We often receive questions about invitations to meals, which gets us thinking about it all over again. The issue comes up whenever new friends or acquaintances enter our lives, the boss invites us to a meal, or the children are invited over to a friend’s home.
Anyone who has ever been a host knows that a cosy evening over a home-cooked meal is a great pleasure, but it also means a lot of stress for the host. Will the dishes turn out well? Will the guests enjoy the meal? Will everyone feel at ease? These thoughts go through most people’s minds whenever they have friends over. This is why it can be particularly difficult for people with food intolerances to ask others for special consideration. I would like to explain to you today why the best approach for helping our hosts have a successful evening is to be open.
Let’s begin with our good friends, the ones we have known already for some time. The great thing about close friends is that you can be more open with them. After all, they have stuck around this long. So the easiest thing to do is to have an honest conversation with the hosts as soon as possible and ask what they are planning to serve. Your friends probably already know that you have an allergy, intolerance or coeliac/gluten issue. In all likelihood, they also know what the consequences can be if you are given the wrong foods. And it would make them happy if all of the guests enjoyed themselves and had a nice time together.
It is recommended that you go through the different parts of the menu together. If only individual ingredients are concerned, you can come up with alternatives that would work just as well and that all of the guests could tolerate. In the case of severe allergies, such as nut allergies or coeliac disease, it is crucial to avoid using contaminated cooking utensils. Wooden utensils in particular are a risk. A solution would be to lend your own equipment to your friends for the event ahead of time. It is appropriate for close friends to be interested in the preparations and even to offer help getting everything ready. For dishes and parts of the menu that can’t be altered, you can always suggest bringing your own food. Good friends will be interested in your well being 😉
What can you do if you don’t know the hosts very well?
The same open approach applies here too. After you have been invited, you should speak to the hosts as soon as possible. It takes a bit of courage and honesty, along with tact. I know it’s not always easy, especially in business settings or at the beginning of new friendships. It can also be difficult when your children are invited to parties and you don’t really know the hosts at all.
In any case, it is best to speak to the hosts in person – by telephone rather than email. You will find out right away what their attitude is towards dietary restrictions. I recommend initiating the conversation by thanking the host for the invitation and then ‘laying your cards on the table’. Remain calm and use short, clear sentences to make sure you are easily understood. It might be the first time your host has had to deal with allergies, intolerances or dietary restrictions. It will not be necessary right away to go into more detail over the phone. You can always say more about it once you are there, whenever you feel like it and if the guests and the hosts are interested.
For example, you could say: “Thank you very much for the invitation. I/we would love to come. Would it be possible to talk briefly beforehand about the menu? I/we have dietary restrictions for our health. Could we go over the food you are planning to serve so that I/we can be prepared?“
You will now find out what your hosts’ attitude is based on how they react. If you encounter some resistance, obtain the menu and then decide after the conversation whether you can attend the event. If necessary, you can skip certain parts of the menu. You might want to mention this to the hosts so that they can be prepared. If gluten is an issue, you will always need to be careful. Depending on the situation, you might consider bringing along your own gluten free bread/cake. If so, you should inform the hosts in advance. One thing is clear: You will have a topic of conversation right away. Decide for yourself whether this is something you want. If the menu is too risky, you can always decline.
If your host is open to your situation and willing to answer your questions, go through the menu, be constructive, and suggest alternative ingredients. You know best what works. Hosts are often very thankful for the help, especially if they have never had to deal with the subject before. Also offer to bring something yourself if you have the feeling it would be appreciated.
Children’s parties are a special case. It is important to tell the host parents precisely what your child cannot eat. If necessary, pack your own food for your child to bring along after consulting the hosts. If your child has severe allergies to peanuts or milk, you will also need to discuss these issues with the parents. Feel free to suggest alternatives for peanut puffs or other snacks. The hosts often have no experience with dietary restrictions and will appreciate every tip. Of course it will only work if the hosts are understanding people. This will prevent your child from being excluded so that he or she can have a pleasant time with friends.
It’s worth it
You may discover that, among new friends, acquaintances or in professional situations, you are not the only one. At least this has been my experience. I myself like to take the most straightforward, constructive approach possible to the subject of ‘dietary restrictions’. These days, more and more people have allergies or intolerances. But I don’t think this subject should overshadow the event. This can happen quickly, given that there is a lot of interest and it is relevant to many people. So far, no one has yet thought of me as less capable or as an inferior friend. I have only had good experiences with an open, positive, yet not overwhelming approach.
I rarely turn down an invitation these days. Admittedly, it does take some courage not to decline. But it is worth it and if for some reason it doesn’t work out foodwise, you can always decline and send out your own invitations 😉
Author: Stefanie Grauer-Stojanovic
21 July 2016