests wish to bring a homemade dish, a bottle of wine, something for dessert we welcome it. And, if there is a preference or dietary restriction, we encourage them to bring what they need. We are still offering a relaxing space, good conversation, live music (yes-we all play an instrument and so do many of our guests) and a fun meal.

                                  For those of you who feel you do most of the hosting within your circle of family & friends, I offer this: if you're the only one allowed to cook when you host you're sending the vibe that only your cooking will do. If you truly want to be invited to a party, ease up on the tight hosting rules you employ.

                                  Formal meals we make reservations for a group and let someone else handle the menu.

                                  For us the best way to navigate guests food preferences is to be entirely flexible. I don't discourage guests from bringing their own good eats.

                                  11 Replies
                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    Hill, I don't follow your post.

                                    When you host, you don't cook? Someone else does? You get everything catered?

                                    1. re: Bkeats

                                      Oh I can see where you got confused. But, I did say we make a fun meal (fun equals casual).

                                      No, when it comes to a guest having special preference, depending on their needs, if they wish to bring their own side dish, wine, veg choice we encourage them. We make plenty of food, we just don't have to make everything. We don't set out fine china, linens. We hang out. We're relaxed.

                                      What I said about going out to a restaurant was in response to enjoying more formal dinners. Formal dinners we make reservations for the group. We host casual parties.

                                      Hope I explained this better.

                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        Do most of you host formal parties by preference? And do you do most of the hosting within your circle of friends?

                                        Because I'm surprised that formal parties are still popular. I can't remember the last time we brought out the linens, china, formal dining room only seating.

                                        That's interesting.

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Now I understand.

                                          We normally have pretty casual dinners. But about twice a year, we have formal sit down dinners with tablecloth, cloth napkins, china etc.

                                          Once a year for the past several years, we have hosted an event for a local charity where its formal, black tie. I cook like crazy all day and then we will have help come in to serve. Its a multi-course meal. One year, made a boo-boo when we served shrimp remoulade as a starter and one of the guests had a seafood allergy that we were unaware of.

                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                            Oh okay. Then I believe the only difference in hosting a more formal party is that you are taking on the formal dinner experience in your home and we're picking up the phone and making reservations.

                                            At this point we prefer casual parties. For us, we have the space, the indoor or outdoor setting but we don't focus our time on the place settings, linens, stemware, etc. That's time consuming prep beyond food. Just not our bag any longer.

                                            I hadn't thought of charity events. Most of the ones we attend or work are either in a restaurant or a beautiful home (most times with a killer backdrop) borrowed for the event.

                                            The last time I hosted a formal dinner in my own home was probably early 90's for a relatives 95th birthday who loved all the fuss.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              There's one reason why they like to use our apartment. Killer views.

                                              1. re: Bkeats

                                                Can't beat a killer view! So count me in! Sometimes the location is ALL you need....along with a few nibbles :)

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  Come on by. There's always wine in the the cooler and nibbles in the fridge.

                                                  1. re: Bkeats

                                                    I consider that a beautiful invitation, thank you.
                                                    Our pool is open and the snacks are in the sun room. Consider you & yours our welcomed guests...whether we are there or not doesn't matter...we'll be joining you eventually :)

                                          2. re: HillJ

                                            i now use the china for casual parties.
                                            seemed silly to be "saving" it for formal occasions only.
                                            life is short.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              Probably once or twice a year, but I do like to drag out the good china and pair it with fun other stuff and stainless. Nothing like loading that dishwasher to give you an appreciation for casual! I think the last time I did a "formal" deal was a party for out of town guests for a dear friend's wedding. Dug out the antique tablecloth, etc. But we served sangria which definitely got the party started.

                                              We definitely used to do most of the hosting, and when I went back to work and ran out of energy to do all the prep, I was kinda surprised that nobody picked up the slack. I still like to do something more like a formal "gathering" at Thanksgiving, and my spreadsheet resembles a war campaign but makes it all easy because it's simple steps--and a timeline to keep me from drinking or visiting too much so I lose track of time! Maybe other people don't find it as much fun??? I love having people over!

