I recently came across this essay by a hostess who is tired of catering to her guests’ special dietary requests and concludes that she’ll only modify her menu if a guest will literally fall over from eating a particular food.
I have had enough with people who want to have it their way, and I am done catering to the quirks of food-obsessed numskulls. If you eat in my home, I will grudgingly respect medically diagnosed allergies, since it puts a pall on conversation when a guest goes into anaphylactic shock at the dinner table. But beyond that, I expect you to eat what you can, ignore the rest and not make trouble. On Thursday, 15 people are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and with God as my witness, I promise you this: There will be dark meat.
Otherwise, her guests are expected to eat around whatever she serves. If she serves meat to vegetarians, then they can just stick with salad and bread.
I’ve been debating my feelings about this for a few days. Clearly, I not only modify my menus for people’s dietary preferences, I even take pride in doing so while still presenting a menu that you would never think of having been specially created. I only realize now that I’ve done so with a fair amount of joy because my guests with food restrictions have always avoided special treatment and told me not to worry about it – which of course makes me want to help them out as much as possible! Reverse psychology works on me, obviously! Probably because I grew up vegetarian and was around a lot of people with unusual eating habits, I’m not surprised when someone says they don’t eat eggs or wheat or any animal products and I’m used to working around it. At the same time, I’m also used to those people being aware that they’re imposing their choices on others and trying to avoid doing so as much as possible.
So while I take her point that a guest’s expectation for you to change a menu due to their choice not to eat something could be annoying, I think it depends on how your guest treats the issue. If a future dinner guest let me know about a food restriction that is clearly by choice and very restricting (“no carbs, please” or “I refuse to eat anything that is not organic”) and expected me to shape the menu around it, I probably would say that I would do my best and just make sure I had at least one dish they would eat. [By the way, total side note but semi on the subject: it is a HUGE pet peeve of mine when people say they CAN’T eat something that really they WON’T eat. For example, I CAN eat red meat, but I choose not to (though that may change soon – my meat-eating ideas are evolving). And yet, even I find that word coming out of my mouth sometimes because I’ve made the commitment so, when presented with a steak, I really feel that I can’t eat it due to that commitment. It really sucks when you perpetrate your own pet peeve, doesn’t it?! I’m trying very consciously to do better with my semantics because no matter what, that kind of restriction is most definitely a choice.] If a future guest let me know about a food restriction and was happy to eat around it because, yes, it is their choice, then I’d try to write a menu around it but never make any guarantees. And of course, when I’m invited by someone else, I let the host know that I choose not to eat red meat (I remembered!) but will be perfectly happy with bread and the good company should they choose to serve steak.
Which brings us to restrictions that are not by choice: religious restrictions and allergies. Both of these are non-negotiable and must be followed, and not grudgingly (as the author writes). Either go all the way or don’t invite that person over. And if you invite people over who behave inconsiderately often enough to write an article griping about it, I’d just say maybe it’s time to look at changing your guest lists rather than your menus.
Honestly, though, I’ll continue to ponder this. There is a whole mess of social etiquette around the subject of people who just don’t like something – do you avoid that food or just say screw it, it’s your own fault for being picky? Ideas, thoughts or advice are very welcome.