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Dinner Party Etiquette: How to Handle Dietary Restrictions?

You're likely to be invited to a number of dinner parties during the holiday season. But what if you have dietary restrictions? How should you handle that without seeming rude? Modern Manners Guy joins Nutrition Diva to discuss the etiquette of special dietary needs.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
December 11, 2013
Episode #263

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My friend Richie Frieman is the host of the Modern Manners Guy podcast and he’s joining me today for a very special Nutrition Diva episode to talk about dinner parties. More specifically, the etiquette involved when guests have special dietary needs or requests. 

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Nutrition Diva: This is a time of year when a lot of us are entertaining more and also going to parties at other people’s houses. How should guests let their hosts know about dietary restrictions—especially for a sit down dinner?

Modern Manners Guy: Whenever you have a dietary concern or issue that will affect how you'll feel at someone's home, I suggest you bring it up with the hosts ahead of time. Trust me, the host/hostess wants everyone to be happy, and the last thing they want is for a guest to not enjoy themselves because of something they did or did not provide. As well, think about how everyone (especially the host) will feel when everyone sits down for the meal and you don't even touch the appetizer. People will think you're being rude or that there is something wrong with the food. Always ask ahead of time. Drop an email, give a call. It never hurts to say something. Do not think of this as being picky or intruding either. You're simply letting them know your situation. 

ND: From an etiquette point of view, is there a difference between a medically necessary restriction (such as a Celiac who needs to avoid gluten) and other dietary choices (such as an ethical decision to avoid animal products)? 

No one will be upset if you can't eat something because of allergies. But it's always best to say something ahead of time.   

MMG: If you can't eat something because you suffer from Celiac disease and need to avoid gluten in order to stay healthy, you should not feel bad about avoiding the tasty, wheat-filled cake. This is not your fault. The host cannot be annoyed at this - it's not like you chose for your intestines to be bad at digesting proteins!

The same thing goes for not wanting to eat something just because of a personal preference like red meat versus white meat. Bottom line, if you don't eat something normally - for whatever reason - you don't have to at a dinner party! I would never be mad at a vegetarian for not wanting to try my bacon burgers. That's really insensitive. However, the rudeness issue happens if a guest shuns a plate because they look down upon the cooking or the ingredients. Like, "I never eat that brand. I only like the organic." That's being rude.

Bottom line, if you have a special diet, always say something to the hosts ahead of time. If you don't eat red meat, let them know. If you are Celiac, that is majorly important. As is someone with a peanut allergy or a similar issue. Always speak up. You won't be kicked out. I promise!

ND: Should guests with dietary restrictions or preferences offer to bring their own food? What if they are staying overnight? If they bring their own gluten-free crackers or tofu burgers (or whatever), should they bring enough for everyone?

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