Monday, October 31, 2011

"Dinner" Etiquette III

It's been a while since I've done an etiquette post, or linked what I think is a must read article for all guests, so for all those who've gently and not so gently prodded me to continue the series, here goes.

This post concerns guests with special diets.

I always make it a point to ask potential guests if they have any food allergies or strong food preferences at the time I extend the invitation. This affords me enough time to shop for and prepare a meal that the guest will enjoy. A guest that eats with gusto makes the hostess feel that her endeavors were not wasted. So a little advance knowledge is a win/win situation for everyone in my book. For instance, I don't have to serve a fish appetizer if my guest hates fish. There are other options.

There are some guests though (usually the ones with the most restrictive and complicated requests), who "don't want to inconvenience" the hostess and don't mention their food preferences until very late in the week. Now to my mind - this is rude. Don't come to me Thursday night with a laundry list of off-limits foods and tell me "not to bother".
a) tell me earlier in the week and I will bother or
b) don't tell me at all and I won't bother
But telling me Thursday night with the caveat not to do anything different is disingenuous.

I have mixed feelings about option "b" by the way. If your diet is highly unusual, you run the risk of having nothing at all that appeals to you, and then I feel like a failure, despite your gentle smiles and demure assurances. You are trying to save me the work, but you create a different problem in the process.


Jenny said...

I'm usually a lurker, but this is a subject I feel STRONGLY about. When I cook, I want people to eat! It always amazes me when I invite someone and then think a few days later to ask, "Oh, do you have any food restrictions?" and THEN get a list of food allergies. I don't want to make anyone sick with my food!

I think the moment of invite is the place to say, "I would love to come, thank you! By the way, I have a tree-nut allergy; will that be a problem?" And then I can make a fabulous tree-nut free dinner. Otherwise, I might make my scrumptious apple crisp with the pecan topping or put almonds on my green beans, and now you're not eating. I can't think of a single person who would mind accommodating eating issues. So just let your host know!

Wow, that felt good. Thanks for letting me say my piece!

Anonymous said...

Some people are very, very picky eaters. My brother, for example, only eats very plain foods - plain spaghetti, minimal vegetables (prepared in a totally plain way), NO sauces, few spices etc. For someone like him, it is easier not to mention his limited diet, but to eat what little he is served that he can stomach - there's usually bread, for instance.

Whether or not you think a person like that should expand his diet is besides the point - it would certainly be awkward and embarrassing for him to explain that he only eats spaghetti plain and can you please reserve a plain portion for him.

(On his first real date with his future wife, she prepared dinner, including an elaborate pasta dish. When he arrived and explained his situation, she boiled a pot of plain pasta. Obviously, their relationship was made in heaven - plus she's a real gem).

Anonymous said...

I feel less annoyed if you don't like something, it's the serious allergies that are a problem. If you cannot have gluten or be in a room with tree nuts, how does it make sense in your mind to not tell me? It's not a matter of not having a menu that thrills you, it's a matter of avoiding having a menu that makes you sick!

Shosh said...

totally agree!!!

Gavi said...

There is also the reality that many potential hosts/hostesses may not be able to accommodate some dietary requests, so the guest simply nods and smiles while they don't eat anything. Yes, this may be disconcerting for the host, but better that than to make the guest eat something they don't like or that will make them sick.

[I am intimately familiar with this because of a personal dislike (I don't like fish) and a family member's genetic mutation (my brother-in-law cannot process fatty foods or oil). Some people are simply unable to change their cooking styles. We have learned over the years to simply avoid those foods when eating at those hosts who cannot cook differently...]

On the flip side, my wife and I have become very good at dealing with off-the-beat dietary requests. Just this past shabbos we hosted my aunt who has recently become vegan, and she was bowled over that we were able to make a vegan chulent... and she was so grateful that we made sure she was able to partake.

MamaLama said...

Rah, rah G6 and Jenny! This is one of my pet peeves out of my peeve menagerie.

That, and the guests who fill their plates, then eat a nibble of this and a nibble of that and leave the rest for compost. Does BAL TASHCHIT mean anything to you? Once the food is on your plate, anything you don't eat goes in the trash--or do you imagine your hosts will serve your shirayim to anyone else? Take just a little to taste and then fill your plate with the dishes you decide you like.

Bethany said...

I have an intolerance to garlic and onions and if I forget to tell people, that's my problem, not theirs. I once had a Shabbos guest tell me on Friday at noon (in the winter) that he was a vegetarian. Tough luck. Even the "pareve" stuff was made with chicken stock that week.