                                      2. The only dinner party type get together I attend is a book club. We have 6 members and a closed Facebook group. We post the menu a week or so out and people can comment. One of our members just became vegetarian- good to know. Nobody nitpicks the menu- we just list restrictions and/or allergies. Pretty easy, in my opinion. Personally, I think we should all be content with what dinner is. We're all open to trying new things but its not very kind or inclusive to serve a meat based entree to the vegetarian and just leave her a sad plate of vegetables.

                                        1. When I invite people for dinner, I always ask, "Do you have any allergies, aversions or principles I should know about?" Then I do my best to accommodate. When people thank me for being considerate (and they do!) I say, "It's like writing a sonnet. The artistry comes from the limitations."

                                          I didn't used to ask. Then one time I served chicken and potatoes cooked in with the chicken and a guest turned out to be vegetarian and all she could eat was salad and dessert. I felt terrible, especially since I am a perfectly competent vegetarian cook, and at the very least could have prepared a meal with a vegetarian option or two in addition to the chicken.

                                          My guest said that she hadn't mentioned being vegetarian because she "didn't want to be any trouble." Since then, I do my best to find out in advance.

                                          Occasionally, the combination of personal needs is a bit of a head-scratcher. Mostly it works out fine.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Pumpkinseed

                                            I rarely have more than 4 guests for dinner (with us, that's 6). I always ask about special dietary requirements, and honestly, most can be accomplished very simply. If someone is vegetarian, I will simply make 3 vegetable sides, rather than my usual 2, and make the extra one a bit more substantial. Gluten intolerance is easily accommodated, as are nut allergies. And similarly, for persons who for religious reasons will not eat pork or shellfish, I make that accommodation. Other than these, I guess I'm less accommodating. If someone is on a low carb or low calorie diet, they need to decide if they want to chose among what's available, or decline the invite...this is a matter of choice and not a medical or religious requirement...thus, I don't feel compelled to make adjustments to what I serve.

                                          2. I can't remember the last time I had someone over for dinner and didn't know or ask about his/her dietary restrictions. Among my friends, I generally know who is vegetarian, who is vegan, who hates shellfish, etc.

                                            My "hosting" is very casual and sit-down dinners are rare. I tend towards picking a theme ("Spanish" or "sliders", for example) and making several different options for people (for the sliders, I did beef, turkey, crab and black bean).

                                            I have one friend with a severe gluten intolerance and she just brings her own snacks and doesn't make the host stress over it.

                                            If I'm just having one friend or a couple over for dinner, I'll throw out my menu idea. I'm not opposed to input from my equally food-loving friends.

                                            1. I try not to invite more than one notably picky/allergic person at a time. Usually, I just ask if anyone has allergies/dislikes beforehand, especially since I like to serve seafood or lamb, which not everyone enjoys. And I always have a hearty vegetarian side dish that can serve as a main.

                                              1. I pretty much know who's lactose intolerant, vegetarian or non-red-meat or can't deal with spicy among our fairly small circle of frequent guests, and I usually prepare relatively simple meals anyway. If there's someone new coming I'll make an effort to find out their limitations, remembering the time I invited a friend to dinner along with his new girlfriend, only to discover as I was getting my splendid stuffed pork roast out of the oven that the new girlfriend was not only Jewish but serious about it, unlike some other friends of ours.

                                                As Mrs. O has gone veggie, I'm making a point of finding and/or developing dishes that will present complete nutrition without any meat, but to which a carnivorous guest may supplement from a bowl of shrimp or chicken or whatever passed separately. However, although we know no strict vegans I know they're out there, and I'm making notations on the recipes accordingly. The ideal, of course, is to serve the same thing to everybody and have them all like it. As for raw-food people, I'd say "Eat before you come!"

                                                13 Replies
                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  i've cooked for:
                                                  gluten intolerant
                                                  low carb
                                                  low calorie

                                                  the main thing i have never tackled is kosher.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    <the main thing I have never tackled is kosher>

                                                    In order to serve kosher it's necessary to have a kosher kitchen.
                                                    If someone's in town who eats strictly kosher then we'll simply go out to a restaurant.

