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Dinner etiquette

I have been thinking about the comments in another question regarding inviting people to dinner and having them announce, on arrival. that they are vegans. I have always been amazed by the combos of guest that people seem to accommodate. Hotline questions abound about planning a menu for multiple diet requirements of guests : vegan, gluten free, no red meat, paleo etc. etc. etc. I am curious, as a guest do you indicate menu preferences? Or do you figure you will just muddle through with whatever is on the menu. Do you distinguish between diet choices and medical diet requirements? As a host, what are your thoughts? It always seems rather demanding (to me) for guest to respond to a dinner invitation with a list of what they will and won’t eat. On the other hand I suppose it is worse to prepare an elaborate meal only to have guests eat nothing but salad and the green vegetable. I am curious about what others think both as hosts and guest. If you are planning a dinner party do you compare known dietary preferences as you make up the guest list?

asked by caninechef 2 months ago

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25 answers 844 views
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BerryBaby

BerryBaby is trusted source on General Cooking

added 2 months ago

I agree. Making a number of different meals is more like being a restaurant! When I have a dinner party guests know what I'm going to make and they can decide if they want to partake. an alternative would be a cocktail party with a buffet of various small hors d'oeuvres.

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 2 months ago

I've been a vegetarian for over 30 years. I am happy to eat just a salad in good company, but I tend to receive invitations from people who either know my life or eat a more broad variety of foods. I guess I just don't get out much, because it has never been a problem for me. I'll let you know whenever I receive an invitation from people who don't know me, but I am wondering what I am supposed to do--not go, or inform the host (well ahead of time, naturally)!

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Nancy

Nancy is a trusted home cook.

added 2 months ago

On the overall question, I think something magical happens at a good dinner party, and part of that magic comes from eating the same food.
I did a quick web review looking for Miss Manners' take on this, but found instead a British army major who issued some dinner etiquette after he found his officers' habits wanting some refinement (more about him later).
The host shouldn't demand that the guests eat everything (like a nanny, or a nagging college dean I once worked for at her start-of-term receptions for new students).
Neither should a guest demand a meal tailored to his or her specifications.
After all, it's a home, not a short-order diner.
Only exception: those for whom a substance can cause anaphylactic shock.
When I was a vegetarian (more than 20 years), my experience was like Valhalla's - I would happily eat what I could, not issue demands, but after a while some repeat hosts would set aside something I could eat or task me with making a dish we could all eat if I offered to cook something.
And yes, per the British Major, who commands us to eat what our hosts offer, I have sometimes eaten against my convictions to spare a host embarrassment or extra work.
http://www.telegraph.co...
To conclude, I think both sides need to show goodwill, few or no demands and a spirit of generosity to make an evening work.

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8a5161fb 3215 4036 ad80 9f60a53189da  buddhacat
SKK
added 2 months ago

Great questions! Since I am a flexitarian in my food habits, I am grateful for the invitation, the company and the meal. As a host I definitely take into account my guests food tolerances. It isn't hard to do. Extra sides of vegetables, salads where I take out the fixings for those who want a different dressing, do not cook with garlic or onions for two friends who become violently ill with either. I have first hand experience of medical food intolerances and the pain they cause and I am unwilling to have friends and family be at the painful effect of a meal I have made.

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83b2f7bb 6d57 4b26 a96e f27f66b1e409  14355058 10103657439758468 7616383974552013464 n
added 2 months ago

Flexitarian! I may have to use that. If I hadn't written a whole book response before I saw your answer, I would have just agreed with yours and called it good.

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added 2 months ago

I try to make reasonable accommodations, and generally when I have people over for dinner, their eating habits and my family's are similar enough that everyone will get a good meal.
I do distinguish between diet choices and medical diets in that I check in with friends with medical dietary restrictions if I'm unsure about something, because if a paleo friend has a slice of bread they might feel guilty, but my friend with celiac disease will be in pain for weeks. Regardless of the reason for the diet, no one is going home hungry if I host. I probably won't tailor a whole menu to everyone's diets, but everyone will be able to "muddle through." I've never had guests respond to an invite with a list of food rules, and there have been times when I didn't know someone had celiac disease and I wish I had!
What I find simplest for diverse dietary needs is to have potluck style dinner parties, that way people cover their own bases, and everyone gets to try something new. If I'm a guest at those types of parties, I'll make something to accommodate the hosts. I once made a gluten free pie crust and lightning did not come down from the heavens to smite me - I actually like the challenge sometimes of making foods to accommodate different diets, regardless of the reason for the diet. It can be a fun way to push yourself as a cook/baker.
As a guest, I have no restrictions and will eat pretty much anything. But my husband has oral allergy syndrome, which means he gets mild to moderate allergic reactions from lots of different fruits and nuts, and when he's a guest he just doesn't eat the things that give him allergies. There's not much else to do about it.

