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When you are hosting a dinner party, do you ask guests whether they have dietary restrictions, or preview the menu for them?

  • m

I've been struck by some recent discussions on this Board by problems that have arisen from guests vetoing or commenting in advance on the proposed menu.

Perhaps it's because most of our friends are omnivores (although we have some who are lacto-ovo vegetarians and pescatarians, as well as family members with diabetes and food allergies), but I do not view it as my role as the host to ask whether a guest has food issues. I assume that a guest, if I do not know him/her well, will alert me to any serious food issues (whether dictated by health, religion or ethics) and I will devise a menu that accommodates those constraints. But, unless the food restrictions were particularly unusual, I would not advise them in advance of the precise details of the menu.

My only exception on previewing the menu would be for a holiday dinner, where a guest may offer to bring a dish. In those circumstances, I'll tell him/her the menu and then typically ask, "what's missing that you'd like to bring?" In other situations, if a guest insists on bringing something, I'll let them bring nibbles/hors d'oeuvres but I don't tell them the rest of the meal.

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  1. I always do this. If it's a large gathering served buffet style, I will even put the title and all ingredients of the dish in front of each one. Having the paramedics come out once when we didn't have this info and I put a somewhat atypical ingredient in one of the dishes, was enough for me.

    Lesson learned. Now I always ask no matter what the occasion.

    1. I don't necessarily tell them what I'm making, but I always ask at the time I invite them if there are any food issues. That makes it much easier to put together a menu that everyone can enjoy.
      I don't mind the challenge of working around GF, vegan, etc.

      13 Replies
      1. re: kitchengardengal

        I would expect someone who was GF or vegan to volunteer the information, assuming that it's not someone already know to be in that category. I'm happy to work with guests dietary restrictions; I just don't feel that it's my role as host to seek them out.

        1. re: masha

          I would expect them to offer it up too, but I just hosted a BBQ last week and was surprised that two GF guests said nothing when they RSVPd (about a week in advance). It would have been the first time ever that I hosted a party with more than a few people where there were zero diet restrictions (no vegetarians/vegans, allergies, etc.).

          I was suspicious, so the day before the party I sent out an email saying something like "Just want to make sure everyone eats meat and there are no dietary restrictions." I got a response immediately that the one guest and his wife are 100% GF.

          This required me to (last minute) change almost every dish. Even the salad dressing I'd made had Dijon mustard in it, which apparently wasn't certified GF. Marinades for the meats and veggies too. Not to mention a separate dessert had to be made.

          The GF guests offered to bring all their own dishes, and I declined and was happy to accommodate them, but it would have made much more sense to just tell me from the start before I'd shopped and planned everything out.

          1. re: nothingswrong

            They are gf as a voluntary paleo/atkins/whatever diet or they are gf because they are celiac...?
            I have a lower tolerance for high maintenece guests with food "preferences" than i do for those with medical/ethical/religious lifestyles that affect food choices

            1. re: Ttrockwood

              I didn't ask up front, but at the party I asked more just because I was so hurried prepping everything by myself that I was worried about cross contamination. I grew up with a brother with deathly food allergies to many many foods, so I'm normally very careful.

              I served family/buffet style and as the GF guests walked up, I said "Celiac?" and the female said "No but I absolutely can't have gluten." I didn't press it further, as I was just meeting this woman, having known her fiancé for about 10 years but not seeing him in maybe 6. I assume she is "gluten intolerant" as so many people are these days.

              I don't mind accommodating one such restriction, but had it been a bunch of them I'd probably have just told them to bring their own food. A member of my bf's family is also GF to a neurotic extent, but I've never been able to get a straight answer from her about why... Not celiac, but vague "icky" symptoms. I respect her decision 100% but again, having grown up in a house with Epi Pens in every room, I have to do my best not to kind of cringe inside.

