Should You Plan Your Menu Around One Guest’s Food Allergies?

We consulted an expert so you can make sure your guests always feel welcome.

Party table of food

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In a Southern household, hosting is practically an art. Whether you’re having a few friends over for a casual game night or celebrating the holidays with your extended family, there are a few rules of hosting every Southerner should know. Tricks of the trade like always having a fresh hand towel in the powder room and ensuring that every guest has a drink in hand are tried-and-true standbys our grandmothers swear by. But as times change, new questions have arisen about the proper etiquette of hosting.

Recently, one of our very own What’s Cooking with Southern Living Facebook Group members brought up a great question about what’s proper when hosting guests with allergies. She sought advice from fellow group members for a small get together she was planning to host. “If one person is lactose intolerant and gluten free, does everything you offer need to be lactose and gluten free? Or is it enough that you have multiple offerings that are lactose and gluten free?,” she asked.

Group members were quick to chime in with their thoughts. Their consensus was that when hosting a guest with food allergies, not every dish needs to accommodate their specific dietary restrictions. However, there should be plenty of options and a good variety of things that everyone invited can enjoy. Above all, each dish served should be clearly marked, so that guests feel comfortable knowing what dishes they can and cannot partake in.

Several group members who have food allergies remarked that though they always appreciate when a host makes an effort to accommodate their dietary restrictions, they don’t expect the entire menu to be planned around them.

We loved the discussion and support from fellow Cooking Group members but wanted to add an expert’s opinion to the conversation. To get one, we reached out to Jackie Vernon-Thompson, a certified etiquette expert and the founder of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette in Sunrise, Florida.  

Vernon-Thompson advises that when preparing a meal for multiple guests, it is always appropriate to keep all dietary needs of guests in mind. “This means, if the host will serve a four-course meal, he or she must make available four courses that do not violate the guest's dietary restrictions,” Vernon-Thompson says. “This is not to say the host must prepare all courses for everyone with such dietary restriction. They may prepare a small portion of a course just for that particular guest. This demonstrates to the guest that they are appreciated and valued by the host.”

Vernon-Thompson says that even for more casual get-togethers, it’s proper for a host to accommodate all dietary restrictions of a guest, so long as they were formally invited. “The deciding factor is if the individual was invited,” she says. “If yes, the host should accommodate. If it is an open invitation and the guest attends voluntarily, then no. The host just provides a variety of options and is not required to fulfill any one guest’s dietary needs.”

Hosting a guest with a food allergy sometime soon? If you’re in need of a little inspiration when planning your menu, check out these galleries for best dairy-free desserts, nut-free cookies, and vegetarian-friendly main courses.

Happy hosting!

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