                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                      which isn't kosher either, unless a prepared kosher meal is ordered and delivered from a separate caterer.

                                                    2. re: westsidegal

                                                      if you don't keep a kosher kitchen, you're not cooking kosher anyway.

                                                      maybe because most of my friends are wine and food industry people i rarely encounter these picky guests. i have a few peeps with shellfish allergies but other than that i can't think of any issues.

                                                      meals/parties always contain some vegetarian options cuz that's how i roll.

                                                      i eat low-carb, but often offer a starch option of some sort for others. when i don't? nobody even notices because there is so much other food.

                                                      awhile back for the b/f's b-day i was making braised pork belly because he loves it more than life itself. lots of the guests had never had it and genuinely seemed skittish. lol, i should have made 50 pounds instead of 10 because it disappeared in the blink of an eye.

                                                      you people need new friends. :)

                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                        I once joked with a Jewish friend that I was cooking a pork roast for dinner. Shocked, he said, "but that's treyf!" When I asked him if he ate bacon, he sheepishly admitted he did.

                                                        Thing is, even when people aren't strictly kosher, they still can't bend their brains around certain items. Just as I don't particularly want to eat things I'm not used to, I try to respect that. I don't make pork for Jewish friends. If they're kosher, they know I don't keep a kosher kitchen and know I'll try to do my best.

                                                        If I know ahead of time, sure, I'll tweak a menu. If I didn't ask, and they didn't volunteer, we all take our chances.

                                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                                          Well, without a kosher kitchen, and separate sets of dishes and flatware and dishwashers, you really can't do it for observant Jews. The safest suggestion I can think of is to have a barbecue and make chicken and use paper plates and plastic utensils. All but the most hard core will appreciate your efforts. You could also ask them to bring a dish and serve salad with a vinaigrette and some veggies with optional sauce. I'd ask my friends if I needed to accommodate anything re cooking utensils like roasting veg. on a cookie sheet, etc. I have a few kosher friends who are more than willing to share recipes with me, and don't quibble too much about the utensils and dishes (but some might).

                                                          1. re: blaireso

                                                            With BBQ you would need either new or kashered grill grates. And if the grill has a hood, the entire cavity of the grill must be kashered as well.

                                                            My mother was very close to her next door neighbors who were observant Jews. All they would have at her house was a glass of water. When the children were little, they were allowed certain types of store-bought cookies that remained in the bag. They would never have considered eating food from a grill that was not not their own.

                                                            1. re: JoanN

                                                              Same for a friend who is a devout Jain, along w/ no root vegetables. I buy paper plates/utensils for him, have a separate set of vegetarian/no root veg. pans I use. He's always appreciative of the efforts.

                                                              1. re: JoanN

                                                                point taken. maybe just buy something from the local kosher deli for them? might be easier to ask them what they CAN have at your house. the primary issue isn't the food, it's the pots and pans, the oven, the utensils, and the dishwasher. Observant Jews have a social life, so if they're friends they won't mind an honest question because they know you want to make sure they're comfortable in your home.

                                                          2. re: Will Owen

                                                            does mrs. o eat dairy and eggs?

                                                            if so, get evan kleiman's recipe for ricotta al forno.
                                                            saute some mushrooms till brown and DRY and put them on top.
                                                            i've served this to omnivores and vegetarians with great success.

                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              I'm with you. I like to serve a vegetarian lasagna (includes dairy & egg) with eggplant. the eggplant is meaty enough and with the mushrooms it's a great meal along with a salad. I don't know what I'd make for folks who are not ovolacto vegetarians. and then you have the group who have lactose intolerance. Tough to entertain both at once.

                                                              1. re: blaireso

                                                                for the latter two groups, here are a few ideas:

                                                                1) lentil soup made with mirepoix and spinach.
                                                                2) curried soup made with mirepoix and lentils and fresh peas and shelled edamame and tomatoes and kale.
                                                                3) vegetarian chile (either use fresh roasted chile peppers or, if you use dry peppers get them from Penzy's or a really GOOD purveyor. this makes all the difference)
                                                                4) spring rolls made with tofu, thai basil, greens and a thai peanut dipping sauce

                                                          3. We have a family of 4 coming in from out of town and we will be having dinner at our house. Here's what I said as part of an email about her visit:" I would like to know what foods are not eaten by anyone in your family so I can plan a menu everyone will enjoy."

