Social Question

Judi's avatar

Dinner party etiquette. Is it the host or the guests responsibility to communicate dietary restrictions of the guests?

Asked by Judi (37636 points ) May 21st, 2012

I feel really bad. We live in a pretty red neck town but have recently made some more progressive friends. We had two couples over for a light supper of soup and salad last night and I didn’t bother to ask if anyone was vegetarian.
The soup had ham in it. They were very gracious, but I didn’t find out until dinner was over that they were vegetarian.
Who’s responsibility is it to communicate this when making new friends?

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53 Answers

jca's avatar

I had read somewhere that when you are invited to someone’s house, you should not “require” them to cook anything specific, and if you have any restrictions you should eat something first, so you’re set and not starving. I know some will disagree and say that’s foolish because the host wants you to eat what she cooks.

I don’t think there’s any rule written in stone about who is responsible for communicating. I know when I was on a low carb diet, I would just attend parties and deal with it on my own by eating what I wanted and not eating what I couldn’t.

I think when you’re hosting a party, it’s nice enough and responsibility enough to plan a menu without thinking of 30 or so people and all of their requirements and restrictions.

I have another friend who told me about her health issues, and she would go to parties and tell everyone about her health issues and why she couldn’t eat this and couldn’t eat that. I don’t think people really care to hear that stuff. I think you should keep it to yourself. Just my opinion.

Charles's avatar

You could have casually mentioned what you were serving during the invitation. There may be other reasons people don’t eat something. Diabetes, religious, lactose intolerance for example.

Judi's avatar

I it was just 6 people. I think I probably should have asked since these are people who are more socially conscious than the others I have known in this town.

Trillian's avatar

Dang @Judi, don’t beat yourself up over this. I feel like the guests had the ball in their court. No one has a sign on their forehead that says “Vegetarian” or whatever. Another time you probably will remember this and ask, but sheesh! You’re not Karnak the Magnificent here!
I hated onions when I was young, and I would just pick them out if someone fed me something with them in it. I never expected them to make a separate dish without them just for my picky ass.

bkcunningham's avatar

Now, knowing you and your husband eat pork, do you think they will serve pork when/if they invite you to eat with them? Or will they serve what foods they eat and find appealing? Be yourself. If they don’t eat the soup, don’t feel bad or upset. You’ll know next time.

wundayatta's avatar

You can’t read people’s minds. I think that if you remember, it is nice to ask new guests if they have any dietary restrictions. This gives them the opportunity to say they will find something to eat, or to tell you, if they want. But most guests want you to do what you will do, and not to feel restricted by them.

On the other hand, you are not required to ask, and most people go somewhere knowing the food may not be to their liking, and they will find some way to deal with it when they get there. Everyone wants to be polite. Usually it is when you become much closer friends that you can start talking about dietary restrictions more openly.

But generally, it is the guest’s responsibility to deal with it, and be grateful they have been invited. If the host goes out of their way, all the better, but it is not required, in my opinion. Of course, as a caring host, you want your guests to be happy, and now you are kicking yourself for not asking, but you didn’t break any laws of etiquette. It’s all right. Next time, if there is one, you can work to prepare something your guests might feel more comfortable eating.

Judi's avatar

BTW, these are amazingly wonderful people and “best friend” potential.

JLeslie's avatar

This goes both ways. It is so tricky, because really, does a guest have a right to ask you to alter your menu just for them? It’s your party, your menu. At the same time, of course, as the host you want everyone to enjoy themseves and the food and feel comfortable.

Most vegetarians I know eat beforehand or bring some of their own food sometimes. Some do ask what will be served, or mention they are vegetarians. Even if a host asks, they many times will answer honestly that they are vegetarians, but then say to the host don’t go to any trouble for them though, they always find something to eat.

As a guest if I am asked I do say I don’t eat veal, and I appreciate being asked, but if I am not asked and that is the main dish, I just eat everything else. I know there is a risk that the host feels badly, but I really really don’t want her too, and I don’t think that she/you should, and I don’t think that she should have asked if there are any food restrictions. It’s her party. For me it is even more than veal; I go to parties all the time that have fat laden food, and I eat very small portions and skip some of the dishes.

Since you seem to be beating yourself up about this, which I don’t think you should, but since you care about your invitees enjoying all the food, then I think you should ask next time for you. Because you will feel better. Doesn’t matter what the etiquette might be.

DominicX's avatar

I do think it is the guest’s responsibility, or in my case, the responsibility of the person bringing the guest if the other person knows the host.

This same thing happened to one of my friends; she and her roommates like to make dinner sometimes and invite me and whoever I want to bring along. Well I brought someone who was lactose intolerant and the host loves cheese and almost everything had cheese in it to the point where all my friend could eat was plain pasta. Of course I didn’t know what the host was preparing and of course I knew that my friend was lactose intolerant and I didn’t relay the information to her, so it was completely my fault for not mentioning it.

