BURLINGTON, Vermont (Reuters) - “If you would like to dine gluten-free, please ask to see our gluten-free menu.”
Restaurants are printing notes like this in droves, and hosts are now googling phrases like “lacto-ovo” before dinner parties.
Dietary restrictions seem to grow more numerous every year, whether it’s a rise of gluten intolerance or a new low-carb low-fat no-sugar raw food diet.
Good manners says to eat what you’re served, and it also says to respect the beliefs of others, and especially when you’re a host, to graciously accommodate them. Contradictory? Not if a little tact and understanding are applied.
For straight-up dislikes when among friends, it’s fine to refuse a dish you don’t care for with a polite “No, thank you.” At a dinner party where the host has gone to a great deal of trouble, it’s good manners to take at least a little of every dish being offered.
Teach the concept of the “no thank you helping” to children, even for family meals-it makes it easier for them when the spotlight is on them as a guest.
Allergies are another matter, and can’t be avoided; your health and safety is a priority. A conscientious host will ask first-time guests if they have any particular allergies or dietary restriction. If the host doesn’t ask, it’s especially important for the guest to inform him of allergies, medical conditions, or religious prohibitions.
If the gathering is small, the dinner is in your honor, or you’re going to be an overnight houseguest, however, or if you’re severely allergic to certain foods (or pets), it’s a good idea to let your host know up front when you first respond to the invitation and give him or her a chance to adjust the menu if necessary.
“I’d love to come, but I should tell you that I’m completely allergic to shellfish”; “I’d love to come to the barbeque, but I should tell you that I’m a vegetarian. Could I bring a tabouleh salad if that’s okay with you?”
Always give the host the option to accommodate you or not. In some cases it may not be possible, so don’t take offense if it doesn’t work out.
For a small dinner party, offer to bring a dish to share. Say: “Thanks so much for the invitation. I should let you know that I’m a vegetarian. I’d love to bring a quiche if that’s okay with you.” This way, your host won’t waste time preparing the wrong food for you or have to trouble himself figuring out what type of dish would best suit your preferences.
If you’re allergic to a particular food or on a restricted diet and your host urges you to help yourself to food you know you shouldn’t or can’t eat, gently decline, “Shellfish is off-limits for me, but I’m enjoying everything else.”
It’s not necessary to inform the host of a cocktail party, large dinner party, buffet, or reception that you’re a vegetarian, mildly allergic to milk, or diabetic, because there’s bound to be a variety of foods to choose from. At the party, it’s fine to ask about the ingredients in a particular dish.
When your dietary restrictions are based on religious tenets, it may not be practical to accept some invitations. If the invitation is for a small gathering, you can explain to your hostess that you’d love to accept, but that you’ll have to bring a dish that you’ve prepared according to your dietary rules-provided that’s acceptable to her.
As a large part of entertaining is about being social, many hosts will encourage you to attend and bring your special dish.
If you don’t drink alcohol, ask for water or a non-alcoholic beverage (which are fine to toast with should there be toasts). You don’t have to give a reason for abstaining unless you wish to. Never feel you have to drink alcohol, even if pressed. The rudeness in that case is theirs, not yours.
The goal as a host is not to call special attention to guests who don’t drink alcohol. Also, be attentive to the seating arrangements. A friend in recovery shouldn’t spend the evening next to a wine aficionado extolling the virtues of every wine served.
Editing by Paul Casciato Anna Post is the spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, a U.S.-based organization founded in 1946 that addresses societal concerns including business etiquette, raising polite children and civility. The opinions expressed are her own. The Emily Post Institute's website is www.emilypost.com