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                I think with GF at this point you have to ask to what degree - some who are GF as a medical need would need to have the dijon mustard out. Those with GF preferences, if asked, does every ingredient need to say GF on the packaging or is regular dijon mustard ok. You get a lot more insight when you ask for clarification.

                In my husband's family there are degrees of kosher, believe it or not. My parents-in-law will eat anything non-kosher outside of their house. My brother-in-law, though, won't eat non-kosher meat so for him we serve fish. But he's not fussed if I've put milk in the mashed potatoes if the milk is kosher or not. But there are distant relatives who would never eat in my house no matter what.

                Hosts can decide if they want to press for this kind of info or roll the dice, because a lot of guests really don't give the detail that's needed - either because it doesn't occur to them, or they are trying to appear to be polite and easy going when in reality it's going to make the dinner/event awkward if they don't pipe up.

                1. re: 16crab

                  Yes, I agree about asking for clarification on "levels" of gluten sensitivity. I didn't, and had to go out and buy certified GF mustard. I also checked online and even calling manufacturers of my sugar, chocolate, etc. to make sure they were indeed GF. I doubt many hosts would want to deal with this though.

                  1. re: nothingswrong

                    I just hope your guests realized and subsequently appreciated the concerned effort to accomodate them on your part.

                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Not a "thanks" or even an acknowledgement was uttered...

                      1. re: nothingswrong

                        Hhhhhmmm. If their thank you note or email "got lost in the mail" i would think twice before inviting again- poor manners (regardless of the dietary issue) are not endearing.

            2. re: masha

              This weekend's cookout includes three vegan, one multiple food allergies (poultry, eggs, GF, chocolate, peanuts, et al), one GF, dairy free, sesame allergy, one MSG allergy.
              Knowing all this in advance makes menu planning so much easier.
              Some of the dishes hubby and I have decided on - Cole slaw with vinegar dressing, wild and white rice pilaf with dried cranberries, vinaigrette dressed potato salad, pineapple almond/coconut milk sherbet, salmon. Still working on a meat for the carnivores. The vegans are bringing veggie burgers and vegan sides.

              1. re: kitchengardengal

                I don't doubt that knowing in advance makes meal planning easier. Just a question of who needs to take the initiative. Maybe it's just my social circle, but dietary restrictions are sufficiently unusual that I expect the guest to flag it for me in advance. I've hosted a number of events over the past several months that included people whom I did not know well enough to be sure they had no special dietary needs but I relied on them to alert me. None did and it turned out fine -- omnivores all.

            3. re: kitchengardengal

              I even ask something like if there are allergies, or things that you absolutely hate...

              Once I know preferences, I make a mental note and never have to ask again. (

            4. I don't ask. No one in our regular group of family/friends has a special diet or any food issues. I would try to be accommodating if a new guest let me know in advance about any dietary requirements but so far that has never happened.

              1. This subject has been beaten to death on this site. It usually doesn't end well, lol.

                The majority of our dinner parties, casual BBQ's, holiday dinners etc are with friends and family we know well so the menu is only really discussed if someone asks.

                Gone are the days of inviting the boss and his/her partner to dinner or the parents of new school friends.

                The rare times a complete stranger comes for a meal I do ask.

                1. I always ask. I don't see it as an obligation or a bother. I also don't change my menu much about it either. I typically add a dish or two if needed, rather than changing my entree or theme. I just want to make sure everyone has choices.
                  I regularly accommodate family that is gluten free, allergic to soy, some nut allergies, vegetarian and low carbers. We always make it work!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sedimental

                    Exactly.
                    Love the idea of amending the menu vs. changing it.

                    My guess is most guests feel the same way.

                    1. re: pedalfaster

                      ^This

                      My dinner parties are mostly friends or family or new people I've met to blend into some interesting conversations with people meeting each other for the first time.
                      I always ask people if they have dietary restrictions…I don't go over my menu but I would add something to accommodate them.
                      Recently, one of the people who I invited is gluten free. He asked if he could bring his favorite dish…he brought it, everyone liked it and now we all have a new recipe.