JLeslie's avatar

Just thinking about what @DominicX wrote, was it his responsibility to tell the host? Or, warn the guest? I personally would probably warn the guest.

Also, now that @Judi is aware of the eating habits of these friends, she can accomodate them better in the future if she wants to. This first time was a learning experience. No reason to feel badly.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Who’s responsibility is it to communicate this when making new friends? I wish more people with any type of dietary restriction would mention it on the front end. Otherwise, it more often than not causes exactly what you felt.

How hard is it to say, “Judi, we would love to attend the dinner party! Just so you know in advance, I / we are vegetarian (or whatever it might be). Please do not make any effort to change the menu. We want to be there for the friendship.” This should open it up for the host to discuss the menu and see if it will meet their needs.

From a few mistakes like this in the past, I now, as a host, ask on the front end. I really enjoy catering to special needs, even if it is a little extra work.

bkcunningham's avatar

Did they eat the soup or not?

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I rely on guests to let me know something as cut and dry as vegetarianism because some of them can become ill on foods they’re not used to. As a host/hostess, I’d feel awful if a guest got sick or ate something just not to be rude. It’s so much easier if people are clear so no one is left in the awkward seat.

janbb's avatar

I think in these days when so many people have food issues, it is a good idea for the host to ask if the guests have any food restrictions and try to provide alternatives within reason.

marinelife's avatar

I believe that it is the guests. We made some new friends and invited them for dinner. I served rack of lamb and they both ate it. Afterward, the guy told me. But he went into it knowing that I would probably serve meat and had planned to eat it.

Judi's avatar

@bkcunningham , they ate it but just ate around the ham.

bkcunningham's avatar

I’m glad they were polite and kind about your nice and well meaning meal. So far, they sound like keepers. I hope it is one of those things you laugh about with them 50 years from now.

Judi's avatar

Hehe. In 50 years I’ll be 101. it waste other guests, when talking about our next get together who brought it up.

bkcunningham's avatar

Cheers to a long, healthy and happy life.

Have you mentioned it to your vegetarian guests? I would bring it up – in a funny, light hearted way – and just let them know that I had no idea of their diet when I made soup with, of all things, ham. Oops. It is sort of funny. Sounds like something I’d do. You didn’t know.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I think it is polite to ask, but it is their responsibility to check. They are the ones with restrictions, so they bear some responsibility for making that fact known.

bkcunningham's avatar

It really sounds like it was not a big deal to them.

YARNLADY's avatar

Personally, I would ask people who are coming for the first time if they have any preferences.

Plucky's avatar

I think it can be either. The host can ask the guests; but the guests can also let the host know if they have dietary restrictions or preferences. It depends on the people involved and how formal the get-together is.

josie's avatar

My mom told me that if I was somebody’s guest, I should eat what they served whether I liked it or not. So I did and still do. If it violates some principle or something, at least it does not happen that often. If I was allergic or something (I have no allergies) I would simply have to say so. No big deal.

JLeslie's avatar

@josie I hate that rule. I never eat what I don’t like or am against eating. What I hate most about that rule is most people who live by it, usually get very insulted or find it rude when people don’t eat whatever is put in front of them. I am not acusing you or your mom of being that way, I just have encountered it myself.

josie's avatar

@JLeslie To each his own. I like the rule. It has never let me down.

Kardamom's avatar

Ok, let me give you a little background about my situation before I answer. Most of you know that I am a vegetarian, mostly for ethical reasons, one of my close friends has a severe peanut allergy, 2 of my relatives have diabetes, one of my cousins cannot have dairy and one of my other cousin’s married into a Hindu family, so the in-laws are vegetarians for religious reasons.

Anytime I’m the host, I always ask if anybody has any special dietary restrictions and give them a basic idea of what I was planning. I can work around anything. If it’s a more formal thing, with mailed out invitations, I’ll put a little blurb right in there, so that when they RSVP, they can let me know (although the folks that I’ve already mentioned, I already know about their situations). If it’s more casual, I’ll just ask them directly. If I’m inviting friends or relatives that might bring an unknown date or friend, I have them find out and then report back to me. Like I said, I can work around anything.

If I am a guest and it’s someone that I know, I will just discreetly let them know, ahead of time, that I am a vegetarian and then ask them if they want/need me to bring along a vegetarian entree/appetizer/salad/whatever.

If I am a guest of someone that I don’t know, like if I’m the date of someone who was invited to a wedding, I will ask the invited person to ask if there was any indication of a vegetarian meal on the invitation. Nowadays, there usually is (and you have no idea how much us vegetarians appreciate that fact) but if there isn’t, I will make a point to eat something before I go and I always have snacks in my purse anyway.