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 2 months ago

I thought I was the only one who gave dinner parties anymore....I'm glad to see I'm wrong.

I generally don't eat meat and, since I rarely dine in someone's home whom I don't know well, this has never been a problem. The reverse is also mostly true: I know my guests well enough to know what they will/won't/can/can't eat and I make accommodations. I think someone already mentioned this, but the easiest way to avoid this problem is to make a lot of varied side dishes, so even if you've gotten something wrong your guests are not going to go hungry. I also do a lot of appetizers and serve a lot of wine.

Having said that, I'm planning a larger dinner party later this month with people I know professionally but not well personally and I asked about their food preferences. This is a religiously, racially, geographically diverse group and I expected a lot of exceptions. I had to kind of laugh at the response: No pork. No lamb. Everything else is fine. This made it really easy because neither pork nor lamb were going to be on the menu.

Good question, very interesting answers.

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MMH
added about 2 months ago

I agree. It seems to be a fading art. We don't want to just throw steaks on a grill. We live in a a turn of the century neighborhood full of very interesting and diverse people. We really enjoy meeting and mixing with people that way. We did do a really fun dinner party last year where we cooked octopus - we knew those guests very well.

Professionally we associate with a number of people who are vegetarian or don't eat certain meats. Middle eastern and Asian menus are easy for us to use to accommodate different diets.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 2 months ago

I'm vegetarian. I threw my first dinner party three years ago, and spent most of the lead-up to the party being increasingly stressed out about people not feeling well-fed due to the absence of meat. It turned out great - I am lucky to have excellent, generous, flexible friends. But I still worry about feeding others. In any group of people, I am always likely to have the most food restrictions, but if that is ever not the case, I think I would cook for the person with the most restrictions, so that everyone can eat all the food. When I'm a guest, I generally eat salads or bring enough of something to contribute to the spread.

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1ededecb a8ab 4dfd b020 a94ddaa167ab  906137d0 9337 4224 a2e9 a4971f45ba5f
added 2 months ago

Maybe this is just the crowd I travel in, but I feel that part of being a good host is to ask about dietary restrictions when the invitation is issued. It’s usually pretty easy to be accommodating.

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Nancy

Nancy is a trusted home cook.

added 2 months ago

OK, that's your practice among people you know & when you're hosting.
Byt then what do you do when you're the guest of a stranger or relatively unknown host, have chosen a restricted diet and are not asked about it when invited?

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MMH
added 2 months ago

I think im the one who commented in a previous post about the people who showed up and announced they were vegans. It's worse than that. We always accommodate our guests. My husband emailed 3 couples in our neighborhood & invited them for paella. The invite said that/ We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood full of gourmet cooks. Only 1 couple sent an rsvp so he invited 3 more couples. Two responded. The day of the dinner 1 more couple responded & when they arrived they announced they were vegan. We ended up with 10 couples for dinner. We are the sort who can roll with it but i dont think we were in thr wrong here

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added 2 months ago

Nancy, I think if you’re the guest, you have two choices: either communicate with your host about your dietary restrictions in advance and offer to bring something you can eat, or graciously eat what's put in front of you. If it's a spur of the moment thing, eat what you can. I feel for the host who is expected to have psychic abilities about their guests' food choices.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
Nancy

Nancy is a trusted home cook.

added 2 months ago

@Windishgirl - thanks for your take on this. Consideration all around, yes?

83b2f7bb 6d57 4b26 a96e f27f66b1e409  14355058 10103657439758468 7616383974552013464 n
added 2 months ago

MMH that sounds like a dinner party nightmare! How did you handle that many unexpected guests? Especially with events on social media where you're never sure how many people will actually show up, tips on unexpected guests are always handy.

8671a78d 7dd4 4230 a4ec 2a67389ef45e  image
added 2 months ago

As a hostess, I always ask, "Are there any foods that you are unable to eat?" But as a guest—since my food issues are not life-threatening—I eat what is served and take my Beano!
If a guest has a serious food allergy, it's on them to either say something in advance, or to eat what they can. But I think it’s rude to show up at the door and announce that one doesn't eat this, that, and the other.
A young family friend frequently travels to Central America on humanitarian missions. At home, she is a strict vegan, but on her trips she's an omnivore, out of respect to the local people who are sharing what they have in thanks for her work. I wish all guests were as gracious!

