When you gather together a group of individuals to enjoy a meal – be it a posh wedding, a large company event, or even a simple intimate dinner – you’ll likely find that there are at least a few people in the crowd who either chose not to eat or cannot eat the foods that many of us see as traditional offerings for certain events, such as hamburgers or hot dogs for picnics or pasta for your Italian-themed party.

Indeed, it seems that there are more people than ever with dietary restrictions. That’s okay. This means that people are tuned into their bodies and what’s best for them as well as what could potentially do them harm.

It also means that when it’s your turn to be a host – be it a large soiree or a small get-together – you should be aware of the most common types of special diets and whether or not you’ll need to make some adjustments to accommodate guests who are following any sort of dietary restrictions.

These might include:

  • Gluten-free
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Dairy-free
  • Peanut or tree nut allergies
  • Fish and shellfish allergies
  • Kosher
  • Halal

Don’t forget to ask!

There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a event guest who can’t eat any of the food you’re serving! So, that’s why it’s always a good idea to ask in advance whether any of your guests has dietary restrictions of any sort. Even with a large corporate party or wedding reception, it’s acceptable to ask attendees about special diets and – certainly – if you’re having a small dinner party catered, you’ll want to know as well.

Asking these questions up front will provide you with the opportunity to discuss any dietary issues with your caterer and to plan appropriately for those who might need other options from the ones you’ve chosen.

How accommodating must you be?

Remember, there is a difference between individuals who are living a certain lifestyle out of choice or necessity and those who might be on “a diet”. While you certainly want to offer gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free or vegetarian options for those who must avoid or choose to avoid certain foods, you aren’t required to cater to the needs of your aunt who’s on “the grapefruit diet” or your best friend who’s trying the ketogenic diet for the fourth time.

That’s not condescending, it’s just the realties of a catered event. It’s nearly impossible to accommodate the needs of every South Beach, Atkins, or Paleo dieter, but you can try to offer as many options as possible.

On the other hand, some dietary restrictions are quite serious. If, for example, you have a guest that has a really severe peanut allergy – the kind that is triggered by even the slightest exposure to peanuts – you may want to leave anything containing peanuts off the menu.

And don’t forget about beverages. You might need decaf coffee for those who don’t drink caffeine and plenty of non-alcoholic options for those who don’t or can’t drink alcohol.

Discussing options with your caterer

So, what’s the best way to accommodate your guests who have dietary differences? How can you make them feel comfortable about what they’re eating while not feeling singled out?

If you’re doing a buffet meal, it’s pretty easy. Talk to your caterer about including selections that will meet the needs of all your guests. You can choose to have a smaller tray of a particular gluten-free item, for example, or can make sure you have plenty of vegetables to accommodate a number of different diets. Your caterer will make sure everything is labeled appropriately. Surprisingly, you may find that others who didn’t mention restrictions will opt for the gluten-free or vegan option, for example, simply because it looks appealing.

If you’re having a sit-down meal, your caterer will need to know well in advance if he/she needs to prepare a plate for someone with a specific allergy. Be sure when you organize place cards for seating that there is something on the card that indicates the restriction so that servers know who gets what. A caterer who is experienced in dealing with food allergies or restrictions can make tasty recommendations for substitutions and prepare a plate that is both attractive and delicious for your guest(s).

Remember, the adage “you can’t please everyone” might apply here, but with a caterer who is creative and willing to think out of the box can come up with a menu that allows everyone to eat comfortably and safely.