If it’s a super formal wedding or other type of event, and I do not know the host, I may simply decline. I don’t want to go to a fancy sit-down event and stand out like a sore thumb if there is nothing for me to eat (it’s happened before and it was embarrassing for me and for my seatmates, other people that I didn’t know).

So what I’m suggesting, is that it is not a requirement of either the guest or the host to say anything, but it truly makes it helpful and less embarrasing and stressful for everyone involved, if the hosts ask and the guests discreetly let the host know the situation and then let them know if they can or should bring something.

And it would be nice if brides to be would consider that some of their guests might have one of more of these situations and offer a vegan entree with no nuts or dairy. That will take care of the vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerant people and people with nut allergies. Most lactose intolerant folks will eat the meat entree anyway, and so will most diabetics. You’d be surprised at how many luscious vegan entrees can be made these days. Most wedding planners and caterers can help you select one.

As for @Judi don’t beat yourself up about this. Most people in the U.S. eat meat, so unless you’re used to dining with veggies, you probably didn’t even think about it. No harm done. Most vegetarians have run into this problem before, and it usually only takes one time, before they realize that it might be helpful if they speak up beforehand, especially if it’s a new friend who may not know their situation. No one wants to cause anyone else any embarrassment. So if both the host and the guest ask and tell, then it makes it much easier for everyone. We should all just get into the habit of doing it.

JLeslie's avatar

@josie Do you judge those who refuse a dish, or don’t eat what is put in front of them as rude?

jca's avatar

What they say you’re supposed to do if you’re in @josie‘s position is push the food around on your plate without actually eating it, or without eating much, if you really don’t like it.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Do you think that really fools anyone?

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: I think it depends on how crowded the party is and how busy the hosts are.

bkcunningham's avatar

I was taught to politely and graciously accept what is offered to me when I am visiting someone’s home or when I’m their guest at an event. I thought that was just proper etiquette. I can’t imagine dictating to a host what I was going to eat. I have a couple of food allergies and my friends are aware of this. There have still been instances when the food I’m allergic to is served at events. I obviously can’t eat it, but there is always enough of other foods for me to eat.

bewailknot's avatar

I think it is the responsibility of the person with the restrictions to speak up, but also offer to bring something. I have a friend whose son has many dietary allergies. When they are invited somewhere she warns the host about his restrictions and that she will bring his special food. Most of the time he only consumes a specially manufactured liquid diet.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham I think my thing is, once I have accepted the food, then what is not eaten, even if I don’t touch it, will be thrown out. If I refuse it, it can be saved for later as a leftover. Since I come from a family that hates to waste, it seems better to to not pretend I like it, and then barely eat it or not at all. It would deoend on the situation of course, the size of the party, and some other factors.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

If it’s a medium to large-sized party, I just make sure I have a balanced menu, and guests can usually find something to eat from that. However, if it’s a small dinner party or just the guest in question, then I ask if they have any particular foods they can’t eat. However, as others said, it’s also the guest’s responsibility to say something, at some point, whether before or after the fact.

bkcunningham's avatar

I understand, @JLeslie. I came from a family where you ate what was set on the table or you didn’t eat. My dad’s motto was, “If you get hungry enough you will eat anything.” With eight children, there wasn’t anything wasted.

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie Yeah, I don’t eat what I don’t like either. But I can think of no instance where there was nothing I could eat when I was a guest. There’s always something I like and there are few foods that I find disgusting. But of course I’m not going to eat a food I find disgusting; would it be ruder to not eat it or throw up on their dinner table?

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX Exactly. I’m with you.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@bkcunningham My parents, at least my father, felt the same way as yours. They grew up during the depression era, and it impacted how they looked upon food purchases, preparation and consumption. It is also probably why all four of their children have different views on food consumption. I wish that our parents had explained the benefits of eating a variety of foods. It would have gone much better than demanding that one sister sit at the table until she ‘cleaned her plate’.

As @JLeslie points out, as a host, I would appreciate knowing in advance that she does not care for veal. That way, I won’t serve it to her and have it go to waste. It won’t cause her any discomfort for creating a social faux pas or sitting through the meal working her way around it.