                                                            There were not any outright hated foods, but she gave me some gentle suggestions for what the one picky eater likes and that has made it easy for me to plan a menu everyone will like.

                                                            1. If I know a guest has allergies or dietary restriction... won't cook those items. If I know I like something but something many people might not be crazy about... won't cook that either. I don't go for things too far from "normal"... would never cook liver or oysters... to begin with I DON'T like either one!?!

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: kseiverd

                                                                I too don't g too far from normal and I use my sister as a guide. She doesn't like any organ meats, duck, goose, lamb so I generally avoid those if I don't know people well or am having a large group. Now if I would love to grill lamb--and have compnay to share it with--then I will call and say I'm grilling lamb, want to come for dinner? If they don't well, there's always another occasion. We've also found that mixed platters--say one with grilled meat, one with vegetables and cheese, another with bread, works well for lots of folks.

                                                                1. re: kseiverd

                                                                  Not cooking "too far from normal" makes me laugh. I was once invited to dinner by a young French couple who had recently moved to the US (he was a visiting fellow at a local university). Their dinner menu included mussels, calve's brains, and tripes. I enjoyed it quite a bit (I would be a good travel partner of Anthony Bourdain), but there were not many other clean plates amongst the 5 other guests.

                                                                2. I have a lot of friends with dietary restrictions of one kind or another (no fish, pescatarian, kosher, soy-allergic, you name it). Frankly, a dinner guest with no restrictions is a rare and precious find! ;) But they're my friends and I want them to feel safe and cared for when they are eating at my house. As another commentator said (more elegantly), by accepting challenges you make for a more interesting meal.

                                                                  A good way to handle a large crowd with diverse issues is a tapas-style party. That way people can avoid what they can't eat and will still be able to eat (usually) at least half the items, and there's no single 'main course' item that someone ends up feeling left out for. Also, tapas are delicious :)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: westernmeadowlark

                                                                    Your solution is a really fabulous idea.

                                                                  2. Invite.
                                                                    Ask about restrictions (not 'preferences', that could take years of planning!).
                                                                    Prepare food accordingly, avoiding restrictions.

                                                                    If you want to invite based on menu, that is certainly your prerogative. Do that if you feel comfortable.

                                                                    1. Quite a few of our friends will always ask, "What can I bring?" Depending on how many are coming, this will take care of appetizers, desserts, sides, wine, whatever. Many people with diet restrictions (not preferences) will offer to bring something they can eat. I think you can do both, one party for anybody and try to include something for everyone, and one based on something you want to make. Building a menu around restrictions can be an interesting challenge, and making something you really want to and inviting folks whom you know will appreciate it is another kind of fun. It's all good.

                                                                      1. Your last idea reminds me of something we do every couple of years - I call in our most dedicated omnivore friends and have an 'everything' dinner party - starting with martinis, oysters on the half shell, pate, then osso buco or boeuf bourguignon, bitter greens, and ending with cheeses, fruit, creme brulee, cognac...Once every two years is plenty! And it takes the sting out of the more usual parties, at which I provide enough choices for everyone - if I'm making a lamb couscous I'll usually also make a chicken tagine or a vegie couscous for the non-lamb/meat folks - I stay close to the same theme so the meal works as a meal, not just as a line-up of dishes.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: elenacampana

                                                                          My sweet cousin is coming out of hospice today and going home. She's limited to low fiber, low residue foods that aren't too spicy, but she tells me she can have cooked tomatoes. I'm going to make a double batch of lasagna, easy on the cheese, and take some over to her house tomorrow. Was going to put in eggplant for DH but it's too high in fiber for her. Next time I'll get zucchini and make her some chicken cacciatore with zucchini and mushrooms, ease up on the garlic, with some sort of pasta. Ideas, folks? Her husband likes to cook lamb, and she's sick of it. She likes my italian, not sure about the rest of the household but this is for her.

