These days, dinner invitations tend to lead with “do you have any food restrictions?” even before getting to “what day are you available?” When it comes to food, we live in a world of “frees” — everyone is off something — and sometimes that can make anyone that cares about manners and pulling off a good dinner party feel a little anxious.
Let’s get one thing straight: everyone is entitled to eat how they want to. Eating is, after all, a personal choice. Whether it’s for health or moral reasons, we all have things that we choose and choose not to eat. No one should ever make you feel bad about those choices.
That being said, sometimes as a dinner host it can feel difficult to accommodate a variety of dietary needs. What do you do when you’re planning a dinner party and you know that everyone doesn’t eat the same things? Here are a few tips for hosting eaters of all kinds.
1. Be a respectful host
A respectful host knows their guests. They ask questions. They know what they should and shouldn’t serve.
2. Serve your favorite pièce de résistance but have a second option
I had someone once tell me that they loved to make a certain Italian dish for dinner parties and for them, it wasn’t a dinner party without it. Great, make it! Just because everyone at the table might not be able to eat your favorite dish doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare it, but keep another option on hand, and make sure it’s not just salad.
3. Make your guests feel special
There is nothing worse than going to a dinner party with a food restriction and having to resort to scrounging through the host’s pantry. This goes back to being a respectful host: if you know you have a gluten-free guest coming, make sure you have something beyond a side salad and nuts that they can eat. Everyone likes to be treated well, especially when it comes to tasty food that they can devour.
4. Don’t attempt a completely new dish
If you’re cooking out of the box, i.e. preparing something you don’t feel comfortable with, the time to try it is not two hours before guests arrive. Maybe make a dish you know well and do a variation on it. Or find a new recipe and make it for dinner a few weeks ahead of time. That way, you don’t to get stuck in an “I prepared something but it turned into a disaster and now we’re just going to drink wine for dinner” situation.
5. Don’t single guests out
It can be awkward and embarrassing to be the one person at the table who doesn’t eat [insert food here]. Plus, dining is a communal experience, which means that you’re better off trying to prepare at least one dish that everyone can indulge in then a full meal with a special side meal for your guest that has a few restrictions. You’re not on an airplane getting your special meal after all. Make at least one thing that everyone can enjoy together.
6. Have fun
One of the best potlucks I ever went to had a typewriter in the kitchen where you could write “vegetarian,” “vegan,” “gluten-free” or whatever else your dish was. That way everyone knew what they were eating, there was no culinary confusion, and it made for quaint dinner decoration. Plus, who doesn’t like using a typewriter in the kitchen?
Photo Credit: anoldent