The SO and I decided to host a party earlier this year for his parents, uncles and their spouses. I mentioned that I wanted to contact them prior to the engagement to find out their dietary requirements and preferences. The SO’s father thought that I was bonkers, but it was important to me, so I called them up. It was easy to accommodate the needs of the vegetarians and diabetics in this group of twelve. The goal was for them to enjoy the evening in the comfort of people that they care about and not to worry about eating before or going home feeling hungry.

bookish1's avatar

I have a lot of dietary restrictions, being a Hindu vegetarian and a type 1 diabetic. I consider it MY responsibility to take care of my own dietary needs, at ANY time. This can mean, asking the host ahead of time if there are going to be veg. options (but not demanding them of course!), eating a protein-heavy snack before-hand so I’m not S.O.L. if the dinner ends up being roast beef, or bringing a vegetarian side dish/entree that will ensure there will be at least one veg. item there. I don’t assume that people will be knowledgeable about or will anticipate either of my conditions. (I can’t tell you the number of times people have said to me : “Oh, you’re diabetic! So you just don’t eat sugar!” or “Oh, you’re vegetarian! So you just eat salad!” headdesk and no, humans cannot survive without sugar of some sort, OR by eating salad alone. Geez.)

I throw dinner parties myself pretty often, and because I have experience on the other side of things, I always ask if any of the guests have dietary issues/allergies/etc. I don’t think it’s a host’s responsibility to do so, but I know that guests sure do appreciate it if they have dietary needs.

Judi's avatar

Just to let you know, they were very gracious and I know better now. I am going to a new Church that is way more socially, environmentally and personally conscious than my last Church. A lot of the members are vegetarian, most recycle, and they are very good at looking out for the needs of others. I LOVE it, but I have to remember that they are not the same as the self indulgent carnivores I used to hang out with.

dabbler's avatar

I’m a vegetarian, and like @bookish1 I’d say something ahead of time if invited to a dinner party, or I’d consider it my responsibility to feed myself.
I also would not hesitate to ask whether what’s being served is vegetarian or not.
I do it with a smile and am ready to hear whatever answer and do not want to embarrass the host(ess) or make them feel bad.

When we have a party, (not a dinner party, we know what will be served then), we might invite people explicitly to bring “vegetarian snacks”.

Kardamom's avatar

@dabbler I don’t know about you, but is anyone else craving an awesome vegetarian Jelly potluck?

I know, I know, some of you can’t imagine enjoying vegetarian food, but what if I was to make some of these things? Would that at least entice you to stop by? I never force anyone to eat anything they don’t like. It’s just a sampling of possibilities such as these:

Vegetarian Chili

Fettucine Alfredo with Portobello Mushrooms

Grilled Margarita Pizza

Fresh Spring Rolls with Garlic/Soy Dipping Sauce

Stuffed Mushrooms

Onion Rings with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Jalapeño Cheese Cornbread

Thai Tom Kha Soup

Vegetable Pot Pie

Four Cheese Mac and Cheese

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing

Corn Pudding

Lemon Sourcream Pound Cake with Strawberry Sauce

Gingerbread Cake with Carmel Sauce

Chocolate, Macadamia, Coconut Pie

Whadya think?

Judi's avatar

Quit making me hungry!
What a time to come up with recipes. We rented a motor home and are getting ready to go on a vacation with these new vegetarian friends.

bookish1's avatar

@Kardamom: I’ll be over in a jiffy ;)

Kardamom's avatar

@bookish1 Great! You can be my prep chef : )

@Judi Not to worry, I packed you a care package to take on your trip. Now hold it from the bottom, you don’t want the soup to spill. Have a great time, don’t forget to write : )

bookish1's avatar

@Kardamom: Deal. It’s an honor to play sous chef for people who actually know what they’re doing in the kitchen! :)

dabbler's avatar

@Kardamom Wow! I’d sous-chef for that occasion, and probably learn a thing or two.
yum yum yum yum yum yum

Kardamom's avatar

@dabbler Do you think we’ll get any volunteers to wash the dishes afterwards?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Kardamom I’ll be happy to take on dish duty as long as I can start it while y’all are cooking. Anything left over after 11pm will have to be done by someone else or wait until the morning.

Kardamom's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer You sound like me. I usually clean as I go along. Makes cleanup so much easier in the long run.

I made cold soba noodle salad with baked teriyaki tofu, broccoli and peanut butter dressing last night : )

jca's avatar

Thanks for the food ideas. You write that as I sit on the deck and smell my neighbors’ steak that they’re grilling. I feel like saying to them, “Can I have some? I promise not to eat much! I’ll bring the apple pie that I just got from Trader Joe’s!”

GloPro's avatar

I think it’s great if you know before hand, and offer a menu showing them that you remember that detail. People love themselves, an it makes us feel good that you thought of us. I have a friend who can’t eat salt, so I introduce my meal as I plate it and make sure to mention the salt content. I also have another friend that’s Jewish, and I forgot. I asked him to help me take the damn ham out of the oven for me before it struck me as he was standing there holding it. What an idiot, right? He made do with a leftover piece of steak, bless his heart, and I made up for it at a later meal.

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