                                                                          Maybe we should start a discussion group about menus/suggestions for dietary restrictions! Hmm.....so many imaginative CHers out there.

                                                                          1. re: blaireso

                                                                            There's a special diet board with lots of interesting suggestions. I'm sure you'll get a lot of responses if you post.

                                                                        2. I usually don't have people over for food unless I'm close enough to know their preferences or am aware of medical issues. I have one good friend with a shellfish allergy, and my brother has Crohn's with a handful of triggers, so I cook a menu based on that if they'll be there. Other than that, if you're more of an acquaintance that's been invited, it's your job to tell me if you have allergies.
                                                                          Maybe that's not so PC, but it's how I operate.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: alliegator

                                                                            Asking your guests if they have food restrictions has nothing to do with being politically correct, if that is indeed what you mean by PC.

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              Poor wording. I'm just not going to bend over backwards to accommodate someone who is trying out gluten free to lose a few pounds, etc...

                                                                          2. i accomodate:
                                                                            vegan (to a point; i had one (ex) friend who flipped over the fact that his *clean* plate at some point had probably carried a meat item - no longer invited, poor form mate)
                                                                            doesn't eat "x" (fish, red meat, what have you within reason)
                                                                            religious restrictions
                                                                            medical needs and allergies

                                                                            if you eat a raw, paleo, low-carb, low-fat, locavore, all-organic, happy meat, soy-gluten-nut-free raw vegan or otherwise specialized diet *not* for necessary medical reasons but out of personal preference, i'm of the opinion that these are elective decisions that are restrictive - and you know it if you eat this way. i think at that point, the polite thing for the restrictive diner is to either suggest an acceptable restaurant for them, or offer to host/cook themselves, in recognition of their restrictions imposing a somewhat undue burden on the host.

                                                                            others here seem to be a lot more willing than i am to bend over backwards to others' dietary choices, but this is what i do.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                              Well said and your list looks like mine.

                                                                              1. re: chartreauxx

                                                                                "i had one (ex) friend who flipped over the fact that his *clean* plate at some point had probably carried a meat item"

                                                                                I have a cousin who was like this. I haven't spoken to her in over a decade because, well, she's like this in every area of her life - selfish with an entitled attitude. She wouldn't help out/offer to help out with cooking or cleaning up afterwards at the family get-togethers, but she demanded food cooked to her personal preferences, but only in pots or pans that had never touched meat, which no one in the family owned, so I guess we were supposed to buy new pots and pans just for her or something. No. Really. Just no.

                                                                                1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                  yeah with that kind of strict rules, BYOFood, dude! :-) and when, as you say, that extremism and self-absorption infiltrates all aspects of a person's life... let's just say it makes maintaining cordial relations quite the chore.

                                                                                  1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                    Oh lord, people like that are attention hounds with an agenda. Please, God, spare me from these people.

                                                                                    I knew a Hindu doc at work who was a fantastic cook, and made me a couple of Indian meals (the best ones I ever had). She explained to me about vegetarians not wanting to eat from places where meat has cooked (grills at work, for instance that had cooked meat).I respect her faith, she had beautiful little altars in kitchen cabinets and corners of her house, it was beautifully spiritual. But she's been that way her whole life. Somebody who suddenly gets a wild hair to be ________ gets a raised eyebrow from me.

                                                                                2. One thing I do when faced with a mixed gathering of carnivores, vegetarians, adults and kids is to do an assemble-your-own taco bar. I prepare both soft and crisp tortillas, and set out bowls of Mexican rice, refried beans, whole beans, carnitas, spiced shredded chicken and beef, guacamole, chopped vegetables like tomatoes, onions and lettuce, pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese, and a variety of hot sauces.

                                                                                  Never fails to please all.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                                                    I like this idea, because you can prepare everything in advance and there's something for everyone. And, you can do this for a crowd, making things over a day or two. Yum!

                                                                                    1. re: blaireso

                                                                                      I've been to parties that were the same general though -- but with baked potatoes (jacket potatoes) and a "buffet" of toppings.

