Whether you are the host or the invited company, navigating your way around a list of dietary restrictions and/or preferences can be something of a minefield. When you are the guest, it can also lead to the basic question “Am I going to be able to eat or will I go hungry?”
So do you, the guest, alert your host to your dietary restrictions, or do you remain silent and hope for the best?
If it is going to be a small dinner party, informing your host in advance will help to avoid a potentially awkward situation later; people do notice when a guest is not eating, no matter how well you rearrange the food on the plate. At the same time, it will also provide you with an opportunity to offer to bring a dish. Suggested wording for this could be “Thank you for the invitation. I do want to let you know that I eat a gluten free diet. I would be happy to bring a _________ (gluten free dish) if that is all right with you.”
Two things might then happen:
1. Your host is thrilled because she not only knows of your dietary concerns but is also relieved of the need to prepare a different dish. You also have the chance to show further consideration by asking if there is a particular item that would complement the rest of the meal.
2. You will be able to gauge your host’s reaction to your news; for some hosts, this could throw them completely into the deep end because you are upsetting their menu plans. In that case, you might emphasize that you will be very happy to eat side dishes (or whatever you can), and you now know that you will want to eat in advance.
If the party is going to be large or buffet style, you may choose to remain silent and take a chance that there will be enough selections to meet your needs.
Please don’t bring something without asking. Typically, your host has gone to a lot of thought, time, and effort for the event and showing up unannounced with your own food is rather insulting.
Personal health matters are not a good topic of discussion at a dinner party and your particular dietary restrictions or preferences are no exception, unless your host inquires. Along those lines, being overly obvious in your food selection (and avoidance) may very well result in failing to be invited back again.
As with any event, be sure to tell your host how much you enjoyed the meal. Whether you are still hungry makes little difference; you were invited with the best of intentions and that is what matters.
Sharing a meal is about the people, the relationships you develop, and the pleasure of their company. It’s not really about the food.
Business Etiquette & Customer Service Specialist
Speaker & Seminar Leader
“Etiquette is about polishing your approach,
not changing who you are.”