First, remember that you’re perfectly normal, says Ottawa-based etiquette consultant Julie Blais Comeau. “You’re probably not the only one at the party or in the hosts’ social circle” with specific dietary requirements.
Many people restrict certain foods from their diets, whether by choice or necessity. Regardless, it doesn’t have to create complications. Comeau advises:
Keep it simple. Brief explanations are best. “You don’t need to make your food needs a source of drama,” she says, even if you have an anaphylactic allergy. Comeau suggests being both direct and gracious. A statement like “I’m so delighted to be invited, and you should know that I have a serious peanut allergy, so I have to be on the alert” is often enough.
When you’re avoiding foods that are less dangerous to you, keep commentary to a minimum: “You know, dairy doesn’t agree with me, so I’ll forgo the pizza.”
Rehearse. If you’re unsure about whether you can state your needs directly and cheerfully, practice some stock phrases, says Comeau. She even endorses the use of polite fibs when necessary: “The meal was so delicious, and I ate a lot at lunch, so I’m going to pass on dessert.” This can save the conversation from turning to food restrictions.
Bring something appropriate for yourself — and share it. If the entrée is likely going to be something you can’t eat (maybe you’re a vegan on your way to a barbecue), propose bringing a dish when you accept the invitation. Comeau suggests offering to share something you make well, then asking the host if it fits with his or her meal plans.
Remember that the host wants you to be comfortable. “They invited you, so they enjoy your company, and you already know that,” says Comeau. “After all, what is the real goal of inviting people over for dinner? It’s the congeniality. It’s about being together. In the end, it’s really not about the food. It’s about making memories.”
This originally appeared as “I have food restrictions and worry about alienating hosts at dinner parties. How can I make it easier on all of us?” in the September 2018 print issue of Experience Life.