                                                                                  2. I consider it a personal challenge to accommodate EVERYONE! It requires quite a bit of thought, but I enjoy that, often bouncing ideas and challenges off my other food friends and even Chowhound groups. If you aren't up for that, then at a very minimum I would ensure the main entree was something everyone would like and then add a few extra sides. That way guests could pick and choose.

                                                                                    With that said, I draw the line at vegan. I just don't cook that way and never want to. Vegan don't come to my house!

                                                                                    I will also have a dinner party based on the menu. Some times I'm on a diet and feel like eating carb free or lighter fair and invite friends who eat that way. Other times I like to experiment with my smoker so I invite those who appreciate that effort.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: TSAW

                                                                                      Myself, I draw the line at dieter. I just don't cook that way and never want to. Dieter don't come to my house!

                                                                                    2. I don't. I tell them in the invitation what I'm serving, and they can come or not come. Works like a dream ... eliminates the vegans.

                                                                                      14 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: wayne keyser

                                                                                          So...if I understand you correctly, you serve what you want and will make no accommodation for your guest's needs/wishes? Please do not take this as being critical...it's not....it's just that I'm trying to understand your pov. Do I understand you correctly?

                                                                                          1. re: josephnl

                                                                                            Yep -- You gotta life-threatening nut allergy? Tough toenails. Shuddup and eat your peanut butter.

                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                              You gotta "life-threatening" condition? "You may wanna stay home or sign this waiver."

                                                                                              You're "Paleo"? "There's a raccoon strung up out back that you are welcome to gnaw on."

                                                                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                me? I prefer having friends from everywhere -- places, cultures, belief systems....

                                                                                                ...and for me, it's interesting to learn about how other people eat, and a welcome challenge to meet those requirements.

                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  That's sweet and I appreciate your choices.

                                                                                                  Regardless, if I wanna make creamy, macadamia nut margaritas for a coupla ladies on Thursday night, don't ask me to offer a "nut proof environment" for your kid to soil on Saturday. It's just not worth it. I'll likely meet some folks more interesting, and less difficult, on Monday.

                                                                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                    wow. hostility much?

                                                                                                    What about serving up a couple of those macadamia nut margaritas, and having one of those ladies end up utterly breathless-- not because of your sculpted physique and sparkling personality, but because she has a tree nut allergy and is in the early stages of anaphylactic shock?

                                                                                                    add to it the lactose intolerance suffered by the other one, and you have a night to remember...but not likely for the reasons you'd hoped.

                                                                                                    Glad to know, by the way, that "interesting" and the value of someone's intellect and personality is mandated by whether or not one has allergies and/or sensitivities.

                                                                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                      For me, having my friends over for a meal is more about the friends and conversation than about the food, and more and more of us are getting older (not me, though) and have to watch blood sugar, cholesterol, fiber, etc. So, knowing that, I try to design a meal they can enjoy, which means I can enjoy them. I can always eat the way I like another time, but friends are priceless.

                                                                                                      Now, that said, I agree about attitude making all the difference. These people aren't demanding I make allowances, and they're not picky. They just appreciate a chance to get together, and if they can't eat something, they eat something else. I guess I'm fortunate in that diabetes is about the worst issue we have among guests. I did make a lasagna yesterday for my cousin, who has colon cancer and must be on a low fiber diet, thus made two pans, one with eggplant and the other for her. That's just expressing care and love for someone who loves you back and appreciates the effort.

                                                                                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                      Amen. Who wants to live with blinders on?

                                                                                                2. re: josephnl

                                                                                                  So many upset people. If I misled anyone, I apologize, but I meant to say that when I invite people I notify them what I plan to serve. "Would you like to come over for liver and onions? Brussels sprouts on the side?"

                                                                                                  If people aren't fond of (or are allergic to, or whatever) the planned meal, maybe I'll change it, but generally if they can't eat that dish we'll have to get together some other time.

                                                                                                  1. re: wayne keyser

                                                                                                    I guess I was the first to question what you said, and indeed at first glance I found it somewhat foreign to what I would do. On hearing your clarification, it sounds pretty reasonable to me. So when can I come over for liver and onions?

                                                                                                    1. re: wayne keyser

                                                                                                      Yes -- that makes plenty of sense when you explain it that way.

