How to Serve Guests With Dietary Restrictions
When you serve food this holiday season, the last thing you want your guests to say is, “What’s in that?” instead of “Yum!” And there are so many restrictions out there these days—gluten free, vegan, kosher, peanut free, pescetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian—that even if you don’t eat a restricted diet yourself, chances are you know someone who does. So how can you graciously accommodate guests with dietary restrictions at your next social event?
First things first: always ask about food restrictions before your guests arrive, or at the time of inviting them for a more casual event, so you can adequately prepare. How uncomfortable is it for a guest to arrive to a lasagna dinner with bread and salad and croutons, only to sit with an empty plate because they are gluten free? If you are a guest with special dietary needs, feel free to let the host know in advance, and you can even offer to bring something (in my case, I always bring an appetizer and plenty of gluten-free crackers for all the guests).
So you’ve done your due diligence by asking in advance, and you’ve discovered you’ll be serving a dairy-free guest. When you accommodate a guest with a dietary restriction, you don’t need to make the entire meal dairy free—one or two options is fine, but you’ll probably want to nix the ice cream sundae bar you had planned for dessert. At the start of the meal, announce which dishes meet which dietary needs, to avoid the awkward, “Does this have dairy in it? How about this?” Better yet, get fancy with little ceramic or blackboard signs that tell guests what is dairy free, gluten free, meatless, and so on. If you are that dairy-free guest, you should expect that not every dish will be OK for you to eat, so you might want to eat a heavy snack beforehand.
And what happens if a guest doesn’t tell you about a dietary restriction before they sit, empty plated? The best you can do is apologize and see how you can best leverage the food you have: a larger, crouton-free portion of the appetizer salad for our gluten-free friend at the lasagna dinner, or a quick fruit salad made from the fruit in your refrigerator instead of the ice cream sundae bar for our dairy-free friend.
When serving guests with dietary restrictions, the bottom line is about being gracious and making your guests comfortable. After all, you invited them into your home, and making them feel welcome is part of the deal!