Entertaining People With Special Diets

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Entertaining People With Special Diets

How to make friends with food intolerances feel comfortable about dining with you

by

Kari Heron

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Published: Fri 23 Oct 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 27 Oct 2015, 9:20 AM

I recently had a very informative conversation with a friend who has lots of food allergies, and it dawned on me how challenging it is for people with special diets to accept invitations to eat out.  Things most of us who are free from such dietary restrictions take for granted could be the difference between a good experience and an absolute horror story for those with special diets.  
My friend, who suffers from both food allergies and intolerances, has even found herself hungry at dinner parties due to innocent errors made by hosts with a lack of understanding about food allergies and intolerances. It's not easy to eat out when you have a special diet, but we also do not want our friends to feel uncomfortable about sharing quality time with us over a meal, because they fear they may either not have anything to eat, or unknowingly eat something that makes them ill because it contains an allergen.
Here are some tips that could make or break your gathering for a guest with special dietary needs:

1. Ask guests first

When you send out your invitation, it is polite to ask if there are any special dietary considerations that need to be accommodated, especially if you do not already know that information for every invitee. Do not leave it to the invitee to ask you what's on your menu and to request special adjustments, because the vast majority of persons may feel shy about bringing it up, but will provide the information if asked.

2. Listen 

Once you make the enquiry, you must really listen to what your guest says. If someone comes back with food allergies and intolerances or special diets for medical reasons, it is critical that you understand exactly what he or she can and cannot eat or drink. So if the person cannot have gluten, do not use flour to thicken the sauce of a gluten-free stew, as the dish will then no longer be gluten-free! Your guest will be trusting you to have appropriate food and drink for him/her, so you do not want to make the grave error of getting it wrong and having someone not be able to eat anything you have prepared.

3. Plan together

If you are confused about the specific dietary need, reach out to the person and plan a suitable menu that you feel competent enough to execute. If you need extra help with a recipe or even to make a special order, it is best to ask for resources instead of leaving it up to chance and hoping that your kitchen experiment comes out half decent. For example, you could order an entire special menu or a specific course from a caterer ahead of time. 

4. Offer alternatives for every course

If you are really au fait with the special diets presented, and are fully competent to prepare dishes according to those specifications, then by all means go ahead and create an alternative menu with an alternative dish for every course. If everyone else is having cheesecake for dessert but one person is dairy-free, offer a suitable option for him/her.

5. Group friends well

While this may not always be practical in bigger shindigs, in smaller, more intimate dinner parties, be sure to group your friends well. This should be a normal practice, to make it likely that people will get along with each other. When it comes to special diets, you could also add that criteria in the way you select people for a small dinner party. Raw, gluten-free vegans are likely to eat and enjoy similar dishes as opposed to forcing them to sit through a multicourse meat fest.

6. Go out to eat

If the situation and budget calls for it, you could meet up with friends at four- or five-star hotels and restaurants, as they are experts in accommodating all kinds of special diets. You name it, they've done it. Head chefs and restaurant managers in such esteemed establishments are very understanding and can easily make alternative dishes, according to specifications, if they do not already have them on their menus. Be sure to mention the special dietary needs upon booking to give them time to prepare. This way, everyone can order according to his or her desires, no one has to worry, and you can concentrate on enjoying the company of your friends. 



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