                                                                                                  2. re: wayne keyser

                                                                                                    I'm not sure if i'd have enough to feed a vegan properly, but they're welcome. I don't put meat or cheese in everything, usually.

                                                                                                  3. If I'm hosting a party with lots of people in attendance, I do not typically tell them what I will be serving in advanced unless asked. In this scenario it's never a formal dinner. I'm just making several appetizers for people to munch on. Actually, even dinners aren't formal at my house now that I think about it.

                                                                                                    Anyways, if one of my guests volunteered a food preference that was reasonable, I would make sure that I had at least a couple things that they could eat. If I'm having just one or 2 people over for dinner, I usually tell them what I'm thinking about cooking and try to get their opinions. These people are close enough to me that they will let me know if they don't like or prefer not to eat something I'm making. In which case, yes, I'll make something else.

                                                                                                    1. ahh see when we entertain it is kind of a theme thing so the guest will know what to expect.. The Derby part wiill be the traditional food,, The Bigfoot party wild game etc... if they are not up for what is going to be served they can come or not..

                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: girloftheworld

                                                                                                        "[I}f they are not up for what is going to be served they can come or not.."

                                                                                                        That is the point, after all. I you don't wanna watch Grandma light the tree, don't bring matches.

                                                                                                        . . .

                                                                                                        . . .

                                                                                                        . . .

                                                                                                        Oh, shit, I meant stay home and read "No Exit".

                                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                                              Ahhh curses and my Hobbit spelling skills... when will I learn not to trust my undeveloped brain???


                                                                                                              “There's no lack of void.”

                                                                                                              I need a spell check bar.

                                                                                                      2. If it's health related sure, personal preference no. I'm not serving peanuts to someone allergic. On the other hand I'm not accommodating every dietary idiosyncrasy.

                                                                                                        1. I'm going to take an unpopular position here, I guess. I learned to cook in the '80s, really really got into it, and now I'm maybe a little bit on the down side of it. The proliferation of people with self-imagined food sensetivities makes me crazy. IMO, most of them make life more difficult for the rest of the people that have genuine food issues. I'm kind of disappointed to have gotten so callous, but i've had a lot of exposure to the neurotic nellies that can't help putting themselves on higher and higher planes of delicateness.
                                                                                                          I have a delightful Lunch Buddy coworker. He and his wife have found that they're lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, and one guy who's known him for years says he's tried macrobiotics and several other fairly restrictive diet regimens, some of them classic and some of them sort of out there. My feeling is this- it's really difficult to eat with a restricted diet, and if it makes you feel so much better, then I'm very glad for you. But don't expect me to invite you for dinner, because I don't want to knock myself out and find out that you didn't tll me you can't eat what I'm serving.
                                                                                                          I obviously wouldn't cook pork or shrimp if I was having Jewish or Muslim friends over unless I knew they ate it during non-holiday times, but some people are just too precious in their own minds. That's my story and i'm stickin' with it. I'll take my chances at your dinner.

                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                            "Don't expect me to invite you for dinner."

                                                                                                            I am not sure how a thread about someone wanting to entertain their friends has devolved into a ridiculous statement about people expecting an invitation for an event that hasn't taken place yet.

                                                                                                            Oh yeah, it's Chowhound.

                                                                                                            Either accommodate or don't, but this rude, 'how dare you', attitude makes me think you really don't care, and I am wondering if these 'friends' you are talking about are really just acquaintances who you'll never invite to dinner anyway.

                                                                                                            If the specific meal is more important than the guests, then I encourage the OP to tell people in advance what is being served. If the guests are more important than the specific menu choices, then it's polite to inquire about food restrictions, whether they be medical or "we don't eat seafood."

                                                                                                            What a waste it would be to cook a meal your guests can't eat. What's the point of that?