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8671a78d 7dd4 4230 a4ec 2a67389ef45e  image
added 2 months ago

MMH, I think you need nicer friends! (I'm also wondering what they thought paella is, since they knew the menu in advance). I'll be your friend! Can't eat raw onions or garlic (small amounts of cooked are fine), not a big fan of bivalves. Everything else is fine. What's for dinner?

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QueenSashy

QueenSashy is a trusted home cook.

added 2 months ago

As a guest, I eat pretty much anything -- except cilantro :). As a host, I like when folks tell me ahead of time their restrictions (and their preferences). As a matter of fact, I always ask when extending an invitation. I like to cook and do not mind accommodating everyone, as long as I know ahead of time.

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 2 months ago

I just try to plan a meal that satisfies most guests so unexpected food allergies and restrictions don't throw off the evening. Nuts, spiced popcorn or vegetable focused starter, a pureed vegetable soup or gazpacho, a meat main accompanied by a side with lentils or a dal, a salad with roasted vegetables, bread, cheese and fruit, chocolate and coffee and brandy or port to finish. I try not to build a meal around pasta or cream anymore because so many friends are watching their weight or are gluten free. I ty to skip eggs and butter and focus on good olive or nut oils, citrus, herbs. That way the dishes are more accessible and friends can find enough choice to feel satisfied over the course of the evening. I like to cook and host. It's a fun challenge for me to build a meal that will accomodate the unexpected. I never ever want to make my guests feel awkward in my home.

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4798a9c2 4c90 45e5 a5be 81bcb1f69c5c  junechamp
ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

added 2 months ago

I would hope if I invited someone to dinner that I didn't know well that they would inform me of any dietary restrictions. I have a couple of allergies and sensitivities that I always remind my host(ess) about when I'm invited to dine. It's important. It could be life threatening!

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3299dd0b a953 46f5 8a98 a0241f3b893a  256
MMH
added about 2 months ago

So here's what we did. We live in Omaha and we are having a very warm beautiful fall. We had planned to serve on our patio. We have an outside paella burner and were planning to cook table side. We have 2 paella pans so we doubled the recipe. Then, to stretch, we made a bunch of tapas which were vegetarian - still not knowing we were hosting 2 vegans. I ran to the store and bought marcona almonds, olives and cheese (Ina always recommends that). We prepared sangria in advance. It was a flexible menu anyway and easy to extend but a bit of stress. One of our vegans just ate the tapas and the other cheated- flexitarian. (I love that!) Our outside seating worked. Everyone had a great time. We are just counting it as another adventure in cooking. We always say we don't have enough dinner parties and when we just commit to doing it we always have a great time.
We are toying with starting a monthly dinner party group. This maybe should be posed as another hotline question but I'd like to know if other people do this and how it is arranged.

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0a62c55f 38bb 4f00 aefc 1de6685070d9  stringio
added about 2 months ago

IMHO, when you are lucky enough to be invited to a dinner you don't dictate what the host(ess) should serve. That being said should your restrictions be due to a medical problem as IBS, allergies,(actual medical allergies) Crones, it is fine to let your host know. Otherwise, shut up and eat what is put in front of you, or not. Just don't make it an issue

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added about 2 months ago

This is such an interesting thread! I have people over for dinner several times a month, and it seems that food intolerances are becoming more and more of an issue. Even though I really enjoy cooking and hosting, it can still be a frustration to be ingredient restricted. I would absolutely die if someone showed up with an announcement about their diet. I do think it behooves us as Hosts to ask What cant you eat? or give guests a heads up about what we are considering preparing in order to spare ourselves the stress of the unknown. I had a guest, now a close friend, handle it so graciously a while ago- She simply offered to bring something! Problem solved!!
So a good lesson for all Guests- If you're picky, suck it up and try something new. If you're intolerant or allergic, offer to bring something to supplement the menu thus giving your Host an opportunity to either gratefully accept your offer or make the adjustment themselves.

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Bb911bcd 2446 4d8f 848f cdc2090e999a  leaf cake
added about 2 months ago

I ask guests in advance if they have any food allergies or food they don't eat. Also, I have reached the point where it's easier for me to include a vegan dish just in case.

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F87eaa39 2e6e 40af 9c08 acc70a458a78  final 1412
added about 2 months ago

I always fall back on ole' reliable: the potluck. When I have guests over, I generally make the main, a side or two (one is usually a salad), and something sweet. I let guests know what each is before arrival and they can fill in the holes around it based on their needs. If they like what they see on the menu, they can bring wine. Or cheese. This also ensures there's enough food--which puts my mind at ease because where people have nightmares about standing naked on stage, I have nightmares about hosting a dinner party and running out of nosh.

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