                                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                                              My goodnes, you're really extrapolating there, Steve, where did you get a "how dare you" attitude from me? Unless you're saying "How dare you not accommodate my ever-evolving/devolving tinier and more delicate flower being that happens to fall victim to every dietary issue on earth as soon as it starts hitting the mainstream press?" If you're saying that, you're on your own, and are very likely one of the people that give people with REAL AND CLINICAL food allergies and reactions a bad name. People like that are the problem, not people with real medical issues. It appears that i've run across more than my fair share of them, including some that tried it on for size and found it wanting in attention-getting. My son is allergic to bananas and one brother-in-law turned out recently to have a bad allergy to kiwi, otherwise my immediate family is blessedly easy to feed, and I feel very fortunate about that. We have, over the years, dealt with a great-grandma, for instance, who said she couldn't eat onions but snarfed down the casserole that had them and not the one that was prepared especially without onions for her. Who's going to give GG onions when she says she can't eat them? Only she can eat them if the dish tastes better. It's a miracle.

                                                                                                            2. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                              I tend to agree, but I find myself much more resistant to "precious" requests than to actual needs. It's all in the attitude. If a friend has diabetes, I can work with that, but if someone is lactose/gluten intolerant, macrobiotic AND wants some special whatever, they're probably going to get whatever I cook for everyone. If that's a problem, have another drink and smile, fella, you can eat when you get home. Next time, we can put our heads together to figure out a compromise.

                                                                                                              1. re: blaireso

                                                                                                                " I find myself much more resistant to "precious" requests than to actual needs. It's all in the attitude"

                                                                                                                blaireso, you nailed it.

                                                                                                                1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                  Agree - my brother is currently doing this vegetarian-during-the-week thing, where he will eat meat on weekends only. He usually eats at our house two or three times a week. I cook what I want to cook - he's free to eat or not eat, or to bring his own food. Of course he's both family and a regular dining companion, so I don't tend to treat him with company manners.

                                                                                                            3. I never knew throwing a dinner party could be so involved. Almost without exception, I know the people I invite to a nice dinner party. I have no issue dealing with a food allergy or religious restrictions.

                                                                                                              Vegetarian is fine as long as they aren't picky. I don't know any vegans but if I did I don't know what I'd do.

                                                                                                              If I didn't know a guest or some guests I'd probably send them a menu and see what happens. If its that big of a deal they'll let someone know.

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                                                                                                I do a lot of volunteer work for the church (which is interesting because I don't attend or even believe), and had to cook several times for the vegan choir director. It was pretty interesting challenging myself to come up with interesting and delicious dishes under those restrictions. I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but cooking that way made me a better cook.

                                                                                                                1. re: JonParker

                                                                                                                  that's how I look at it, too...it's interesting to do the research, and it's a merit badge on my mental sash that I could produce a meal for a (insert vegan/vegetarian/celiac/etc) -- with a gold star if they enjoyed it.

                                                                                                              2. Reading all of the replies on this thread, and comparing it to my own experiences, I'm wondering if there's a cross-pond difference going on, or if there's something else happening! I very rarely have to make adjustments due to "preferences", though will of course accommodate medical/religious diets. The reasoning for this could be one of the following:

                                                                                                                *Left-over cultural memory of WW2 rationing, combined with the stiff-upper-lip, means that if you dislike something the _only_ socially correct responses are either not to take it from the serving dish, to quietly leave it on the side and pretend to be full, or to eat it and pretend to like it!
                                                                                                                *I live in the countryside, which means a far less strict "yuck" threshold, easier access to organic/local food, and a focus on slightly more pressing concerns than following faddish diets.
                                                                                                                *Most of my social circle have recently had between 3 (undergrad only) and 20 (school from an early age up to postgrad) years of school/uni food - which has fixed meals which can be distinctly variable, and tends to result in an iron stomach!

                                                                                                                In my experience, nearly all diets can be handled by relying on the prevalence of the traditional Roast Dinner (it deserves the capitals) as the ultimate dinner-party main course over here - can trivially be made safe for all diets save varieties of vegetarianism (in which case cook them something that goes with the vegetables), and can cater for most Jewish/Muslim/Hindu friends by choice of meat - lamb is a safe choice, since the dislike of lamb that some posters have mentioned isn't a thing over here at all, or chicken/other poultry. Puddings are harder, but making a variety including a fruit salad will cater for all.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: DavidPonting

                                                                                                                  Not at all -- my most adaptive menus were created in Europe.